On Reviewing a Travel Book

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“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness” (Mark Twain, author)

I don’t know about the PBS stations in your area, but ours love Rick Steves shows and specials – especially on weekends and during fundraising campaigns. Sometime in late August I stumbled across one of him giving a lecture. I hadn’t seen it and he immediately grabbed my attention.

He (like me) is a believer that the majority of people in the world are good. Even though his talk did not inspire me to donate to the fundraising effort, I bought the book ahead of my journey to Eastern Europe, then finished it during the trip.

Travel As a Political Act (3rd edition, 2018) is not only an antidote of his travels, it focuses on the ability of travel to bridge cultures. After all, many people have fears based on exaggerations, myths, and a lack of knowledge.

Eight of the 10 chapters center on specific regions/issues as Yugoslavia, El Salvador, Denmark, Turkey & Morocco, Israel/Palestine, Europe & drugs, and similarities & difference between Europe & America. The other two chapters are about the importance of travel and retrospective thoughts when returning home.

Simply put, each of us have a worldview that is shaped by friends, family, media, perceptions, education, and personal experiences. Rick Steves want travelers to

  • Get the most out of travel by keeping an open mind and getting outside our comfort zone
  • Think beyond the logistics “hows” as flights, hotels, transportation, sights, and travel tips. The “whys” of travel allows travelers to be enlightened, learn, and grow.
  • Understand that bridging differences begins with understanding differences
  • Travel with the purpose of learning, not just seeing because everything has a history.
  • Know that sights are important because of what went on there and why it is important to the people today.
  • Learn why people are proud and why they hurt because all people have dreams, national heroes, traditions, values, and stories.

Yes – these points are easy to say, but very hard for many to do.

Travel As A Political Act is a good read. There is no question in my mind that Rick Steves is promoting his worldwide view. Just like his television shows, he is optimistic, affable, humorous, and even at times cheezy – all with the goal of how travel can change a personal perspective if the person embraces travel with an open mind.

Although some may say the author is promoting a political view. I disagree because he is using his personal view through experience to help travelers get the most out of travel. However, I understand how a reader can construe one personal view in the same light as a political view. Because of that, I hesitate to endorse this book for uber conservatives. On the other hand, they may be ones who could benefit from the challenge if they approached it with an open mind.

“While seeing travel as a political act enables us to challenge our society to do better, it also shows us how much we have to be grateful for, to take responsibility for, and to protect.” (Rick Steves, traveler & tour agency owner)

33 thoughts on “On Reviewing a Travel Book

  1. Well Frank, even though I haven’t read the book, I agree with him – as represented here by you anyway. Down here it is pretty much a given that most young people will spend time travelling – the OE (Overseas Experience) is very often done around age 18 and working our way around the world used to be very common. It made for an excellent educational adjunct! Travelling with a couple of friends, backpacking and staying in youth hostels and getting work in countries that allow it is an excellent way to meet the locals, learn a bit about the culture and experience the wonder of finding out that there are no enemies, there are just people getting on as best they can. Mark Twain said it best and succinctly 🙂

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Though I agree with Mark Twain (within the framework of humor and exaggeration), and though I haven’t read the book, I have reserve regarding such a simplistic point of view. I traveled a lot as a young man, but stayed for relatively long periods in different places, learning their language and history. The tourist is often mislead. Especially in countries that are not free. I had friends who became enthusiastic about eastern European countries during the bloom of communism, not realizing that they were being fed lies to suit a purpose. I too believe that the majority of human beings are good. But to paraphrase a well known Lincoln quote, not all good people are completely good and not all of the bad people are completely bad. It takes a lot of hard work to really learn both sides of the story in most cases.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Shimon,
      I always welcome your perspective because you regularly give something to think about. Thank you!!! Great example about Communist countries. I remember while in Russia (5 or so years ago) a local artist on the square told us that they also have democratic elections – but the difference between Russian elections and US elections is that they know the winners before the election. The Lincoln paraphrase made me smile.


  3. I’ve traveled a bit. I had to go to a few different countries in Europe back when I was teaching as part of an exchange program with our students so I think its relevant to say that travel does make you think differently and reflect on where you’ve just been, what you’ve experienced, who you’ve met and of course the value of being back home.
    It’s a tenuous world we live in. Low tolerance, high racism, and yet the need to have solid roots on home soil and keep that sense of home while still being aware of the rest of the world and its differences.
    I’ve lived half my life in the UK and half in Cyprus. The differences are RIDICULOUS. But living in Cyprus really made me see the difference between being open minded about the rest of the world and the political elements that invariably come with travel and being accepting of everyone and everywhere because essentially, we all bleed red, right?
    I think I went off on a tangent a bit there but that’s not going to change any time soon, it’s what I do! Lol.

    Enjoying your blog. Glad our friend shoved me over here 😉


    Liked by 5 people

  4. BRAVISSIMO – Your post today now ranks as my all-time, #1, top-of-the-heap AFA! I just put a hardcopy on my refrigerator and ordered Rick Steves’ “Travel as a Political Act.” I quaked however over your need to write the last paragraph, fearing that you (correctly) were talking to a growing number of Americans (beyond the ‘uber conservatives’) whose backs would go up over your inclusion of ” . . . enables us to challenge our society to do better, it also shows us how much we have to be grateful for, to take responsibility for, and to protect.”

    Liked by 5 people

    • Tim,
      Glad you enjoyed this book review. I have the book, and would gladly loan it to you. Let me know. Today’s world is smaller than ever, therefore learning about others is more important than ever.


  5. If seeing travel as a political act, well then, count me in as being political. Having just returned from a trip south of the border, I had some of the most charming and touching conversations with locals. I wish more people in the US in particular would realize humans, wherever they live, whatever their nationality or race is, understood that we all have dreams, national heroes, traditions, values, and stories. It’s what makes us human in fact and no one group is superior to any of the others.
    P.S. Great review of a guy who we could all imitate his charming skill of affability and cheesiness.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. I haven’t seen Rick Steves in a while, but his programs are enjoyable, and I’m sure his book is, too. I think travel has the potential to make people open-minded, etc., but not necessarily. And people can even live in another country for a long time, and enjoy the food, scenery, and other things, but still disdain the people–history is full of this. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  7. I really appreciate Rick Steves’ open and engaging view of people from around the world. Living in Los Angeles, home to people from more than 140 countries and 224 identified languages, I have a very open attitude about people and I’m at home with immigrants from other countries. Some of us don’t need to travel very far to embrace Rick Steves’ perspectives. Our PBS station loves him, too! 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    • Debra,
      Glad to see you back in your blog saddle. Hope you, your family, and friends are OK.

      Now why am I not surprised that you appreciate Rick Steves? 😉 (I couldn’t resist) … Yes, not only are his travel shows wonderful, his perspective is refreshing and positive – even in the light of a difficult times that the world provides on a daily basis. Thanks for sharing your perspective.


    • Been There,
      Welcome first-time commenter. We too are Rick Steves fans. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Seems like I could hear his voice reading to me. If you read it, let me know what you think.

      BTW – I’ve been doing posts (one currently up) about our first Rick Steves’ tour … Eastern Europe.

      Which countries do you like the best in his shows?

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: On Reviewing a Travel Book — A Frank Angle – tijmentravel

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