Anyone in the packed Civic Center auditorium on March 15 that expected Rick Steves to present a slide show travelogue of his European adventures was probably surprised. Instead, Steves, the opening lecturer of the second half of the Friends of the Public Library's Gifford Lecture Series, presented a passionate look at the world's perception of America and American travelers.
Best known for his television travel shows for public broadcasting and his series of European travel guides, Steves is a passionate advocate for improving our global (and local) society. He's an active member of the Lutheran church, a board member of NORML (working to reform marijuana laws in the USA) and has provided his local YWCA with a 24-unit apartment building with which to house homeless mothers.
Running some forty minutes beyond the typical lecture length, Steves encouraged us to travel as a means of educating ourselves, educating others about us, and in so doing, combating the effects of terrorism rather than becoming oppressed by its threat.
Operating on the theory that "The less we spend, the more we learn," he encourages Americans to use travel as education rather than entertainment.
He was not hesitant to confront the two worlds in which he exists, the media and the travel industry.
He was adamant about the media's negative effect on travel abroad, saying that the emphasis on the dangers to Americans far overstates the problem, and creates an unwarranted fear of travel. "Don't stay home because you think it's dangerous -- Powerful forces are dumbing us down. We need to smarten up. The travel industry's emphasis on entertainment (cruises are just hedonism) inhibits the ability of Americans to interact with locals, preventing both sides from learning about the other."
"Travel should enhance, rather than just entertain. Americans have the shortest vacations in the rich world - we need to work less and live more."