Rick Steves' Travel Blog

I'm sharing my travel experiences, candid opinions and what's on my mind. If you think it's inappropriate for a travel writer to stir up discussion on his blog with political observations and insights gained from traveling abroad, you may not want to read any further. — Rick

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I’ve been hard at work updating my “Travel as a Political Act” book, and I’d love some help. Can you recommend any travel organizations that focus on helping thoughtful Americans get a political education on the road?

Ever since I traveled on three trips to Central America with the Center for Global Education (CFGE) at Augsburg College back in the 20th century, I’ve recommended their program for what I call “reality travel.” They were expert at taking groups to troubled regions with top-notch teachers, and connecting their travelers with the various players in confusing and complicated situations. On my CFGE tours, we’d visit with the United Nations peacekeeping mission, the local military’s PR office, professors in local colleges, farm workers’ unions, and church groups. One day we’d meet with Socialists in the morning and the US Ambassador in the afternoon. The next day we’d meet with the pro-business, right-wing political party (supported by the USA) in the morning and “The Mothers of the Disappeared” (women whose sons were killed by right-wing death squads) in the afternoon. These experiences contributed mightily to my political awareness.

Center for Global Education

For years, I’ve recommended the CFGE for travelers inspired to visit places like Iran, Palestine, Cuba, and Central America. But now they are providing travel education only to their students, and I need other “educational tour” companies to recommend.

Today more than ever, the world’s challenges deserve a firsthand look. And I’m sure there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy the education provided by “reality travel.” If you can recommend an organization that provides in-depth educational tour experiences like the ones I’m describing, I’d love to hear about it. Thank you!

Imagine 60,000 Dreams Canceled

Think of 60,000 people. Fill a stadium with them and their dreams and aspirations. Because our president canceled that many visas, those lives — which were structured around a trip to America — just had their travel dreams scuttled. And that’s just incoming travelers. Many outgoing travel plans have also been halted.

We’re not just talking about vacations. These are academic visits, business trips, and people seeking a better life for their families…tens of thousands of lost opportunities — in education, in commerce, and in understanding.

Why? They claim it’s for “safety.” As a traveler — who has, again and again, experienced the power of people-to-people connection — I believe that, ironically, this action will make us less safe. Understanding and sharing between the USA and seven countries where understanding and sharing is particularly vital, just took a huge hit.

I fear we’ve entered a backward world. Actions “for safety” will make us less safe. Actions “for jobs” will bring fewer jobs. At Rick Steves’ Europe, the value of our mantra to “Keep on travelin’” is growing by the day.

I’ve always enjoyed “director’s cuts” of favorite movies or documentaries because you feel like you’re sitting casually with the host, director, and producer of the show as they reminisce and kibitz on “behind the camera” insights. And I’ve always wanted to record one so our viewers could get to know our producer/director Simon Griffith. If you enjoy our TV show and are interested in both how we make our shows and what it was like filming our Holy Land special in Israel and Palestine, here’s a chance to join me and Simon in a fun, candid, and intimate peek at our production process. As you watch this, you’ll better understand why I feel so thankful to be able to collaborate with an artist like Simon Griffith.

(You can watch Rick Steves’ The Holy Land with the normal audio anytime at ricksteves.com/holy-land.)

This spring, my Istanbul-based tour guides planned an educational tour to Iran and extended an open invitation to our tour guides and staff. A half-dozen people in my office — eager to learn more about an often-misunderstood land — signed up and booked their plane tickets to Tehran. But now, in response to the USA denying entry to Iranians, Iran has (quite reasonably) decided to keep out Americans. Of course, a few cancelled vacations are just the beginning: Many, many people around the world are already suffering far greater hardships because of this weekend’s events.

As someone who loves how effectively travel can foster international understanding and peace, it’s clear to me that, by overreacting to a trumped-up fear of outsiders, our new president’s actions will actually make us less safe.

I traveled to Iran a few years ago to produce a documentary for public television. I was struck by the wonderful, kind-hearted, open-minded people that I met there. Getting to know the Iranians was the highlight of my trip. And I believe that the show we produced did more to contribute to peace than anything I’ve ever done.

It’s clear to me that thoughtful travel can be a force for peace — and, yes, national security. When we travel to troubled lands and get to know people who are supposed to be our enemies, we humanize them. By meeting each other face to face, we make it tougher for forces in their land to demonize us with their propaganda, and tougher for our government to demonize them with ours.

I’ve seen a lot of walls in my travels. They are monuments to failure, and they’re never good. Whether separating East Berlin from West Berlin, Protestants from Catholics in Northern Ireland, or Israelis from Palestinians in the Holy Land, walls are an instrument of misunderstanding and hate. I know this because in each case, I’ve actually met the people on both sides of those walls, heard their perspectives firsthand, and gained both understanding and empathy.

On Friday, President Trump built his first wall — made not of concrete and barbed wire, but of a dangerous and half-baked executive order. And now, Americans who want peace and who love the world will be the ones paying the price.

I don’t care whether you voted for Trump, or whether you identify as a Republican or a Democrat. We can respectfully agree to disagree on most issues. But if you’re a traveler who has a curiosity about this world, banning people from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the USA is bad news. You want to talk about safety? For the last eight years, we’ve remained extremely safe from external terrorist violence…without ever closing our borders to an entire faith or nationality.

Meanwhile, I can imagine no more successful recruitment tool for ISIS than Trump’s new ban. Just like new subscriptions to The Nation magazine are booming and the ACLU is getting more donations in three days than they normally do in an entire year, the appeal and allure of ISIS is also spiking.

Right now, I’m trying to figure out how I can make a difference in this fight. I’ll share more thoughts soon. In the meantime, I invite you to meet a few Iranians, through my public television special. As you see these faces, keep in mind: These are the people our president has decided are too dangerous to meet in person — the people who our president risks radicalizing at the same time he risks radicalizing our own country.

This is the final clip of a 10-part series of interviews I did while producing our public television special Rick Steves’ The Holy Land: Israelis and Palestinians Today. Considering the impact of American policies on the daily lives of both Israelis and Palestinians, this is my attempt to introduce you to some people in both camps whose voices might otherwise not be heard.

For a thousand years, there has been a mosque on Bethlehem’s main square — commemorating the birthplace of Jesus (who is also an important figure in Islam). I enjoyed a conversation with a Muslim cleric at the Mosque of Omar in Bethlehem. This happy and talkative cleric shared a charming view of Islam. He explained the Muslim take on Jesus. He prayed. And when I asked him to repeat the prayer in English, his raw and simple love and acceptance that he was a child of God brought me to tears. As you listen to this discussion, realize that anyone can drop into a mosque, like we did, and get to know a cleric.

This is clip #9 of a 10-part series of interviews I did while producing our public television special Rick Steves’ The Holy Land: Israelis and Palestinians Today. Considering the impact of American policies on the daily lives of both Israelis and Palestinians, this is my attempt to introduce you to some people in both camps whose voices might otherwise not be heard.

Venturing into a simply fortified Israeli farming settlement in the West Bank, we met a young farmer who welcomed us with fresh-squeezed juice and a chance to film his thoughts. A young father, he was enjoying what he considers the good life: to be a farmer, back to nature, and raising his kids in an idyllic settlement in the West Bank.

This is clip #8 of a 10-part series of interviews I did while producing our public television special Rick Steves’ The Holy Land: Israelis and Palestinians Today. Considering the impact of American policies on the daily lives of both Israelis and Palestinians, this is my attempt to introduce you to some people in both camps whose voices might otherwise not be heard.

We visited with students at Birzeit University, the leading university in Palestine, to discuss what it’s like for a young person — particularly a young woman — to live in the West Bank. In my endeavor to talk to different people with different views in the Holy Land, I talked with three charming young women about their reality: Western popular influence; how and why they might wear a hijab to cover their heads; and a few fashion tips.

This is clip #7 of a 10-part series of interviews I did while producing our public television special Rick Steves’ The Holy Land: Israelis and Palestinians Today. Considering the impact of American policies on the daily lives of both Israelis and Palestinians, this is my attempt to introduce you to some people in both camps whose voices might otherwise not be heard.

We met this Muslim family in Haifa, a modern Israeli town well-known for a younger generation where Jewish and Arab Israelis live and work in relative peace. They were happy to let me join them at their restaurant table and discuss the reality of being an Arab Israeli (as opposed to an Arab living in the West Bank).

This is clip #6 of a 10-part series of interviews I did while producing our public television special Rick Steves’ The Holy Land: Israelis and Palestinians Today. Considering the impact of American policies on the daily lives of both Israelis and Palestinians, this is my attempt to introduce you to some people in both camps whose voices might otherwise not be heard.

In this interview, Husam Jubran, a very well-established Palestinian tour guide, shares the joys and challenges of earning a living as a guide in the West Bank. Husam talks of the frustrations of living under what many Palestinians consider an Israeli occupation. Hassan helped me scout our television special and then, a year later, also helped me produce it. He’s a young, modern, and well-educated Palestinian who believes in nonviolence and in dignity for Palestine. He shares how he has hope for peace in the Holy Land. After 30 minutes with Husam, you’ll feel like you have a friend in Palestine. Knowing people like Husam, you become more tuned in to the ramifications America’s policies in this region have on real people.

ACLU cupcakes with "Travel as a Political Act" book

On Tuesday, I shared my support of the ACLU on Facebook. My post went viral, with over 2.5 million views, 9,000 shares, and 2,700 comments. I read hundreds of your thoughtful responses and enjoyed replying. Thanks for the insightful back-and-forth on these timely issues. After hearing the news of our $50,000 donation, the ACLU brought my office delicious and patriotic “fired up for freedom” cupcakes. I’d love to share them — but they cost me a lot of money. Instead, here are a few of my favorite comments, with my replies. Thanks again for your support of civil liberties…and your comments.


Beth Magnon: I am trying to do my part. I wrote 15 letters to my congress men and women this week. I have promised myself to send at least 3 letters a week for as long as our country is in this position!

Rick Steves: Yes, a thoughtful letter (especially one that’s not part of an organized campaign) really can have a huge and surprising impact. Bread for the World is a great example of an advocacy group that empowers caring citizens.


Reta Bray: Yes, it’s very important to support the ACLU. I did my small part, and am glad to see you were able to make a substantial donation!

Rick Steves: Donations, like civil liberties themselves, are all important — both big and small.


Jessica Medina: I was nervous that my purchase wouldn’t count towards this donation, since I didn’t see any sign or promo code for it. Then I wondered, how many Trump supporters are shopping on this site right now not knowing about the match? Bwahahahaaa! Thanks Rick Steves!

Rick Steves: That’s a funny thought. I almost had a little pop-up warning put on our site that day.


Genny Sheehan-Short: Rick Steves, I’m from Indianapolis. We have a small business store, Silver In The City, who donated 100% of their sales from their stores and online last Friday to Planned Parenthood Indiana and Kentucky. It’s wonderful to hear of your generosity as well. Thank you!

Rick Steves: I nearly included Planned Parenthood in my ACLU initiative, but decided to keep it simple and more focused. Thanks for supporting Planned Parenthood. Regardless of the morality of abortions, there is a class reality when it comes to a woman’s choice. Even in places where abortions are illegal, those with money and a plane ticket have that option. It is poor women who have no choice and whose lives can be devastated.


Jennifer Lynch Elliott: I love you, Rick Steves! The fact that you make your voice heard without fear of reprisal on your business is inspiring. I love showing your videos to my French and Spanish classes! I’ve always respected you for your awesome work but now I hold you in even higher esteem. Thank you for speaking out!

Rick Steves: Thanks for using my videos in your teaching. I’m hoping to break up my 100 episodes into small teachable nuggets and make these available to teachers for free in a nicely designed and searchable list of streamable video clips. Stay tuned!


Tessa Daniel: Your entire paragraph about white male privilege literally had me yelling “YES!” emphatically in my classroom today. Thank you, thank you, thank you for realizing that it exists, that there are others whose lives are being impacted even more with this presidency, and for doing something about it.

Rick Steves: To all teachers: Thank you for your service. If I were an airline, I’d let you board the plane first.


Maryellen Wilson Sullivan: Traveling on our four (so far) Rick Steves tours has opened our minds and hearts to the way non-Americans live and feel. The “American way” is not the ONLY way. Thanks Rick!

Rick Steves: Maryellen, thanks for the comment. I think the most “profitable” thing we do as a travel company is to give our travelers the transformative experience you just described. Reading about how you brought home that most beautiful souvenir — a broader perspective — made my heart do a happy little flip-flop.


Mike Wolfender: While I seldom find the efforts of the ACLU inspiring, I heartily applaud Rick Steves. He has done something positive to advance what he values without disparaging the process that produced all the freedoms and opportunities the US offers each of us. Ironically, this from a guy who makes his living by leaving the Country.

Rick Steves: It often occurs to me that the second happiest day of my year is the day I leave for Europe…and the happiest is the day I return home.


Diana Baelly: You’ve done your part to make this a more global community in an unfortunate time of xenophobia, extreme nationalism and isolationism. Thank you for your efforts!

Rick Steves: To me, ethnocentricity is a negative trait. I had never considered until this last election that many people actually aspire to be ethnocentric.


Mollie M: Thanks Rick Steves! 50k is a huge donation. You might consider switching your banking to a credit union, a more equitable banking system that serves its members, instead of stockholders. Just a suggestion. Thanks for all of your level headed commentary. Safe Journeys fellow travelers, these are scary times for US citizens, and our friends around the world.

Rick Steves: Thanks for the nudge about my choice of banks. I’ll give that some consideration. By the way, when people tell me “have a safe trip,” I tell them to have a safe stay at home. That’s because where I’m going is safer than where they are staying. Statistically, European travel has never been more safe. I know statistics are optional these days, but there is no question that more people were being killed by terrorists in the 1980s and 1990s than in this decade. We just had quality news rather than entertainment masquerading as news back then — and people were less likely to confuse risk and fear. So, rather than “safe travels,” let’s go back to saying “bon voyage.” Life is good. The world is a beautiful place. And happy travels!


Elizabeth Fourakres Hollingsworth: All Trump meant is that he’s going to be looking out for america’s interests. where is the wrong in that????? my heavens, NO ONE has been looking out for america’s interests in YEARS and YEARS!! all the politicians have been looking out for their own pockets. it’s about TIME somebody is going to look out for our nation’s interests!!!

Rick Steves: Half of humanity is trying to live on $2 a day. As a nation, we are very wealthy. Perhaps the problem lies in distribution of wealth within our already very rich and powerful country.


Lisa Berrios: Thank you, Mr. Steves for recognizing that because something is not a problem for you or others like you, it does not mean the problem does not exist. Your compassion and generosity are inspiring.

Rick Steves: To me, an enlightened citizen steps into the privacy of the voting booth and votes not for his or her self-interest but for the greater good. Simple as that sounds, I think that is beyond the grasp of many in our electorate. It’s important to remember that who wins or loses an election impacts struggling people (both at home and abroad) far more than the well-off.


Amy Tambone: Don’t forget to support your local PBS station. I signed up for the $5/month sustaining membership and will be getting Rick’s book Europe through the Back Door 2017 as well as access to the PBS programs on my iPad.

Rick Steves: Thank you, Amy, for recognizing the value of public broadcasting. Media shapes the minds of our citizenry more than ever. We need that one non-corporate oasis on the dial that assumes an attention span, respects our intelligence, and thinks of us as fellow citizens rather than shoppers (or just more eyeballs on an ad agency’s ratings chart). Powerful forces would prefer a dumbed-down electorate. That’s why I believe those same powerful forces are threatened by — and will try to defund — PBS.


Michele Van Sise: Thank you Rick for supporting the ACLU! I’m at the moment traveling this beautiful country for a full year. Scared for my LGBTQ, black, Muslim, native and Mexican friends. I’m scared for my national parks and forests.

Rick Steves: I’m scared for all things public. Just like the markets and resources of other nations must be in play, anything owned by the public in our country seems like a lost opportunity for the forces of greed — suddenly so powerful in our democracy — whose appetites are, by definition, insatiable.


Tanya Gripton Walker: You’ve been my favorite travel guide source for many years. As a small business owner, I love and respect that you’re willing to take a public stand for what you believe in, even if it might alienate some people. We live in scary times. Keep up the great work!

Rick Steves: To not take a stand in these times, for fear of alienating some people, would be wrong. As history teaches, being fragmented and without solidarity enables evil to rise even in a nation where it has no business thriving.


Anand Saha Priya: “The most dangerous world view is the view of the person who has not seen the world.” Rick Steves has surely seen the world!

Rick Steves: That’s the best travel quote I’ve seen in ages. Thanks!