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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To add meaning to the holiday season, every Christmas our traveling community works together to help hungry people around the world.

Here’s how it works: You make a $100 gift to Bread for the World. I will match your donation – and send you my Christmas DVD, coffee-table book, and CD as a thank you. This year, my personal goal is to match all gifts up to $250,000.

I see Bread for the World not as a charity, but as a service. With our help, they are able to go into the halls of our government and speak up (or “lobby”) for hungry people in our country and around the world. This year, the need is particularly great. Europe is in the midst of the worst refugee crisis since World War II. Parts of Africa are suffering from a horrible drought. And one in five U.S. children still lives in a family that struggles to get enough to eat.

Go to ricksteves.com/bread to get on board — and please share this challenge with your loved ones. Imagine, as an extended family of caring (and traveling) people, together we can empower Bread for the World’s work with $500,000.





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OK, the forces of Trump have taken the White House. For people who love our world and celebrate diversity, it’s a setback…a big setback. We internationalists, progressives, and people who want to build bridges rather than walls lost. But by our nature, we don’t scream “rigged system”…we’ll be thankful we have a peaceful transition in our country, and we will soldier on. As for our mission of keeping America traveling and engaged in our world: It is stronger than ever. We will keep on travelin’ — and hope our country will, too.

While our Rick Steves’ Europe management team was out on our annual retreat, my staff put on their “Keep on Travelin’” T-shirts and surprised me with these photos. Thanks to my wonderful staff for affirming our more-important-than-ever mission.





Michelangelo David

The consequences of this election are undeniably huge. Those of us who see our world as a family and our environment as a trust, and who believe that the measure of a society is how it cares for those in need, can be sad in this defeat. But the voters have spoken. I hope we all do our best to accept President Trump, pick up the pieces, and carry on. This morning—mindful of our mission to help America “keep on traveling”—I reassured our staff that, as things become darker, our light becomes brighter. Together, we will shine our light with more energy than ever.

To paraphrase Martin Luther King Jr., the moral arc of our world is long but it bends toward justice. As travelers engaged with our world in all of its diversity, we contribute to that arc. It’s a long haul, but I have confidence that that arc will bend in a way that is ultimately right.





When I share political observations learned from talking with people in foreign countries, some people say, “Rick, stick to travel.” But these ideas are the very essence of travel. My mission is to help make travel a broadening and educational experience. That’s why I’ve written a book called Travel as a Political Act.

This clip shares a few thoughts that hit me several years ago, as I stood among Germans at the top of their glassy, then-new Reichstag dome in Berlin — thoughts on the dangers of a dumbed-down society. It’s just one minute, excerpted from my 80-minute “Travel as a Political Act” talk. Warning: If you think I should “stick to travel,” watching that talk could make you really angry.





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OK, I know you’re scared of Trump…or mad at Hillary. But — as Bill Clinton used to say about the economy — IT’S THE ISSUES, STUPID! The media would rather talk about sex and bluster — it’s good for ratings. (Politicians have learned that talking about the issues with actual details only causes problems.) But this election will have real consequences, and how we vote — Democrat or Republican — will shape our society. It’s much more than the president. It’s the Senate and the House of Representatives. There’s no right or wrong, other than understanding how each party stands on the issues that you care about and voting accordingly.

Here’s my challenge: Ignore the personality stuff and the silliness on the news. Compare each party’s stances on the issues to your beliefs. (It’s fair to say that candidates embrace their respective party platforms, and generally vote in lock step with these.) Take this issues “blind taste test,” make your choice — Democrat or Republican — and then vote.

 

25 Issues Party #1 Party #2
Climate change a hoax really important
National healthcare no (privatize it) yes (build on it)
Abortion pro-life pro-choice
Social Security more privatized status quo, public
Education privatize support public
Environment fewer safeguards more safeguards
Energy friendlier to oil friendlier to renewables
Foreign relations build walls build bridges
Immigration harder softer
United Nations bad good
Israel BFF with privileges friend with limits
Iran nuke deal no yes
Corporations fewer restrictions more restrictions
Banks fewer restrictions more restrictions
Taxing the wealthy less more
Taxing corporations less more
Inheritance tax end it keep it
Labor unions should be weaker should be stronger
Minimum wage no raise raise it
Marijuana status quo reclassify, liberalize
Supreme Court picks conservative liberal
Citizens United for against
Voter rights don’t expand expand
For-profit prisons allow end
Presidential candidate Trump Clinton

 

If you think this issues-based comparison might be helpful to others, please share it. Thanks, vote thoughtfully, and GHA (God help America).





Here’s a short clip (with a daring little pun buried inside) from one of the new episodes of my TV show, airing now across the country on public television and online in the Watch the TV Show section of my website.

We had a fascinating time filming the Nazi Documentation Center in Hitler’s favorite city, Nürnberg. It’s fascinating (and, hopefully, instructive) to think of the tenor of those turbulent times in Germany and how Hitler came to power. His specialty: huge rallies, stoking the fears of angry masses (especially fears of minorities), and a dumbed-down message that repeated lies and insults until his followers started shouting them back. He had a passion for constructing buildings as bombastic as his speeches.

To this day, Germans ask: How could this have happened? Hitler was a master of media and the mass hypnosis of the German nation. His populist promises (coming on the heels of tough economic times) led to catastrophe. One positive that came from this: to this day, Germany works to make its electorate not dumbed-down, but smarter. Perhaps another positive: that we might take the lessons history wants to teach us a little more seriously.





I had so much fun during my weeklong barnstorming tour through Massachusetts and Maine working to help those states legalize, tax, and regulate a thriving marijuana black market. My favorite interview on the trip was my very last, with Boston’s smart and quick-witted Jim Braude — who hosts popular current affairs shows on WGBH TV and radio. He starts the interview with a short medley of anti-marijuana voices. Then he grills me on my take. This clip sums up the complicated issue as succinctly as I can imagine in just 8 minutes.

For much more related media, explore my drug policy archive. Thanks…and happy travels.





All over the USA people are realizing that the common-sense way to deal with a widely used soft drug called marijuana is to legalize, tax, and regulate it. But old-school politicians are still parroting the federal government’s talking points. When I came upon a video of Maine Governor Paul LePage’s stance opposing that state’s attempt to change its marijuana laws, I just had to respond. As you watch this clip, consider that Gov. LePage plays the part of politicians across the country, who talk like it’s still 2010. I rebut his position by sharing the new understanding of this issue (after several states have legalized pot) as if it’s 2016. Marijuana, which is on the ballot in many states next week, is a hot topic. What’s it like in your state?





A few days after returning from Europe, I embarked on my every-two-years barnstorming tour to help states end our country’s prohibition on marijuana. Four years ago, it was my state, Washington. Two years ago, it was Oregon. And this week, it was Maine and Massachusetts. I had a great time in those two beautiful states and raised a lot of awareness before this November’s election. Why me in those states? I went there to share a common-sense, European take on drug policy reform, and to share my state’s track record after our 2012 vote to legalize, tax, and regulate pot. You can review some of the press I earned in Maine and Massachusetts, and here are a few photos from my latest travels:

Rick Steves with newspaper

I spent a week in the two states, getting as much press as I could. It was pretty easy to get into the newspapers — like this one in the beautiful town of Northampton, in western Massachusetts. Everything they say about how glorious the foliage is in New England this time of year is true — so beautiful. But my focus was on an entirely different foliage…one that lands too many people (especially if they’re poor or black) in jail.

Rick Steves and campaign

This year, five states are trying to join the four that have already legalized the adult use of marijuana: California, Nevada, Arizona, Maine, and Massachusetts. Each state has a team whose mission is to get their initiative passed. Here’s the gang in Maine. They’re renting a dumpy office for a few months and fighting like mad to defend the local citizenry from the onslaught of misinformation from what I call “the PPP” — the pot prohibition profiteers. They are the organizations that make money because pot is illegal, and they fund the opposition to initiatives that aim to take crime out of the equation. In every campaign I’ve been involved with, we’ve been up against beer money, prison-industry money, and money from the pharmaceutical industry. These groups have one thing in common: They’ll lose money when we legalize pot.

Notes

It was interesting for me as a teacher to have to hone my delivery. On my first day, I gave two interviews from my car on the way to the airport…I was very rusty. But having to give about six interviews on radio, TV, and to newspapers every day (plus talks every night), I got my talking points down really well in a hurry. When doing interviews on the radio, I had this cheat sheet to ensure I made my points effectively.

Jorge

It was quite a whirlwind. In Boston, I had Jorge and his great town car all day long — running me from my hotel to each gig. Marijuana is a pretty sexy topic, and I managed to get on just about all the media outlets we wanted.

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I was a bit frustrated by how nervous various organizations in New England were to host a talk on drug policy reform. In Oregon and Washington we had no problem getting people to host us. But in Maine and Massachusetts, it was very tough. We managed to make presentations at a few universities, at a city club, and at an event hosted by the ACLU. But the real publicity value is not measured by the size of the audience at a talk, but by the “earned media” we got from newspapers, radio, and TV. Reporters were on hand at each talk.

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I got on plenty of TV shows. Generally, the hosts were friendly to the issue. Our biggest challenge was the political establishment. They were spouting all the old “Reefer Madness” points. I kept saying, “Your politicians are talking like it’s 2010. It’s 2016 now and we have a track record. We know what happens when we legalize, tax, and regulate: Teen use does not go up, DUIs do not go up, crime does not go up…the only thing that goes up is tax revenue (and, in my state, we are raising $120 million a year by turning a thriving black market into a highly regulated and taxed industry).”

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Radio interviews were the most fun. Talk-show hosts seem to be liberal or libertarian and love to celebrate common-sense laws and civil liberties. While you only get a couple of minutes on commercial TV, on radio you get upwards of half an hour.

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I’ve read that the press contingent filling Hillary’s plane is composed mostly of “kids” in their 20s. Coincidentally, I learned that the hotshot reporters who’ve earned huge respect from my publicists are also millennials. These whiz kids are really smart and were fun to talk to. And, they wrote the most influential columns in Boston.

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After a grueling day of interviews and a talk in the evening, it was fun to collapse onto my hotel bed, turn on the late news, and see myself talking not about travel…but about stopping the war on marijuana.





With my staff and guides tuning in to see how I’d do after nearly 20 years of not actually leading one of our tours, I have to say I did it: I finished our Best of Europe in 21 Days tour with as many travelers as I started with, I enjoyed it, and I learned our methods firsthand. (Actually, I cheated, with three weeks of wonderful help from co-guides Ben Cameron and Trish Feaster.)

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Tour guiding has its mundane side…such as entering all the receipts into our guides’ not-so-beloved accounting software.

 

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The tour’s over: It’s the Best of Europe in 21 Days…and, the morning after, our group is all smiles, still enjoying each other, and ready to tackle more of Paris. These are great travelers!

 

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We include a two-day Paris Museum Pass with our tour. And that means the city is wide open for our travelers on the day after the tour. Here Ginger and Carl, guidebook and passes in hand, are ready for more Paris. (Probably the single most appreciated travel tip I offer is my encouragement for travelers to take advantage of the wonderful Paris Museum Pass. It pays for itself in a couple of admissions, and you get to skip all the lines and go directly into whatever sight you like. With a Museum Pass, Paris becomes your high-culture playground.)

 

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Photo: thetravelphile.com / facebook.com/thetravelphile

Thanks again, Ben and Trish, for the guide guidance. You guys were great to co-guide with.