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
I’m just wrapping up my most exciting USA lecture tour ever: 30 talks in 23 cities over 35 days. It was a thrill to talk with thousands and thousands of travelers — and I was able to support my partners in guidebook publishing and public television, move the ball forward on drug policy reform, and even spend a couple of wonderful days with my daughter, Jackie.
Now that I look back on it, it was an amazing trip. My schedule was so packed, varied, challenging, and fun — I just have to share it with you. (You can see why I’m glad I packed light and never had to check a bag.)
Feb 9: Fly Seattle to Chicago. Snowstorm cancels lecture at Elmhurst College (rescheduled in three weeks).
Feb 10-11: Three talks at Chicago Travel Show. Fly to Baltimore.
Feb 17-18: Three talks at the Bay Area Travel Show in Santa Clara. Saturday evening talk at the Bay Area Commonwealth Club.
Feb 19: VIP dinner and talk, followed by taping of pledge breaks at St. Louis Public Television.
Feb 20-22: Cambridge Speakers Series talks in St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and Newark each evening. Visits with students at local universities each afternoon. VIP dinners before each talk.
Feb 23: Fly Newark to Los Angeles.
Feb 24-25: Three talks at the Los Angeles Travel Show. Fly to Philadelphia on Sunday evening.
Feb 26-28: Cambridge Speakers Series (part two) with talks in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Boston each evening. Visits with students at local universities each afternoon. VIP dinners before each talk.
March 1: Fly Boston to Chicago. Travel Skills talk at WTTW, followed by four-hour live pledge event on TV.
March 2: Give talk at Elmhurst College that was snowed out on Feb 9. Late flight to San Francisco.
March 3: Produce newEuropean Festivals pledge special at KQED (to be aired nationally on public television next season).
March 4: Travel Skills talk for supporters of Twin Cities Public Television in Minneapolis, followed by evening of live pledge on TV.
March 5: Fly Minneapolis to New York City. Spend the evening hanging out with Bill Moyers and his lovely wife, Judith.
March 6: Publicity tour in NYC for the new edition ofTravel as a Political Act, meetings with my publisher, and an evening talk at the Upper West Side Barnes & Noble.
March 7: More publicity tour and a busy afternoon and evening at Hachette Book Group’s annual meeting.
March 8: A free day!
March 9: Fly NYC to Burbank.
March 10: All day having fun in LA with daughter Jackie and her boyfriend, Damian.
March 11-14: Talks each evening for the Worldwide Speakers Group in Beverly Hills, Thousand Oaks, Redondo Beach, and Pasadena.
March 15: Fly home to Seattle.
Everything went perfectly smoothly — thanks to my publicist, Ashley Sytsma, who manages my schedule when I’m on the road — and I even had time to focus on several important writing projects.
I normally wouldn’t be away from home so much at this time of year, but my schedule just filled up. The biggest factor was traveling to ten cities as a part of a big-time (for me) lecture series. It was exciting to be part of a lineup that included speakers like President Bill Clinton, David Cameron, Ted Koppel, and Cokie Roberts — and sharing myTravel as a Political Act talk with 2,000 people a night in huge theaters (like the Boston Symphony Hall, home of the Boston Pops) was a thrill.
Each evening followed the same general pattern. Before the lecture, I would usually host a meet-and-greet for VIP series subscribers. Then, we’d all sit down for dinner at a single huge table. I had a mic next to my wine glass, and I’d spend the entire meal answering questions. After dinner was done, I would have to go to the theater to get ready for the talk, and I’d excuse myself with a little joke by saying, “It was nice not eating with you.”
Event organizers usually ask speakers about their personal preferences for the greenroom. I just say that I need solitude — no theater or TV station crew hanging out and chatting — and that I prefer juice to soda pop. Here I am with a pile of apple juice bottles:
Stay tuned: I’ll be sharing more photos and stories from the trip over the next few days.
Back in 2012, we voted to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana in Washington State. I’m proud of that vote and what it has meant for social justice, civil liberties, and public safety in my state. And so, every election cycle since then, I’ve gone on a barnstorming tour to help other states end our country’s prohibition on marijuana. In 2014, it was Oregon (we won). In 2016, it was Massachusetts and Maine (we won). And in this year, it was a whirlwind trip to DC, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, and Vermont.
The first eight states that passed laws to regulate the sale of marijuana were “initiative states,” where citizens can vote directly on proposed laws that are too hot for politicians to risk supporting. Now that those progressive initiative states have legalized, it’s time to take the state-by-state dismantling of prohibition to the legislatures — starting in states where this issue is polling strongly. The Northeast, where Massachusetts and Maine have already legalized, sees legalization as a rising tide that, sooner or later, all will have to rise with.
Yesterday, I posted about my time in DC, working the halls of Congress. Next up, I spent successive days in Annapolis (the capital of Maryland), Dover (the capital of Delaware), Trenton (the capital of New Jersey), and Montpelier (the capital of Vermont). At each stop, I was the “likable travel guy” — used as bait by local lawmakers spearheading legalization bills to get fellow lawmakers and the press to drop by and learn more. I can’t remember meeting so many hardworking public servants in one week. It was an inspiring and educational experience for me.
Plus, it was good travel. At the Maryland State House, the first peacetime capitol in our country, one proud lawmaker took me to a room — the Old Senate Chamber — which he described as one of the most important places anywhere for democracy. It was here that George Washington declared that he’d freely give up power rather than becoming a de facto king.
Hiking up the steps to the capitol building that evening, we passed through a big assembly of gun-rights activists, all with newly minted and uniform placards. (One was a fan of my TV shows. He tried to teach me why we need so many guns, and as I left, he hollered, “We Second Amendment guys like PBS, too!”)
Whenever forces oppose us, I wonder, “What’s the financial incentive?” There’s a lot of money to be made by keeping pot illegal. We’ve found that our opposition — what I call the “PPP” or “Pot Prohibition Profiteers” — is funded by pharmaceutical companies, big beer conglomerates, and even the pee-in-a-cup people who sell marijuana testing kits. In Delaware, I encountered opposition for the first time from AAA, which has expressed concerns about road safety. I would point out, respectfully, that those claims are pretty easy to debunk.
In New Jersey, the “Garden State,” we drove through a forest of billboards in an industrial wasteland (one of the biggest read, “Pray for loved ones in Purgatory”) to reach a press conference. For the first time, I heard someone make the case that we shouldn’t legalize marijuana because we’d have to retrain all the sniffer dogs. (And he was serious!)
My favorite stop was in snowy Vermont, the state that Ben & Jerry & Bernie all call the perfect place for their values. The tiny capital of Montpelier (7,000 people and, they brag, no McDonald’s) hosts the convivial historic statehouse. It felt like a big coffee klatch of lawmakers, press, lobbyists, and citizens — all working to keep Vermont, Vermont.
Just a few weeks before I arrived, Vermont became the first state legislature to legalize the possession of marijuana — but they still have not created a state marketplace for marijuana sales. I joined the Senate Judiciary Committee (led by the venerable Senator Dick Sears) in a plush little room — me and five senators at a grand, old, wooden table, with press and the public gathered around in a friendly and informal atmosphere. I was welcomed to give my 15-minute review of our experience in Washington State and my take on European drug policy and to entertain questions.
Afterward, Lt. Governor David Zuckerman took me into his office to talk travel and drug policy. Before I left, I noticed a big bean on his desk, which he picked up and eloquently compared to each citizen in his state. Without fertile soil, a bean is nothing — but in fertile soil, it can grow big, strong, and robust, reaching its God-given potential. And, like that bean, a child needs the fertile soil of a well-governed society to reach her potential. In Vermont, that just sounded so right.
If you would like to watch a sample of the message I brought to Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, and Vermont, here’s a fun talk from the Skinny Pancake restaurant in Burlington, as well as a more in-depth interview I did with Heady Vermont.
We’re here LIVE at The Skinny Pancake Burlington with Rick Steves talking about Cannabis reform in Vermont and beyond. Thanks to Skinny P for hosting us and to Marijuana Policy Project #vtpoli
Tune in for a chance to ask Rick Steves a question about his decades of advocacy and his most recent cannabis advocacy adventure across the East Coast in the midst of monumental reforms and legal marijuana from D.C. to Vermont. This conversation will be hosted and produced by Heady Vermont, an independent Vermont-based media company and advocacy group.
Every winter, I take a road trip across the USA, giving talks along the way. This year’s trip is a big one: 25 cities in 30 days, which I kicked off with a full week dedicated to drug policy reform and helping to legalize marijuana.
I have embraced this cause for many years. I’ve been a board member of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, since 2003. In 2012, I was a co-sponsor, major funder, and leading spokesperson for I-502, an initiative that legalized, taxed, and regulated the recreational use of marijuana for adults in Washington State. On election day that year, Washington and Colorado became the first jurisdictions in the world to attempt to turn a thriving marijuana black market into a highly taxed and regulated legal market. Many others had decriminalized marijuana, but it was a historic first to entirely legalize it (to honestly sort out the complicated “back-end” issues of wholesaling and distribution).
When I talk to audiences about marijuana, I always say, “I’m not pro-pot. I’m anti-prohibition, anti-racial discrimination, and pro-civil liberties.” And I always remind my audiences that marijuana is a drug, it can be dangerous, and it can be abused. But we now know, after a five-year track record in WA and CO, that when you legalize smartly, adult use stays essentially the same, teen use does not go up, crime does not go up, and DUIs do not go up. What does go up are protections of our civil liberties — and tax revenue. Marijuana was once a thriving illegal market in Washington State (rivaling apples in sales) that empowered and enriched organized crime. Now, it’s part of the legal market – and, with $1.3 billion in yearly sales, it’s a big part. Marijuana generated $319 million in revenue for our state last year alone. And we’re no longer arresting about 8,000 (mostly poor and black) people each year.
Because I’m so proud of what we’ve done for social justice, civil liberties, and public safety in our state, each election cycle I dedicate a week or so of my time to share this information with other states. In 2014, it was Oregon (we won). In 2016, it was Massachusetts and Maine (we won). And in 2018, I’m preaching the gospel of legalization in Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, and Vermont.
I started off the week in Washington DC, working the halls of Congress with lobbyists from NORML and the Marijuana Policy Project (and marveling at how omnipresent NRA lobbyists were). We dropped in on several Representatives and met Senators in the hallways, always sharing our experience, and we hosted briefings for Congressional aides in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. There’s actually a bipartisan Congressional Cannabis Caucus now — with scores of lawmakers on board. We’re making serious progress at the federal level.
And this was a first: An interview I did under the U.S. Capitol Rotunda was turned into an animated clip.
I’ve got to brag a bit about my hardworking guidebook staff and co-authors here at Rick Steves’ Europe. Researching, writing, and updating 52 out of the top 100 European travel guidebooks in the USA is quite an operation.
I love looking at weekly US sales figures and seeing where our books fit into the list of bestselling Europe guidebooks. In one typical week in January, our guidebooks held 19 of the top 22 spots. (Two of the other three titles that made the list were Iceland guidebooks. We don’t have an Iceland guidebook out…yet! On March 27, a shiny new Rick Steves Iceland guidebook will hit the shelves — and the free ride will be over for those two Iceland books by the other guys.)
To make sure our guidebooks deserve their leading place among the competition, we deploy a talented team of researchers. Every year, they fan out across Europe, visiting (and lovingly updating) our guidebook listings in person. To prepare them for the task, our Book Department holds an annual research workshop, convened by Managing Editor Jennifer Davis. We’re all grateful for the hard work of these researchers.
We’re also thankful for our partnership with Avalon Travel (and their parent company, Hachette Book Group). Every year, the Avalon crew flies up to Seattle for a few days, giving our teams a chance to work together in person. During these visits, we always enjoy a “state of the publishing world” presentation by our publisher, Bill Newlin. This year, as usual, Bill shared great news on the sales front and made a case for more titles. He is a wizard in the publishing world — and that, combined with all the talent and hard work of our respective staffs, makes us hard to beat.
Thanks for traveling with us and trusting Rick Steves guidebooks for your European adventures. We really believe that, if you equip yourself with good information and expect yourself to travel smart, you can — and we’re doing our best to be sure you enjoy maximum travel thrills for every mile, minute, and dollar in your precious vacation.