Editor's note: This piece was originally published on March 6, 2018.
When we say the word “vacation,” most Americans probably picture a white sand beach in Florida or perhaps an amusement park adventure with your family. However, guidebook author and PBS TV host Rick Steves urges you to use travel as an opportunity to get out of your comfort zone.
Steves has lived about one-third of his life out of a carry on suitcase and has written 50 books on what to do, see, and eat in countries all over the world. But out of all his guidebooks he's written, he considers his recent book — Travel as a Political Act: How to Leave Your Baggage Behind — his most valuable and important text for travelers.
"Over the years, I've found, of course, you've got to learn how to pack light, catch the train, and find a good hotel. But what's really important is to learn how to get out of your comfort zone and have a broadening experience and come home with what I think is the greatest souvenir — and that's that broader perspective," says Steves.
Travel as a Political Act guides readers to a greater sense of empathy for the 96 percent of humanity who live outside of the United States. Steves advocates that we can learn more about America by observing other countries and challenging ourselves.
"It's just transformative and it's more important than ever that Americans who are curious get out there and get to know the world," he notes.
In a world that is post-Brexit and post-Trump, traveling to a distant land may seem even more intimidating. However, Steves says most fear fueled by "overrated" terrorism and foreigners in general is misplaced, and can even be eradicated by expanding your horizons and interacting with humans across the globe.
"The more we travel, the safer this world is going to become," Steves says. "Fear is for people who don't get outside very much, the flip side of fear is understanding, and...one of the beautiful ways to gain understanding is to travel."
Steves says he loves to go to conflicted (but not dangerous) areas such as Ireland, the Holy Land, and the former Soviet Union and simply talk to people. Only through speaking with real people do you understand the different sides of conflict and learn to disprove your own view, he says.
"It's really instructive and challenging and stimulating for me to get out of my bubble and talk to smart people who see things differently, and then we can compare notes and I think we can be smarter in our society."
The American way of life or work ethic is not the standard to compare the rest of the world to, says Steves. In fact, he believes that the US could benefit from many practices and policies other countries implement. Although critics may accuse him of being socialist or un-American, Steves is quick to point out that while he spends much of his time away — he always returns home and simply wants to create a better home through his broadened perspectives.
"I'm an American through and through. I love going to Europe and I spend four months in Europe every year for the last 30 years, but the happiest day of the year for me is when I come home," he says.