Mar 01, 2023
Be a Citizen of the World: A Conversation with Rick Steves
The World Affairs Council of Philadelphia in partnership with Villanova University hosted a conversation with America’s most respected authority on European travel, Rick Steves. As international travel returns for many following the early years of the pandemic – whether for business, family, or pleasure – the audience heard from one of the world’s leading travel experts about his experiences, favorite places, and best tips and tricks for making your next adventure fun, affordable, and culturally broadening.
About the Event
Rick Steves is a popular public television host, a best-selling guidebook author, and an outspoken activist who encourages Americans to broaden their perspectives through travel. Widely considered America’s leading authority on European travel, Rick is the founder and owner of Rick Steves' Europe, a travel business with a tour program that brings more than 30,000 people to Europe annually.
The World Affairs Council of Philadelphia heard from this experienced wanderer how travel can expand perspectives, introduce people to new cultures, and shape an informed worldview. The event will include a keynote address and time for Q&A where the audience will have the chance to dive deeper into the topics of their choosing.
Rick Steves began with an introduction to his philosophy of travel: that tourism should push people beyond their comfort zones and introduce them to new ways of life and thought. In his opinion, a broader perspective is the most valuable keepsake a traveler can bring home.
For examples, he pointed to cities on the Italian Riviera which had been damaged by changing weather patterns and bike-friendly infrastructure in Amsterdam, which exposed him to the effects of climate change and different solutions. Rick also addressed the challenges presented by fear: fear of travel, fear of new things, or fear of other people outside one's 'tribe.' He said that he believes remaining in our own segmented societies builds up this fear and prevents us from developing a deeper understanding of others. He argued that empathy for others allows for conflict resolution and tolerance. As an example from his own travels, he explained how he initially disliked St. Peter’s Basilica because of his personal religious background. However, after choosing to set aside his “baggage,” he instead learned to admire the desire of the building’s sponsors and religious followers to praise God through beautiful architecture.
Rick also described how his travels provided him with greater perspective about the United States’ place in the world. In France he was touched by the honored place given to a U.S. flag raised over a castle liberated in WWII. While in Iran, he experienced the friendliness shown to a foreign visitor and met people who felt worried or personally wounded by American culture and foreign policy. Rick reflected on the tendency to “build walls instead of bridges,” which perpetuates propaganda and increases fear. Using examples from Guatemala and El Salvador, he expressed his concern that inequality and economic desperation make societies and the world a more dangerous place. He voiced his hope that citizens, informed by their experiences abroad, will be inspired to address inequality.
The program then moved to audience Q&A. When asked how the U.S. would change if more Americans traveled abroad, Rick predicted that it would inform better citizenship and teach practical lessons about responsible capitalism. Reflecting on the differences he sees highlighted after returning home from his travels, he noted that Italian towns are formed around the piazza and that many American cities seem to lack similar public meeting spaces. Audience members asked about the country that has developed most since his first visit, and Rick responded that he thinks Germany has advanced admirably because of its investment in educating the electorate and its people’s trust in institutions. The final question was about how to find hope in the face of bleak news, particularly the war in Ukraine. Rick replied that people must find joy in what they do and in their connections to others. He expressed his hope to visit Ukraine after the end of the war and document the experiences of its people.