Rick Steves on meaningful travel

We’ve written about Rick Steves before. Neil hates him. (Not really, just jealous as all get out) and Aaron explored Steves’ guidebook writing know-how. Not long ago, Justin put some light on Rick Steves’ rap talents, or lack thereof. I catch Rick Steves from time to time on NPR and have some jealous pangs myself.

Recently, I came across this video of Steves on YouTube where he talks about the importance of traveling with meaning. Listening to him talk about what travel means to him provides insight into what motivates any of us to head to a place that is different from where we live. In Steves’ experience, there is an aspect of a spiritual endeavor in the travel he does. “Travel to me brings people together,” he says. “If you are an independent traveler, to me, it’s a spiritual experience.” To him, there is more than going from one tourist spot to another. Admittedly, I tend to agree with him, although I like the tourist hot spot travel from time to time.

I remember when I was in the Peace Corps I felt a bit harsh towards folks who I happened across in my forays to the tourist haven of Fajara, The Gambia. From my perspective, at the time, they were wandering through the world enjoying its bits and pieces without the drive to make life better for anyone while there I was assigned to a village with the mission to “help people help themselves.” I was probably in a whiny phase because helping people was a lot harder than I anticipated. What I really craved was a head of iceberg lettuce and a bag of pretzels, the two things not to be found in The Gambia at the time that I lived there.

There are certain moments in Steves’ talk where he teeters a bit close to the voice of judgment, similar to what I felt, about what motivates people to travel. His ideas are worth thinking about, although, as I’ve become older, I’ve become gentler in my approach. In my thinking, any time anyone sets foot across the border from where he or she resides into another culture, it’s mostly a good thing. One never knows which experience will be the one that changes a life. Plus, for folks who have only two weeks of vacation a year, there’s reality to deal with. Sometimes a person just needs some R&R in order to cope with slogging through life at home. But, perhaps, that’s the difference between travel and a vacation.