Rick Steves says Americans should start venturing farther than Orlando.
“I didn’t quite know if it would be rude to say that here or not,” Steves said jokingly after he was met with laughter and applause from the Ringling College Library Association Town Hall crowd Feb. 11. “[Orlando] is great, but after four or five trips, you could go to Portugal.
“There is one guidebook that outsells the ‘Rick Steves: Guidebook to Italy,’ and it is the guidebook to Disney World,” Steves said. “That’s la-la land, that’s escapism, and that’s OK. But there is a reality out there, and if you want to, then you can experience it.”
During his hourlong talk, Steves spoke on how traveling can challenge beliefs, the importance of keeping an open mind and how many Americans are typically reticent to travel outside the U.S.
Steves, an American travel writer, tour-promoter, activist and television personality who has made a career out of traveling throughout Europe over the past 20 years, said that when Americans step out of their comfort zone and journey over the Atlantic Ocean, they will discover that they are not the norm.
“Fear is for people who don’t get out very much,” Steves said. “Think about it: Who are the most frightening people in our society? The people buried in the middle of it with no passport, whose world is shaped by the commercial news media. But when you get out in the world filled with beautiful people, loving people, it’s with joy. Let’s get out there and get to know the other 96% of humanity.”
The best way to learn about your own country is from a distance, Steves said, because sometimes it’s good to be in a situation where your norm might make you be considered as “the oddball.”
“There are silly misunderstandings between people, and in so many cases, you don’t realize that it’s silly until you meet that person, and then you realize: ‘What was I afraid about? What was I threatened by?’” Steves said. “It’s so great that people have different life stories and different perspectives.”
Halfway through his talk, Steves switched gears to compare how Europe deals with situations such as prostitution and drug use with how the U.S. handles them.
To him, the U.S. is “strangely enthusiastic” about legislating morality, or legislating based on society’s current moral consensus. Steves cited the 70,000 people in jail for nonviolent marijuana possession charges and the 800,000 Americans arrested on marijuana charges each year.
“They’re not rich white guys like me; they’re poor people of color,” Steves said. “It’s a prohibition that doesn’t work. And Europeans have inspired me to see that it makes sense to take the crime out of the equation and treat it as a health and an education challenge rather than a criminal challenge.”
The Ringling Town Hall series will continue on Feb. 17 with Ambassador Wendy Sherman.