If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium

Rick Steves: beloved travel guru, and total pothead. (In this Monday, Nov. 26, 2012 photo, Rick Steves holds a plastic marijuana leaf necklace as he sits with a poster used to advertise his business in Edmonds, Wash. AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Rick Steves wants to help you travel the world, no matter your budget. Not just because travel is fun, but because travel expands your horizons and changes your worldview. Steves is about a lot more than making sure you maximize your 3-day museum pass — did you know that the first time he traveled to Central America, “he came back so outraged that he wrote a fiery tract called ‘There’s Blood on Your Banana,’ then flew to Washington and hand-delivered a copy to the office of every member of Congress”? Sam Anderson‘s New York Times profile of Steves is a loving, rollicking, educational tribute to the man who launched a thousand backpackers.

Sometimes, fans urge Steves to run for office. When I asked him if he would ever get into politics, he had an answer ready: “I already am.” Good travel teaching, in his eyes, is inherently political. To stay in a family-owned hotel in Bulgaria is to strengthen global democracy; to pack light is to break the iron logic of consumerism; to ride a train across Europe is to challenge the fossil-fuel industry. Travel, to Steves, is not some frivolous luxury — it is an engine for improving humankind, for connecting people and removing their prejudices, for knocking distant cultures together to make unlikely sparks of joy and insight. Given that millions of people have encountered the work of Steves over the last 40 years, on TV or online or in his guidebooks, and that they have carried those lessons to untold other millions of people, it is fair to say that his life’s work has had a real effect on the collective life of our planet. When people tell Steves to stay out of politics, to stick to travel, he can only laugh.

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