On Sunday, January 30th I attended The Travel and Adventure Expo at the Rosemont Convention Center in Chicago, which was exciting but not necessarily geared towards someone without a couple thousand dollars set away for their next vacation. My main motivation is going was to see one of my travel heroes, Rick Steves, as he gave a presentation on relating to his latest book, “Travel as a Political Act”.
As a first impression, Steves’ talk was filled with the kind of fun anecdotes that many have come to expect from his guidebooks and his TV series. A favorite was his interaction with two old Irishmen he met. The exchange went something like this:
Rick: Were you born here?
Irishman: Well, uh, about 5 miles down the road actually.
Rick: Well, have you lived here all your life?
Irishman: No, not yet…
Steves used other amusing or surprising anecdotes about life in foreign countries to impress upon his audience the point of his book; that the best souvenir we can bring home from our travels is a broader world perspective. In fact, I am surprised to admit that his worldviews are far more liberal than I imagined them to be, including his views on legalizing marijuana. But more importantly Steves used the premise of broadening our perspectives to introduce one of his more recent projects, a TV episode and booklet on Iran.
In typically candid fashion Steves stated he thought it was important to know more about people we are going to bomb, so that we feel bad when they die. Well, yes, I suppose so Rick. I probably would not have said it that way, but his intention was to humanize a people and a nation that the media has largely demonized, and that remains dangerously mysterious to the average American. And yet to do it through the same lens as every other Rick Steves TV series and guidebook, through art, culture, history and just simply talking with people.
After I returned home I watched the Iran video online, and read through the free booklet he had handed out after his presentation. It felt like an eye-opening experience, even though I’ve done my own reading on the country and had an Iranian friend in college. I suppose whenever a foreign country seems a lot more like home than you expected it to be, it’s striking. And then with my new revelation I turned to tell my mother what I’d learned and she promptly told me she hoped I’d never go to such a backward place. Waa waa.
Some other photos from the Expo: