Rick Steves’ Europe


Why We Travel

In times of crisis and challenge, we ask ourselves: What is the true value of travel? Is it just hedonism...or something more powerful? After a lifetime of exploring Europe Rick Steves shares his reasons why. This special episode is a sonnet to travel — an introspective love story, set in Europe, that vividly celebrates the rewards of exploring our world and the joy that awaits those who travel.

AIRED: December 04, 2020 | 0:26:47

-Hey, I'm Rick Steves.

After four decades of travel -- and with lots more to come --

I've been reading my old journals.

These go back to the 1970s.

I've been reflecting on why I love to travel.

Traveling is leaving home, leaving the familiar behind --

why do we do this?

Well, to experience new things;

to simply have fun, and be amazed.

To learn -- to become students of the world.

And for some, like pilgrims,

to search for meaning.

Join me now as we explore why we travel.





-The joys of travel are wherever your journey takes you:

peaceful parks,

great cities,

across the sea,

or just across town.

Even when we can't travel physically,

we can venture out in spirit.

Travel is a mind-set.

Travelers follow their dreams --

and mine generally take me to Europe.


We travel as tourists,

to have experiences, to have fun.

Going to new places invigorates us;

it's exciting.

On the road, we get more out of our lives --

seeing our first Michelangelo,

exploring our first castle,

savoring something straight from the sea,

reaching for high-altitude thrills,

being enthralled.

Of course, travel is fun --

relaxing with abandon,

not acting our age,

going for broke,

joining the party.

Travel is also sensual.

We see like an artist...

...we listen like a poet...

...we taste the unfamiliar --

we celebrate with all our senses.


-Travel heightens our emotions.

It makes us really feel -- deeply -- the beauty,

vividly -- the power,

and thoughtfully -- the humanity.

This enhanced experience changes us;

it stokes our appetite for life.

Travel is also about people; relationships.

We savor conviviality with old friends...

-[ Speaks foreign language ]

-[ Speaks foreign language ]

-...and with new friends.

[ Indistinct singing ]

[ Laughter ]

We laugh with abandon.

Shared experiences become lifelong memories.

My earliest travel experiences --

captured on the road decades ago in journals and postcards --

remain some of my most treasured memories.

The writing kept telling the story

of how travel makes the world your friend.

June 3, 1980, Dingle Peninsula.

I really didn't know where I was going.

I just stuck out my thumb in whichever direction.

1981, July 7th, York.

The evening was spent enchanted in the church

listening to a Bach mass in B minor.

A landlady looked out the window and cheered to me

saying, "Ah, another day of soft weather."

But I have a strange, almost cocky optimism,

a feeling that things will

somehow work out for the best.


Travel can change our perspective --

we discover there's more to life than increasing its speed.

As we experience new things, we pause,

we reflect;

we let the experience breathe.


With less hurry, we're able to appreciate nature...


...to be overwhelmed by it...


...to notice its power,

its richness...


...the sweep of the weather,

the roar of the river,

the freshness of springtime.


We notice the light --

we savor it.


We marvel at the beauty it creates.

Every sunset is a devotional, reminding us that life is good.


Travel engages us in every sense.

This is why we travel --

we travel for the experience.

-And the wine falls down.

-[ Singing in foreign language ]

[ Crowd cheering ]

-[ Laughs ] -Whoo-hoo!


-As travelers, we learn.

Deepening our understanding of history, art, and culture,

we better appreciate those who came before us.

And it helps us to better prepare for and contribute to

what's next.

Gaining context and perspective, we become wiser.


Wherever we travel, we see reminders

of our collective past.

History speaks;

travelers listen,

and we learn.

We appreciate the long march of human progress.

Great civilizations arc.

They rise...


...they peak...


...and they fall.

We're inspired by their achievements --

the ancient foundations of our own society.


Prehistoric pagans --

mysteries still held in their megalithic wonders...


...the Egyptians,

with the extravagance of their art

and the immensity of their architecture...

...the Greeks, whose magnificent temples

and passion for bringing gods to Earth

established what became a standard for beauty.


And the Romans,

whose empire taught the West how to organize society --

to engineer...


...inspiring those who followed to build big and dream bigger.

Travelers trace the progress

out of ancient times through the ages,

as if enjoying an epic play.

Fear and feudalism,

pillage and plagues,

sacred monarchs,

profane popes.

We witnessed the birth of our modern age:

the Age of Enlightenment --

that spark that lit the Age of Revolution;

then, with the rise of the masses,

the fall of kings.

History teaches us that evil

also plays a role in the human story;

that the struggle for justice, for liberty, for democracy

has always been expensive.

Horrific wars -- so many dead.

We mourn the losses,

we celebrate the victories,

we honor the cost of freedom.


Travelers learn to appreciate the past

as if they actually lived it.

We marvel at glitter and gilding --

dazzled as if duped by a king's propaganda.

We gape through a dome

as if it actually does connect mortals with the gods,

and we gaze at the divine

like an illiterate peasant filled with fear and faith.


My journals capture how travel was becoming my teacher,

and the road was my school.

August 7, 1983, Hexham.

We spent an exciting hour climbing along Hadrian's Wall,

built by the Romans 2,000 years ago

as the northernmost border...

Santorini -- It was a small boat.

I felt quite safe but said several prayers.

By a 74-year-old man on the piazza.

He had more enthusiasm for life and respect for world.

I thought idealism matures into realism

as you wander through your 20s,

but I find I've made a surprising turn.


Each chapter of the human story

has been interpreted by the genius of artists,

illustrating our story...

...expressing it more deeply than mere words can.


From the primitive beauty of pigment on rock

to the canvas of a master,

familiar stories told and retold,

one age speaking to the next- -

medieval, Renaissance, modern.

Art heralds our progress --

the leap from medieval to modern;

humanism -- showing the human body as beautiful,

the human spirit is powerful, confident,

a worthy child of God;

and humankind --

you and me rather than the divine --

as the shaper of destinies.

Art captures sorrow -- the heartbreak of tragedy,

the true cost of war;

it gives voice to tears.


Art captures triumph --

the statue that faced the darkness

and declared, "I can do this -- we can do this,"

the people who demanded freedom for all.


It speaks truth to power.

Art proclaims faith...

...frescoes painted as a form of prayer,

a crucifix painted as the artist wept.

And art proclaims joy --

timeless joys:

the love of life,

the love of love.


Music is art -- it speaks to our soul.

[ Choir singing ]


When we sing, we pray double.

[ Choir singing ]


-[ Singing in native language ]

-And from the street...


...to the pubs...



-...to concert halls...


...to cathedrals...


...music pulls out all the stops.


Dance is art --


art in motion.


It speaks to the heart.


It keeps tradition alive.


-[ Shouts indistinctly ]

-It ignites our passions.

-[ Shouts indistinctly ]

-And architecture is art as well --

ornate palaces stoking royal egos,


grand entries, and gardens fit for a king.


Fortresses of faith built by people

knowing they'd never see them finished,

arches holding sacred stories carved in stone,

spires reaching for the heavens.


Travelers learn that art and history

mix and meld into culture.

We learn to value the importance of culture.

Like cultural chameleons, we blend in.

We join in...

-What you say? -Olé!

[ All cheering ]

...relishing the differences...

-[ Chuckling ]

-...enjoying the similarities.


Oh, nice, huh?

And everyone celebrates the town square:

der Platz,

la plaza, la piazza.

It's on the road that we learn that every culture has a soul.

It's the combination of the art, the history,

and the people that creates that soul.


[ Speaks indistinctly ]

This is why we travel.

we travel to learn, to touch that soul.


Yes. -Yes.

-On the road like pilgrims, we can become seekers.

Even in this age of unprecedented abundance,

many of us hunger for something more -- for meaning.

By leaving home, we learn more about home,

more about ourselves.

We pause, reflect, and hope to grow.


Throughout the ages, people have looked beyond the physical world

to get close to God, or some heavenly creator...


...to ask the eternal questions:

Where did we come from?

Why are we here?

Where will we go?

It's always been a mystery.



the cycle of life,


the promise of something after we die.


[ All singing ]


We sing.

We perform rituals.


We celebrate.

We sit with someone of a different faith

and accept their love.

-I love you. I love him. I love everybody.

-We go to war, often mixing up love and fear --

pawns of the powerful, killing often in the name of God.

We struggle to understand.

We trust, or at least hope, someone up there is listening.

Whether religious or not, travelers can learn

from the holy books of the great monotheistic faiths,

each the story of refugees and nomads,

of pilgrims and travelers.

In the Torah, the people of Israel

wandered in the wilderness.

In the Bible, Jesus' disciples left home

and set out to share their good news.

In the Qur'an, Muhammad said,

"Don't tell me how educated you are...

Tell me how much you've traveled."

These holy scriptures are the stories of travelers --

lessons from those for whom the road was church,


or mosque --

people who traveled to find something bigger.

Pilgrims trek today --

some to get close to God...


...others to better understand themselves.


My journals have helped me reflect

on how being small is actually being big;

how being alone is actually being connected.

June 30, 1980, the Schilthorn.

"I hiked out, only a little afraid,

past the top of a snow field

and onto the tip of a nearby peak,

where I felt very close to God."

"Needing some alone time,

I snuck out to a remote spot beyond the temple

and, among broken Roman columns, just got windblown

in lovely salt." "Along the beach I strolled

and then sat on a stone throne,

a bit cold, loving the silence.

I thought, 'Nobody knows where I am.'"

Here's to good wine and good family.

Traveling makes us appreciate --

appreciate what we have rather than what we don't have.

Savoring the luxury of a simple meal,

embracing solitude,

valuing each summit earned.


Religious or not, we count our blessings --

blessings of plenty,

of stability and community,

of family bonds, and deep friendships.


Why do I see humanity as one?

Because I've traveled.

Why am I curious?

In spite of my privilege, why do I care?

Because I've traveled.

Why am I grateful, and why do I want to contribute?

Because I've traveled.

This is why we travel, and why we keep traveling.

Through traveling, we find meaning.

By traveling thoughtfully, we connect.

Even for those of us who can only travel as a state of mind,

travel can result in a deeper connection.


Travel connects us face-to-face with reality.

It's not virtual. It's not through a viewfinder.

Travel is candid, honest --

being in the moment.

Okay? [ Laughter ]

Thank you.

In a world hungry for authenticity,

we yearn for connection.

But now she's quite big.

She's like you, about like that, yeah.

Travelers connect with different cultures,

different people.

On the road, strangers are just "friends we've yet to meet."

Travel frees us from routine.

It creates room for serendipity...

-Okay, so now I'm ready to be a shepherd.

...serendipity leads to connections.

Travel forces us to bend, and to flex.

It makes us more tolerant

and inspires us to celebrate diversity.

The lessons I've gained from exploring Europe --

the land of my heritage -- are universal.

For me, these lessons are affirmed,

and then stretched. when traveling further afield.

As a child ventures beyond his backyard,

I ventured beyond Europe.

Year after year, I pushed my boundaries.

The world opened wide

with a montage of wonders and lessons learned.

Traveling beyond my comfort zone,

culture shock became constructive.

The growing pains of a broadening perspective --

my ethnocentrism challenged.

The celebration of difference and oneness at the same time,

the recognition that love is love

in their home just as in mine.

I think this is a beautiful, beautiful welcome here.

Through travel we see a world filled with joy,

with compassion,

and with good people.

We learn the more we reach out,

the more we receive.

We learn that we all share the same world...


...And we all share the same window of time.


Travelers seek bridges rather than walls.

Every wall has two sides, and two narratives;

for one to be truly understood, both must be heard.

Traveling, we realize that challenges of our future

will be blind to borders

and best overcome not by conflict and walls,

but by community, and bridges.

There's so much fear these days.

The flip side of fear? It's understanding,

and we gain understanding when we travel.

What is this, now? -The celebration of --

-Travel is more than a holiday. It gives us new experiences,

acts as our greatest teacher,

makes our lives more meaningful,

and connects us with a global family.

We can't all travel physically,

but anyone can live with a traveler's mindset.

It's a choice. Travel makes us more comfortable with the world,

our hearts bigger, and our lives richer. And it makes us happier.

And that is why we travel.








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