Rick Steves travels around the world with the philosophy that travel can help shape your worldview with the mission of getting to know your neighbors.
WEMU's Lisa Barry talks to Steves about his NPR radio show "Travel With Rick Steves," which will soon be heard on 89.1 WEMU.
Lisa Barry: In addition to the NPR benchmark programs--Morning Edition and All Things Considered--you hear on WEMU, we try to keep listeners informed and entertained with a wide variety of locally hosted music programs and other programs. This is Lisa Barry, and I've got big news for WEMU listeners. Beginning October 2nd, we're going to be sharing a new program. Ask Me Another is ending production at the end of this month, and we are delighted to let you know that we will be airing Travel with Rick Steves, a radio compliment of the popular PBS TV series beginning October 2nd. And joining us now on WEMU, the man himself, Rick Steves. Welcome to WEMU.
Rick Steves: Thank you, Lisa. Nice to be with you. And really nice to be becoming a part of your schedule at WEMU. I'm very excited about that.
Lisa Barry: Well, we are excited to have you. And let's start with telling us a little bit about your radio travel program.
Rick Steves: Well, it's different than my TV show on the, you know, for, I don't know, 30 years I've been making shows for public television. And, in that case, Europe is my beat, and I'm the expert, you know, that's what I do. I spend 100 days a year in Europe making all the mistakes, taking careful notes, and bringing home the lessons from my experience and just enthusing about Europe. But with our radio show, and we've been doing this now for about, I think, 15 years, I get to be the curious traveler, and I get to talk to amazing travelers and experts and writers and people that have something to share about their culture from all around the world. And, for me, it's just a joy because I'm learning with our listeners, and we've got so many people that have things, they're just enthusiastic about. They just got back from walking around Mount Blanc, or they're, you know, studying the effects of climate change on the Upper Nile, or they're hanging out with elephants in Burma. And they just wrote a book about hiking the whole coastline of Israel, or they're the granddaughter of Nikita Khrushchev that has a take on Russian society and and how people are doing with Putin. And it's just so much fun for me to be able to talk to these people that have something to share. And, of course, with public radio, I love it because we can assume an attention span, we can respect people's intelligence, and we can bring people programing driven not by a passion for keeping advertisers happy, but just by a passion for reaching out and embracing the world and celebrating in all of its diversity. And I've just really enjoy producing an hour each week. And, as I said, we've done that for 15 years, and it's high time we got to Southeast Michigan and WEMU.
Lisa Barry: So, this radio program is you, Rick Steves, interviewing a lot of different people? It's not necessarily you talking about your experiences, but, each week, we'll hear you talking to different people about different places.
Rick Steves: Yeah, that's right. So, one week, I'll be talking with Paul Theroux, and the next week I'll be talking with Martin Fletcher and then Pico Iyer or the princess of Norway, or somebody who takes care of the garden that Monet's Chevalier and learn about all the water lilies, or a couple who's been living on their boat with their family for three years, just constantly not on the road, but constantly at sea. You know, somebody who explores the hidden urban scene in different cities where there's actually entire worlds going on underground, or people who are, you know, doing street art, or there's so many dimensions to this world. And, each week, we usually have three interviews. We have a 12-minute interview to start and then two 18 minute interviews. And we love to get calls from our listeners. So, we work in a lot of listener questions and so on. And, for me, it's kind of fun because I get to double check on impressions that I've had from my travels with people who do that professionally and who really are right up to date.
Lisa Barry: How do you find all these people to talk to?
Rick Steves: Well, we're on about, I think we're on 400 stations all over the United States. And anybody who's written a book is excited to share what they've got. So that's an easy avenue. Also, I've got connections in my work. I work in my own company where we've got 100 guides all over Europe that I work with. And I've got, you know, sort of people that do what I do for different beats around the world. Some people are experts in Mexico, some people are experts in Pacific Rim, some people are experts in South Asia, some people are experts in sub-Saharan Africa. I'm always doing new stuff with my travels right now. I'm working on it on a six hour series on European art. So, I'll be connecting with a lot of people who really are expert and enthusiastic about art, and I'll be able to interview them for shows. I was just in Ethiopia and Guatemala working on a show about hunger and the value of smart development aid. So, I made a lot of contacts in Latin America and a lot of contacts in Africa. I've done a lot of travel and in countries where we're not supposed to go, you know, Cuba, Palestine, Iran, and I just really think that the best, you know, travel, when it's done thoughtfully, can be a real force for a world understanding and peace and stability. And, you know, I've got sort of an underlying mission. I like to joke that my mission is to inspire Americans to venture beyond Orlando. And, you know, nothing wrong with Orlando. But if you've done or, you know, Disney World three or four times, why don't you try Portugal? It's not going to bite you. And a lot of people don't realize how inviting the world is. I was just in Paris last week. I was just hiking around Mount Blanc the week before that. And it just invigorates me. And I find that, you know, there's a lot of fear in our society these days. And the most fearful people I find are the people who don't have a passport, the people who let commercial news media explain the world to them and actually shape their world view. And I think travel is a much more constructive way and a positive way to shape your world view. And one thing, you know, I've spent 100 days a year overseas ever since I was a kid. That was a long time ago. And, boy, one thing I've learned is that the world is filled with beautiful people. It's filled with love. It's filled with joy. And when you get out there, you realize, "Hey, we don't need to be afraid of it. We can celebrate the diversity." And I find that travelers are more likely to be enthusiastic about building not walls, but building bridges. And if we want a stable world, if we want a just world, if we want a peaceful world, if we want a sustainable world, we need to get out there and get to know the neighbors. You know, here in the United States, we're four percent of this planet. There's 96 percent out there. And that's the mission of our program of Travel with Rick Steves, which now is airing every Saturday at noon on WEMU starting October 2nd. Our mission is to help get to know the neighbors, get out there, and be friends with the world. And I'm tired of people saying, "Have a safe trip." I want to get back to "Bon voyage. Have a good trip."
Lisa Barry: What a beautiful thought that is. What a great perspective. Thanks for sharing that with us. And for those of us like me who love to travel, part of me is thinking. "How did you, Steve, get so lucky that this is your job or is it your job and there's more of a work perspective to it as well?"
Rick Steves: Well, you know, I work all the time. I'm working harder during COVID than I've ever worked. And I've got 100 people in my office, and we're making TV shows, we're making radio shows. We're doing all sorts of content creation. I've got 50 guidebooks, and I'm busy with a lot of causes that I've been inspired to embrace through my travels. And I'm not complaining, but I don't take a vacation. I work when I'm on the road because I've just found my niche and I love to get out there and get to know the world and come home and and inspire Americans to reach out, to not be afraid, to celebrate the diversity on this planet. You know, I've had experiences that I just treasure. I was in Afghanistan backpacking through there a long time ago, and I sat down for lunch and the man joined me and he said, "Are you an American?" I said, "Yeah." He said, "Well, I'm a professor here in Afghanistan. And I want you to know that a third of the people on this planet eat with the spoons and forks like you do. A third of the people eat with chopsticks and a third of the people eat with their fingers like I do, and we're all civilized just the same." And, you know, that was a long time ago, but that really hit me. He knew I thought less of him because he ate with his fingers, and he was a highly educated leader in his community. And he wanted me, this American, to know that, you know, he could use a spoon and fork if he wanted to. But, in his culture, people eat with their fingers, not because they're less sophisticated, but because it's part of their culture. God gave you fingers to nourish yourself with, and they just don't want to have some dirty metal utensil shoveling food into their mouth. They want to be more organic and more, you know, in touch with it. And I just am inspired by those kind of moments where my ethnocentricity is roughed up. That's a beautiful thing about travel for me. You know, a lot of people try to avoid culture shock. For me, culture shock is a constructive thing. It's the growing pains of a broadening perspective. And America needs a broader perspective. And, you know, this is why, you know, travel for me is a lot of fun. But travel is also really important and more important than ever that we Americans better understand the world and empathize with people's struggles outside of our borders. So, this is what keeps me very enthusiastic about producing our show. For me, it's a beautiful responsibility, if I have an hour each week in public radio and 400 stations and now including WEMU, to do a good job of helping people reach out and and better understand what's far away and and do it through the lens of a traveler. And the joy for me, as I mentioned, is I don't need to be the expert. I can be the curious traveler. And I get to talk to all these amazing people. And, you know, the people that we've been able to talk to, whether they're well-known or not, they are passionate about their area of expertise. And, with my team at our radio production crew here, we're able to craft these interviews into really tight and informative and entertaining packages. It's just so much fun every week to bring three different interviews to our traveling audiences. I'm very blessed and thankful for this challenge and this privilege.
Lisa Barry: I feel like I've already learned a lot and have been so inspired by what you have to say. Rick Steves, we look forward to sharing your program with our WEMU listeners every Saturday at noon here on eighty nine one WEMU. And thank you so much for talking to us.
Rick Steves: You bet, Lisa. And now, we ar going to be travel partners, so we'll be virtually together Saturdays at noon starting October 2nd. Thanks a lot and happy travels!
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