Translator: Natalie ThibaultReviewer: Sarah El_Gayyar Thank you very much.
You know, I have spent a third of my adult life living out of a suitcase.
And looking back on those 30 years, four months every year of traveling, it occurs to me, it's really clear that travel, thoughtful travel, is well worth the time and the money.
And I'd like to take just a few minutesto explain to you why.
Travel opens us up to the wonders of our world.
In so many ways, it helps you appreciate nature.
I mean for me, a great day is walkinghigh in the Swiss Alps, like tightroping on a ridge, on one side I've got lakes stretching all the way to Germany, on the other side the most incredible alpine panorama anywhere, the Eiger Mönch Jungfrau:cut glass peaks against that blue sky.
And ahead of me I hear the long legatotones of an alphorn announcing that the helicopter-stockedmountain hut is open, it's just around the corner and the coffee schnapps is on.
That connects you with nature, and that connects you with culture.
And when I'm traveling I love this whole idea that travel connects us with culture.
When I am traveling I find that there are different slices of culture that I never realized peoplecould be evangelical about.
Cheese, for instance.
You go to France and they're crazy about cheese! I like being a bumpkin in my travels.
For me, cheese was always just orangeand in the shape of the bread.
There you go: cheese sandwich.
(Laughter) Then I meet these people and, I mean, there's a different cheese for every day of the year! You step into a cheese shopand it's just a festival of mold.
(Laughter) I love going shopping with my Parisian friends, they'll take me into a cheese shop, put up a moldy wad of goat cheese take a deep whiff: “Oh Rick! Smell this cheese!It smells like the feet of angels!” (Laughter) Okay! Well when you're traveling you open up to new things that might smell like the feet of angels.
A great thing about travel isthat it connects you with people.
And, if I am making a tour, or a guidebook or a TV show, and I am not connecting people with people I am kind of nervous, because it's going to be a flat experience.
It's people that really make your experience vital.
That's the mark of a good trip.
It doesn't need to beearth-shaking encounters, they can be just silly encounters.
I was in Italy recentlyand I met this little kid.
He was just staring at me, he was kind of rude.
Finally his dad said: “Excuse my son, he stares at Americans.
” (Laughter) I said: “Why's that?”and he said: “Last week, we were at McDonald'shaving our hamburger, and my son, noticingthe fluffy white bun, said: “Dad? Why do Americans have such soft bread?” and the dad said: “Son, that'sbecause Americans have no teeth.
” (Laughter) So, I showed him my teeth and I sort of straightened out a little misunderstanding between peoples thereand it occurred to me: that there are so manymisunderstandings between people, and when we travel we straighten them out.
I don't know about you, but I was raisedthinking the world is a pyramid, with us on top andeverybody else trying to figure it out.
(Laughter) Then I travelled and I realizedwe have the American dream, that's a great thing, but other people have their own dream.
Norwegians have the Norwegian dream.
Bulgarians have the Bulgarian dream.
These people have the Sri Lankan dream.
Travel wallops my ethnocentricity, and I'm very thankful for that.
It's something to celebrate! Our dream is beautiful, but so is theirs.
In my travels I have really been impressedby the amount of pride on this planet.
I was in Afghanistan once, in a cafeteriawhere the backpackers were hanging out, a man sat down next to me and said: “Can I join you?”, I said: “You already have.
” (Laughter) “You're an American, aren't you?”I said: “Yeah”, “I'm a professorhere in Afghanistan, I want you to know that a third of the people on this planet eat with spoons and forks like you do.
A third of the people eat with chopsticks, and a third eat with their fingers, like I do, and we are all civilized just the same”.
He had a chip on his shoulder.
He thought I thought less of him because he ate with his fingers.
That lesson stuck with me andfor the rest of my trip through South Asia I was aware of that.
I went to restaurants, fine restaurants with well-dressed professional local people that had no spoons and forks.
They had like a ceremonial sink in the middle of the restaurant, people would wash their handsand eat using their fingers the way God intended them to be used.
It actually became quite natural for me.
I had to be re-trained when I got home.
(Laughter) But these are the lessons you pick up and it is so fun to change something that you thought was a basic truth.
Well, in the adulthood you realize: Hey! Other people, smart people, can see it differently.
I'm impressed how many heroic strugglesare going on on this planet all the time that I am completely oblivious to.
Every year, eight or ten distinct languages go extinct.
That's eight or ten ethnic groups that lose a long struggle.
I was raised thinking Nathan Hale, Ethan Allen, Patrick Henry they were the ultimate.
Ah! Well you know they are great, but they're certainly not unique.
They're a dime a dozen on this planet.
It doesn't diminish ours but it's really important for us to remember in our travels that there areother heroes and other causes.
One great way to make your travels more meaningful is to relate to, to embrace a contemporary Nathan Hale, in a different country.
Get into it.
An easy one is: Archbishop Oscar Romero.
Go down to San Salvador, El Salvador, and learn about Archbishop Oscar Romero.
A present-day Nathan Hale.
A few years ago I was due for a vacation.
I was heading for Mazatlán, and I was just needy for a nice stretch of pristine beach, swept free of local riffraff.
(Laughter) I was gonna have a plastic strap on my wrist, giving me unlimited margaritas, never have to dirty my fingers with coins, you know what that's like, I was ready.
And then some friends invited me to go to San Salvador for the 25th anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero.
He marched with his people.
He stood by his peopleduring the Civil war that they lost.
These were the landless peasants.
He said: “I'll probably be killed, and when I'm killed I'll raise again in my people”.
And I wanted to see Romero in his people, 25 years after his assassination.
And I went to El Salvador.
Two days into that trip I was covered with bug bites, in a sweaty dorm bunk bed, eating rice and beans one day and beans and rice the next, (Laughter) and I was having the greatest travel experience you can ever ever have.
It changed my whole outlook, it was really valuable to me.
And I marched with those peopleand in El Salvador we came upon a monument that looks a lot like a monument we all know and love: the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.
It's a knock-off of that Memorial, rightthere in the Capital city of El Salvador with just as many names chipped onto that black granite.
The only difference is these are names of people who died fighting you and me.
Maybe they were Communistsand we had to kill them all, I don't know, it's not an issue of — what is the reason for that, there's a reality: there's 50, 000 widows who died fighting us, for a cause.
And I want to know that cause, I want to empathize with that cause.
I don't need to agree with it, but I want to appreciate it.
That's why I went to Iran, a few years ago, I had the great opportunity to go to Iran with a Public television TV crew to make a show.
People asked me:”Why are you going to Iran?” And I thought about it, why am I going to Iran? And it occurred to me: I'm going here becauseI think it's good character to know people before you bomb them.
(Applause) (Laughter) Sometimes we have to kill people, but it should hurt.
And it is a nation's inclination to dehumanize its enemies before we go kill them.
So I went to Iran.
It occurred to me, when I was in Iran, I was afraid to go here.
And when I got there, I was so glad I had the courage to go there.
And I learned once again that fear, and there's a lot of it in our society, fear is to me for people who don't get out very much.
(Applause) Now when you go to Iran: it's a thriving country of 70 million people.
I want to know what makes them tick.
Their Capital city Tehran, with about 12 million people, and there's a veneer of hatred there, I mean look at the banner there: It's a 8-story tall American flagmade of dropping bombs and skulls for stars and stripes, saying “Down with America”.
We've all heard about “Death to America” and so on.
I was in a taxi in that traffic jam there, later on that day, just silent, and suddenly my driver just bursts out: “Death to traffic!” (Laughter) And I go: “Wait a minute! I thought it was “Death to Israel” or “Death to America”” and he said: “Right nowit's death to traffic!” (Laughter) And I said: “But well what is that?”and he said: “You're in Iran, anytime something's frustrating to us and out of our control, we say “Death to that” (Laughter) And I thought about that, I'm so glad I'm here to understand this with a little moresophistication than a bumper sticker.
So he speaks Farsi, he doesn't speak English, he's translating it directly and to him he's saying “Damn that”.
I thought well, have I ever said “Damn something”? Have I ever thought “Damn those teenagers”Oh yeah! I have.
(Laughter) You know, do I really want them to dieand burn in hell for eternity? No! It's just after midnight, turn down the music.
Damn those teenagers! (Laughter) So, when we travel we gain a little better appreciation of what is the baggagethat people are carrying when they respond to us.
Think of the baggage we have in our country after 9/11.
We are a mighty nationof 300 million people, we lost 3, 000 people on 9/11, ten years ago, and it's part of our baggage, just like for our parents it wasthe Depression, World War II and so on.
Iran has got baggage andwe need to understand that if we're going to deal with them smartly.
Their baggage, and they've got one quarter of our population, is losing several hundred thousand people when Saddam Hussein, funded by the United States, invaded their country.
I don't know if we really funded him, but they think we did, and that is baggage, and when you travel around Iranevery town has got a vast martyr cemetary filled with victims of that war.
And for me, to see a widow, sitting on the tomb of a dead loved one, as she's done every week for decades, knowing the propaganda she's lived throughand the struggle she's lived through: that's baggage.
I've got to understand what she's going through if I can understand their country better.
I wanted to know what makes 70 million Iranians tick, and I found out a lot by going to Iranand actually traveling there.
I was standing on the street cornerone day, a woman crosses the street, she said: “Are you a journalist from America?” I said “Yeah.
” She did one of those little “point-on-my-chest” things she said: “I want youto go home and tell the truth.
We're united, we're strong, and we just don't want our little girls to be raised like Britney Spears”.
(Laughter) I said: “We've got something in common here!” And I thought about that: What's her baggage? Well, you know, they grew up with the Shah on the throne.
And if you grow up withthe Shah on the throne, back then, they were bragging the miniskirts are shorter in Paris than they are in Tehran; you don't want your little girl to become a boy-toy, a crass material and a drug addict, and for good reasons, given her situation she was afraid of that.
I wanted to know what is the core constituency of the fear-mongering party that rules that country.
And I learned that it's small town, less educated, fundamentalist parents.
Good people, motivated by the same thing their counterparts are here, in the United States: Fear and love.
That's a powerful lesson you cannot learn watching TV.
You need to go there and meet these people.
A great sort of learning area, wading poolfor world exploration to me is Europe.
It's kind of my beat! I love going to Europe because we have smart similar people dealing with similar problemsand coming up with different answers; we can compare notes.
Europe and America are both wealthyChristian democratic capitalist societies.
we're all passionate about governmentby and for the people.
I thought about this and I think there's a difference.
Here in the United States we're all aboutgovernment by and for the people, via the corporations we own.
That's not a judgmental statement, that's just a kind of an observation, and it might make sense for a government to provide a good environment for our corporations to prosper.
I think in Europe they've got governmentby and for the people in spite of the corporations they own.
I think their government goes to bat for the future, for the poor and for the environment, at the expense of their businesses.
(Applause) I'm fascinated by how the United Statesis really into legislating morality.
In Europe, they've got the same victimless crime issues and they have different approaches to them.
My friends in Europe always remind me:a society has to make a choice, tolerate alternative life styles or build more prisons.
And they always remind me we lock up8 times more people per capita as they do.
Either we are inherently more criminal, or there's something funny about our laws.
Prostitution is a good example.
You travel in Europe you realize in a lotof countries prostitution is legal.
Prostitution is not good, nobody would say that, but it's a pragmatic kind of harm reduction that motors their laws and policies about this issue.
They would rather have a situationwhere sex workers are unionized, in order to get a license they have to bechecked by a doctor or a nurse, so they're not spreading diseases, so when they push their emergency button a pimp doesn't come to their rescue, but a policeman does.
It doesn't work perfectly, but that's their attempt to deal with this problem.
We can learn from them.
I think it's interesting when you go to Scandinavia how many drunk teenagers you find on decorated trucks.
(Laughter) And finally I asked: “What's going on?” And it was always in the spring, like May and June, they said: “Here in Scandinavia our kidsreally get drunk in graduation time and the parents don't want themto drink and drive.
So, in a classic European sort of exampleof pragmatic harm reduction when it comes to solve drugs, the Scandinavian parents pay the keggers, they hire a truck and a driver, let the kids decorate it, and the kids go from house to houseand their parents serve them the beer.
(Laughter) Now, in the United States, we'd deal with this problem — teens drinking and driving on graduation — with moralism.
“Just say no”.
In Scandinavia, they would rather have a situation where, okay, the kids are going to drink anyways, let's do it so they don't have to lie to their parents, so nobody drives and nobody dies.
That's an example that we can learn from.
(Applause) I was in a Starbucks in Zurich, a couple of years ago, I went down to the bathroom downstairs, stepped inside: blue lights! I thought: “what's this? Blue lights in the toilet?” Then I realized oh! I cannot see my veins.
I couldn't shoot up if I wanted to.
Lot of needle addicts, lot of junkieson the streets of Europe, because they're still alive andthey're not in prison.
(Laughter) I have to explain that to my groups.
They say: “These darn Liberal Europeans!” I thought well this is frustratingfor a junkie, you can't shoot up in the bathroom at Starbucks, (Laughter) So then, across the street, I noticed amachine that used to sell tobacco and now it sells syringes, government-subsidized syringes, they're almost free; nobody shares needlesand passes diseases in Switzerland, that would be, like, unthinkable.
The government is into pragmatic, compassionate harm reduction for the solutions to their problems.
And then down the street from this needle vending machine there's a heroin maintenance countercalled a “Cafe Fix”, where people can go and get their addiction maintained, get counseling, get their lives back on track, get a job.
It's not right or wrong, but they're learning, and we can learn from them.
And it's a valuable thing about travelas we struggle with persistent problems.
When comes to marijuana, of course Europeis much more progressive in this regard.
In Holland, the coffee shops sell marijuana.
Now, a lot of Americans worry thatthere's a whole reservoir of people that would love to ruin their lives smoking marijuana if only it was legal.
(Laughter) Well, it's been 25 years since theyarrested a pot smoker in the Netherlands and what they found after 25 years is:use does not go up.
As a matter of fact, by every measureDutch people, young and old, smoke half the marijuana per capita that we do here in the United States.
Portugal legalized the consumption of all drugs 10 years ago.
A lot of Americans are worried aboutthe gateway element of marijuana; you know, you smoke marijuana and suddenly you're a heroin addict.
In Portugal they worried about that too, and they found the only thing gatewayabout marijuana is its illegality, because when it's illegal you've got to buy it from a criminal on the streetwho has an invested interest in getting you hooked on somethingmore addictive and more profitable.
We can learn from Europeans, and it's exciting.
(Applause) I love to have European friendsas a sounding boards so I can test out ideas and confusions and frustrations for me.
I've got a good friend in Switzerlandwho's a school teacher, in a little traditional village where almost everybody has the same last name.
When I visit with Olle, his wife Maria and their kids, I love to ask them questions.
Recently, I asked Olle: “How can you Swiss people so docilely pay such high taxes?” Without missing a beat he said: “What's it worth to be living in a countrywhere there's no homelessness, no hunger, where everybody, regardlessof the wealth of their parents, has access to quality health care and education.
(Applause) Now, Olle is not a crusader.
Olle is just a capitalist with a European social ethic.
And it's interesting to learn from them.
One thing occurred to me recently is: Americans are loving, compassionate people, but we're not very good at grabbling with the gap between the rich and the poor.
There's something in our upbringing that makes it very tough to deal with, honestly.
When you travel, you have the poor reaching into your window.
You can't escape it if you're traveling honestly.
And for 30 years I've had the poorreaching in my window.
And it's been a powerful impactin the value of my travel.
And I'll tell you: I've learned thateven if you're motivated only by greed if you know what's good for you, you don't want to be filthy rich in a desperately poor world.
It's just not a pretty picture.
I was down in El Salvador last Christmas, any middle-class neighbourhoodhas to pull its money to have an armed guard on the corner, just to protect them from angry poor people.
And you don't want to raise your kidsbehind designer fortifications.
We're on a track to that if we don'tlearn from the other parts of the world that have not dealt with this very smartly.
Let me finish by taking you to Turkey.
I just love Turkey, and as a tour guideI had the chance to take a group to get to know a whirling dervish.
I knew this dervish, and I asked him:”Can our group come and watch you pray?” He said: “Well, I'm not a photo op.
You can watch me pray, but I want you to know what I'm doing”.
I said: “Great”.
So we went onto his roof, the sun was setting, he was wearing his robe and his hat, and he said, now I'll just paraphrase it: “I'm a dervish, that's like a monk that follows Mevlana, that's sort of a teacher in Islam, like Saint Francis was for Christianity.
A teacher of love.
And as a dervish I pray five times a day, meditating on the teachings of Mevlana.
I plant one foot in my communityand my home, the other foot goes around the worldacknowledging the variety in God's great creation.
One hand goes up to receive the loveof our Creator, and the other hand, like the spouton a tea kettle, goes down to shower God's love on his creation.
And I whirl, and I whirl, and I lose myself in that transe thinking of the teachings of Mevlana”.
To be there as tour guidewith my group, watching him, his head tilted over his robe, then goes out, and he loses himself in that beautiful path.
I thought: “Wow, I am really understanding now, like my group was, that this man is very different from us, but he is fundamentally the same.
And if we take home that understanding, that's the very best souvenir possible.
And the rest of our lives, when we look at the rest of the world, rather than fear its diversity, we can better celebrate it.
Now, appreciating the value of travelis nothing new.
1400 years ago Mohammed said: “Don't tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you've traveled”.
Thomas Jefferson traveled and he wrote that travel makes a person wiser, if less happy.
(Laughter) Mark Twain traveled and he famously wrote: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness”.
I've traveled and travel has inspired meto be engaged, and to do what I can to make a difference.
In other words, it's helped me to becomea better citizen of this planet.
And I hope thoughtful travelscan do the same for you.
Thank you very much.