Rick Steves wants Americans to get over themselves. In a lively discussion Wednesday evening at the Pan Pacific Hotel in Vancouver, Steves discussed his belief that travel expands our world view and shapes how we address the social and political challenges of our nation.

He provided a pamphlet to the audience titled Rick Steves for Teachersand spoke about his new book Travel as a Political Act, which discusses how his social activism grew naturally out of his travel experiences.

Steves said that purposeful travel or teaching people to be engaged travelers is his mission. He said travel should bring us together by giving us a broader perspective and allows us to see ourselves as part of the family of humankind. He told a story about the time he was in Afghanistan when a man told him that one-third of this planet eats with spoons and forks, one-third eats with chopsticks, and the other third eats with their hands and they are all just as civilized. It was a moment he realized that not all people have the American dream--they have their own dreams.

In working with students preparing to teach elementary school, he found that many of them have not traveled much. He said study abroad programs are key to developing a questioning curious attitude about the world we live in and increase students' awareness on a number of social and political issues, how other countries view America, and America’s place in the world.

He told another story about how he was afraid to go to Iran based on everything he had heard, but when he got there he said he had never felt more welcome. He was in a taxi cab and was stopped in traffic when a man in the next cab gave his taxi car driver a bouquet of flowers and said "give this to the American in your cab and apologize for our traffic." He said if we could provide our children with an experience to interact with other students' culture and language it would be harder for both sides to demonize each other and would create a generation of global citizens unafraid and respectful of each other.

Steves challenged the audience to set an agenda the next time they travel. Instead of traveling for entertainment to safe, comfortable destinations such as theme parks and cruises, he suggested traveling with the purpose of learning to appreciate the nature, culture, and history of a country—but above all get out there and meet as many new and interesting people as you can.

Do you have plans to travel this year?