Monday, 26 January 2015

Why Americans Don’t Travel Much

Travelling is one great way to learn about the world as well as about oneself. Rumi said that it brings power and love back into your life. Yet, not many people seem motivated to venture and embark on international journeys. Why is that the case? How can we not be in love with travelling? And what are the reasons for Americans specifically?

During my U.S tour in 2014, I met lots of people who actually never left, not only their states, but also their towns and counties. An 18-year-old girl from a small Illinois town nearly 45 minutes away from Chicago who has never visited Chicago. Another 24-year-old whom I briefly shared the Venice bungalow with who has never been to N.Y; it was also her first time to California. I mean, for me this is insane. International travelling, one might understand, but within your own country, and you’re in your mid-twenties already! Where is the curiosity? Where is the will to see, to know, to learn? So I began looking for answers. 

I also met few Americans who had visited all 50 states, or say, 46 at least. But those are a minority. Even fewer have made the bold move and actually decided to tour the world or live outside of the U.S, even if for a little while.

I remember a chat with a cab driver in Michigan who took me to the train station at 7 am. He was a nice black man in his 50s. When I told him about my plan to roam around the U.S, he looked at me in the rear-view mirror and said something along these lines: “Ah, I’ve always wanted to do that... but work and kids.”

In case of Americans, as I came to find out, only about 30% of the population own a passport. This number excludes passport cards, which are identification cards that only allow sea and overland entry to the U.S from Canada, Mexico, and certain parts of the Caribbean, but not the rest of the world. It is estimated that only 13% have ever travelled abroad.

Being the powerful, dominant nation America is, this may seem strange. Compared to smaller countries like Canada where 60% own passports and the United Kingdom’s 75%, it sure is a significantly low figure. It is still, however, much higher than China, where only 20 million people hold passports — a meagre 1.5% of the population.

Well, there are few factors behind this reality as highlighted in the article, Why Americans Don’t Travel Overseas, which is written by an American traveller. 

First, the sheer fact that America is a whole continent. Like Australia, you have the beaches, the forests, the deserts, and the mountains. So with such size and diversity, the common American mentality doesn’t really see a need to go elsewhere.

Second, it’s fear. Due to lack of culture and the relentless work of mainstream media, many Americans regard the rest of the “outside” world as a scary place. They are made to believe that other countries are dirty and dangerous. Especially after 9/11 and its aftermath, a large portion of Americans actually believe that other nationalities do not like them. Consequently, they feel it’s safer to stay in their comfort zone within their own territories.

This sentiment may actually be true to some degree, especially, and understandably, in places where the American military had already bombed people not-so-long ago, like Iraq and Afghanistan. Which reminds me of the Mark Twain quote, “God created war so that Americans would learn geography.” 

More quotes can be found on here, Some Soulful Travel Quotes.

However, with all what’s been recently happening in the world, as well as with the rise of the Internet, I believe that more people are in the process of maturing in the political sense. Unlike their parents’ generation, a small yet growing portion of today’s youth are waking up and had already stopped following, or even believing, mainstream media.

Fortunately, more younger folks are interested in the world and what it has to offer. They are also starting to realise that people and governments are two very different entities. You can oppose or hate the policies of some countries all you want, even the decision makers of such policies, but what’s the rest of the population got to do with anything? To label an entire country or its citizens bad — or good — is just narrow-mindedness and a clear sign of lack of critical thinking. That’s all. When we come to think about it, we find that most people who hold that childish kind of love for their country have never left it.

That said, the current top destinations for American travelers remain: England (9% of all trips), France (7%), Italy (7%), Germany (5%). I guess that’s where they feel safer.

Humorous American States stereotypes by the Brits (BuzzFeed)
A third reason why Americans don’t travel abroad much is, apparently, their shrinking yearly vacation. According to this Article, in 2012 the average was 12 days, down from 14 in 2011. However, workers only used 10 days. Also, 43 million Americans don’t get paid sick-leave — that’s about one third of all American workers.

Adding to that, 68% of American vacationers admitted to checking in with the office either “regularly” or “sometimes” during their vacations, which suggests that most Americans are still prioritizing work during their time off.

On the other hand, Europeans receive between 25 and 30 days of vacation a year, and they usually use all of them. They also get family leave and their sick-leaves are paid.

So that is obviously another factor which makes travelling a pain in the butt for most Americans.

One more reason why Americans don’t travel overseas is, again, geography. Because its remote location, which obviously reflects on the money issue, flights to and from the U.S are significantly more expensive. A trip abroad is usually beyond the means of the average American. Naturally, it makes travelling not a priority for most.

This is true if we compare with Europeans who, lucky them, only need to hop on a train or a bus to visit a neighbouring country. The ease is also due to the establishment of the Schengen Area, which now comprises of 26 European nations that have abolished passport and any other type of border control at their common — internal — borders. Most of Europe today functions like the United States, as one big country with one currency. 

The problem is that many American students have to repay their college loans, thus forced to stay home after graduation instead of travelling before they start working. As for the adults, a lot of them are bound by debts, mortgages, and taxes and simply cannot afford to travel.

However, if on the other hand we compare Americans to Canadians, Australians and Kiwis who are even further away from the rest of the world, we find that the latter travel much more. In fact, unlike Americans, those citizens are encouraged to travel and explore different countries. Perhaps because they do not bomb "brown people," as George Carlin would say, they feel more liked and/or welcomed around the world.

Also, perhaps because the sole role of the media there is not to scare the general population from the rest of the world, so here may lie another difference.

Humorous American Stereotypes by Americans

As for money, let us remember that the dollar is a major world currency. With some early, creative planning and a sense of adventure, affordable tickets to pretty much anywhere can be found. If there’s a will there’s a way. If not, our clever brains will always find excuses to convince us with. 

This Link has lots of travel offers including credit card sign-ups and points’ earning.

Besides, the American status gets you into many countries with ease; obtaining visas and other paperwork is usually a piece of cake for holders of the blue passport. Language is another advantage; as English is the second language to so many people around the world. So those are major benefits for being an American traveller.

The thing is, like colour, race and religions, nationalities gave us the illusion that we are separated from each other. When that happened, all hell broke loose. Humans started killing each others, abusing animals, and destroying Nature. This only happened because man forgot his true essence. He forgot that he is everyone else and everyone else is himself; that everything connects to everything else. The reality is, man is Nature, yet he is destroying it and exploiting its resources like there is no tomorrow ― like he has somewhere else to go to. The sad truth, though, is that not only is he destroying himself but also ruining this pale blue dot for our descendants.

What makes travelling magical is that is dissolves all that. It liberates you from some illusions, beliefs, and bigotry that no longer serve you. It shows you that we are all one; that we are only separated by fear, beliefs, cultures, and egos; that we are in this together. Travel also teaches you that wherever you’re from is a tiny place compared to the rest of the world. This shows you the bigger picture while leaving you humble among other positive benefits.

Travelling abroad and experiencing new cultures, languages, and people is through which the mind is opened. Nothing actually teaches us so much about life or about ourselves. The world is so vast, diverse, and full of beauties and wonders that it seems to me that it exists for us to explore it.

Sail away from that safe harbor. The whole fun awaits outside of your comfort zone.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
― Mark Twain, Mark Twain: The Innocents Abroad/Roughing It

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  1. Another reason is that people don't like to be treated as criminals at US airports. And due to the government's warmongering, people all across the world hate us. But even before 911, American tourists were thought of as obnoxious in most places they visited.

    I have also met many people in UK who have never been to London, certainly never abroad, even though they are just across the water from the rest of Europe and travel there is very cheap. They have no interest in going there.

    I live about 600 miles from New Orleans, but love the place and visit whenever I can, but I have met people who live 45, 50 or maybe 80 or 100 miles away and say they have never gone there and don't want to.

  2. Another reason people do not travel is because....wait for is EXPENSIVE!
    Gas, food, lodging; these are all expenses that many of us cannot afford plus finding someone to watch our home or a place to lodge our pets as most hotels don't allow even for kitties. Schools are not inclined to let kids off from school for vacation no matter how "educational" you try to claim it to be.

    Plus once you have been in a few cities, they are all pretty much alike; whatever variances there are is pretty minimal. All the restaurants have food that tastes the same, hotels are all homogenous, the traffic is heavy and noisy...there is really nothing "out there" that cannot be encountered where you live really.

    Plus there are a lot of us who simply have no desire to travel. Nothing to be gained for many of us; it is not that we want to be ignorant but traveling the countryside has no allure or meaning to some of us.

  3. And even the "open-mindedness" of Americans who "travel" can be suspect. I have been on group tours abroad and none of the other Americans EVER left the group to interact with the locals!

  4. I like to travel but find not being able to converse in the language of a country very limiting and depressing, one can not learn all the languages to travel. As an American I respect foreign travelers and help them when I can but find it frustrating so I think the revers is true.
    Diet while traveling is also quiet limiting. My health is of prime important and it is hard to find the right food and supplements when traveling for a duration.
    No where have I found the ability to get things, necessary and frivolous so easy and fast as in the USA thru local stores or Amazon. Being in another country is like being cut off. What I could have gotten in minutes locally or days off the net in the USA took forever and much more expensive when I was in Costa Rica or impossible. Not just that country but most of the world.

    1. Of course only Americans have a problem with language, diet and environmental issues affecting health when they travel. Other people's are already foreigners so don't have the same problems obviously.

  5. There is no need to travel. Travel is highly resource destructive, pollutive and causes an infinite amount of harm to the environment. All travel should be considered in that context.

    Nothing wrong with staying home. I don't like people anymore, and do not travel to meet people. My traveling is to find places with NO people. I'd rather view the environment then view a city or go camping then stay in a hotel.

    But staying home is perfectly ok, and oftentimes, far preferable then being around a bunch of idiots and tourists. People are the same everywhere, and so are cities, they're very similiar everywhere you go. No need to travel to understand this fact.

    Traveling is neither good nor bad, nor enlightening. You can enlighten yourself from home just as well as you can while traveling. Making your entire essay about traveling shows just how unenlightened you really are.

    1. Good excuse. Very creative indeed.

    2. This may actually be one of the most "enlightening" comments I have ever got on this blog. Thanx for the laugh, Anonymous. We love you too.

  6. Travelling is not for everyone. I've taken my children to many cities and my son always remarks his favorite place is the hotel, especially if pancakes are served.

    Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi, creator of Adventures of Tintin, rarely traveled, yet took his readers to places around the world through his stories.

    1. Yes will and his stories were complete tosh as a result. Filling other ignorant heads with his own small minded presumptions about the world on the other side of his colloquial fence. It's obvious that Americans who are targeted in this article are completely oblivious to the message.

    2. Indeed, Will, it isn't for everyone. But I think your son may one day thank you for those childhood memories...even if the hotels were his favourite spot. Hergé didn't travel much but we can't really single out an exception.

  7. I would love to travel more than I do, but the airfare has skyrocketed over the last few years. The $300 ticket from Greensboro, NC to Phoenix, AZ in 2012 costs over $500 now. The Dulles to Amsterdam, Holland ticket that was $300 in 2001 and $600 in 2007 cost me $1,050 for the trip this summer. I would love to travel more than I do, and there are a lot of unseen places still on my list to see, but the airfare - which sometimes costs me as much or more than the rest of the trip combined - has forced me to become extremely selective.

    1. Hey Danny,

      Prices did really skyrocket throughout this last decade. However, I have found that other than the early planning there are also reward points of certain cards. This link has lots of offers:

  8. Since I am Canadian, I have a much more travel oriented point of view. I managed to live in three different countries while I was going to university, including the US and Italy. I have travelled extensively in Canada, having lived in three different provinces together with the US and Europe. but it is my youngest son who has really taken to exploring the World. He has travelled to various provinces in Canada and was seconded to Newfoundland to work as a mining engineer on a project for two years. His main interests though are found in Central and South America where he has visited several different countries with his latest sojourn to Brazil for the World Cup. He has also visited China and a few times to various parts of Europe. It's just in his blood and it makes him a much more well rounded individual. I think that those who do not travel are denying themselves big time and perhaps making themselves wilfully ignorant.

    1. Having lived for three years in Canada and more than a year in the U.S., I do concur. Canadians are usually more open to other cultures than Americans. Perhaps that's one of the reasons why they travel more often.
      Also, there is not much segregation there; in a way, everyone is Canadian. Between black people, Hispanics, and Asians, it's not really the same in America.

  9. I like exploring different cultures and people I just hate the travel. Planes are horrible. The long delays, cramped little seats, kids that throw tantrums. It makes me want to scream just thinking about it. Buses are almost as bad. You are still cramped, you have poor roads, bad traffic and fumes. The last hope is drive yourself, but you still have traffic and now you are the one that has to deal with it. Poor roads with potholes. Break downs, bad weather, yuck. And don't get me started on hotels. You know non smoking not only means I will not smoke in the room, but also the person before hasn't either. Loud neighbors, room service that do not understand what a do not disturb sign means. They just barge right in. I would really rather stay home and pick lint out of my belly button.

  10. Found this article very interesting and informative! I'm from Ireland and have just returned from extensive travels through South East Asia. I met fellow Irish people everywhere I went as well as many, many Germans, Australians and New Zealanders. However, I met very few Americans and it struck me as strange that I met so many citizins my own country with its tiny population and so few Americans with its massive size and population. Hense the reason that I googled the question "why don't Americans travel much?" and discovered this article. It has answered the question quite well for me, particularly the part about Americans only getting so few holiday days a year. Most travellers that I met in Asia though were people that had left their jobs to go travelling for 6 months+, didn't meet any Americans doing that.

  11. Great article. Very useful experience for a travel blogger like me. tks for making this topic.