I’ve been traveling around India for 7 weeks now and I have only met one single American person. I’m not kidding you.
Not only does this happen in India, but all over the world. I almost always meet a Brit, an Aussie, a French, a Spaniard, a Dutch, or even a Korean person before meeting an American. This is not by choice, but simply because they aren’t around.
So then, Why Don’t Americans travel?
Before I dive into this post, I’d like to say that I was born and raised in the U.S.A, and I’m damn proud to be American. It’s my home country. It’s the culture that I was born into. It’s where all of my good friends and family live, and I will always be a proud American. I consider myself very lucky to come from a country with endless opportunities.
However, time and time again, I fail to meet my fellow Americans when traveling around the world. And it really makes me upset. So I decided to investigate why…
I first got the idea to write this blog post after not meeting one single American during my 2-week trip around Myanmar in January this year, and then after this trip in India, I just had to write this post.
Red White and Blue, WHERE ARE YOU?
Here are 7 reasons that I came up with for why Americans don’t travel the world. Please comment with your thoughts at the end!
*Discmalimer: The majority of this post is speaking about the general population of America. It’s likely that if you’re reading this and you’re American, then you don’t fall into the category of “Americans who don’t travel.”
1. 65% of Americans don’t have a passport
That number of 65% is vague and keeps changing, but approximately 6.5 out of 10 Americans don’t have a passport. This means that only 110 million Americans (out of 350 million) even have the option to travel abroad.
Compare this with other countries such as Australia, New Zealand, The UK, and The Netherlands, where upwards of 75% of citizens have passports.
Out of the 7 reasons listed in this post for “Why Americans Don’t Travel,” this reason is the only fact.
And it’s my #1 reason for why Americans don’t travel… because they simply can’t.
2. America has everything! .. Right?
In the opinion of many Americans, the U.S.A. sure does have it all: beaches, forests, national parks, wonders of the world, mountains, prairies, deserts, oceans, tropical sands. There are unlimited places to explore around the country. And I agree that this is true, because I’ve been to 45 states and I still don’t feel like I’ve seen much of America. But the truth is, the world is so freaking big and there is SO much more to see than just 50 states.
Furthermore, it’s easier and more convenient for Americans to relax on the beach in California or Florida, than say The Philippines or Bali. Likewise, it’s much easier to find and enjoy Chinese food in NYC’s Chinatown, as opposed to experiencing the authentic cuisine on the land itself.
Staying in America requires less thinking and planning. It’s more convenient. It doesn’t require adjusting to a new culture, language and currency. And frankly, some of the beaches and national parks in America are among the best in the world, which is why Americans choose not to leave.
It’s amazing to me how the USA has over 350 million people and it tries to be a trend setter and a superpower to the rest of the world, yet most of us don’t give a shit about what’s happening outside our borders. I know that I am generalizing, but this is absolutely true for the majority of Americans.
I noticed this a lot during my recent trip home to Arizona after 14 months away from American soil while I was teaching English in Korea. When I turned on the news at home, I saw more state-local news than national or world news. Most of us aren’t educated about anything happing in the outside word. Also, I noticed that every time the news mentioned an international story, it was almost always negative. Like a terrorist attack or a mass killing.
Furthermore, to go along with ignorance of Americans, I can guarantee that the majority of them can’t even point to Myanmar or Cambodia on a map. I know this because I asked my friends when I was home, and they had no idea.
I wouldn’t be surprised if many Americans couldn’t point out Russia on a map, either.
All we hear about on the news is constant Anti-American threats, riots, crimes, murders, and shootings all over the world. Violence. Hatred. Horror Stories.
And because of this, I really don’t blame Americans for being scared of the outside world, because everything we hear about the world is negative.
I think that all of this negativity has made a significant impact on the way that Americans think about foreign countries. For example, whenever I told my American friends that I’m going to India or Vietnam (for example), they immediately assume that it’s unsafe, dirty, and dangerous. They start telling things like, “Watch out for ebola,” or “Don’t trust foreign doctors,” or “Don’t talk to strangers.” It’s all nonsense. And I had to explain to them that ebola is in Africa, not Asia.
To be quite honest, I feel safer in most countries than I do in when I’m at home in the USA. When I lived in Korea, a murder is virtually unheard of because Korean culture has enormous respect for each other. The police there don’t even carry guns on them because it’s that safe. I’m not even kidding!
Another part of me understands why Americans are so scared to travel. And that’s because we are probably the most hated country in the world. There are more Anti-American threats everyday then anywhere that I can think of.
Terrorist attacks like 9/11 also scared the living crap out of everyone. Its impact is still keeping people within American borders today.
I just wish that Americans were better informed about the world, because then, they might be more inclined to explore other cultures.
5. Lack of Languages
82% of Americans can only speak English. (cite)
Compare that with over half the population of the EU, who can fluently speak two or more languages. I have several friends who can speak 5+ languages. I even know one guy from Luxembourg who can speak 7 languages fluently!
In the American schooling system, we are mostly taught Spanish (sometimes French, German or Chinese). However, unless you choose to study abroad or travel to these countries, then it’s essentially useless to know the language because everyone speaks English in America.
And if you want my opinion, I think we only learn Spanish because we need to communicate with the large Spanish-speaking population in our country, NOT because we have intentions to travel to Latin American or Spain.
I do realize that the entire world speaks English, so there is less of an incentive for us to learn other languages. But not knowing other languages gives people less motivation to travel and explore new cultures.
6. Too Expensive…
Americans think travel is too expensive.
But it’s a myth!
Sure, the USA is located far away from other countries, so plane tickets may be more expensive than say for Europeans, who are more connected to the world by lcoation. But aside from plane tickets (which are cheaper today than ever before), travel is very cheap. And luckily, now you can fly to Europe for $99!
On my recent trip around Myanmar, I was spending about $1 for every meal. I got a 1-hour traditional Burmese massage for $3.50. In India, I’ve been renting motorbikes to explore all day for $3. I got a haircut and beard trim for $1.35 and I bought a new pair of sandals at a market for $0.60 cents.
Need I say more?
The truth is that most of the world is cheaper than the U.S.A. (Except some European Countries and Maybe Japan). The combined expense for a two-week vacation to South East Asia can easily be cheaper than a two-week resort stay in Miami.
7. No Gap Year
American society doesn’t promote taking a gap year in school to travel.
Instead, we work hard throughout high school to get into a good college. Then when we are out of college, we immediately find a job to start paying off our tens-of-thousands of dollars in student loans and debt. Then we save up to buy a house and a car.
The so-called American Dream.
Other countries like Australia, Israel, New Zealand, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom heavily promote taking a gap year after high school or college to see the world. We should adopt this policy!
Moreover, once we enter the work force, we are essentially trapped. That’s because a typical American work contract provides little vacation times (usually 2 weeks per year). So inevitably, it becomes harder and harder to travel with every passing year.
As for as the foreseeable future, I don’t see this changing anytime soon.
And lastly, I’ll throw in my two cents.
In the eyes of many Americans, they are way too concerned about making as much money as they can rather than enriching themselves in experiences (not only travel related). And before they know it, they are in their 30s with 3 kids.
When it’s all said and done, you’re going to remember that amazing week that you spent in Japan much more than your new 3D TV that you spent $5K on.
If this kind of lifestyle is for you, then that’s great. You are absolutely allowed to spend $5K on a new TV if that make you happy. You are able to live the life that you want to live.
But if thats the case, then STOP sending me emails and tweets saying “How can you afford to travel so much?” and “Why are you living the dream?”
Guys – You can take advantage of the countless opportunities that are available to you. I was so fed up with answering all your emails about this, that I wrote an entire blog post titled, “I’m NOT Living the Dream, and Here’s Why.”
What are your thoughts? Please Comment below!