According to this CNN article from 2011, 70% of Americans don’t have a passport. In comparison, 60% of Canadians and 75% of the UK population has a passport. The number of valid passports has more than doubled since 2000 and Americans are traveling more than ever, yet 50% of all international trips are only to Mexico or Canada.
I’ll be writing about our views on the topic, but I do want to hear from you. Leave a comment with why you don’t travel outside the US or have yet to get your passport. Or if you do travel internationally, what got you interested?
Even if you are outside the U.S., why is travel important to you?
I guess americans have a lack of interest on the foreign countries, in general. I saw a good movie this weekend, called “A map for saturday”, that talks about long term traveling. It shows that most americans don’t travel, and when they do, they stick to short and expensive ones. Brazilians are a bit like this too. But we like traveling abroad very much. Unfortunately most brazilians see trips as oportunities to buy stuff cheaper. I like traveling to know and get immersed in other cultures. And I love visiting historical sites.
I think I would agree that many Americans lack interest in foreign countries. The U.S. is so large and diverse that it can be difficult to think outside of it. I appreciate your insight on how it can be the same for Brazilians too!
I was lucky enough to spend a month in Europe my senior year of college. But here are a few reasons I think most Americans don’t travel outside of the US. #1 The US is HUGE. Unlike for instance France. It takes me longer to drive from my house in Indiana to my parents house in Virginia than it did to drive through four countries in Europe. Because it is so huge, there are many places in the country to visit. For instance, my dad was in the Navy and we moved a lot, but I’ve still only been to I think 20 or so of the 50 states. And there are many historic landmarks I’ve still never been to (Grand Canyon, Mt. Rushmore, etc). #2 Most Americans only get between 2-3 weeks of paid vacation a year (if any). They typically take it in one week increments. It is hard to travel somewhere where you will have a substantial time adjustment if you are only going to be there for a few days and then have to turn around and go home. #3 Also, unlike a lot of other countries, I think Americans tend to spread out, i.e. follow a job and end up a few states and hundreds of miles away from their family. Therefore they (like us) spend most vacations going to visit their families. #4 Most Americans are monolingual. The monolingualism and not traveling are like the chicken/egg cycle to me. Many Americans are isolated from the rest of the world (see US is HUGE!) and will never leave the US (unlike a French man who it behooves to know Spanish, Italian, German, English, etc because they are all countries located just short train rides away), so they don’t feel the same sense of need to learn another language. But I also feel because Americans don’t tend to speak other languages, they are more scared of other languages. The more languages you speak, the more linguistic knowledge you have (even if it you are unaware of it). So French man who speaks Fr, Sp, Eng, and It would naturally feel more comfortable trying to navigate Japan, even if he didn’t speak Japanese. He would have a much easier time picking up the essentials to communicate for a vacation, and would not feel as intimidated by someone speaking something other than his native language at him.
Sorry…as you can see, I have thought about this issue a lot. 🙂
Nice explanation. Brasil is big too, but sometimes is mre expensive traveling to a touristy place here than a similar one abroad. Go figure! We have one the heaviest taxes in the world.
These are all excellent points and I totally agree. I think the US culture doesn’t value traveling as high as others. Example, in Europe it is very typical to take a year off in your young 20s and just travel. In the States, that is not something we are accustomed to doing. Taking a year off could look bad to a future employer (though not necessarily). I’m not sure how these trips are normally funded, but as someone who was (mostly) financially on my own starting from 18, I would not have been able to save the money in time to travel in my 20s. And to be honest, I didn’t want to wait *all* that long to start a family – I wanted to start having children in my 20s.
One reason we have not going to Europe or Asia is due to the high cost of airfare just getting there, plus the time change makes it impossible for a “quick trip”. When my husband and I were both working, the money wasn’t as much of a problem, but we only got 10 vacation days a year – and those were used up by visiting family (8 hours and 17 hours from us, driving) and friends (10 hours). Now that we’re a one income family, we have the time but not the money. I’m hoping when our kids our grown we’ll still be able to make these trips.
In the meantime, we DO travel a lot within our own country. If Europeans traveling from country to country is equivalent to us traveling from state to state (which I’ve heard is similar), then we’re probably about even!
I agree with you on the size of the U.S. and the lack of paid vacation. One could argue that if it’s the only thing keeping you from traveling, then maybe it’s time to look for a new job! Good point about traveling to visit family though, when you have limited vacation time that will use up a lot of it.
I have to disagree about the only being able to speak English part. Caroline and I only speak English, and “un poquito Español”. We’ve been able to make it through 6 SE Asian countries so far without any superior language abilities. English is the language of tourism, and I would argue you can travel anywhere in the world just speaking English. It is sad that there isn’t much of an emphasis on learning foreign languages in the U.S. and it’s much better to travel somewhere and attempt to speak the local language. I’m just saying it’s possible (and fairly easy) to get around without it.
Wow. 70% don’t have passports, huh? I’d have guessed it was high, but not nearly that high (40%? maybe?).
Interesting though, I have a passport, and it’s high on my list of things to get taken care of when I change my name after getting married this fall but I haven’t actually used it since 2007. Probably because, like Amber mentioned above, I’ve been trying to travel on the cheap and with so many destinations in America I can remove a bunch of costs (or perhaps just eliminate some uncertainty) by staying stateside.
I can’t wait to travel abroad again. In the next year I’ll likely make it no further than Canada and Mexico…but shortly thereafter hopefully I’ll get more global.
Even while we’ve been traveling all over the globe, we think about how many places in the U.S. we still haven’t seen and are excited to explore more of our own country once we return.
I have a passport and I have used it, but not near as much as I want. As Amber noted above, I think the fact that most working Americans have relatively little time off is the biggest contributing factor. I have three weeks of annual leave and another 10 or so paid holidays every year, but I know that is on the upper end of the spectrum for most working Americans. I have friends who get 10 day a year, and those 10 days can only be taken at certain times! With such limited amounts of time, traveling to far flung destinations that require 14-hour flights (not to mention several hundred or thousand dollars) just doesn’t interest most people. I also agree that many people use their time to visit family and friends in the U.S. I lived 1500 miles away from most of my family for many years, so almost any time off I had was spent visiting them. Even now, I use almost a week of my time every year visiting family, or entertaining family and friends who visit me. My husband and I are hoping to take a long, 3 or 4 week trip next year, so we have had to really scale back our traveling this year to bank some of our days off.
My mom is from England, so traveling overseas has always seemed normal, especially being in England. Traveling there is probably how most Americans feel when they travel through the states to visit family. I’ve visited several places, Germany, France and Egypt and am baffled that most Americans don’t do the same. Although I’m from Missouri and have not visited very many states, but being a world traveler brings so much to an American. You can’t realize the luxurious, fast-paced, over-the-top lifestyle until you leave it and find a peace and calmness in other countries. I can’t promote international travel enough (and I don’t necessarily call Mexico or Canada international travel–hopefully that comment doesn’t bring the haters!)
I totally agree about the lifestyle differences. I am more concerned about the reverse-culture shock I’ll experience upon returning home than anything I’ll come across on the road!
Americans make too many excuses.
Fair enough. Do you travel internationally?
I agree with many of the points that Amber brought up. Nevertheless, many of my freinds who tell me they don’t travel is because they are too far in debt. Many of them spend money they could be saving on travel if they really wanted to–the guilty pleasures of that Starbucks coffee, lunch and dinners out all the time, a new car, the newest toys and clothes, etc. Several have said they could only stay at XX hotel chain and travel business class–which I think is just an excuse. Travel is a passion of mine and have been fortunate to have traveled to 25+ countries and 40+ states, but I make it a priority to budget, plan, and do. I also have the benefit of 30 days of vacation because of my tenure which I always take in conjunction with holidays to spread them out further.
It’s one thing to have no interest in travel, but another to want it, and handcuff yourself with your spending habits and consumer debt. We were surprised how much we could save in just 6 months after we decided to leave and how little we missed everything we had spent money on!
Cristina @thetravolution says
There is a fantastic quote I love: “You can’t have a narrow mind and a thick passport” Although someone suggested to me that business travelers may be the exception lol. Not sure if this is true…
Some business travelers may get to experience new and exciting places. Others end up in the same hotel in the same city every week. I like your quote! The reverse is also true, “You can’t have an open mind and an empty passport.”
I’m British, you can’t compare travelling between states to between European culture, crossing a border changes the language, culture, mindset, behavior, whereas in the US there is barley any difference between states.
Barely any difference between states? How many states have you visited? While the differences may not be readily apparent while crossing a state line on an interstate highway, there are significant cultural differences between and among U.S. states, and in larger states even among cities within the state. Spend a week in New York City and week in Terlingua, Texas and then tell me there are no differences between states!
While there are many greater differences between the language, culture and behavior of European countries, that doesn’t mean that all the U.S. states are the same. The “United States of America” is exactly that, a union of quasi-independent states. There are huge differences between Alaska, Indiana, New York, California, Texas and everything in between. The formation of the EU has made Europe even more similar to the structure of the U.S. (albeit with more language and cultural differences).
Demand more holiday time. Work to live, not live to work. By hamster wheeling at work, lose real world perspectives and life experiences.
Caroline Eaton says
Cathy – this is so true! I believe the more companies that help support more holiday time and a true work/life balance, the easier it will be for Americans to believe that they can actually enjoy both their work and exploring new experiences.
I think most Americans are afraid of asking for more holiday time. When I worked in my corporate job my boss was very flexible in letting me take “un-paid time off”. My priority was travel and was glad he was flexible – all I had to do was ask!