Why do Americans Shy away from International Travel?
The numbers are surprising. In 2007 only 27% of the US population held a passport. Although in recent years the number has skyrocketed. Now around 42% of the population own a passport. The percentage of Americans with passports has jumped since the Western Hemisphere Travel initiative was adopted. The pace of growth accelerated further in January 2007 when U.S. citizens traveling by air between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Bermuda were required to have a valid passport. Previously, it was possible for them to enter those countries without one but the law was changed in the aftermath of 9/11. Congress passed the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act in 2004 which mandated the development of a plan requiring all foreign nationals entering the U.S. to have a passport. The plan was announced in April 2005 before coming into effect in January 2007.
Even with this huge increase in passport ownership in the US, it is suggested that up to 50% of these passport holders travel no further than Canada or Mexico. Despite the climbing number of American passports in circulation, our 40% is still low compared to Canada's 66%, England and Wales with 76% and Australians at over 70%.
Thats a low number of travelers for such an affluent country, said Bruce Bommarito, executive vice president and chief operating officer for the U.S. Travel Association. "Americans are comfortable in their own environment," Bommarito said. "Not taking the leap is comforting, because this is the American life." said Matthew Kepnes, international traveler and creator of NomadicMatt.com, a blog chronicling his travels and observations. "Breaking outside anything that is your norm is scary." That is why at least 29% of Americans have never left the country and only 3.5 % of Americans travel internationally.
There are many other factors that attribute to Americans lack of interest in international travel. Ten factors are suggested below:
1. America has a lot to see and many citizens are content exploring all there is to see here. America has it all, from mountains, prairies, oceans, beautiful beaches, and deserts. "In the United States we have an enormous amount of places we can travel-basically and entire continent, " said everything-everywhere.com author Gary Arndt, who has been traveling abroad and blogging since 2007. "You can do all kinds of things without needing a passport." For example, in one week's worth of vacation time, you can travel through a desert, splash in the ocean, experience the jaw-dropping vistas of the Grand Canyon and then lose yourself in magnificent 'Sin City'. With all that in our backyard many people would rather travel across our country to see the beauty here using less travel time and less money.
The United States is so big that a flight from one state to another could take as much time as flight to Europe. Americans are more likely to do the former. "We're a big country and we have a culture of traveling within the United States. Bommarito said. "When you're born and raised in a European or South Asian country, your access to other countries is much easier." English people often say that they had to get out of England because it's too small. Most Americans don't feel that way.
2. It takes money to travel overseas. First, passports are not cheap (fifth most expensive in the world). Recently the price was raised 10.00 to 145.00. Spending a couple weeks in a foreign country can be expensive. Although the countries, as far as meals and accomodations go, may be inexpensive but airfare to get there can be a huge. Considering that many Americans are chronically in debt, their budgets just don't allow for such elaborate traveling.
Another issue for many is debt from school loans. Many people have college debt up to 100.000. A bachelor's degree in the UK takes less time and money at around 30,000 to finish. School loans keep graduates at home. Going straight to work, instead of on a post-graduate celebratory trip. For many Americans, it's much more cost effective to fly within our own country or take those quintessential family road trips.
All in all international travel can be fairly inexpensive-less than many people think. We are shown that travel is for people living the extravagant lifestyle enjoying a private villa in the French Polynesia. You can travel cheaply if you are willing to sacrifice luxury. Put as many of your purchases on credit cards to rack up airline miles (pay your balance off every month is preferable), sleep in hostels or reasonably priced Airbnb's, travel during the off-season for your destination, or do a work exchange in a foreign country. Be creative and look for travel bargains. They're out there.
3. Vacations take time! The average amount of paid vacation time in the U.S. is two weeks. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics most workers in the United States receive 10-14 days of paid vacation after one year. The United Sates is the only advanced economy that does not require employers to provide paid vacation time. Even worse, Forbes explains that nearly 1-in-4 Americans do not receive any paid vacation time or paid holidays. Workers in the EU and Australia receive 20 paid days after one year. Some European countries pay for 25 days after one year.
Here is a crazy statistic: Nearly 3-in-4 Americans that do receive paid vacation time fail to even use it all! The U.S. Travel Association found that the average American fails to use even five vacation days a year. By not taking these days, Americans are essentially paying their employer to be at work. Because of this, American becomes an overworked, over stressed, and ultimately an unhealthy society.
Unfortunately, many Americans follow the same pattern: work hard in high school, go to college, accrue a load of debt and get a job right away to work it off. The United States doesn't promote taking a year off between major life phases like New Zealand or the United Kingdom. We are not a travel culture. Countries are travel cultures when they put more emphasis on leisure time. Americans tend to choose money over leisure time!
4. Fear of the unknown. I believe fear holds a lot of people back from traveling. Many people are terrified of being in a totally different environment overseas. They are afraid they won't be able to communicate, or they fear not being able to navigate their way around an unfamiliar city. And of course you hear a few stories of people getting into bad situations for not knowing the local customs, but that can all be alleviated by just doing research before you booking your trip. Americans tend to be rather uninformed about anything happening outside of the U.S. which doesn't prepare us well for traveling abroad. There is much information on the internet to research new, vibrant places and you might find yourself inspired to book a trip and get out of your comfort zone.
5. Fear of getting mugged, murdered, or killed by terrorists. Many people think that is safer here in the U.S. and that everything outside our border is unsafe. According to the U.S. State Department, the number of U.S. citizens killed overseas by incidents of terrorism from 2001 to 2014 was 369; compare that number to the 3043 killed inside the U.S. by terrorism during the same period. In terms of street crime and gun violence, most of the U.S. cities we live in are statistically more dangerous than the places we visit abroad. Your risk of being killed in a car crash is one in 19,000, or drowning in your bathtub is one in 800,000, or being killed by lightning is one in 10 million. All these far exceed your risk of dying from a terrorist attack-one in 20 million!
There are psychological reasons why we are more afraid of terrorist attacks than logic would dictate. We're more afraid of risks that are unfamiliar than those we've lived with for years -like heart disease which accounts for one in every four deaths in America every year. We're more afraid of risks that kill us in gruesome ways like a plane crash, a shark attack, or the Ebola virus than the more mundane ways. We're less afraid of risks that we believe we have some control over, such as skiing and driving for example-even if its only our illusion of control. Most people think that driving is safer than it actually is. We can't control what the other drivers are doing and these days we're all one text message away from death on the road!
The past few years have underscored that we're living in a world where anything can happen anywhere at any time-at a country music festival in Las Vegas, on a bridge in London, at a celebration on the French Riviera, at a Christmas market in Berlin, at a nightclub in Orlando, at a marathon in Boston, in a skyscraper in Manhattan. But the answer is not to be fearful and stop traveling or avoid large swaths of the globe out of a misconception that your risk is greater there than anyplace else. The better action is to keep exploring, globetrotting and making new friends around the world. You can be an ambassador for our country, teaching them about us and learning from them that we are all very similar in many ways.
6. Many people feel the outside world hates us for being American. They let their imaginations go wild thinking they could get kidnapped, robbed or blown up. The State Department has a list of places not safe to travel to. They, obviously, have to err on the safe side to protect American citizens but you should take that list with a grain of salt.
Most people you meet overseas will be very friendly and eager to help you any way they can. But you will find prejudice and ignorance everywhere in the world. Just as there are ignorant people hating on immigrants and minorities in the U.S. you can meet the odd idiot anywhere who is angry at his own situation and takes it out on whoever he can.
How many times have you heard that the French hate Americans. Here is a comment made on Tripadvisor:
"Let me start out by saying the French do not hate Americans.
That's all I heard before our first trip to France and I was actually concerned that it must be true coming from so many different sources. Actually, our trip consisted of time spent in Ireland, England, France, Switzerland and Italy and I can not put into words how well we were treated in every country including France. The people of all these countries could not have been nicer and friendlier. They tried to help in anyway possible.
So if you are an American and have heard this, please do not fear and enjoy your trip.
Now a bit about the Ugly Americans, yes there are some and the Americans bring it on themselves. They think when they are in a foreign country that they still can act like they do in the States. Well there has never been a truer statement than "When in Rome, do as the Romans". Simply put, mind your manners and act as the locals do around you."
7. If something goes wrong abroad, you'll have no insurance coverage, and even if you do the service will be terrible. Shouldn't fear of illness or injury be a reason to travel? Make sure you have no regrets if something does happen down the road. Something could very well happen just down your road at home. How many times have you heard of people working hard all their lives with the dream of traveling after they retire, only to end up getting sick or dying soon after they do retire and never getting the opportunity. It happens all the time. So "carpe diem" -don't wait until its too late!
With that said, health care is actually quite inexpensive in many places around the world. Most of the time its much more reasonable than what it costs in North America. Plus, you can purchase Travel Insurance to give you piece of mind. It usually is quite reasonable for the benefits you receive and worth it to take the worry of having health issues when traveling abroad.
8. You'll will be missing out on your friendships and the activities happening at home or I should stay and help with the grandchildren. Yes, there will be amazing parties, funny stories, weddings, birthdays and births you will miss occasionally. The younger generation in the past has put travel off until retirement. As stated earlier that doesn't always work out so well. Hopefully the mindset will change in this country and they younger generation will learn to be more of a travel culture. Lisa Delpy Neirotti claims that "Millemnials would rather put their money into experiences than consumer goods." Good for them! Hopefully this is a sign of a changing culture about traveling. I believe older travelers are more fearful of missing out of family activities and responsibilities. Perhaps their is a bit of guilt when they are traveling and enjoying new experiences when family members are left toiling at home. Then there is the fact that many seniors provide free daycare for their working children. It is likely that they feel like they are needed at home to watch the grandchildren-a common phenomenon.
9. Fear of not speaking the language and not being able to communicate. "Americans are going to have to speak more languages and be more culturally savvy," Kepnes (International traveler) said. "We have to change because we have to do business with all these other cultures."
The only language most Americans speak fluently is English. We are fortunate as travelers that many children around the world are taught English as a second language. When you travel you can almost always find someone who speaks English and is more than willing to try it out on you. So there is no need to worry as the English language is prevalent around the world.
One world traveler says there were many times when he would speak to a native in Spanish and they respond to him in English-by choice. They are intrigued by other cultures and it helps your cause in meeting new people. He says even if hes in a country where he could physically pass as a native, as soon as he opens his mouth his accent is discovered, and everyone wants to know where he is from and what he's doing there. So don't stress over speaking the language-it may be an advantage! If you can find the right word get out your phone and Google it.
10. We are skeptical and uninformed. We buy goods from Sri Lanka and outsource business to India, but when it comes to traveling to these destinations, Americans would rather stick close to home. Our culture doesn't emphasize learning about the outside world and we're more skeptical about it because we haven't tried to learn about it. Some of our skepticism comes from negative media reports about the world. For example, Nicaragua always draws negative connotations because of the political and civil unrest that has been covered in the news.
A seasoned traveler, says that every time he says he's going somewhere, people assume that it's dirty, they don't have good hospitals, you're going to get sick or raped or robbed he says. He says if you know something about Columbia, it's drug lords, which hasn't been a problem for 20 years, but that's what people still think. Foreign countries don't generally make it into the media for doing good things, just for natural disasters or bad news.
Regardless of the facts there are people who care about nothing but the good, ole red, white and blue. There are a lot of things to be loved and appreciated about our country but we are a very uninformed bunch sometimes. As mentioned above the media is partially at fault with sensationalized news. World news many times is only covered if it directly affects us negatively or is some mass tragedy. When you turn on Al Jazeera, Euro News or BBC while abroad, you actually see World news. Many foreigners know the latest American politics, but we wouldn't know the latest in their home country. In the U.S. there is a lack of information about world affairs.. We seem to be an isolated bubble, where Americans are afraid of the unknown, or even worse just don't care. There are Americans who can't locate Australia on a map. There are some who think that Tokyo is the capital of China. Recently, my wife and I went on an excursion to the Galapagos Islands. When we told people where we were traveling, many had never heard of it or they didn't have a clue where it was. Futhermore, many had never heard of Charles Darwin. Really!?
In conclusion, some fears are justified, but some aren't. You've heard people say be careful and don't do risky things. Common sense is not always common out there. Don't put yourself in risky situations like walking down a dark, quiet street in a city overseas. Logical-right? That's good advice even in the U.S. Do your reseatrch and get an idea of how risky the area is you're traveling to and learn a little about he culture so you don't make too many guffaws. There is a lot to see and learn outside of our borders so why not jump out of your comfort zone and ease into international travel. Many Americans start by going to Mexico and that is considered a pretty dangerous area by the State Department. There are many safer areas to see out there.
According to Wendy Perrin, world traveler, "The problem you face as you try to plan a vacation is that you don't know what your risk is or how safe one country is versus another. We try to weigh the risk of one destination over another by looking at the historical record of violet incidents there. What's tricky right now is that we don't know how relevant the historical record is. Will the future be different than the past? We don't know. Even when you can't know the degree of risk, though, you can lessen those risks you do have some control over. You can say to yourself: "What is the likelihood of the situation affecting my trip? Pretty tiny." And you can lessen those risks you do have some control over. You can drive very carefully on your way to the airport."
"One of the true benefits of travel to foreign countries is its probably the greatest form of diplomacy," Bommarito said. "Strange ideas go away and you realize that we're all similar, just with different cultures."
Don't wait too long to abandon your fears and comfort zone-Carpe Diem!
This blog was written with excerpts from the following sources:
Dreams around the world
Hippie in Heals