Nearly all Americans that have spent significant time abroad can agree on one thing: There don’t seem to be that many other Americans getting out there! In the fifteen foreign countries I’ve visited, in nearly every single one, it seems like one thing is true: Compared to other developed countries, there seem to be less Americans out there traveling. I’ve often wondered why this is, and am curious to see what others think as well. Here are a list of reasons I believe to be true regarding why more Americans don’t travel:
1) Americans finance using debt: Think about it- if we want to go to school past high school, what do most of us do? Go into debt. Real debt. Big debt. The you-better-get-a-job-as-soon-as-you-graduate-to-pay-this-debt-and-even-then-you-may-still-be-paying-it-off-until-you’re-old-and-grey kind of debt. Who has the money to hit the open road after they strap themselves down with so much debt that early on in life? Not to mention healthcare- even with expensive insurance, if you break a leg or worse, expect to go into thousands of dollars of debt. With “good” insurance here in the U.S., it would’ve cost me $1,600 to have my wisdom teeth removed. With no insurance in Thailand: only around $100. In the UK: Free.
I had a group of Scottish friends that traveled the world for between 6 months and two years together, (all traveled for different amounts of time.) “How could they afford this?” I wondered. The answer was simple: Not only did none of them have to go into debt for school, (university doesn’t come out of students pocket in Scotland, and should you somehow incur any student debt in Scotland, you aren’t expected to start repaying it until you get a job afterward,) they were able to work and save money for those 4 years to put toward travel afterward. Employers in Scotland also highly value real world experience that can only be gained by traveling abroad, so students see it as wise to travel after college.
2) Americans receive very little vacation time. USA Today tells us that The United States is the only developed country in the world without a single legally required paid vacation day or holiday. By law, every country in the European Union has at least four work weeks of paid vacation. Read the full article here: http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2013/06/08/countries-most-vacation-days/2400193/
3) Many other countries, (especially European countries,) can easily access other countries because they’re so small, close together, some share a common currency, and there is reliable public transportation connecting them. For many, a weekend trip to a neighboring country is the equivalent of Americans going to a different state for the weekend.
4) In our own country, we’ve got sandy beaches, snow covered mountains, busy cities, and beautiful countryside- many Americans spend their whole lives just trying to see and take in their own country before they prioritize heading abroad.
5) Many Americans don’t value immersing themselves in different cultures: America is a relatively young nation- an infant, compared to any, actually. We fought hard for our independence, darn it, and the despite an economy recently in decline, huge wealth inequality, massive national deficit, and many other problems, many Americans believe they’re citizens of the best country in the world. And why leave the best?
6) Many Americans wrongly believe the rest of the world to be a “slum-ridden shithole,” according to Mark Manson. Manson says that as Americans, we tend to think that the rest of the world is struggling and way behind us, (see #5 regarding America being perceived as #1 by many citizens,) and with that mindset, it makes since that Americans wouldn’t want to visit places perceived to be worse off than we are- we do love our material comforts, which brings me to point #7.
7) I’ve met so many Americans that value material possessions more than life experiences. Of course this is true for citizens of every country, but what I notice about many friends and relatives here in the U.S. is that when faced with the option to take trip somewhere or get a newer, nicer car, (when theirs was running fine,) an overwhelming amount would choose the car.
8) It’ a scary world out there that we know very little about. Here are some things that Manson, (mentioned above,) points out that most Americans don’t know: the Vietnamese were more concerned with independence (not us), Hitler was primarily defeated by Russia (not us), there is evidence Native Americans were wiped out largely disease and plague BEFORE Europeans arrived and not just after, and the American Revolution was partly “won” because the British invested more of their resources in beating France (not us). Notice a running theme here? It’s not all about us.
Manson points out that if we flip on the news, we see scary story after scary story about the world outside of our own- it makes sense that Americans would feel ill-informed, ill-equipped, and too scared to venture out of their homeland.
So what do you guys think? If you’re an American that doesn’t travel abroad, why? If you do, why do you think more people don’t? Personally, I’ve always been with St. Augustine on this one, “The world is a book, and those who don’t travel, read only one page of it.”