Why is it that Americans seem to travel abroad much less often than people of other developed nations? After all, the United States has the most airports in the world, it’s in the top 10% of the countries with the highest GDP, and it has one of the most powerful passports on the planet. So what’s the deal? As an American who has lived and traveled abroad, I can speak to the travel obstacles that Americans experience—whether real or perceived—and offer some insight on what keeps U.S. citizens at home.
Traveling abroad can be expensive! Many Americans don’t have the money to go abroad. Unlike most Europeans, the vast majority of Americans don’t have easy access to nearby foreign countries. Americans also don’t have passports or currency that are interchangeable with that of neighboring countries. Currency exchange and visas can cost a hefty sum, as do passports (think a hundred and ninety five bucks, people). These costs, plus the price of plane tickets, make overseas or even over-border excursions out of the budget for many Americans. Why shell out thousands when you can drive a few hours to a national park for a fraction of the cost? For many people, the international adventure is always a dream that is just out of financial reach.
The United States is one of the biggest nations in the world. Those living deep in the heart of the States are thousands of miles away to from the nearest border! While people in the majority of other countries around the world are at most a couple day’s drive from the nearest border, those in the middle of the States are practically required to take a plane to get out of the country! Besides this, the United States only has two land borders, and even the Bahamas are still a day’s boat ride from Florida. Access to other countries isn’t so easy for many Americans.
3 Not enough vacation time
Work conditions in the United States are pretty darn good. In light of the work conditions of many other nations (as well as the past horrors of working conditions during the industrial revolution in the U.S.), one could hardly argue otherwise. However, one thing that Americans don’t enjoy at work is a substantial amount of vacation time. On average, Americans get about seven vacation days per year. And even that vacation time is rarely used! The drive to go, go, go and never stop is considered a virtue in American culture, so many Americans fail to take much needed rest and vacation time.
The United States government is in about 20 trillion dollars of debt (yup, that’s “trillion” with a “t”), but that’s hardly more horrifying than the 12.75 trillion dollars of household debt, as the Center for Microeconomic Data reports! Blame it on student loans, medical costs, housing, the American Dream, foolhardy credit card spending… whatever the root of the problem, it’s certainly a big one. How can people carrying so much debt afford to go overseas? Well, unless they’re willing to go into more debt, they can’t.
5 Enough to explore in the U.S.
Since the United States is so vast, one could spend a lifetime exploring the States and never see it all. Many Americans see a lifelong exploration of the United States as enough. After all, there are endless cultures, biomes, and experiences within the country! You can go to the beach, the mountains, the desert, the tundra, and even tropical islands with no need for a passport or an international health plan. For many Americans, our own country offers plenty of adventure.
6 Lack of knowledge of other cultures
Even though the United States is a “Melting Pot” of many cultures, many Americans still go through life with only a minimal understanding of other places and cultures. You can’t appreciate what you don’t really know, right? Perhaps this is one of the reasons that many Americans with the means don’t actually have any interest in going abroad.
Unlike the rest of the world, Americans often speak only one language. This has been changing rapidly in recent years, but Americans (including myself) are still behind many other people in terms of lingual ability. For many Americans, the difficulty of learning a new language (or communicating with a language barrier) is enough to make a trip to San Diego far more comfortable than a trip to the Pacific Islands. Many Americans are also unaware of the international knowledge of the English language. After all, would you expect to find English speakers in the interior of Tanzania? Maybe not, but they are there. English is a major language all over the world, but many Americans don’t know this.
Finally, there is one aspect that transcends all nationalities: fear. While Americans certainly aren’t the only people to fear travel across borders, concerns about the safety of a destination is definitely a reason to stay home. Some people simply never travel abroad because the idea makes them afraid or anxious. Of course, frequent international travelers know that for the most part, fears about going overseas are largely unfounded. While there are certainly a handful of countries that are hostile to Americans, the vast majority of destinations are perfectly safe! Yet the horror stories perpetuated by the negativity-focused American media and the rumors of rumblings in the international realm are sadly enough to keep many Americans within the perceived safety zone of the United States.
While everyone’s personal experience is different, there are many reasons why Americans are relatively few and far between in many corners of the world. Fortunately, an increasing number of Americans are able to overcome these obstacles and experience the world beyond our own borders. Who knows? Perhaps we’ll see a major change in American travel preferences over the next few years!