I just returned to the Midwest after a month of traveling through Australia and Hawaii. Think koalas, kangaroos, wombats, mountains, beaches and sunshine and you’ve basically summed up my entire journey. However, the most peculiar thing occurred to me when I returned home – I only met one other American traveler during the entire 30 days I was gone.
How is it that I spent a month traveling, 10 days of which were spent in a US state, and I only met one other traveling American?
As a child, the pure idea of travel excited me in ways that I can’t even begin to explain. I left the country for the first time after I graduated high school and haven’t stopped since. College seemed to get in the way of traveling for a few years, but studying abroad helped fill the gap and kept me sane. Since completion of my undergraduate degree I’ve taken up solo traveling and have jetted off to three different continents within the past year. Through travel I’ve met the greatest people, eaten some very exotic foods, experienced cultures different from my own and seen truly magnificent landscapes.
Traveling is amazing. I try to talk about it, write about it, and inspire others to do it as much as I can. Unfortunately, my love affair with travel and seeing the world has been met with more than a few unflattering responses from those I’ve spoken with. I’ve had more people advise me not to leave the country than to actually leave the United States of America themselves. The advisers in question don’t generally have a lot of travel experience even within my home state. (Trust me; I can tell).
So why don’t more Americans travel? The number of Americans I meet traveling abroad is greatly disproportionate to the population of the US at large. I meet a fair amount of English, German, and Australian travelers, as well as a plethora of travelers from China, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, and other Asian countries. So what gives? Based on my own experience, here are the top three reasons a lot of Americans don’t travel:
1. Fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of change - as great as traveling is, it’s also scary. “I’m in a foreign country, and everyone speaks a foreign language. Do toilets even exist here?!” Let me allay your fears. Yes. Yes they do.
2. No Legal Vacation Requirement. Americans are essentially “slaves to money, then we die”, as so eloquently stated by The Verve. The United States of America is one of the few countries in the entire world that does not require vacation time by law. Some jobs come with vacation time (e.g. PTO), but there is no guarantee of this in the US, and I argue that few people are given enough paid time off to have a proper vacation at all. I had to give up my own job to travel; it wasn’t hard for me to say goodbye. However, many people have other obligations to consider: children, spouses, a roof over one’s head, for example. These obligations become bad excuses to stay home when the government requires people to take a vacation.
3. Little Exposure to Geography or Outside Cultures. And I’m not even pointing fingers at Betsy DeVos! My entire educational journey has seemingly lacked any serious education in regard to geography. Ask your average American to point out Syria on a map and they’ll most likely be dumbfounded. Heck, just ask us to identify any country that isn’t Mexico or Canada. Perhaps growing up I was naive though. I was fascinated by the world and maps and globes. I thought we didn’t need geography classes, because who the heck wouldn’t want to know where Iceland or Laos was in their free time?
I am not trying to take a stab at my fellow Americans, nor should these reflections serve as a reason for non-Americans to point and laugh at our unworldly ways. I share these to expose the problems many Americans face when it comes to travel so that they can be minimized. I would love to see more Americans travel, and I’m sure the world would love to see more Americans travel too. Plus, I hate being the only American representing our country when I travel abroad.
P.S. – If you travel to Australia like I did, you can absolutely pet a kangaroo!