Please note: This is an opinion piece based upon other articles I have read and comments I have received from readers. It is intended to explore the ideas of why people don’t travel and invites responses from readers who know more than I do. If you disagree with the ideas in this article, please leave a comment with your thoughts.
Time and time again, we hear of how very few Americans hold passports. From these ‘shocking’ statistics, we are led to believe that Americans never leave their own country. Why is it that one of the richest nations on Earth is incapable of exploring it? Before commenting on why Americans don’t leave their own country, I decided to take a proper look into how many Americans actually go abroad. According to the US department of state, 113,431,943 American passports were in circulation during 2012. With a population of around 316,000,000 this means that roughly one in three Americans holds a valid passport. However, this statistic is fundamentally floored because it does not take into account how often individuals use their passports. To look a little closer into this issue, I researched statistics from the OTTI (office of travel and tourism industries). According to the OTTI, the number of US citizens visiting countries outside the US were as follows in 2012:
If we exclude Canada and Mexico, there were only 26,187,400 overseas visits by Americans in 2012. Bear in mind that if an individual visits Europe, Central America, and Asia in a single year, they would count as 3 visitors in the above data. What this means is that significantly less than 10% of Americans went outside of North America in 2012. If Central America and the Caribbean are counted as part of North America (because they surely aren’t part of any other continent), we see that less than 6% of Americans left North America in 2012.
Until a few years ago, the few Americans I had met around the world often fit the unfortunate stereotype. These were the bad tourists. I was guilty of judging Americans by their politicians and the negative stereotypes that were portrayed around the world. This however, was due to the places that I was visiting. I went to places that attracted the worst types of tourist. I am British by birth and there are many parts of the world I would not want to visit due to the types of British people that go there. Certain Spanish and Thai coastal areas that I have previously visited are places that I never wish to visit again. In these places, they often have names for the rude, pasty, and constantly drunk British people. In short, every country has terrible tourists. It is not fair to judge a country by these few negative specimens.
In the past few years, my methods of travelling the world have changed. I still meet Americans (and people of other nationalities) that I intensely dislike. However, some of my closest friends and the most interesting people I have ever met are American. I am grateful to know them and they have enriched my life. I now do my best to throw away all stereotypes of a person based upon their nationality. With so many wonderful people in such an affluent country, I have been wondering why it is that they don’t travel overseas. America has produced some of the most brilliant minds throughout history and for some reason, they choose to remain in one place. Here are my suggestions as to why, based purely upon my own thoughts and the conversations I have had with people I met on the road.
The USA is Big
And diverse. Within the US, there is a whole lot to see. Include Canada and you have a significant percentage of the world’s total land mass in one place. Within this area you can see hugely diverse wildlife and climates in ways that are not possible in most parts of the world. You could spend several lifetimes exploring such a big area and you would never even scratch the surface.
Within the US, many people are scared of the world. Daily they are shown images of crazy countries blowing people up and taking hostages. While the US is often more disliked around the world than most other countries because of it’s international politics, the world is not as scary as it is portrayed to be. This is not the fault of the individuals within the country, but rather the media who portray this message. Many Americans genuinely believe that by going to Asia or Africa, you are endangering your life. They are taught a mentality that instills the idea of US vs. THEM. I realised this when I first saw signs and postsecret messages about keeping ‘them’ (the Mexicans) out. The USA is very paranoid and it is one of the few countries in the world (along with the Middle East and ex-USSR states) that require me to apply for a visa before I arrive in their country.
Life is Expensive
Living in America leaves you very little money to play with. And if you go to college, you have huge debts to pay which are secured against your parents’ home. I, as a UK citizen, can put off paying my student loans until a time when I have money. I am never obliged to pay back my student debts and they are tiny in comparison to the debts incurred by Americans who attend college. Financially, people in America cannot afford to go very far. When they consider the cost of living, nothing seems affordable. However, many Americans are unaware that America has one of the highest living costs of any country in the world. When travelling, costs are significantly lower and money can go much further.
Ignorance of the World
This is not an insult against the people of America. It simply says that the majority of Americans are not informed about the world around them. Equally, I am not informed about America. In terms of America, I am very ignorant. There is a big difference between ignorance and lack of intelligence. By being ignorant, it simply means that one is uninformed. When there is so much to learn about within America, it is not wholly surprising that they do not know a huge amount about the world around them. I am constantly amazed by the knowledge many Americans have of their own country. This displays a high level of intelligence and I know far less about my own country. Instead, I learnt more of the world around me. This is not better or worse. It is simply different. This ignorance comes into play with regards to fear of the world and the worry about the cost of travelling. It is not an individual’s fault that they are not well informed, because we know only what we are taught at the start of our lives. From here we have to find our own way. This lack of knowledge and distribution of ‘misinformation’ about the world is due largely to education systems and media networks.
I have also heard claims of America being far from everything as a reason for not travelling. This is not a valid reason. New Zealanders and Australians are some of the most travelled people in the world, yet they come from the most isolated part of it. Travelling is part of their culture. Travelling abroad for extended periods of times, is not part of American culture. One day I would love to explore America as I imagine that there are many wonderful places to visit. As of now, I have only ever been to California and New York State. Why is that many Americans choose not to explore the world around them? I would appreciate a little American insight on this matter. Please leave a comment below if you have any thoughts.