Traveling is one great way to learn about the world as well as about yourself. Rumi said that
travel brings power and love back into your life. Yet, not many people seem motivated to venture and embark on international journeys. Why is that the case? How can we not be in love with traveling? And what are the reasons for Americans specifically?
When I began my U.S. tour this last year, I met lots of people who actually never left, not only their states, but also their towns and counties.
An 18-year-old girl from a small Illinois town nearly 45 minutes away from Chicago who never visited Chicago. Another 24-year-old whom I briefly shared the Venice bungalow with who never visited N.Y; it was also her first time to California.
I mean, for me this is insane. International traveling, I might understand, but within your own country, and you’re in your mid-twenties already! Where is the curiosity? Where is the will to see, to know, to learn?
I also met few Americans who had visited all 50 states, or say, 46 at least. But those are a minority. Even fewer have made the bold move and actually decided to tour the world or live outside of the U.S., even if for a little while.
I remember a chat with a cab driver in Michigan who took me to the train station at 7 am. He was a nice black man in his 50s. When I told him about my plan to roam around the U.S., he looked at me in the rear-view mirror and said something along these lines: “Ah, I’ve always wanted to do that…but work and kids.”
In case of Americans, as I came to find out, only about 30% of the population own a passport. This number excludes passport cards, which are identification cards that only allow sea and overland entry to the U.S. from Canada, Mexico, and certain parts of the Caribbean, but not the rest of the world. It is estimated that only 13% have ever traveled abroad.
Being the powerful, dominant nation America is, this may seem strange. Compared to smaller countries like Canada where 60% own passports and the United Kingdom’s 75%, it sure is a significantly low figure. It is still, however, much higher than China, where only 20 million people hold passports — a meagre 1.5% of the population.
Well, there are few factors behind this reality as highlighted in the article, Why Americans Don’t Travel Overseas, which is written by an American traveler.
First, the sheer fact that America is a whole continent. Like Australia, you have the beaches, the forests, the deserts, and the mountains. So with such size and diversity, the common American mentality doesn’t really see a need to go elsewhere.
Second, it’s fear. Due to lack of culture and the relentless work of mainstream media, many Americans regard the rest of the “outside” world as a scary place. They are made to believe that other countries are dirty and dangerous.
Especially after 9/11 and its aftermath, a large portion of Americans actually believe that other nationalities do not like them. Consequently, they feel it’s safer to stay in their comfort zone within their own territories.
This sentiment may actually be true to some degree, especially, and understandably, in places where the American military had already bombed people not-so-long ago, like Iraq and Afghanistan. Which reminds me of the Mark Twain quote, “God created war so that Americans would learn geography.”
However, with all what’s been happening in the world recently, as well as with the rise of the Internet, I believe that more people are in the process of maturing in the political sense.
Unlike their parents’ generation, a small yet growing portion of today’s youth are waking up and had already stopped following, or even believing, mainstream media.
Fortunately, more younger folks are interested in the world and what it has to offer. They are also starting to realize that people and governments are two very different entities.
You can oppose or hate the policies of some countries all you want, even the decision makers of such policies, but what’s the rest of the population got to do with anything? To label an entire country or its citizens bad — or good — is just narrow-mindedness and a clear sign of lack of critical thinking. That’s all.
That said, the current top destinations for American travelers remain: England (9% of all trips), France (7%), Italy (7%), Germany (5%). I guess that’s where they feel safer.
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