The Comfort And Safety of The Norm: Why Americans Don’t Travel Abroad

Michael  Harred Posted by Michael Harred, Blogger.

Michael Harred is a freelance blogger, traveller, and lifestyle coach. Currently, he works for Lord of Papers, as blogger and editor. Michael engages into conversations about lifestyle, traveling, and education. 


The Comfort And Safety of The Norm: Why Americans Don’t Travel Abroad

Benefits of Traveling

Six months ago, I was in Cape Town when I met a couple from Oregon. I was stunned. I very rarely meet other Americans when I travel abroad. The only exception to that tends to be resort areas in tropical locations, London, and Paris. Although, not as often as you would think in London or Paris. On the other hand, I’ve met Europeans almost everywhere I’ve been, and not just on their own content. I’ve also encountered travelers from Africa, Asia, and Australia. After doing a bit of research, I found that trips to Mexico, Canada, and within the United States accounted for 57 percent of all American travel during January and February 2016. The other 43 percent is split among eight regions around the globe.

It’s not only the numbers that stand out to me. It’s also the interactions that I have with people when I tell them I spend the majority of my time abroad. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard…

Aren’t you afraid of getting kidnapped or robbed?

I’ve heard everything is filthy there.

I couldn’t survive where people don’t speak English.

I don’t need to go anywhere else.

It must be nice to have all that free time.

I hope you stay in resorts where it’s safe.

I can’t deal with food that is spicy or weird.

Don’t they hate us there?

The preconceived notions that Americans have about travel abroad is appalling. Through the years as I’ve heard these sentiments, a single question has always crossed my mind. Why? Why do Americans have such a negative view of international travel, when it’s not only accepted in other cultures but also encouraged. Unfortunately, the more I’ve explored this issue, the uglier the answers become.

Many Americans Have Adopted an Assumed Sense of Cultural Superiority

I cannot count the number of times that I have sat half mortified, half bemused at another American loudly complaining about the practices of another culture simply because they don’t match ours. These are the tourists who will make themselves miserable trying to find food, accommodations, and experiences that are ‘just like in America’, rather than enjoying the travel experience. These are also the tourists who will go home and moan to anybody who will listen about weird customs, rudeness, and other imagined slights against the American way.

Unbalanced Media Coverage Has Created an Unneeded Sense of Fear

Imagine that there is a nation, larger than yours, that is continually fed misinformation about your country. Some of this is the result of those media outlets in America failing to show much international news at all unless it is violent, tragic, or otherwise horrifying. Because this is all they see, many Americans believe that will be in a constant state of danger should they dare to exit their country’s borders.

I won’t lie. I was the owner of many misconceptions about my safety in other places before I became a seasoned traveler. What cured me? To be honest, it was staying in hotel rooms with no access to American cable news channels and watching BBC News and al-Jazeera did the trick. It’s also nice to be able to discuss international events with people without having my views clouded by America-centric bias.

I also find it interesting that while many Americans don’t travel due to manufactured fears, the United States is losing buttloads of tourist dollars due to the pervasive gun culture here. Of course, that’s a whole ‘nother article.

Americans Value Objects Not Experiences

Let’s be honest. You are more likely to impress an American with your house or car than you are to impress them fact that you spent two months backpacking across the Outback. In my most negative moments, I associate this with our greedy, gauche, and consumeristic culture. However, when I take the time to reflect on it, I truly do believe that for many of us Americans, owning things is important for more than just reasons of vanity. It represents security, success, and progress. It would be nice, though, if we could, as a society that values education, at least embrace the learning experiences that travel brings.

Calvinism Pervades Our DNA

I’ve learned that many Americans have a very strict and very linear view of how one’s life should unfold. We’re supposed to get an education, find a job, and then work approximately 50 weeks per year until we drag ourselves, exhausted, into retirement. Any deviation from that is treated as if it is an offense against the American way.

I learned this when I was 17. I had just finished high school, and I’d been accepted into my two, top choice schools. Instead of being proud of this, I was miserable. I was ambivalent about the direction I wanted my life to take and the idea of asking my parents to fund a year at an expensive, private college kept me up at night. I confided this to my parents who encouraged me to spend some time traveling and gaining some life experience before I made any commitments.

Naturally, this came up in conversations when friends and relatives wanted to learn about my post-graduation plans. If you’re wondering how supportive people were, I can say that a handful of people thought this was a great idea. Unfortunately, when I say handful it might be helpful to envision the hand belonging to a myopic shop teacher with a tic.

Reactions ranged from fearful, “What if she loses her seat at school? She doesn’t have a guaranteed spot if she sits out a year!” to sneering, “If she doesn’t want to go to school, you need to make her go to work instead of enabling her” to ‘helpful’, “Can’t she just go to Jamaica for a couple weeks of fun?”

Back then, I felt insulted and defensive about my choice. Today, I’m just really amazed at the way Americans react when faced with a challenge to their balance. Since then, I’ve learned that taking a gap year before moving on to a new phase of life is encouraged elsewhere.