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Americans and Traveling Abroad

Why do Americans travel abroad less than citizens of other countries?

The United States is a big country. One can find almost anything they would want for a vacation from mountains to beaches, from cities to quiet spots in the woods. We have it all.

It that just an excuse for not leaving the country? Many other countries have similar offerings and their citizens travel abroad much more than Americans. Approximately 20 percent of Americans have a passport. Before 2007 that percentage was much lower. The increase is because now it is necessary to have the little blue book to travel to Canada and Mexico. In fact of all the times Americans used their passport, over half of those were to enter either our Northern or Southern neighbor.

Heck, I am amazed at the number of Americans that have been unable to tell me the difference between a passport and a visa.

The majority of articles written on the subject state that fear is a major reason Americans stay home. Matt Kepnes of Matt's Travel site wrote about fear in his article titled "Why Americans Don't Travel Overseas." He said, "Americans are just scared of the world. I mean really scared. Maybe even petrified."

He blames the media and the politicians. No doubt about it. Television shows and movies leave one to believe that you get off the plane in Bogotá and you are immediately surrounded by drug dealers wanting to substantially shorten your life. Truth is that statistically you have a much higher chance of being involved in a violent crime in New Orleans, St. Louis, Baltimore, Detroit or Flint than you do in Bogotá.

As for our politicians - no doubt about it with the way they spout off trying to spin things their way, they are part of the problem. It is often the actions of our politicians and multinational corporations that create much of the anti-American sentiment found abroad. Consider this example; Spain, France and other countries donate money to Colombia for schools and social help for the people. The USA sends military and war equipment that contributes to killing people and displacing them from their homes. Many of our corporations in the country are involved in corruption that helps the politicians, but hurts the people.

Matt makes his final statement of why Americans don't travel abroad is because of cultural ignorance. Quoting that world traveler, "Yes, I said it- it’s because Americans are ignorant. I mean ignorant as in they simply don’t know what is going on outside the borders, not that they are dumb."

This is a sentiment that I hear from people in just about every country I visit. Americans do not put emphasis on learning about the world. Most people in other countries know more CORRECT information than we do. We think we know what is going on, but in reality most Americans really do not have a clue and they do not care to educate themselves. Even our media dedicates less space and time to international affairs that other countries do. I often find errors and important omissions in U.S. media when reading about other countries, especially Colombia. We put very little emphasis on learning a second language, yet every other country pushes it. Sadly, the better jobs now are going to people who speak two and three languages and those who understand other cultures a little more.

We pretty much have it made if we want to expand our view of the world. The vast majority of countries allow us to show up unannounced and spend 90 days enjoying their culture. My Colombian wife has to pay money and apply for a visa ahead of time to go just about anywhere in the world. Even then her time is limited. Singapore lets her in without a visa, but she gets to stay only 30 days, while I get 90.

Really, most of us do not know how lucky we have it. To me an American passport is an asset to be used. Trust me, the world is not as scary as our media and politicians make it seem. And also it has much to offer that you cannot find in the USA. Sure see the USA, but learn about and visit the rest of the world. To quote Mark Twain, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Mary Miettinen January 25, 2012 at 02:18 PM
I like to look at the view...then look at it from another and another angle until a real picture emerges. I loved reading this article! Thank you. Mary
Olga Swarthout January 25, 2012 at 03:56 PM
Unless you are a teacher, most American's have very limited annual vacation time. Most European countries mandate 4 to 6 weeks vacation. This difference alone could be the reason Europeans travel more intensively. Recently I heard from a coworker who was planning a "1 week" vacation to Australia. Can you imagine?! You'd be reeling from the jetlag - let alone be able to appreciate that vast continent.
Joe Kershaw January 26, 2012 at 12:30 PM
Thanks Mary - I look forward to bringing you more views in the future. And don't forget to keep your views coming.
Jessica Glass January 27, 2012 at 03:41 PM
I agree the media portrays traveling abroad as horrifying & a lot of what is shown are the bad things! My husband and I have been traveling out of the country more and hear it from a lot of family members about how unsafe it is. Yet, he works in Flint (one of the most dangerous places) everyday! I'm more worried something would happen there than going to Mexico.
Joe Kershaw January 27, 2012 at 10:25 PM
Thanks Jessica for your comment. I know what you mean about advice from friends and family who have not been to a country telling you how terrible it is. Everyone seemed to get in the act the first time I announced my departure for Colombia. My favorite was from a Mexican friend who looked at me as if trying to formulate just the correct words in his mind, then said, "They shoot gringos there."
Robert Marr January 30, 2012 at 04:40 PM
Ah yes. The Ugly American. I ran across such people several times during the many business trips to Europe. Folks in other countries are very proud of their languages and cultures, but many of us demonstrate that it has no value. That proved to be the fastest way to get the cold shoulder. Learning a few words, and asking questions about their way-of-life goes a long way towards generating respect. You might even find that people may try to help you by using their 2nd language, English to answer your questions. Too bad our universities find it more appropriate to force people to take silly classes like, 'The sex life of a fruit fly' as opposed to making a year of foriegn language mandatory.
Joe Kershaw January 30, 2012 at 06:32 PM
Robert, Thank you for reading. I agree with you. Taking the time to learn some polite phrases and important words before visiting another country can make a big difference in how you are perceived and treated. Also learning the customs is important. Previously I also wrote about Americans learning a second language. If you care to read that it is at http://fenton.patch.com/blog_posts/speaking-american
Edward Zierlein February 06, 2012 at 10:26 AM
TRY TALKING TO SOME OF OUR MILITARY. I WORKED FOR THE ARMY AND AIR FORCE. MY FAMILY AND I LIVED IN FIVE DIFFERENT STATES AND IN JAPAN AND GERMANY. WE LIVED IN GERMANY FOR 10 YEARS, JAPAN 2 YEARS AND I VOLUNTEERED AND DID A YEAR IN VIETNAM. SOME AMERICANS SEEK JOBS OUTSIDE OF THE U,S, WE WERE ABLE TO SEE MOST OF EUROPE, AND NOT JUST A FEW DAYS HERE AND THERE. MY DAUGHTER IS NOW FULLY FLUENT IN GERMAN AND HAS A BIT OF FRENCH. WE STILL TRY TO GET TO EUROPE EVERY OTHER YEAR TO VISIT FRIENDS. MANY MILITARY MEMBERS HAVE THIS SAME EXPERIENCE. THERE ARE A LOT OF MILITARY.

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