Why Americans Don’t Travel Overseas

the american flagWe’ve all heard the alarming statistic—only 15% of Americans own a passport. (2014 update: That number is about 36% now, compared to about 70% of Brits and Australians.)

That number is rising, but only because Americans are now required to show a passport when going to Mexico and Canada. Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin first got her passport last year and has only traveled overseas to military bases in Iraq and Germany. In fact, she’s implied that traveling is for the rich: “I’m not one of those who maybe come from a background of, you know, kids who perhaps graduate college and their parents get ’em a passport and give ’em a backpack and say go off and travel the world. Noooo. I worked all my life…I was not, uh, a part of, I guess, that culture.”

So why is it that the world’s superpower, a country with 300 million people, turns a blind eye to the rest of the planet, and political figures tout their lack of overseas travel as a plus? I believe there are a few reasons:

First, there’s size. Forget about post-9/11 politics for a moment. Most family vacations in America are to other parts of America. Why? Because the US takes up the width (and a lot of the height) of a whole continent, and we have all the world’s environments in our states. Need beaches? Head to Florida. The tropics? Hawaii. Desert? Arizona. Cold tundra? Alaska. Temperate forests? Washington. This attitude about America having all you need is best summed up by a response I got from a friend in Iowa: “Why would you want to go to Thailand? It’s far and scary. If you want beaches, just go to Florida.” Americans simply don’t see the need to go anywhere else when they can do it all in their own country, especially when they’re afraid of the world.

Which brings me to my second point—fear. Americans are just scared of the world. I mean, really scared. Maybe even petrified. In this post-9/11 world, Americans have been taught that the world is a big, frightening place. There are terrorists outside every hotel waiting to kidnap you. People don’t like you because you’re American. The world is violent. It’s poor. It’s dirty. It’s savage. Canada and Europe are OK, but if you go there, they’ll still be rude to you because you’re American. No one likes us.

Even before 9/11, the media created an environment of fear. If it bleeds, it leads, right? Prior to 9/11, the media played up violence at home and abroad. Pictures of riots in foreign streets, threats against Americans, and general violence were all played up to portray a volatile and unsafe world. After 9/11, it only got worse. Politicians now tell us “they hate you,” as former NYC Mayor Rudy Guiliani did during his campaign. It’s US vs. THEM!!!

a us passport pictureBombarded by this for decades, Americans think this myth is reality and don’t want to leave the States.

People always ask me why I want to leave the US to travel. Isn’t the US just as good? ”No one likes us out there”, people say. To Americans, the world is a scary place, and it’s a perception only reinforced by the media and politicians.

Finally, it’s because of cultural ignorance. Yes, I said it—Americans are ignorant. Ignorant as in they simply don’t know what is going on outside their own borders, not that they’re dumb. I don’t blame them, really. When you’re told the world is scary, why would you want to care about it? Why would you want to go to places where they supposedly want to kill you?

So Americans don’t put an emphasis on learning about the world. We don’t take languages, we avoid overseas programs, and we don’t talk about our world in schools. Our schools teach one foreign language: Spanish, and that’s only because there’s a large Spanish-speaking population in the country, not because we want to go to Spain—or Mexico right next door. The media doesn’t focus on the world unless it relates to something bad, and our politicians encourage us to erect walls, not break down barriers.

Some people argue that it’s because America is “far” from the rest of the world, as if there’s an insurmountable distance to go to get places. However, New Zealand is farther geographically from everything, yet New Zealanders are encouraged to go out and explore the world. In the age of the Internet, Twitter, YouTube, and airplanes, it’s easy to go places. Distance is no excuse.

Americans don’t travel because of culture, not location. Sure, it’s not universal. There are plenty of Americans out there exploring the world and breaking down cultural barriers. They come back, dispel myths, and encourage their friends to become more aware of the world. But even in the more liberal places in America, you see the attitude that America is the world’s only safe country and that most of the world is pretty scary. Americans have an image of the world that is totally divorced from reality.

The sad irony is that we created the world we are so afraid of. America’s push for a globalized world brought many players onto the stage. It helped the Chinese dragon emerge from its cage, brought India into the game, helped Brazil’s economy grow, and tore down communism. Now, we look at the world and are terrified that we no longer understand it or our place in it. Instead of trying to learn more, we erect barriers and bury our heads in the sand.

Yet, I am hopeful. The future of the world requires more integration, and young Americans growing up in this post-9/11 environment are actually more interested in learning about other countries than shunning them. They want to travel and explore the world. I think the future will be bright, as long as political leaders don’t wall us off completely before then.

For more about why American’s don’t travel, here’s a follow-up article I wrote a couple of years after this one:
Why Americans STILL DON’T Travel Overseas
Why Do Americans Pretend They Are Canadians?

    • blake

      Maybe a majority of Americans do not travel overseas because it is expensive and they can’t afford to you elitist snobs.

      • Bel

        It is expensive for the rest of the world too. I live in New Zealand – as Matt points out the furthest country from anywhere – yet I know no-one who has not left our beautiful country. It costs a huge amount to go anywhere, but we do it because we want to see the rest of the world and realise that New Zealand is not the be-all and end-all. I have just returned from a trip to Europe, which set me back over $4000, but I would not change it for the world. It is nothing to do with elitism – everyone prioritises travel in New Zealand, thus we can afford to travel.

        • Andrew

          It wouldn’t surprise me if the only other country most people in New Zealand have been to is Australia. $4000 is an insane amount of money for most people anywhere.

          • Bel

            Hi Andrew,
            Are you saying that travelling to Australia does not count as travelling overseas for New Zealanders? I don’t understand the relevance of your comment, as it still means that NZers have a passport and have travelled out of their country. However, in my immediate group of friends and family in the past 6 months the countries we have travelled to include: Australia (obviously), England, Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria, Greece, Turkey, Italy, Amsterdam, Singapore, China, Taiwan, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Fiji, Rarotonga, USA, Canada, Mexico, Vanuatu and Tonga. That is amongst about 10 people in 6 months. Every person I know in New Zealand has either done extensive overseas travelling or has chosen to live on a working visa in another country. I can quite honestly say that I do not know a single adult who has not travelled outside the Oceania/Australasia continent. I am one of the least well travelled of my friends having been to Australia dozens of times, South East Asia 6 years ago, Canada 3 years ago, China for the Paralympics and England and France this year. Most of my friends have seen a lot more of the world than that.

            Yes, $4000 is a lot of money for anyone (and my friends and I are certainly not wealthy – we are all under 30 and are all in the process of establishing careers and families so money is tight), but (as I said in my previous post) travelling is a priority for the majority of New Zealanders. We all save hard to be able to afford the travelling we have been able to do. Since it is considered to be the most amazing experience and we are taught from infancy how important and exciting overseas travel is, we get out and see the world as soon and as often as we can.

      • Regarding the ‘too expensive’ argument, here’s my case: I live in the EU where I earn around 900€/month (that’s after taxes) working as a young architect. After the rent and the bills and other small things are paid I’m ideally left with around 350€ ($470) at the end of the month. By the end of the year that adds up to 4200€ ($5600). Even if I’d manage to save half of that amount, I could afford to go on a pretty cool vacation for a good month somewhere OUTSIDE of Europe. If I worked for two years, I could quit my job and travel around the world for a whole year, which by the way I have done. I’m fed, have a place to call home, my friends get small gifts from me on their birthdays :) I go to film festivals, exhibitions etc. My life is normal. If I need a car, I rent it but that doesn’t happen that often because we have buses and trains.

        It’s pretty simple really but somewhere far outside of the typical American mind frame: invest the money you earn in travel, not in stuff (cars, land, houses, stuff that TV tells you to buy). I met some Americans on the road that did this and we remain friends to this day, I love them. What I do understand is that after you’re done with university it’s time to start paying back the study loan. Although that does suck, it doesn’t mean it’s impossible to travel, otherwise I wouldn’t have met those Americans (that did NOT come from rich families, not one of them. Paid for everything by themselves). So I guess first of all you have to _want_ it.

        • Chris

          Financially speaking it costs us a whole lot just to go visit family. It was $800/ticket to go to NY for Christmas from AZ – and we have 2 kids. So I do make traveling a priority, and I would LOVE to travel overseas more but financially it’s just not a reality.

          Anyway, we do plan to travel to South Korea soon. My husband and I have been married for 10 1/2 years and we are very excited to take our first international (besides Canada, oh and my husband’s deployments to Iraq where he was also able to see Qatar and Kuwait) trip. But this won’t be repeated again soon unless we get stationed overseas (something else we’d love). There is no part of us that wouldn’t LOVE to travel the world, we are not at all afraid. We both went to Europe in High School but we can hardly figure out how to afford traveling home for Christmas – when your country is huge it costs money just to see your loved ones. This was completely discounted here.
          I do agree with the part about wanting to see different parts of our country too. It’s my goal to visit all 50 states and I’d love to visit a lot more countries than I have. But I also have kids to take care of and a life here to live, so there’s only so much of that I can do.

  1. I also think it has a lot to do with America’s economic and cultural dominance over the world in the past 50 years or so. The impact on the world has been extraordinary – and many Americans take that as cultural supremacy.

    A – “there isn’t much “to learn” out there, since Americans are teaching all of the lessons” – mentality.

    That’s shifting though, the US will no longer be the center of the world cultural and economy. There are many other places in the world coming in to fill those roles, like China, India, Brazil, etc… and down the line.

    Not know a second language, never been to Germany, think they’re all out to get you?

    America will soon have to get over that if they want to stay competitive in the world. Traveling is the best way to get perspective in life –

  2. Nicely written Matt! If you think Americans don’t travel overseas, the figure is even lesser in India. However this mostly has to do with economic factors, not cultural. Domestically they travel a lot!

    • abi

      United State is #1 only in weapons. Everyone should be aware of that in USA The fact is that the $ 20,000 yearly average income in US is too little for most American to afford overseas travels. Americans pretend they are the best in world so why go elsewhere? But the truth is this; except weapons, America is NOT raking among the first 10 or 20 in most major aspect of living. Take heath care issue. There is no other industrialized nation where
      citizens are affraid to go to hospital because of lock of insurance. Try to know how much doctors/1000residents or how many have access to internet in USA compare to Gernany, Danemark and others . Because American don’t go elsewhere , they live in ignorance with false complex of superiority. Don’t just focus on Mexicans crossing border into US an conclude we are the best. Last time on the TV show ” Are you Smater than 5 grader”, to a world geography question What is the lagest country in Africa in term of land, someone said India. I wonder what is thaught in world geography classes here.

  3. Great post, and it really spells out a lot of things I’ve told people for a long time.

    I’m of the opinion that the biggest reason Americans don’t travel internationally more is because of their fear of the language barrier, as opposed to the actual language barrier itself. I think if they would just try it, they would see that its not so bad, and that most of the negative stereotypes Americans hold about foreigners just aren’t true.

  4. Ugh. Sorry Matt, I don’t like this post.

    I think it’s far more complex then just “fear” and “ignorance”. I think it’s easy to say negative things about Americans– make broad sweeping generalizations– hey everyone’s doing it! But I actually come from the school of thought that Americans are not that much different than anyone else. Put up some big barriers to travel (cost, geography, access to local alternatives) and they won’t do it.

    Heck, people from the UK think going to the beach in Spain is “Travel”. The truth is, that Florida is farther away for many Americans than Spain is for most Europeans. You don’t see the average European traveling to say New Zealand. Why would they? They have everything they need in the EU. So yes, florida isn’t as sexy or “exotic” as say Morocco, so it’s easy to take pot shots, but I am firmly convinced Americans aren’t that different. If we had a “Spain” or a “Morroco” nearby that was the same cost as it is for EU folks, then damn straight people would go there. (A ticket from the UK to spain can be $100–from NY to Spain can be over $1000) We’re not stupid, lazy or fearful– just geographically unlucky (or lucky depending on you POV).

    Anyway, just had to nicely disagree (hope this was nice) and offer a different perspective.

    • Joseph

      Agree, plus….

      How about it’s because America is a melting pot and people from all over the world already live in America.

      I can get food from Thailand, China, and the Philippines all in my hometown which has a whopping population of 12,000 people.

      And, as an American, I would rather spend my time with family during holiday. Since the recession, I simply haven’t had time outside of major holidays to travel outside the boarder.

      • tony m

        Come on, the usa in no melting pot, more like a vegetable steamer (everyone in their place/ ghetto) and is still one of the most segregated places in the world, where any fool can where a uniform and carry a gun. Many parts of Europe cop never even carry fire arms.

        It is the only nation to have had prohibition and silly embargoes against nations that do not agree with them, plus has the highest number of it’s citizen’s imprisoned more than any other country and the DEATH PENALTY…………amerikkka is a joke.

    • Gabo

      Their are beautiful beaches throughout Central America that cost the same to get to as trip to Florida… And they will have fewer people, and the local attractions will be cheaper and you will be enlightened. :)

    • Vivian

      I agree with your point. Ignorance and fear do play a role but geographically unlucky is definitely a huge factor that was left out in the post.

  5. Mark Leedom

    I’ll add the thing that always comes up when I discuss this with Dave Roth (thanks for the link Dave), and that’s Americans are not willing to use their time off to travel that far. In general, we get far less time off than our European peers and we dislike the idea of “gambling” with that time. When you only have 10 days of vacation time available for the year, it becomes daunting to spend an entire day flying somewhere and another day flying back in order to spend 4 or 5 days in another country when you might not even enjoy yourself there (because of those people we’re afraid of/who will be rude to us).

    We’re more likely to spend those days here and there taking in the sites that our own state/neighboring state has to offer.

  6. Maybe Americans don’t travel much overseas because they were never taught to do so as children.

    Crossing international borders can be a scary and lonely leap to take if you’ve never been shown that it’s safe, interesting, and worthwhile.

    We international travelers take a LOT of credit for our own worldliness, but I think our parents probably deserve it more than we do.

  7. To build on what Dave said, I think that a lot of it has to do with the American workaholic attitude, where we only get a measly two weeks off and a lot of people don’t even use *that* time. Compare that with the standard European six weeks of vacation per year, combined with a culture (in Europe and much of the rest of the world) that encourages work-life balance, and we in the US are at an obvious disadvantage.

  8. NomadicMatt

    @Tim: Yes!

    @Anil: I agree. I think there is a bit of that in why Americans don’t go overseas. They think “hey, they copy our culture anyways. What’s there to see? I’ll go to Florida.” But that ties into a general apathy towards the world. I mean Sarah Palin says she can learn about the world from books as if it is a substitute. All the things are interconnected. The apathy leads to poor education in the schools which leads to more apathy and ignorance. It is a vicious cycle.

    @Christine: In my travels around the world, i encounter people from everywhere. Europeans are the dominate people in Asia! They are all over the place. I can’t walk 10 feet without tripping over a Brit or German. During December, this place is crawling with Europeans!

    There are plenty of exotic locations in this hemisphere. Why don’t many Americans go to Mexico (not Cancun) or Guatemala or Honduras or South America? They are not that far. People are even scared to go to Puerto Rica or Jamaica if it’s not a sterilized experience.

    Geography doesn’t explain why Kiwis or Aussies go to places around the world, even when it costs them just as much money.

    It’s a culture thing and our culture does not put an emphasis on going abroad.

    @Mark: I think time can be a factor. I mean who wants to waste 2 days flying to Australia? Not many. However, with so many places close by, the two week excuse doesn’t cut it with me. Europe is 6 hrs from the East coast. If you live on the west, you are 6 hours from central America or 14 from Tokyo. It’s doable.

  9. NomadicMatt

    @Sonia: Yes, we do not put an emphasis on vacation time. But the Japanese, British, Koreans work just as hard if not harder but they still manage to get away. But yeah, Americans favor all work and no play but when we do play, it is still not abroad.

  10. There are lots of reasons, and I agree with Christine: they’re complex. While speaking with a German hotel owner in Oaxaca, Mexico, last week, we hypothesized about the reasons why more Americans don’t visit the interior of Mexico. We came up with about five reasons. It’s worth point out that the majority of his clients come from Europe and Asia.

    And to clarify: US citizens need a passport for air and water crossings between the US and Canada. They can still make land crossings without a passport. The latest news is that the deadline for the change has been pushed back to June 2009.

  11. I totally agree with you on this one Matt. I think it is part of American culture not to be interested in the rest of the world and I think that fear and cultural supremecy have a lot to do with it. Yes, this is a huge country but so is Brazil and China. I’ve met many more Brazilians and Chinese on my travels than I have Americans. I do think that limited vacation time is a very real factor, however. It takes a day or two to skip across continents and if you only have 7 days, it really isn’t worth it. That being said, there are still places that are only hours away in flight time (Antigua, Belize, Martinque) that Americans just never seem to consider very much. I also think that Americans are spoiled and are leery of going any place that doesn’t have all the comforts of home. So they stay home. Hopefully, the global changes in power structures will be forcing many out of their bubbles.

  12. I agree. When we told our friends and family that we were going to travel around the world for a year, they were jealous but very few of them wanted to do the same. We told some English people that we made the local news in Kentucky because we were traveling the world and they all laughed at us. Perspective is a funny thing.

  13. I do believe that more Americans should travel. I think it’s important to gain perspective, break down prejudice, etc. Your reasons why we don’t are good; however, personally, I haven’t been able to do any traveling (outside of Canada and Mexico)–not for the reasons listed above but because I’m broke.

    Very nicely written btw. I particularly like: “our politicians encourage us to erect walls not break down barriers.” Well said.

  14. I see both sides of the argument.

    Yes its a lot more complex but at the same time, Matt makes a valid point about geography.

    Why not Central America and the Caribbean Islands?

    Also, I’ve noticed that Americans tend to be creatures of habit – returning to the same vacation spot in Florida or same getaway in a National Park every year.

    Taking out financial capacity (’cause ‘broke’ is the same the world over), if the Aussies and Kiwis can do it being out in the middle of nowhere, Americans should be able to do it readily.

  15. When I decided to move to Korea, it was ridiculous how many times I was asked (and always by adults) “Why would you go to a third world country?!?” sigh….

  16. Dave Roth

    The same people who complain about the cost of travel waste huge amounts of money on other stuff. . .coffee. . . . giant televisions. . . . .interest on loans for everything. If you make travel a priority, you can do it for much less than you’d think, and without making gigantic sacrifices.

    It used to be you could fly to Europe from the east coast of the US for $350 or so in the off season. Taxes, fees, security theater costs plus the weak dollar have fixed that. But it’s still doable if it’s a priority.

    More vacation time would be nice though. . . .

  17. That’s not fair, Matt.

    Lots of Americans travel: They are doing tours of duties in dubious conflicts. 😛

    Seriously, great post. I think there is a generation gap regarding travel. I have seen many more young Americans in China in the past two years than I did in the two years before that.

    There is hope in changing the isolationist attitude (that stretches into history) and it lays with the younger generation that didn’t grow up with the Cold War stuffed down their throats.

  18. Maybe in Europe people don’t like Americans, but in China they do. We’re so popular! We were even on national TV – and on the big outdoor screen over the center of Nanjing!

    I do think it’s cost, though. It’s so expensive to buy a plane ticket for your whole family. It’s much easier to hop in a car and drive 10 hours to vacation. Before China, I only went to France for a week, which took all my savings at the time. In Europe, it’s easier for them to travel; they only need to take trains to the border.

    • Stefan

      First, I´m swedish so have patient with my english. I´m a big fan of the american people and impressed of your hospitality toward tourists like me. Every time my family travels (yes, we travels severel times a year, both in Europe, Asia and to our favourite country in the world – USA), we are so impressed of how we are met by nice people everywhere. In Sweden (look at a map to find it – and by the way, we are not a socialist country with polar bears and nude blonde girls in every corner :-) we are not as polite to each other as your are. I never met such politness as in the US, and in….Thailand.

      In europe people are a bit yealous and intimidated by american self confidence – we don´t have that over here. If we start to speak with a person about anything in, let say an elevator, we are consider crazy (Yes, thats crazy)

      I´m looking forward to return in october.

  19. I’m so much safer in Paris (gun crime all but unheard of) than I ever am in Washington, DC (homicides, shootings and armed robbery make the news everyday) and yet my mom worries for my safety much more when I’m overseas…While I don’t think it’s always the reason Americans don’t travel, I do think it’s an important factor. Thanks for pointing it out!

  20. NomadicMatt

    A lot of people seem to be bringing up money but as Lola pointed out, broke is the same in all languages. Why is that countries with less currency value seem to still manage to travel the world? Aussies, Kiwis, Canadians, South Africans, Isrealis, and Brazilians all seem to find a way. We may complain about the weak dollar but we still have it good compared to these countries. Yet despite distance and cost (flights to OZ or NZ are not cheap), they manage to explore the world.

    Saying “it’s too expensive” is a weak crutch. I run this site to show you that travel is not expensive. The problem is Americans have this view of travel as all 5 star inclusive resorts. and as fly girl said, they expect the comforts of home. So they see the prices on expedia and go wow! we can’t afford that. But the reality is is that travel is not expensive. There are tons of deals out there and if you stay somewhere local, you always get a better room rate.

    If you want to go somewhere, you can save up for it. It may be expensive taking 5 kids to europe but there are other places where you can take them that are just as close. As all the RTW families show us, you can travel with kids and travel cheaply.

    I see your point. Flying to Australia may not be feasible. But why not Jamaica or Belize or Honduras? These countries are cheap when you get there and can be just as amazing as Europe.

    As many people have pointed it, people still are worried when people go to Paris and, apparently Korea!! lol

    However, as Stevo, said lots of young people are traveling now and I am very hopeful for the future. For the boomers, I think 9/11 made them more afraid but for the youth, it made them want to see why this happened.

    On another note, i am happy i got so many responses from this post and while we may not totally agree, at least we all think Americans should travel more! I am also very happy that this discussion is going on and thank you all for commenting on this post!

    • J.G.

      You know, reading through this, I saw a lot of facts…many Americans don’t have passports. And a lot of Americans don’t travel overseas. But while I read your points, all I could think of was: so?

      Sure, I think the US can do a lot more to improve its education on foreign affairs and current events. But the biggest myth of travel is that it somehow makes people smarter, more cultured, or more interesting. Emerson said it best – you take all your issues and problems with you. As an American who has lived in four countries and travelled extensively, plenty of travellers I’ve met between the ages of 18-45 spent their time abroad living much as they would if they were in their home countries, or hanging out exclusively within their own country group. Many of them didn’t leave their comfort zones. Lots of them spent their money getting drunk. Meeting new people from around the world is a fantastic experience and I wouldn’t exchange it because that’s what I find exciting. But there are plenty of Americans who have interesting and fulfilling lives back home with people they’ve known their whole lives, or their families, and they don’t feel the need to pick up and go. Why is that a problem?

      As far as ignorance, the racism I’ve encountered in Europe, China, Australia, South America and Southeast Asia is every bit as horrible as it is everywhere else. Sure, some people would say that political correctness is over the top in the US, but there are places where topics of racism and bigotry aren’t even part of the national vocabulary. And considering the breadth of American culture that makes it overseas (good AND bad), there’s still an amazing range of ridiculous stereotypes people have about us that make me wonder why everyone calls us an ignorant nation.

      While Americans don’t do much travel internationally, something people in other countries don’t have as much of is a culture of is taking risks. Americans are more likely to celebrate success, be driven, and ambitious to make their goals reality. I know it sounds cheesy, but I’ve come to appreciate that from living in countries (both in Asia and industrialised world) where it’s frowned upon to start your own business, where people don’t have the gumption or opportunity to try something new, excelling and celebrating success is frowned upon, and where there’s less of a culture of risk-taking.

      There’s plenty I dislike about the US. No universal healthcare, staggering student loans…I’m happy with my life overseas, but I can completely respect the fact that there are other Americans who are similarly happy with their lives and choices and I don’t think that makes them less than or more ignorant than me.

  21. Cheryl

    Am I the friend from Iowa? I don’t think I made that exact statement but that’s a decent enough summary. Well, a lot has happened to me since the whole Thailand thing (which I was eventually game for!) and I’d like to retract any and all statements that I made like that. I’ve been traveling quite often now (mostly in the US though) and I’d say now, I completely understand the need to get out and see things other than what you are used to.

    By the way, your website looks fantastic! Great job!

  22. Many of my other thoughts have already been posted here–eloquently I might add–but some of your other readers. But I thought I’d throw this one out there…

    I’m a bit torn right now about traveling abroad. I keep hearing the old ‘charity begins at home’ adage. With our economy in such a rough state, I feel like a traitor taking off to traipse around in Bavaria when New Orleans could probably use my money.

    With limited time each year to travel, it also becomes tough to weigh my options and choose the best ways to use the time. As we become more global, family and friends continue to spread out. With two weeks to travel, many find it hard to justify hanging out in Fuji when they haven’t met their new nephew or seen their mom in over a year.

    I personally have a tough time because, although there are many countries I would love to explore, I’d love to explore my own, as well. As a professional musician it irks me every day that I haven’t been to Detroit, Nashville, or Memphis. I adore animals but I’ve never set foot in the San Diego Zoo. I lived in Savannah for 3 years, but I’d like to return for a visit with my husband. Not to mention Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, the AT…..

    I hope it continues to become easier for Americans to travel, and I hope more and more people begin to take the plunge. At home AND abroad.

  23. Anthony

    Yes! Props for mentioning Honduras as a place to visit… anyways, agree with the visiting places that are nearby. I wanted to visit Europe on this trip I`m on before looking at the map and realizing that South America would be just as good, cheaper, and I dominate the language (minus in brazil). I remember when I told a co-worker I was going to Honduras for 30 days, she laughed at me and said

    “Why the hell would you want to go there for?”

    Poor ignorant and narrow minded fool. Assumes the place is a dump for being a poor country, and just for that she or many another person would pass on going there because its not the americanized Costa Rica or Belize. Honduras has not been exploited (cept for the Bay Islands) for tourism, and that is what makes it such a great place to visit. It has everything Costa Rica or Belize would have and probably at a cheaper rate. Just don`t go during Holy Week, then your screwed with all the Salvadorans and Hondurans who invade the beaches.

    And your right on this point: Visit something other than cancun in Mexico. Even Mexicans say that Cancun is not the real deal Mexico. Go to some small town in the interior, or go to Monterey, Veracruz or Guanajuato.

    Thats my rant for the day… AND VISIT HONDURAS!

  24. You’re right Matt, an American doesn’t need a passport to travel when you have so many amazing things to see in your own country. As an Englishman I have many friends that have never left Europe, is there really any difference – they’re practically the same size.

    I haven’t travelled much in the states (just NYC, Florida and of all places, Nebraska) but there seems to be a wide range of characters and contrasts to indulge in and it would take a lifetime to cover. Quality over quantity.

    On a more selfish note, I’m glad American’s don’t have a culture of overseas travel. Look at the populations of the most popular travelling nations – Australia (21.5m), England (50m), Germany (80m), New Zealand (4m), Canada (33m). My point is, if the USA suddenly decided they were a nation of travellers then 305,000,000 (or a percentage of) would flood the worlds hostels and there’d be no room left for anyone else! It’d be like summer in Europe, but all over the world – nightmare!

    To all American’s – the world IS a scary place! Stay safe at home.

  25. Perhaps another reason that Americans dont’ travel, from my point of view, is that many of us, especially in Canada and Austraila are first generation. We start early to go back to “motherland” or “homeland” so it gets into our blood at an early age.

    Having lived in the U.S. for the past 10 years, I have found that it depends on where in the U.S you live. The coasts, ie NYC or LAX tend to travel more than the Midwest states and they seem to more about the world than the midwest chaps. Of course only my opinion.

    I have encountered many people who would prefer to travel only in the U.S. Their loss.

    As for me, my motto, “The world is my playground, in which I get to play in”

    And now we live in China and we have the entire country and S.E Asia to explore.

  26. I’m late to this conversation so I’ll probably repeat what so many others have said. Apologies before I proceed.

    First, traveling within the US is still travel, and the options are vast. The differences are staggering between my northwest corner and the opposite corner side of the country and it’s no small undertakng to get there. There are plenty of opportunities to explore other cultures right inside our borders. To say we Yanks don’t travel is to discount our domestic adventures.

    I think it’s very easy to blame us for the entire world’s woes, but I find myself wondering if it’s that simple. While we are responsible for our post 9/11 culture of fear, I was humbly reminded of something when I heard Rick Steves speak a few weeks back. We are 4% of the world’s population! Wow, we’re tiny! And yeah, we’ve historically gone around destabilizing all kindsa stuff, but it’s not like that’s new – the Brits and the Spaniards and the French did a nice job of that before we took it over. It’s tremendous vanity to think that it’s all our fault AND that the rest of the world cares. I was sort of stunned at how disinterested the Vietnamese people were in my nationality. Never mind what we did there, they wanted to talk about themselves. (Typical 20 somethings. :) )

    Ameri-bashing is too easy. As a traveler, I think it’s critical to talk about the things that are great about Americans instead – our optimism and multiculturalism for starters. We also need to share our stories with those who don’t travel to see if we can revive some of that curiosity that seems to be floundering – I’ll agree with you there – and I don’t think that saying “You’re afraid and ignorant” is the best possible way to do so.

  27. NomadicMatt

    @Pam: well, what else should I say? The reality is that they ARE afraid. Looking at many of the comments above- they all cite examples. And they are ignorant. I don’t mean that Americans are stupid- I just mean unaware.

    I’m not bashing America. I’m stating my reasons for why I think Americans do not travel abroad. Yes they do travel in America and I said so. I am just saying that my fellow Americans don’t travel abroad.

  28. I believe the primary barrier to international travel is economics. I agree with your points of America’s size and the point of cultural ignorance. Economics combined with the other two factors is a great inhibitor to traveling abroad.

    No doubt, as you and others show regularly, the world can be traveled relatively inexpensively.

    My take on American’s cultural ignorance is our upbringing in jingoistic ideology and “pax americana”. We know we are the greatest nation on earth. Right?

    Most Americans want to see the world. Travel is always near the top on the lifestyle wish lists in surveys of Americans. In reality though, once you have relationships, a job, commitments, and financial obligations, the barriers to international travel are greater. It is just not that inexpensive to leave the country and most persons traveling are giving up something else. I drove the same car for 20 years until I upgraded two years ago.

    Our American culture values money above all else. New Zealand and Australia have a culture which encourages people to go out and see the world as a young adult and then come home and start building your country and future.

    In America, we promote building your wealth from day one. International travel is not a financial wealth builder. Those of us who travel internationally are generally driven by the social and consciousness raising aspects of travel. Not many of us make money from it.

    I have lived in many states in the USA. I have traveled through nearly all of them (still trying to get to North and South Dakota). I have lived outside the USA about four years.

    America is an easy place to fall through the social safety net and find yourself struggling to survive. I feel blessed to have earned an education, periodically have lucrative employment, and been in a position to travel frequently most of my life. I have experienced the downside of months of unemployment and occasionally been homeless while seeking employment. I bought a large tent 15 years ago that I’ve kept just in case.

    Lots of other Americans find themselves struggling to meet basic needs of home, shelter, and family togetherness.

    Americans have fear. I don’t think it is so much a fear of the world, as a fear of spending too much money on an international trip and then facing the possibility of being tossed out into the world without a financial safety net.

  29. Ron in L.A.

    I think you pretty much hit the nail on the head Matt. Even when most Americans do travel, they prefer the Disney effect ie, SuperClubs, Perillo Tours etc… which provides them with all the security and expected perceptions all in one.


  30. NomadicMatt

    @shannon: I agree with you on the education bit. Not everywhere parent can afford to send their kid to a private school that can give those opportunities. I think that will require government action to force schools to take a multicultural approach and begin educating people about the world. It should be mandatory. In a world so globalized now, we need it more than ever.

    @Ric: I agree- American culture values money vs. relaxation/time and other cultures normally value time over money. So while we may not want to do it as long as others, we can still do it a little bit!! Americans don’t have the social safety net other cultures do but again, travel is not that expensive and is totally feasible for the majority of Americans.

    @eva: I have to go teach but I’ll reply to you in a few hours when I get back!

  31. Eva

    Just a note on the money thing. Matt wrote:

    “A lot of people seem to be bringing up money but as Lola pointed out, broke is the same in all languages. Why is that countries with less currency value seem to still manage to travel the world? …We may complain about the weak dollar but we still have it good compared to these countries.”

    True, “broke” is the same everywhere, but what a lot of Americans who do travel tend to miss on this point is that there are many more broke people in the States than in, say Scandinavia.

    Yes, the US is a very wealthy country – but it also has a marked income gap, and a large (for lack of a less patronizing word) underclass of working poor. Think of those 50 million Americans without health insurance – are they really going to rush out to get a passport and book a flight to Europe? Traveling the back roads of Mississippi or Louisiana was shocking at times. You don’t see poverty on that scale in France or the UK or (with the exception of the native reserves…) Canada too often.

    Besides, while many of the equivalent occupants of the lower income/educational bracket in, say, the UK may have passports and travel in foreign countries, many of them don’t get beyond cheap package beach deals in Spain – the travel equivalent of an American in Acapulco or Daytona.

    Also re: currency differences, I don’t think the gap is wide enough to say, look, those Canadians have a far less potent currency than ours, and THEY manage to travel. The Canadian, Aussie and Kiwi dollars generally aren’t that far below the US one (in fact, until a recent plunge, the CAD had been more or less on par or above the USD for over a year) and I don’t see it as drastic enough to really weigh much in this debate.

    Matt, I think the reason a lot of people reacted strongly to this post is because it (probably accidentally) came across as blame-y. As in, not just an explanation to foreigners of why Americans travel less, but a condemnation of those Americans who don’t travel. All too often I think the “travel gap” (if we can call it that) comes down to education and income – two things I’m happy to condemn in the macro sense (as in: hey US government, educate and provide for your people!) but that I hesitate to blame on the affected individuals.

    When my British roommates used to mock Americans who don’t travel, I tried to explain to them that 9 times out 10 they were essentially bashing someone for their education and income level, ie, their class. I’ll take an untraveled person with an open mind over a well-traveled classist any day…

  32. NomadicMatt

    @eva: Saying its education and money perpetuates the Palin idea that only the educated and rich can afford travel. The “poor” can’t afford to travel but the poor everywhere can’t afford to travel. If you have no money, you can’t go. Basic economics really.

    But people who could save and go- don’t. Blaming poverty is a little bit of a cope out. I wasn’t implying travel is affordable for every single person. But the majority of Americans could travel if they did save a little more. My job paid 12 dollars an hr yet I still managed to save for Europe.

    Brazilians have a huge wealth gap but everywhere I go I seem to run into Brazilians. Kiwis DO have a huge disadvantage. Even when the Kiwi was strong over the last few years, it still costs them about 1500 dollars to fly to Europe and, while Americans complain about the .67 Euro cents we get to the dollar, Kiwis get .50.

    Saying American don’t travel because of their education and income is classist. They are “too dumb and poor” to travel? I would not go that far. By saying you need money and education to travel, you are falling into that Palin idea that is totally classist.

    Education has nothing to do with it. Money has nothing to do with it. I’ve met high school drop outs on the road. I’ve met people who are trying to live off 10 dollars a day because that is all they can afford.

    It simply comes down to desire. and the reality is most (not all) Americans have no desire to see the world.

  33. 15% is amazing! I definitely think the world be a different place is US politicians did more traveling when they were younger.

  34. magda

    Interesting post. But one thing I don’t agree with – America is not a super power – not anymore. I believe that those times are over …

  35. I’m also late to this conversation. I agree that you can’t overlook the money and size side of things. But I do have to come to Matt’s defense on the fear bit.

    No, obviously, it is not everyone. But we’re stationed with the U.S. Army in Germany. We have our own kaserne which could be described as a little microcosm of America (with the obvious confound of being all military or military-related folks). There are numerous opportunities to travel, even within the safety of a USO or other American-operated tour (at a pretty substantial discount, too) across Europe. And even without those tours, we have the wine country, castles, Trier and the French border all totally doable in an hour’s drive. Ideal location for traveling, really.

    But I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met who are petrified to go outside the gates. They are afraid of not being able to communicate. Of not being able to find something good to eat. Of getting lost. Of finding grody bathroom facilities. Of being targeted as an American. And nothing or no one is going to convince them otherwise.

    But by the same token, people from other countries sometimes perpetuate that fear, too. I do a lot of traveling on my own with my son. From Stockholm to Jerusalem, I’ve had people in the very cities I’m visiting tell me that they can’t believe that I travel on my own, that the world isn’t safe, that I’d do better to stay home (and FWIW, that’s without them knowing my husband is a soldier). It is hardly a strictly American phenomenon.

  36. Cuckoo

    Great post Matt !
    I know I am late in this discussion, went thru all the comments but I still feel what you said is correct. Americans live in their own world.

    One eye opener for me here. Till now I thought they always think they are superior to others so what’s the use of seeing the inferiors whereas you bring out the scary part in them. I feel this statement makes them more human as well.

    In India, as my fellow countryman Priyank said, economic factor plays a greater part. We do like to travel, see & understand other parts of the world but the pay packet is way too less compared to other countrymen. We can not leave the job as it is very difficult to get one again. Population plays major role here.

    That said I was thinking of doing four countries of south east asia next year, I wonder how much that going to cost me. :-)

  37. NomadicMatt


    There is a higher percentage of Americans who are poor because we lack the social networks SMALL countries have and their size lets them set up. If you want to get into the economics of social welfare, we can do that too but I’ll say simply, small countries with a homogeneous population are more likely to have income equality than a large state due to a number of social, economic, and cultural factors.

    I agree with you that lack of education from school, to the media, to politicians keeps these attitudes in American’s heads. I would love to see a change. I said so in the piece and in the comments.

    I never said education did not have anything to do with it. In fact, I said it did. In the article: “We don’t take languages, avoid overseas programs, and don’t talk about our world in schools. Our schools teach one foreign language: Spanish, and that is only because we have a large Spanish speaking population in the country not because we want to go to Spain.”

    Here: “The apathy leads to poor education in the schools which leads to more apathy and ignorance. It is a vicious cycle.”

    Here: “I think that will require government action to force schools to take a multicultural approach and begin educating people about the world. It should be mandatory. In a world so globalized now, we need it more than ever.”

    So you see I was also advocating more education- mandatory education!!!!

    However, you are taking this point to an ultra specific end. I wrote a 1,000 words. I was speaking in a generality- i.e. somewhat able bodied Americans. If you want me to break it down for economic bracket, I could write a novel. But I can’t so I said Americans. The majority. The middle. Not the extremes.

    People living on the bottom can’t even pay their bills let alone travel to Europe. People at the bottom of the bottom in every country can’t travel. That is pretty obvious.

    However, if you want to take the extreme example of the waitress, you are correct. Yes, that person will never be able to afford to travel. Neither will the refugees living in camps in Chad. Or citizens in the fields of China.

    But now explain the middle. The majority of Americans who can get by and who could go out to Europe.

    Because telling me the poorest of society can’t afford to travel is like saying a hamburger is made out of beef.

  38. Eva

    “They are “too dumb and poor” to travel?”

    You are COMPLETELY misunderstanding me. When I talk about education, I’m talking about the root causes of the “fear” and “cultural ignorance” that YOU YOURSELF blame for the lower rate of American travel. Ever wonder where those attitudes come from? I view education as a solution, not an excuse to stay home. I don’t think it’s a “cop out” to blame the state in part rather than simply judging the individuals. (Hey, I’m Canadian! Blaming the state is what we do.)

    “The “poor” can’t afford to travel but the poor everywhere can’t afford to travel. If you have no money, you can’t go. Basic economics really.”

    Yes, exactly. My point was that there are MORE people (percentage-wise as well as overall numbers, obviously) in America who just plain can’t afford to go than there are in Australia, Canada, Sweden, whatever. Wouldn’t you agree?

    “My job paid 12 dollars an hr yet I still managed to save for Europe.”

    Minimum wage for serving staff in Louisiana is $2 an hour. Try being 21, high school educated, maybe with a kid or two (again, education, education) and working for $2 an hour plus tips. That’s a lot of po-boys to sell if you want to get to Europe. As for the Brazilians you’ve met, I’d bet the vast majority of them were on the right side of the income gap. Unless you’ve been chilling with some favela kids in Thailand?

    “Education has nothing to do with it. Money has nothing to do with it.”

    Sorry, but I completely disagree. Education has everything to do with the fear and lack of curiosity about the world that (yes, sadly) too man Americans display. As for money – of course there is a bottom line financial requirement for travel. To argue otherwise is crazy.

    The reality is that some people really don’t have any income to spare. I didn’t travel growing up because I COULD NOT AFFORD TO. And not in some imaginary I-can-afford-my-flatscreen-tv-but-not-a-ticket-to-Europe kind of way. My money from my part-time job went to college savings, my share of the gas and car insurance, groceries, etc. If I’d had any to spare beyond that I would have put it towards our rent to help my mom out.

    Suggesting that money has “nothing to do with it” ignores the fact that there are millions – tens of millions – of Americans who might dream of travel, but are in that same situation.

    And NO, those people aren’t the ones Sarah Palin was talking about. (I seriously doubt she knows or cares about that hypothetical Louisiana waitress.) I’m not saying, as she was, that everyone who travels is spoiled and lazy. I’m just saying that we really do have an opportunity that is not available to all. All the more reason to be grateful, rather than judgmental or self-righteous.

  39. Eva

    Matt wrote:

    “I never said education did not have anything to do with it.”

    Matt also wrote:

    “Education has nothing to do with it. Money has nothing to do with it.”

    Look, Matt, I’m losing track of what we’re even arguing about here.

    You asked me to explain the middle, but my basic argument here is that the bottom is a lot larger than it is being given credit for, that it’s not just an extreme fringe, and that – rather than the middle – accounts for an important chunk of the non-traveling Americans. You can choose to agree or disagree, obviously.

    For what it’s worth, I didn’t have much in the way of beef with your original post. It was your comment downplaying the money issue, which several people had raised, that I was reacting to. As you said, “There is a higher percentage of Americans who are poor because we lack the social networks SMALL countries have and their size lets them set up.” Which is why I don’t think it’s fair to say, look! Canadians travel, Kiwis travel, etc. Because they come, in some ways, from a very different place.

  40. Good post:

    I don’t fault a family for loading up the SUV and heading to another part of the country – to me the deep south is a whole ‘nother world. And growing up the station wagon trips to Washington DC or the Grand Canyon were great memories – all in the country.

    But that said – With low airfares (well at least that were low) and wonderful guest houses and pensions throughout the world – there’s just no excuse not to explore and take in another culture.

    And safety? I’ve felt safer on the streets of Mexico City and Buenos Aires than I have in Orlando and New Orleans. There’s more good people than bad in the world, and I’ve met, chatted, and enjoyed my time with many people outside of the U.S. Its definitely worth it.

    And as far as time/money? I engineer my life to be frugal yet rewarding. My other half and I share a car, live in a nice but modest size house – and don’t pine for every material thing that we see. (ok except for Apple products.) That extra savings helps us travel – and when I look back on my life I’ll certainly remember that over a new plasma TV.

    Just a quick correction its “Southwest Airlines.”

    Does it say that people ignored the situation? Or did they not realize what was occuring in that full row. I can’t imagine anyone witnessing this and staying silent.

    Also remember this was one bizarre incident out of thousands and thousands of daily travelers – so its important to educate and make aware without caving to overzealous fear.

    All the best – james

  41. Taylor Davidson

    The decision to travel has nothing to do with money or time, everything to do with priorities.

    I’ll agree with a couple of other commenters that the American culture’s focus on economic wealth instead of cultural wealth tends to reduce overall time spent traveling (inside the US and abroad). It leads to a completely different mindset towards travel and the costs and benefits of travel.

    (btw I’ve spent a lot of time in that airport in the picture…)

  42. Talen

    I don’t think the Americans focus on wealth as much as focus on keeping their heads above water. The average American is 30K in debt has a mortgage a car payment and probably 2 kids.

    Also Americans don’t get the vacation time that other countries enjoy. Most Americans get just one week vacation a year which is hardly enough time to go out of the country.

    Most Americans haven’t seen much of their own country and years ago a study came out stating that a large percentage of Americans never travel further than 150 miles from where they are born.

    One thing is for sure…Americans that do travel out of the country seem to get the bug and keep exploring.

    • Barry Smedley

      I have a simple question – “If we’re the world’s leading democracy, superpower, greatest nation on earth etc. etc. how come we don’t get 4 weeks paid vacation as a lawful entitlement, like all the lesser industrialized nations.”

      Appreciate some help here.

      • I’ve seen some debates on this issue and it seems that many Americans are brainwashed to think that the very idea of the minimum vacation leave is the thin end of the socialist/Communist wedge.

        • Barry Smedley

          Hi Caitlin,

          I’m blown away by your response. I really appreciate getting a reply from you.

          However I fail to see the connection between political ideology and a human need/right as basic as time to recharge one’s batteries and get a fresh, new outlook on one’s life.

          Never mind all the brainwashing, what really matters is how we individually think
          and this matters more to me .

          So please tell me what you think, that’s more important to me.

  43. Kristen

    I agree for the most part and the comments have been on target.

    I’ve been really fortunate to have traveled a lot over the last several years overseas but my mother had never been out of the USA (save Mexico and the Bahamas) and she had always wanted to go to Ireland. Last year, I finally talked her into renewing the passport and going with me. It was fantastic. She would love to return again in ’09 but money really is the issue. Sadly, not anything else.

  44. Victoria

    I agree it’s about education to a certain extent. My grandfather was born in America, and I spent lots of my childhood travelling from my home in London to the states. I can remember spending a day at school with my friend in NY aged about 10 and in her geography lesson they were learning the state capitals. Her teacher was really suprised that we didn’t learn the US state capitals at my school in London and I can still remember the shock I felt at that. I can remember thinking to myself “I may not know many state capitals, but I have learnt about India, Africa, and lots of European countries”. I asked politely whether they learnt about other countries and was told that they didn’t. This was not some poorly funded public school in a bad neighbourhood, but a very expensive private school.

    My daughter is six and at her free state school in London she is currently learning about Russia (stories, dances and toys etc) and has learnt about India, Australia and other places. The children can learn French, Mandarin, musical instruments etc etc. When their teacher reads them a story it might be a traditional English tale or a traditional Kenyan one. A great emphasis is placed on internationalism, which might be because of our colonial past, but also because the UK is a pretty international place, London in particular. In her class she has children with one or two parents who are French, German, Spanish, Buglarian, Indian, Sri Lankan, Australian and a child who has recently moved from the Congo because his parents were working there. It is part of our education and becomes part of our culture.

    • It’s really a demonstration of the teacher’s ignorance that she would think anyone outside the US would give a stuff about the state capitals. WTF? I’d be hard-pressed to even name the states, let alone their capitals (generally weird places no one has heard of rather than the biggest towns/cities). But I bet I could blitz any US geography teacher with this game: http://www.travelpod.com/traveler-iq

  45. I don’t know exactly how I feel about this post. On one hand, it makes some valid points, but on the other hand, it makes the points with very oversimplified assumptions. The biggest implied statement is that a larger percentage of (based on most of the countries cited as examples) westernized countries’ populations travel abroad than percentage of the American population.

    Maybe only 15% of Americans own a passport, but what about other nations? I’m guessing the number might be higher in Europe since they travel the same distances to other countries as Americans do to other states. On the whole, however, I can’t imagine that number being that much lower than the rest of the world.

    I’m currently in Korea teaching English, and while this is a small sampling and, thus, shouldn’t be used as a sweeping generality, more than 50% of the teachers in my orientation of 400 were from the States. Maybe the rest of the Western world doesn’t want to teach English, who knows?

    Also, in Korea, I’ve spoken to many Koreans who have never left Seoul. It’s in their culture to live at home until they’re married, which I’m sure is a (subconscious?) cultural factor along with the xenophobia stemming from their country’s history of repeatedly being taken over by other nations. They’re quite nationalistic. On the opposite side of that coin, though, many of the wealthier kids here “travel” to other countries to study English. That factors in economics and priorities, which makes it yet another outlying point.

    This also doesn’t mention the fact that the definition of “travel” seems to also be up in the air. Are you there for the people? For the tourist sites? To learn English? This seems to be a subjective standard that changes the argument.

    I think the thing that bothers me most about this post, which has been cited in other comments, is the fact that it seems to be critical of those who don’t travel. You’re using your own personal experiences as the criteria. The traveling folk are already in the minority, and as a result there’s some sort of cultural elitism among them, which sometimes (and not necessarily in this post or in your attitude) results in convenient fodder for Ameri-bashing — even though the American system is what has given us these opportunities to travel in the first place, but that’s another story in itself.

    Sorry for being late to the discussion and for writing half a novel here, but thanks for the thought-provoking post, Matt.

    • Australians have an equally big country as the US and are way more isolated than Europe but we are much bigger travellers. Canadians travel more than Americans on average as well. Sure, there are generalisations in the post but the definition of a generalisation is something that is generally true.

    • Kathy

      What stereotypes of South Koreans have you found while working/living in South Korea?

      Was there anything you stereotyped against South Koreans before going over there?

      Are there any stereotypes South Koreans have against Americans?

    • Laura

      Perhaps there were more American’s due to the sheer population of America….. (I know it is a small case study, but I still think it works)

      According to wikipedia: USA – 308 million

      NZ + Australia + UK + Ireland + SA + Canada (the other countries which can get visas for S. Korea) = 4 + 22 +62 + 6 + 49 +34 = 177 million for all of the other visa countries COMBINED. The population of the US is nearly double the population of these countries, meaning to make it an even distribution proportionately, there should be almost 2/3 Americans….

  46. Josh

    I don’t see anything alarming about the relatively small percentage of American’s with a passport. Who cares – and this is coming from someone who’s got one, and used it to travel overseas (not just Canada and Mexico).

    I also disagree with the fear factor. I doubt too many Americans are fearful of foreign travel. I’ve never met anybody who claimed to be.

  47. Jen

    😉 This makes me glad I have my passport, at least. Sadly, it’s not been stamped for anything yet. But I’ll be spending a week in Quebec next winter, and 3 weeks in Germany the summer after that.

    It’s a shame so few people want to travel. The world is so interesting! XD

    • Lewis

      Good for you Jen. I love hearing people who are planning to travel. You will thank yourself for doing it.

  48. Siggy

    @ Daniel:
    just to add some figures:
    35 % of Germans own a passport (I presume it will be about the same for most of the other European countries) – not regarding the fact that most Europeans can travel the whole of Europe just with a national ID (which e.g. is mandatory in Germany anyway).
    So for short distance travelling within Europe (which you mentioned as an equivalent to Americans visting another US state), an ID is sufficient – passports are just for serious travelling :)

  49. Ricardo

    The USA doesn’t take up a whole continent, not even half. If you consider America as two continents, north and south, then north america is comprise of Canada, USA ann Mexico.

      • NomadicMatt

        Most Americans perceive the country to take up a whole continent. I was referring to the fact we go from ocean to ocean. Don’t take it so literal lol

  50. SteveZ

    My wife and I travel outside the US frequently (our last trip was to Denmark and Finland), but we’re the only people we know who have been to locations like that. However, most of our friends have also been outside the US, but it involved trips to Mexico or the Caribbean. I believe that’s because for a lot of people a good vacation is going somewhere warm and enjoying some time in the sun. As a lot of people mentioned above, in the US we generally only get a couple of weeks vacation, and if we have time to get away, we want to do something we really enjoy. For my wife and I, that’s hanging out in a Parisian cafe or strolling the Esplanadi Boulevard in Helsinki. Pretty much everyone else we know just wants to get away from the cold, which isn’t going to happen in Helsinki.

    Also, anytime I discuss our trips with people, one of the things I try to stress is that you don’t need to be fluent in the local language to get around. Luckily, English is widely spoken, and in a lot of places it’s all you’ll need. I can speak enough Spanish and French to get by in places where those languages are spoken, but everywhere else I try to learn 20 or so basic words (please, thank you, etc). However, most of the time they’re not necessary. With the exception of two people, everyone we talked to in Finland spoke fluent English. We had similar experiences in Iceland, and Denmark, and Holland, and a couple of other places. The reason I bring it up to people is that as exciting as travelling is, there are a lot of reasons to stay home (it’s too expensive, it’s too far to go, etc.), and I don’t want the fear of a language barrier to be the last excuse someone uses to stay home or go back to the beach instead of going to a country they’ve dreamed of visiting.

  51. Tara

    your forget that Americans don’t save. we are the consumers of the world, are we not? that’s a big reason why we don’t do expensive plane travel… rather have the 42″ flat screen than a plane trip to Austrailia. It’s just the American mentality I guess to own expensive things versus experience wonderful travel.

    This is why the huge cost of going on a vacation outside of the US isn’t a common thing for the average American. I only got to go abroad because I studied abroad and could use financial aid to pay for it. but i’ve been wanting to go abroad again to some place different this time and only having graduated college recently I just can’t save up the money to pay for the planet ticket alone (which in this day, is generally a $1000 anywhere outside of Canada and Mexico).

    I promise you, go out and ask lots of Americans in their 20s and 30s who are without children if they want to go abroad and they’ll say yes. but if you ask them why they don’t, money will be the top answer, and it is a learned value we are taught. it’s an expected value to have plasmas and iphones and laptops versus fabulous travel memories.

  52. I tend to agree with much of what you state. I also feel it’s the size and options of the US that makes people less likely to travel overseas.

    In Europe, you drive a few hundred miles and you can be in a foreign country,. here, the next state.

    • meg

      As a recent immigrant to France (from the US), I’d like to point out that most of my friends here have been to the US. Many more than once. They also travel widely is Asia and the middle east. Yes, they have more time off. They take advantage of it by going to new places. A lof of them haven’t traveled much in Europe, but for destinations you’d think too far? They’ve been there.

  53. Ashley

    America is the worlds superpower and therefore there Americans may have the idea that everything needed and wanted is in America so dont see the point in travelling anywhere else. However I have only recently learnt of the sheer vastness of the USA and so can see how each state differs so much from each other therefore Americans are able to pay less for vacations if they stay in America yet still have the experience of being somewhere completly different from home. Also as Americans have less vacation time available this will most likely limit the amount of Americans travelling experiences.

    • Barry Smedley

      Really enjoyed your comments, well put. However I have a question for you, if the U.S is the world’s super power, why do we have less vacation time?

      Isn’t vaction time a sign of prosperity?

  54. Being an American who has always traveled, I’ve spent a lot of time pondering this same thing. We were always the family that went to exotic places, while our neighbors house-sat for us.

    Some of the reasons I’ve found why Americans don’t travel overseas are:
    -expense – yes, this is a complicated issue. We want it all, the good job, the partner, the house, the car, good quality THINGS, and travel…in that order.
    -we’re not taught that travel is important – while my family taught me travel is important (mom was an expat growing up, dad is from another country), most of my friends thought it was weird that we traveled. They thought we were rich (we had the smallest TV on the block, the oldest cars) because we “jet setted” every vacation.
    -not enough vacation time – this is another educational issue. When negotiating for a new job’s salary, ask for more vacation instead of more money; 2 weeks is standard here.
    -it’s complicated – traveling requires getting a passport, maybe learning some phrases in another language, maybe driving on the other side of the road, maybe taking public transportation for the first time, and some RESEARCH. Even just one of these things can seem daunting enough to scrap the whole idea. Again, it comes down to priorities (which stems from education and upbringing).
    -why leave a country with so much? This is something I’ve definitely heard. As someone else mentioned here, we have deserts, beaches, mountains, lakes, farmland – why would you want to pay so much to see it all somewhere else? Again, this comes down to priorities, education, upbringing. You need to know WHY these things are different in other countries and then you need to WANT to go because of the difference.

    Americans are not ignorant or poor.

    America needs a realignment of intentions and less narcissistic education.

  55. Ashley

    Yes it does seem that the small allowance of vacation time for Americans is an important factor in the limiting of their travels compared to people in other countries, who have more vacation time therefore more time to think about and actually travel. As was said the amount of different scenes and climates present in the USA also hinder some peoples perceptions on going abroad however i suppose the issue of upbringing could be brought into it as the want to travel is a choice made by the individual.

  56. Alison

    As someone from the UK, I find the fact that only 15% of American individuals have passports a very worrying issue. Due to being from a small country in comparison to the United States of America, the idea that the rest of the world is scary and therefore should not be explored is an alien concept to me. There is no doubt that America is a huge country and can offer a wide variety of experiences, yet many Americans let this fact hinder their oppurtunity to travel the rest of the world.
    Travelling the world seems to me an opportunity to expand and broaden your experiences and mind, whilst understanding other cultures ways of life. The fact that Americans do not think this leads me to question the power of the American culture and media in its’ indoctrination of its people in the belief that to travel is anactivity that will lead to danger and problems. This view seems to completely contrast to the English and indeed my own personal view that travelling and exploring is vital to understand others and your own personal culture.

  57. Ashley

    If what Matt says is true about Americans not travelling overseas because of fear then surely the media could be blamed for creating a moral panic surrounding foreign places and people. There are the negative stereotypes of Americans present all over the world however whether these stereotypes turn into discrimination when an American visits a country is quite an assumption to make, The media are very influential in modern day society especially in America where the celebrity watching culture is at its highest. It could be looked into whether then the media could be used to encourage Americans to see and experience different cultures.

  58. Alison

    I agree with ashley’s previous point that the media is defintiely to be blamed for spreading unnesecary panic amongst American people in regard to travelling overseas. The media filters down into every day society in every culture and affects peoples perceptions and beliefs. Therefore the American media, being such a huge influential vehicle of messages is bound to infliltrate peoples lives.
    The idea of changing the media in a positive way to stop the spreading of these negative connatations of tarvelling abroad would be a hard one to tackle, as there are too many messages being disseminated within the USA all the time. At a local level however maybe programmes could be set up to encourage youngsters to think about travelling abroad. This would tackle the problem on a small but I think crucial level and would help to stop the views that are spread by the media continuing to be accepted.

  59. Vicky

    Americans need to travel to experience different cultures. Very good points have been made by previous posters.

  60. Alison

    Another point to make briefly, I do not believe that American people are necessarily scared of travel, they just do not consider it an option. Whereas inteh UK we consider travelling as an option before beginning a career it just seems not to be encouraged in the US as a positive thing to engage in.

  61. Size? I don’t think it is the core most reason. I find China very big but I don’t see why travelling alone in China will give me more insight about life and other topics. I think it is the concept in us that we don’t need to care about what’s happening in other place… If it is not for the Thai, let’s just have the beaches in Florida.

  62. myself

    I think it’s largely the fact that Americans aren’t taught the importance of travel, as the above poster mentioned. That and people have an exaggerated concept of how expensive it is, which the media happily feeds–“if more Americans spend their dollars abroad, we’ll have less money in the economy at home.” Which is nonsense.

  63. Victoria, Denver Colorado

    You forget to mention the hell people generally go through at the airport in the time consuming checks of the people who will be flying, the confiscation of most often harmless personal item, and also theft of electronics and other items from baggage handlers. Like the nail kits/Swiss army knives that are confiscated and resold on the internet by the airline corporations along with the vast array of other items confiscated in case someone wants to use nail snippers to hijack the plane. And your Ebay purchase of such items are many times FLOWN to you via UPS.

    • Lewis

      I have lost a ton of this stuff and this mindless method of ensuring flight safety should be swapped out for something effective.

  64. Tara

    It would be nice if people would just stop generalising. While this is true for a percentage of Americans, it is not true for all. Who knows the exact percentage of Americans who have such an outlook or not?

  65. carlos

    “The World is a book and those who do not travel, read only a page” – Saint Augustine

  66. Sarah Palin doesn’t travel because she is ignorant. I resent that she says it is a rich thing. Anyone can travel, most of the people who don’t just choose not to. I am a college student who would not say I am rich (although I am very fortunate) but I can still go on adventures for cheap.

  67. Seema

    Many Americans don’t travel because of ignorance and ego. Sure, there are the ones who can’t afford it, the workaholics, and the fearful. Then there are the “Why should I?” bunch. I’ve met dozens of people that can only tell me there’s no need for them to travel. What is there to see in other countries? It costs so much to do the same thing you can do here. Americans think they are the greatest thing since sliced bread so the rest of the world has nothing to offer. They don’t give a damn about seeing the wonders of the world, they can see it in a book. Who cares about other cultures, you can learn about them online anyway. They prefer to vacation at the Jersey shore or the like. It’s ridiculous, but these are the same people who’s most foreign food is Taco Bell.

  68. Joseph

    As a Puerto Rican – American, I have done some traveling outside of the USA, but my worst experience was in Germany. The people treated me awful and was down right prejudice of me. Many actually told me to go back to Spain while I toured their beautiful country! Since then, I travel back and forth to places like Belize, Mexico and South America, where I am not criticized for being American and people are still very welcoming.

  69. I just want to take issue with one point. America is indeed a big country but it doesn’t actually take up up a whole continent. Not even close. The continent also includes Canada and Mexico (and if you want to get technical, it also includes all of Central America down to Honduras).

    Also, I don’t think that’s the biggest factor, given that Australia is equally big in land mass (and does, in fact, take up a whole continent!) and Australians are huge travellers.

    • NomadicMatt


      I know it literally isn’t a whole continent. i didn’t mean it so literally. Also, size does make a difference here but that is more of a cultural thing.

      • I appreciate that you realise that the US doesn’t literally take up a whole continent – I didn’t actually think you did (I was assuming it was a slip of the keyboard so to speak!).

        However, I think it’s true that Americans generally perceive the US to take up a continent (even if they don’t mean it literally) and this is indicative of a cultural problem. Surely it’s a problem if the figurative perception to be so completely opposite to the literal reality!

        South Africa goes ocean to ocean too but South Africans don’t think (even figuratively) that their country is the continent.

  70. Jim

    Do you have any evidence that fewer Americans travel abroad that people of other nations? Anecdotally, it may appear to you that they do, because 1) 100% of foreigners you meet in the United States have traveled abroad, while only a small percentage of Americans have; and 2) when abroad, the people whom you are more likely to meet are those with an interest in foreigners.

    It’s nice to think of Americans as chauvinistic snubbers-of-the-world. It’s disappointing to find out that we’re really no different, for better or worse, than anyone else.

  71. Bert

    As a African-American young guy in his 20s I find it great to be so interested in any culture but especially Asian culture, I’m trying to really learn Japanese, and Korean the most, taking in as much as i hear and read. Kanji to Korean Hangul I’m doing my best and proud of it. I think its wonderful, there are many things I never would have known or even heard of if i didn’t take the initiative myself cause no one else around me gives a care. I feel alone sometimes but thats cause im one of the ones willinging to step forward to want to learn more. I never even would have known there is a first black enka singer in Japan from Pittsburgh Pennsylvania!

  72. Peter

    Americans don’t travel overseas much for two reasons: it’s expensive, and America is HUGE…I’m 24, and there are still so many parts of the US that I haven’t seen…it’s easy for an English person to hop on the train for a few hours and be in another country, whereas I can drive across New York State for 7 hours and still be in the same state (that’s right ‘ignorant’ Euros, did you know there’s more to NY than NYC?)

  73. Christophe

    May be the simple reason that the US are already a large and diversified country is enough to explain this fact. Ignorance and country-centralisim are may be just a consequence and not causes.

  74. Roger

    I am African-American. I absolutely love to travel. And, the only reason I haven’t gone to Europe is because I HATE FLYING. I absolutely hate it! If there were daily trans-Atlantic crossings from the major East Coast cities to England, France, or Portugal, I’d be saving like crazy to get on the next ship. Cunard has good deals, but they only leave from New York. Norwegian leaves from Fort Lauderdale to Rome, but that takes 18 days! Yikes. That’s my dilemma.

    • Lewis

      Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and mindful meditation might help with the fear of flying. If not, try drugs.. its worth it ;). I sometimes get blocked eustation tubes (ears won’t pop when landing) and the pain is excruciating for a good half hour and it is as frightening as anything when that happens but I would never give up travel for it.

  75. Forest

    Your post has sparked quite the debate!

    I agree with you somewhat. I think yes, by in large, we are scared. Our culture does emphasize how we are number one in the world.

    But some of it isn’t our fault. I’m from the northeast, (maine in fact) so when I was growing up, we would take trips to Quebec occasionally. We did take a couple of trips to florida when I was young, and then one to california to visit family. We can travel many thousands of miles, and still be in the US.

    I think it’s a mixture of all of these factors that keeps us from traveling as much as other nations.

  76. Amanda

    Most Americans don’t travel because it is very expensive. Even a well-educated American making a middle-class income may not have the luxury of travel (like myself – how can I justify a $3000 Europe trip when I have $40000 in student debt?). But furthermore, why would I want to spend my hard-earned money in a continent (Europe) that largely considers Americans ignorant, lazy, and rude? If I do get together some travel money eventually, I will be spending it somewhere where people like Americans.

    • Thomas

      I agree with what Amanda says. Out of all the people that travel, we Americans get the most crap thrown our way. We’re constantly stereotyped in other countries. I’m currently living in New Zealand, and I don’t think anyone’s country gets put down as much as the US does.

      • Maggie

        I completely agree, the amount of abuse Yanks receive in New Zealand is unbelievable. Not when you are a tourist – because they want your money and they smile and take it without saying anything. But if you are actually living there, they feel very free to dump on you. It does not matter if you are a Bushie or not. You’re a convenient punching bag for all the world problems they blame America for. If you can’t take it, don’t live here. I’m heading out of here as soon as I can. You wouldn’t believe their newspapers. They are like tabloids – criticizing America for everything, all negative coverage, and all very very petty.

        • Lewis

          I really chalk it up to jealousy – they feel like they need to put someone else down in order to elevate themselves. I can’t stand when I see Americans being picked on overseas for being American. Ridiculous!

    • ds

      I definitely agree. Europeans get a month vacation. If you get laid off and start a new job, you’re lucky to be allowed one week off (unpaid) here in the US.

  77. I agree with the majority of the post. Especially due to the sheer number of working hours we put in each day making it very difficult to travel. I know my next destination will be Cancun, which is not nearly ‘crossing the sea’, but its a good first-step =D

  78. Kerry

    I don’t think cultural ignorance/fear represents the majority of Americans. I think the main reason Americans don’t travel overseas is the expense, followed by the small amount of time off work we get every year. Most of my relatives live in England, and so my opinion here is based on what I know of them. But they travel internationally pretty frequently. Some of my younger cousins plan a trip to a different country nearly every year. This is because they just don’t have the expenses that most Americans have. It’s much more common for Europeans to live with their families into adulthood, so they don’t have the housing expenses that we have. They also don’t have cars because it’s just not needed as much as it is here. So they have a lot more room to save their money. And not trying to make a blanket statement at all, but the people I personally know in England seem to live inside their means a bit more than most Americans, thus eliminating the debt that a lot of us have.

    Also, they get more time off from their jobs each year than most of us get. We get maybe 2-3 weeks if we’re lucky and even then, a lot of employers don’t like for us to take more than a week at a time. So it’s a bit harder to plan an extensive vacation within such a restrictive time frame. Most people I know would love to travel overseas. They just don’t have the means to.

    • ds

      This is the problem I’m finding as well. I love to travel but going to my husband’s home in Czech when school is out means $1300 per person. Who wants to go for a week when it takes almost two days one way to get to his village from Seattle, WA?

  79. billyidol

    I am studying abroad for a year in Hong Kong and Americans make up the largest percentage of non-Chinese international students and do so by a very large amount id say

    • Lewis

      students, yes. travellers, no. fees are cheap overseas that is one of the reasons why there are always so many americans studying overseas.

  80. Jackson

    Pretty black and white article there, not a lot of factual evidence or research and a lot of assumptions, cliches, stereotypes, etc. To me the article seemed like a kid trying to prove he was ‘different’ than his American buddies.

    But point taken. I guess.

    That said, does traveling necessarily make people more open minded? Or less fearful? Or ignorant? How many travelers go to foreign countries, treat the locals like crap and never see much of the culture (outside of getting some ‘white dreadlocks’, walking around with no shirt, getting bad tattoos and eating banana pancakes in some quest for authenticity)?

    Some of the most ignorant and bigoted people–in terms of how they treated locals, especially in poorer countries– I met when I was traveling the world were people that had been abroad for years. And they weren’t Americans. They were Australians and Europeans. I remember one Swedish guy shouting at a pregnant woman because she reclined her seat back too far towards his legs. One Aussie guy puked on the ground and started rolling around in it.

    Sure, Americans should travel more. But there’s a lot more research needed if this is gonna be a useful article…not enough facts/data…

  81. Drew

    Travel means nothing. Especially in this day and age. With technology and the internet. You don’t even need to go to a place to learn a great deal about it. Extensive travel does not mean an individual is not a moron.

    • David

      Knowing about Rome and going there are 2 very different things, people need to understand that. I spant all last summer traveling Europe and felt that eventhought I was there for 3 months and didn’t learn anything new, I wanted to stay longer where my heritage is (France, Slovakia and lithuania), if knowing was the point of travleing, it would be pointless, but, having traveled the world (Europe, Russia, China, Japane, Austrailia, Canada (Where I live) and the USA) I can safly say you American’s are missing out on a good thing, but STOP SPREEDING YOUR CULTURE, It’s ruining Quebec culture, Italian culture, Ect. It’s like a dissese, killing off real culture, the only thing the US is missing and the thing going to other country’s at all. P.S. I’m not Dave.

      • My mom was from Europe so I suppose I’m not typical.I spent a couple of years living in Europe and really enjoy meeting people from different corners of the world. I hope to travel to Asia and South America some day to further expand my horizons. I believe that cultural superiority is not the reason more Americans don’t travel. I’ve noticed that people from many corners of the world easily embrace cultural superiority. I don’t think people from the US are aware that In many places in the US is blamed for all of the ills of the world (and are fat and stupid!). However few tourists ever experience much anti-Americanism first hand. I’ve taken the most heat from relatives during the Bush years.Lets face it most people in the world know something about the US because we’re a large country that makes lots of movies and starts what many view as unnecessary wars.Most Europeans think they know a lot more about the US than they really do.Foreign travel is just not something most folks from the US expect to partake in. Europeans do seem to enjoy travel and have more vacation time than folk from the US. Lots of European students don’t have cars. Most students in the US do have a car. In many places in the US public transportation isn’t that good so a car might be necessary. Most Americans dream of that trip to Paris which they never expect to take.
        Does anyone else look forward to the day when the US is no longer the lone ugly superpower?

  82. Julia

    As an American hailing from Washington DC, I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by diversity and several languages while growing up. In fact, the global stage never appeared strange or far away because it was right at home. When I was 16, I had the amazing opportunity to visit Spain for a summer language course. This experience prompted a decade of travel and work overseas, to Europe, Asia and beyond. Now that I’m nearing the end of my education, I truly envy the people who have seen the rest of the USA ! My parents wrote me recently from the grand canyon and I was amazed by the beauty depicted in their photographs. While I still live abroad, I can’t wait to return home sometimes and explore my own back door. For example, the West has always fascinated me: Colorado, California, Washington, Arizona. Funny how reverse culture works :)

    On a side note, the more you live outside your own country, the more you realize that people, apart from cultural attributes, are remarkably similar everywhere you go. Concern, fear, safety, work ethics…etc. My Japanese friend’s mother feared his safety when he traveled to Germany on business just as much as my own mother feared my residence in Switzerland. Global politics unfortunately has the ability to tinge how we perceive ourselves and are perceived by others. I’m glad the younger generations all over the world are taking initiative to travel outside their home. When I first set out in the late 90s, it was just becoming trendy, but now it seems more attainable than ever.

  83. Brian B.

    I may sound odd for saying this, but I prefer traveling around the United States to any nation abroad. I have traveled oversees quite a bit in my life for only being 22. I have been to Russia, most European nations, East Asia, and several countries in Central and South America, and I have got to say that none of them compare to the good ol’ US of A.

    I listen to my friends talk about how they long to return to England, to Spain, or too Sweden, and I can’t get my head around it. For me, those places were nice places to spend maybe a day or two, but they are nothing with what the US has to offer.

    I think that maybe Americans (at least American students) talk so much about the greatness of being abroad because they have not yet experienced what their own country has to offer. Most college students go to college in their own state or at least their own region. However, the differences in culture, climate, and general environment differ so greatly within our own nation that it almost feels at time like one is in a different country.

    That is my opinion. Great article by the way.

  84. Liz

    I am a widely travelled American who has lived for some years abroad and hope to soon return home. I am not a Fox news watcher and I speak a number of foreign languages. I find that other nations’ stereotypes of Americans dictate their treatment of American citizens. They seem to think we are all rich, gun-toting junk food eaters and lecture to us about America’s ills. This attitude is often masked by a false friendliness to the casual tourist, because the tourist represents revenue to them. Try living abroad somewhere for awhile, and not just handing money out like candy as one does on a vacation, and their real attitudes come out. It does not matter that you may not agree with the current administration’s policies, foreign or otherwise. We are hated in many places and I will look forward to not traveling abroad for a long time once I am safely and happily home.

    • Lewis

      Liz, I hated reading what you wrote but I think you make a good point. I have seen Americans branded so many times travelling. It is a tall poppy syndrome reaction from the ignorant people who come in contact with them. I have heard so much spiteful, hateful talk from people who are taking out their frustrations at the administration of the worlds largest superpower on individuals who really have nothing to do with it. I think it is important to keep travelling as an American and dispell the myths. It will open up people’s minds more and make them look at Americans in a different way.

  85. Aaron J

    I have lived in California all my life. I have ZERO interest in traveling to other countries. Let me explain why. The ends do not justify the means. A 10 to 20 hour flight? Thousands of dollars spent on hotels and flight and activities? I don’t think so. Just to see different geography and culture? In my opinion, it’s just not worth the misery of sitting on a plane going crazy. The hassle of packing, spending money on hotels, over rated trendy activities that I can easily do in my hometown or within driving distance. I see culture ALL DAY LONG! Vietnamese, Chinese, Indian, Mexican, Italian, Thai, Middle Eastern, and honestly, I don’t feel comfortable with any of their cultures, it’s not me or my style! Why should I subject myself to something I don’t like or need? So why would I want to travel a million miles away from my comfort zone to be uncomfortable and spend thousands to do it? Just because I’m not comfortable with it doesn’t mean I don’t respect it. A lot of these “world travelers” who claim to have epiphanies about “perspective” need to open up their minds just a tad bit more and realize that a great perspective in life is not limited just to world travelers. As an American, I don’t criticize other cultures in the world and say “you need to travel to America more to gain perspective!” in fact I say do whatever it is you do as long as you don’t force your culture or agenda on to me. For people who seek out traveling and other cultures, by all means do it, you love it, so do it. Equally and just as valid, I tend to hate it and find it to be extremely inconvenient, exhausting and financially draining. My point is why is it so hard for world travelers with “perspective” to accept or care that Americans, not all, don’t like traveling over seas? Who gives a shit. To each their own. Individualism, everyone is different!

  86. Lewis

    I think the article is very enlightening. Whenever I travel overseas in Asia, Africa, South America, etc, my the travellers I see are mainly from UK, Germany, Australia, New Zealand. Clearly, it has nothing to do with distance. There are way more Americans than all of these countries put together, yet Americans are grossly under-represented on the international travel scene. It is a comfort zone issue. Comfort zoners fuel themselves on insecurity and control and have a blockage when it comes to travel because they are afraid of letting go of security and control. Any natural curiosity they may have had has been squashed down with fear.

    I can’t say enough about the value that comes from travelling. It has elevated my life and changed who I am in countless positive ways. I can’t think of anything else I have ever done that has brought me so much in return. I feel a sense of boundless power, like I can take on the world. It is interesting how taking on the physical world translates in the mind. I don’t feel restricted or boxed in. I am far more passionate and creative now which has filled me up as a person and makes me feel alive. I have built a life for myself that I never would have thought possible. I retired early and am never at a loss for things to do, ideas, business plans or projects to fill up my time. My bucket list overfloweth!

  87. Leigh

    Nobody on this entire message board gets the main point of this article. Travelling is not a 10 day freakin “vacation” where you snap a few photos of the Eiffel Tower. That is the American way. In Australia, where I am from, it is part of our culture to throw on a backpack and go travelling. You DO NOT have to be rich to do it! Jesus…ever heard of a hostel? I travelled the world for eight months and I was broke as hell. Talk about missing the point. All these Americans on here chirping about how international travel is “expensive” and that’s why they don’t do it. No – American’s don’t travel because they are not a part of the worlds backpacking culture. In every hostel I stayed in during my trip, there were young Israelis, New Zealanders (always New Zealanders!), South Africans, French, Dutch, English, Russians – everyone except American’s basically.

  88. Razio

    Americans should not be scared of language barriers… English is used everywhere.
    This is what the government wants, Americans to stay in their prison country and know nothing about the world. Because if Americans go out and travel, they’ll know how fearful their country is compared to the rest of the world. There is no freedom anymore in the USA.

  89. Ashlea

    “Because the U.S.A. takes up a whole continent”

    Apparantly Canada isn’t part of North America.

  90. Amer

    This is a great article.Yes, America is huge and therefore most likely that Americans tend to think they have everything in their country (which is half true i guess). Yes, you are partly right about the money issue.You do need to fork out a bit to travel but it doesn’t necessarily be expensive. I always stay in hostels, buy from a supermarket and walk as much as possible. I also tend to to enjoy the free attractions unless its really worth paying for it.

    I think even people in developing Asia are catching up with travelling overseas – especially in Malaysia where cheap flights (from low cost carriers) enables young people to travel abroad often.

  91. Lyndon

    21 pc of Americans traveling outside their continent to see other cultures sound about right to me and yes I’m a world traveller from London and I agree u dont need to travel abroad to broad minded! And especiallyy if you work hard and have family its not fear but a lack of desire and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s the attitude within and that’s independent of whether you travel abroad or not!

  92. David


    I think Americans do NOT travel overseas not because of fear; but because of their lack of interest in traveling overseas. Back in the 70s and early 80s I remember receiving so much respect and admiration from Europeans because I was an American. But there were fewer Americans traveling back then too. It wasn’t about fear. Americans just do not care about other nations. They do not care about other cultures; but our own. We think we are the top dogs and people around the World are now hating us for that. We are a selfish people.

    Americans should travel overseas because it gives you another view of life and how other cultures are living it. It’s a great feeling and experience.

    Plus, there is less racism overseas than in America. So I encourage any African American to go to Europe, you will experience less racism that will bring joy to your heart. White Americans will NOT understand what I am talking about here because they are out of touch.

    I remember sitting in a French cafe once in Paris and a white old couple told me that they did NOT like white Americans because they were loud and obnoxious…ha..ha..ha..the tables turned there.

    Hanging out in London was great…..the people were very nice and I felt better than I felt in America hanging out. Especially in New York. You bump into mean, nasty and violent people in New York. London was so far from that. I accidentally stepped on someones foot and they said “No worries mate”. In New York, I would have gotten a mean look, and if I did not say sorry, I may have gotten beat down.

    My wife and I are planning on moving out of the United States for good. We’ve had enough. Especially when there are better cultures out there.

  93. Brandie

    Im glad that someone has raised a very good point about Americans not traveling abroad. They have no idea what kind of world we live and that once in your a foreign land, you realized that most are so advance in diversity, education, healthcare, and infrastructure. You come back with such a perspective that the majority of Americans are out of the loop and they do demonstrate a sense of ignorance. Im so glad that I will have another opportunity to go abroad through teaching. Great Work!

  94. Kay

    I have to agree, you have to look at the fact that many Americans travel state to state and don’t think a bit about it. Many of our states are bigger then whole countries across the globe. I have traveled as a child, the world is beautiful, but even Matt said that we can just go to another state to see something that our state doesn’t. But what Matt is also failing to see is HOW much we do offer right here in our back yards :)

  95. Rafi Camacho

    I think Nomadic Matt brought up some contributing factors such as geography, and monolinguism was mentioned, but he missed the most major points that contribute to Americans (as in USA) lack of world travel. It’s very much economical – American have less time off than any other industrialized nation except Japan(average 2 weeks and no laws dicating this), and have less money to travel than Europeans or Canadian when factoring social benefits. I get only 10 days of vacation a year after 4 years at my French company that I work for in the US. Despite big cars and mcmansions, American have some of the highest debt, and must pay for healthcare and most of their higher education costs. Generations of this situation have led to a culture where travel is not a major focus. The buying power of Aussies, Canadians etc. may be equal to US, but they have much more time off and less debts – even Brazilians get 30 days a year but statistically they do not travel more than US (only the white rich ones do). But of course with 6 weeks vacation and getting paid in Euros or Pounds, no college or medical debts and a different continent only 2 hours away, Europeans will travel more than USA no matter what. It’s become part of their culture. Also demographically USA is younger and less educated, has higher percentage of immigrants, than other Industrialized nations so this contributes also. There’s so many reasons. I am US American but I’ve travelled to 45 countries – it has been such a challenge – but I love travel and seeing the world, and I hope one day Americans will travel more which help us as a nation and in turn help relations with the world. But it can never equal Europe for travel. Bring back Geography and more world history in school curriculum can help remedy the innate reasons for US lack of global awareness. It’s embarrassing, but I hope we can change this.

    • NomadicMatt

      I hope we can change it too. I think we have to change it if we are to succeed in the the globalized modern economy. Otherwise, we are doomed to crumble. Without knowledge, you can’t survive.

  96. Rafi Camacho

    Americans really don’t even travel to see their own country for many of the reasons below. Travel is not part of the culture – no days off, more debt, more distance, less education, = less travel period.

  97. Ced

    I would advise Americans who think that the US is a melting pot to travel a bit more. That’s just one more thing you are lead to believe by the medias. Most countries of Europe are as much of a melting pot as America. My city (around 1 million inhabitants) has people from more than 170 different countries and speaking as many languages. Most of us speak at least 2 languages, a lot speak 3 or more.

    I’m sorry to say, America (I mean the US) is only a melting pot in Americans’ minds.

  98. Gerard Farrell

    The reasons why many of our ancestors came to the United states in the first place was to flee the rest of the world. Nothing but bad memories for me and mine back in the bogs of Ireland. I have absolutely nothing against anybody else in the world but I’m very satisfied to leave them be.

    • Craig

      2 weeks paid vacation, maybe 3, if you’re lucky 4. VERY rare for an employer to let you take more than a week at a clip. OK, so you’re married, have a couple of kids; you got a week. Any destination where you will suffer from jetlag just compounds the nightmare that can be the travel to the destination. Living in metro NY, flying to Florida (3 hours, still in Eastern time zone) is still kind’ve a hassle with a family in tow. Make that a 6 hour flight to Paris, THEN have to beat the jetlag. You gotta be off your rocker! In the summer, the vacation I enjoy the most is the week I spend at the Jersey shore. Its an hour and a half (maybe 2 with traffic) BY CAR. Its not an exotic destination, hell its even the SAME STATE. Stress free? Absolutely….When I was younger and single, I would travel to Europe, its fun, no doubt, I had the time to do it and to do it properly.

  99. I love traveling, but my mother and father really don’t see what the big fuss is about. They view the way our country does things as the right way and all others as strange. They also don’t like feeling like fish out of water. They know how things operate in the US and they’re comfortable here.

  100. John

    It’s about the money, at least for me. We don’t have much debt, we live in a modest house, drive a Subaru, and don’t eat out too frequently or fancy at all. Then again, we have a son in college (no scholarships or loans because we make too much money), we have medical expenses that aren’t covered by our insurance (or any sort of national health care of course), and we refuse to live like hermits.

    I see several remarks about choosing between a new big-screen TV and travel. Well, you can’t do much traveling for the $1,200 or so that a large TV costs, and you’ll continue to have that TV for several years. The trip is over in a week, or it better be because there aren’t many people who are both employed and who can be gone for more than a week. The nightmare before you leave and when you get back is bad enough for a week, and many companies have policies that don’t allow more than one week off at a stretch.

    New cars… well, you can spend the money for a new car, or you can spend it on maintenance. With typical car loans running to 5 years, the “sweet spot” between paying off the loan and the car needing more maintenance and work than it’s worth isn’t that long any more. So driving that old clunker isn’t really saving you that much money, if any at all. Car payments are cheaper.

    I LOVE to travel. When my wife and I were stationed in Germany, we got out of town as often as we could — Switzerland, Ireland, Scotland, England, Belgium, Norway, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands. But all it took was a car trip, or a short ferry ride, or reliable train travel, all of which are cheap. I just can’t wrap my mind around spending one, two, three thousand dollars for the privilege of being somewhere else for a few days. There’s nothing to show for it. Sure, memories and experiences and all that, but memories and experiences happen wherever you are.

  101. chris

    I actually think travel abroad is popular for many Americans- usually college kids who do the stereotypical backpacking trip when they get out of school before they have to find a job or those who have a study abroad program setup while in college. That would fit the profile of my 25 y/o niece. Now she’s scrambling from city to city within the states trying to find a job with a future. She loved her time in Europe but it’s a distant dream now that economic realities have set in.

    I kind of detect a sense of snobbery from the types looking down upon the Americans who don’t travel abroad but it seems pretty broad. Do you consider those who stay in resorts worldwide and never meet any locals other than those who change their bedding to be part of the club or what is the criteria?

    • Edward B.

      I agree that a lot of frequent travelers seem to have some snobbery going on. They seem to equate the number of places they’ve been with some kind of intrinsic value that puts them above other people. It’s annoying.

      I’m an American, and the reason I don’t travel is because I don’t have enough time. If I’m going to another country, I want to spend at least a couple of weeks there and have time to just hang out, walk around a few towns and meet people in addition to seeing some sites.

      Me and a friend spent three weeks in Poland a few years back and it was awesome. We spoke only a little of the language, but the majority of people there were very friendly. We didn’t get an anti-American vibe at all and even had a good talk with a Polish couple about the similarities between the two cultures. Then again, I try to avoid talking about politics with people I don’t know that well.

      Some people I know travel a lot to other countries but go to resorts and major tourist sites. If I go somewhere, I want to know a bit about the country/culture/language before I go and have the time to experience a bit of it.

  102. I think Americans don’t have enough holidays to go somewhere further. I don’t understand how people can live with two weeks of holidays per year.

  103. Luis Antonio

    I started reading the post and could not read a single word past “Because the U.S.A. takes up a whole continent (…)”. I would LOVE to know what kind of geographical vision the author learned and based on what texts.
    The continent is America and it contains 35 countries, not 1.
    Ok, we can also subdivide the Americas (or America) for people who love divisions. So we get South America with 12 countries, Central America with 7 countries, and North America with at least 16 territories; some of which are countries in themselves such as Canada and Mexico. Think of North American Free Trade Agreement between Canada, USA and Mexico.
    I cannot respond why Americans don’t travel abroad, but I think the results are crystal clear: lack of perspective of the world outside your borders. Read a little and poke your heads out every now and then, there is a whole welcoming world out there and you are a part of it. We seem to see you as part of it, why don’t you?

    • NomadicMatt

      Don’t takes things so literally. I was relating the idea of what people think in the United States, I’m well aware of that North America has more than one country.

  104. Germany

    What? “U.S.A. takes up a whole continent” Oh really?
    Learn Geography or use Google maps. America is on a continent with 50 other countries, Canada, Mexico and South America. You are all on the same continent. (shakes head at stupid Americans). That’s why you people don’t travel, your DUMB.

    • NomadicMatt

      Actually, only 49 states. Hawaii isn’t on the continent. But read my points above as to what I was referring to about the “America is on a continent” line.

  105. Martin

    I’m Asian and have never been to the US, so perhaps I’m not the best person to comment on why Americans don’t travel. I’ve met quite a few Americans on my travels, and I have to give them credit for being very friendly and generally great company to have around. However, I also noticed sadly that some Americans, are somewhat unaware of the world around them. Coming from a small South-east Asian country, I’ve been asked umpteenth times where exactly IS Singapore? And is it part of China? etc. And for travellers from a first-world country, I would have expected more from them.

    So I feel that it is not just about stepping out of the United States physically, it’s also about doing it mentally. Travelling does not mean that one automatically opens up to other cultures and comes back much more informed. Some people who have never travelled their whole lives might know more about a country than someone who has actually been there before but spent the entire experience on a tour bus or in a resort.

    I visited Europe for the first time last year, after years of travelling budget within Asia. And to my surprise, I found that many other travellers had less knowledge of Europe and US than we did, even when they were themselves Europeans or Americans. On top of that, when we discussed places seen and things done, they displayed a sad lack of knowledge about their host country. Some were about to return home without knowing Gaudi (we were in Barcelona), which left me wondering: what will they be bringing back with them? Will they necessarily be more informed than a young girl who might be sitting somewhere in her room reading about the Sagrada Familia? Or a young boy in an orphanage in asia who spends his time talking to foreign aid workers?

    Travelling needs to be done with both mind and body, and I think Americans need to embrace that.

  106. Joe

    Only two weeks of vacation time and the money factor is just a convenient excuse for many people. I wanted to go to Africa, so I hoarded credit card points for a few years to get the flight. Most of the advertisements I saw online were for ten thousand dollar luxury safaris, although I found one for $700 for four days in Kruger Park, South Africa. It was quite an awesome experience. It included a hut which was like a hotel room, and all meals and transportation from the airport in Jo’burg. I would have spent the same amount a theme park in Orlando. Afterward, I toured Soweto which seemed more dangerous in photos than in real life.

    For the record, there were some other Americans in the Kruger, but mostly Brits, Aussies and Germans. I would add that “anti-travel” is a cultural facet of American life. I rarely mention having traveled anywhere unless someone else brings it up because often they show no interest (as they look at me through designer sunglasses, in their new SUV, 100 lbs overweight, while complaining about medical bills, aches and pains).

    I’m getting to all seven continents and all 50 states before kicking the bucket, and if sub-orbital flights drop to a reasonable price, I’m doing that too.

  107. Rafi Camacho

    I am American and have had to fight so hard to travel to 45 nations on 5 contients – it’s VERY DIFFICULT to do that in US Society – with no mandated vacation – usually less than 2 weeks. I dontinue to travel but I’m offended by all these Euros thats say “oh it’s so easy, whats the problem?” Well I do travel – but it’s very hard and you have no idead. And on top of that if you are by the border you cannot drive to another country like in Europe in 2 hours. And we are talking only 2 other countries. Also we must pay for our higher education – a lot of debt or upfront costs. We pay for healthcare and if we or our family have an issue it can take our whole savings. YOU Euros don’t have a clue about US situation. Travel takes money, even taking off work takes money for USA citizens. I work for a French company in US and am always in Europe, believe me there are many geographically illiterate Europeans as well – thinking Mexico is in South America is very common concept for them. But yes USA should be more geo-lit but it will never be on par with Western Europe because of our system, history and that we are constant machine that absorbs more immigrants from poorer less developed nations. I think many of the Europeans on here themselves a lot of snobbery and lack of knowledge about the USA. Many of them view US as mutant extension of Europe and tend to compare everything to Europe when in reality they should look at the context of the Americas – a nation of slaves, immigrants and indigenous peoples. They really don’t know what reality is here.

  108. Rafi Camacho

    My solution to the geoliteracy problem of US and lack of travel – it’s simple – give mininum vacation like Europe, Brasil, Australia, Canada. it won’t solve the other issues but will help and Travel truly does open ones mind – it’s the ultimate education.

  109. Melodie

    First let me say, I have travelled, as far away as China, but I hate travelling. I don’t even like to vacation within the US. I will say I don’t fit the model of the ugly American, either-I do not proselytize (can’t even spell it) either “nationalism” or any religious views, and I was open to learning about other cultures and ways of life. I studied their history and culture before I went, and even learned a few phrases to I could try to act politely and not create any huge faux-pas. I got tired of being rudely shoved by Chinese men, and pointed at by women and children, and generally treated as if I was a stupid or a freak.
    I am an American because I was born here, not because I subscribe to any political philosophy. This is just where I live, and I like it fine. I would likely feel the same if I was born in Sweden (beautiful!) or any other place on earth. Every place has its advantages. I am amazed at how easily and frequently Europeans seem to travel. I don’t travel because: it IS expensive, and I have other priorities and practically no vacation time; I actually enjoy where I live; I HATE airline travel; I seem to come down with some rare illness every time I leave the country; and I tire very quicly of people mis-judging me before I even open my mouth, which I am not likely to do, anyway! So perhaps I will stay ignorant of much of the wide, beautiful world, but I’m okay with that. I also won’t meet people who are at least as ignorant and judgmental as some of the commenters I have seen on this post. You want me to travel to your country, learn about your culture, spend my money, respect your culture and lifestyle, and you have no respect for mine? It works both ways.

  110. Melodie

    As an addendum, I am the child of world travellers! Folks have been to every continent except Australia, and take one huge vacation every year. They are retired, well off, with no obligations and a wanderlust. I am sure there are MANY Americans like them….Also, I agree with Rafi Camacho’s assessment of the US situation. It just isn’t that easy. We are not two hours from everything-it takes that long to get to work in the morning for some people!

  111. Rob

    I just returned from a trip to Chile and Easter Island, and that ate up my vacation time for the year. I did enjoy myself and had some stumbling blocks due to my poor Spanish (and I did bone up on it beforehand).

    I’m an American and I make less than 30,000/yr. I would LOVE to travel more and complete my bucket lists, but I have my bills and a little habit of having one, maybe two meals a day and that eats into my finances (no pun intended). I think that many of my fellow countrymen are restrained more by fear (my first international trip, which was England, was met with various questions by friends and family, all of them worried that the terrorists were going to kill me).

    Many of my friends would love to visit other places, but alas they are in the same boat as me. If it weren’t for my roommates, I would never be able to afford what vacations I do get and would be sadder from the enrichment that travel brings.

    I can understand how some in the world have this opinion that Americans are arrogant, rude, egocentric…and yeah, that’s true to an extent. But I talk with other travelers from around the world and not have heard one truly bad thing about Americans, except from the Canadians. The ones I’ve talked to hate Americans more than those across the ocean.

  112. Shex

    Being from England I suppose it’s harder for me judge why Americans don’t travel.
    Firstly can I just put a few people straight about being able to move around Europe in a couple of hours. You are talking about people who live next the border, I am sure you can actually be in Mexico from the US in 5 minutes? Depending on your starting location.
    I live almost bang in the middle of England and you can’t be in another country driving for 2 hours either, although not miles away the middle of Germany from my city would take around 12-14 hour drive so let’s stop with the myths ok.
    I totally understand the distance makes it a lot more difficult for Americans and obviously the time you get off from work, one thing I must add to non American people is just how poor a large part of America really is!
    I travelled the states for 3 months and really was shocked how many places are run down and deprived some places in American are, I was ashamed of how ignorant I was before I travelled.
    I met so many Americans on my travels and they generally are interested in other cultures and places and wanted to know so much, the lack of knowledge of places outside America by the Americans I actually met was pretty sad to be honest.
    Don’t feel like the World hates you because we certainly do not it’s the hatred your own media feed you that makes you think that way.
    To anyone traveling to the US, its a fantastic and beautiful country with so many friendly people who are so helpful and welcoming it’s a must for anyone.
    You will get the odd nasty person but you will meet them at home also.
    Visit everywhere if you can but avoid LA lol it’s dirty,nasty,unfriendly and very scary at night but apart from that one of the nest countries in the world.

  113. Lisandro

    I don’t understand where you guys get these ideas. I have the chance to travel a lot, and I meet tons of Americans everywhere.

  114. Warren

    If fear is the main reason why americans do not travel, than I must say they might be missing the best part of story…

    “The world is full of jolly places but these do not interest me at all. I hate vacations and luxurious hotels are no fun to read about. I want to read about the miserable, or difficult, or inhospitable places; the forbidden cities and the back roads: as long as they exist the travel book will have value” Paul Theroux

  115. Jeanne

    America-bashing at it’s finest! Now we are too ignorant and frightened to travel? Really? Reminds me of the playground bully trying to make you do something HE wanted by calling you “stupid scaredy-cat”. I have a passport, have been to Europe as well as third-world countries. There are many places I would still love to go, but know I never will because I have my priorities straight: Bills must be paid. Children must be provided for. Money must be saved for an uncertain future. We do not receive the entitlements of many Europeans in terms of health care, child care, public transportation everywhere, and old age security. And higher education? As a family, we’ll likely be paying that off until we are all ready for retirement, but that was our choice and every member of the family has at least a B.A. and several have doctorates. Your ignorance argument doesn’t fly. .
    And anyway, unlike some, I love this country. If I can’t globe-trot every year (or even every decade), I can still find contentment.
    Some have mentioned the typical American lack of vacation time: not only is it short, but most people I know use those precious two weeks to re-connect with family in distant states (we ARE the most family-oriented people I know, but I don’t want to get started on a whole other argument), or to do necessary repairs on the house or the car used to get to work and school. There is a lot to be said for being realistic, responsible, and well-informed even if it means staying put most of the time.
    I would have enjoyed an article on the joys and virtues of travel, instead of a sneer-fest aimed at those who do not do as you do.

    • NomadicMatt

      For starters, I’m actually 30. Secondly, I love America. No need question my patriotism. Go read this article about how I hate Americans who say they are Canadians. (http://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-blogs/of-americans-canadians-and-flags/) Third, I pay my own bills, I have student debt, I have two bachelor degrees, and 1 masters, I run my own business – I live an adult life.

      Also, Americans aren’t the most family oriented people in the world. Far from it but like you said, that’s another discussion.

  116. Jeanne

    I just now checked out the author’s info. He is TWENTY-SOMETHING! That clarifies a few things. Although I still stand by everything in my post, I have to wish him happy trails until life’s details inevitably intrude upon his blissful, wandering ways!

  117. AndyC

    Too many Americans have debt. Even though Europeans may make less money, they can get educated and not have to be slaves to banks.

    • AndyC

      And also, there are many countries that have working holiday visa agreements. New Zealand, Canada, France, UK. So working holiday visas and no student debt are the things that make it possible.

  118. rajesh

    great discussion , one thing is sure travelling gives our mind and soul a new dimention you will more stronger mentally and physically,you will search yourself fully while on travel,mundane things and travelling choise is yours one give nothing other makes you smarter,so dont weep go for travelling .

  119. I’m going to bring back up an old topic. But money is not an excuse, at all. I am a college student and while I was in high school I traveled to London, Paris, Tanzania, and Egypt with no money from my parents or anyone. I worked for my money and traveled. I cut back on things I really did not need, like a new car, but rather just wanted. I had the time of my life, and would not trade it for anything. And you might be thinking I come from a wealthy family, I do not. My dad is back in school after getting injured on the job and can not walk without a cane, and my mom is the director of a small, public school funded, childcare center. By no means are we poor, but definitely low middle class. People need to realize the importance of traveling abroad, especially the college students of today.

  120. shena

    As much as I hate Sarah Palin I think she (kind of) makes a good point – the reason Americans don’t travel is because of the absurd fees they pay for university. Every American I’ve met backpacking has the same story: my college degree cost me $50 000 (or much, much more). I’m squeezing this trip to Europe/Asia in before I have to go back and get job to pay it off. In Australia – where I’m from – degree costs are far more modest and we don’t pay them off until we earn a certain amount. In many parts of Europe people pay nothing. Americans simply get no time off to enjoy themselves or learn about the world, unless they’re fairly wealthy. Their entire society is geared towards work and earning money.

    That said, there does seem to be a weird psychological barrier to Americans when it comes to travel. I own a home in the States and people continually say, “Oh, it’s my dream to go to Australia.” When I say, “Why don’t you?” They always say, “I could never sit on a plane for 20 hours.” Why not??? Didn’t you do big road trips when you were a kid? Watch four movies, fall asleep, have breakfast and you’re there. What’s the big deal? I just don’t understand. I genuinely wish an American could explain this mentality to me. I mean, I could understand Europeans not being accustomed to distance, but not Americans…

  121. Gaston Garcia

    I couldn’t agree more with this post.

    I work with tourism everyday and the people from USA (i hate the term Americans, because i’m american too, i’m from Argentina) are so scared to move out from an all inclusive resort. I currently work in Dominican Republic and even if they need something from outside, and it’s completely safe to go outside (i tell them a hundred times!) they won’t go. The young people thinks that they will be kidnapped (most of them) and the older people simply thinks that the people is so savage or needed that they will be killed for a dollar. When people come here from another part of the world, let’s say.. Rusia (it’s full of russians too) they go outside without hesitate, they ask for places to go, and just move!

    That’s my POV, and i work with people from USA, Canada, and many europeans every day.

  122. Dave

    I disagree with most of this post. I agree that Americans find it frightful to go to some places in the world, but that’s the same around the world. Anyone is afraid to go to a place full of violence. Also, who can afford to take a trip to Europe at about 4,000 dollars per person when one could easily take an enitre family on a trip in America for about half that? If you think about the counry geographically compared to Europe, it is a lot larger. I live in North Carolina, which is roughly the same size as England, and I’ve been outside of my state countless times. Americans are able to travel further without the need for a passport. It’s not that Americans don’t travel, we travel to many places within our own country.

    P.S The US doesn’t cover an entire continent. That type of ignorance is why many. People in other countries are so hateful towards us.

    • Michael F

      Actually he said “takes up a whole continent” and I think he meant “spans a whole continent” which is geographically accurate.

  123. Keri Anderson

    I’ll tell you the primary reason most Americans don’t travel. It’s because they don’t get enough vacation time. Simple as that.

    –Two weeks vacation is STANDARD at American companies.

    –Many Americans don’t even get two weeks off because they are on probation at their job when they first start (when you are on probation your vacation doesn’t even start to accrue) or they are at a temporary job that offers NO vacation.

    –Some permanent workers are at companies that do offer more vacation (i.e. 3 weeks); however, this figure typically includes vacation AND sick leave, meaning that one nasty illness can knock off a lot of the available leave time.

    –Also, unlike in most developed countries, American companies are not required to allow vacation time to accrue and thus it usually doesn’t. So Americans can’t typically “save up” their vacation time over several years to allow for a long overseas trip.

    –Because there aren’t as many public holidays as in other countries (Australia, for example), workers who are parents frequently have to use their vacation time to babysit their children on school holidays when the office is still open. Companies have a lot of leeway as to what holidays they offer and many of them are quite stingy.

    –In addition, many people have family living in other parts of the country, so at least some of their 2 week vacation will usually go towards visiting relatives. This further depletes a measly two weeks/10 days, leaving very little time left.

    –Yet another issue in the way is the fact that most American employers frown on employees who take more than FIVE days off at a time (and some will outright disallow it)! So Americans would typically be in for a very rushed and stressful vacation since they would have to fit it into such a short block of time. This would not really leave enough time to properly unwind and would make it difficult and perhaps not financially feasible to travel to faraway destinations (e.g. Asia, Australia, etc.) since they would be paying for expensive airfare and spending time traveling each way yet having very few days to enjoy at their destination.

    I have spent time in Australia where most workers go on an extended holiday (i.e. 3 weeks or more) over Christmas. (Most Americans only get one or 2 days off for Christmas plus New Year ’s Day!). In addition leave time accrues in Australia, there are more public holidays, most companies offer their employees 4 weeks off per year, and employees earn long service leave (6 months of paid leave) after 10 years of service. The amount of leave available most workers in other countries have available to them (Australia just being a typical example) is vastly greater than what Americans have.

    Most Americans aren’t really aware of the disparity because they don’t get to travel and don’t get to see for themselves how things are in other countries.

      • John

        You’re still not seeing that many companies — most, in fact, whose vacation policies I’m familiar with — do NOT allow an employee to take two weeks of vacation at a time. The limit is 5 days at a stretch, regardless of how much time you get per year or might have accrued. And many of those companies don’t allow you to combine vacation with a long weekend.

        Travel is great, and I’ve enjoyed it when I could take part in the experience. But ultimately, it’s just being somewhere else for a few days, and then it’s over. Whether you’ve spend $100 or $10,000 on your travel, it’s gone, and you’re back at work. Just as though you’d never left, except it’s stacked up while you were gone.

        Americans not only don’t travel overseas, they don’t even take their full allocation of vacation days. Just for those reasons. The return is small — to our way of thinking — and the cost is too high. And I don’t mean just in money.

  124. Martin

    I find so many of these comments totally whack, the reason Americans don’t go abroad much is because we like our country and don’t have any desire to go anywhere else, why is this a bad thing…?

    I have been to Cancun/Yucatan, Mumbai, England, Ireland, and Brazil (Natal) and I would honestly only recommend England as “worth it” because its a country tied closely to American history and makes for an interesting comparison between the old and new world.

    Your travel really depends on you… If you have a girl friend or something from Brazil (in my case), you’re going to have a lot of fun there. If you’re just Joe American going to Brazil looking for a thrill, you’re more than likely to be so stressed out trying to deal with Portuguese that your precious vacation time was basically just blown trying to acquire basic services like changing money or getting a decent meal instead of actually RELAXING which is the prime motive of any vacation. Who the hell would subject themselves to a stressful vacation? Why would you got a beach in South America a day’s flight away when you can simple drive your car with your family to Orlando and enjoy beaches on both side of Florida and bring your kid to meet his childhood heroes…? Why?!

    I’m sure New Zealanders travel all over the world, I mean… Why wouldn’t they? Their territory is like the size of a single US State and even Australia, which is big, is mostly barren! Unlike those former colonies, The United States was founded through rebellion, its very nature and identity as a nation is openly dismissive and at times even hostile to anything outside of the western hemisphere. Love or hate that attitude, it was largely responsible for us winning our independence and right to self-determination…

  125. tony

    it’s easy to see all the hate that americans have to endure from the european community on a daily basis? just read the above comments from our former friends in europe, canada and australia. that’s a major reason that many americans aren’t rushing out to spend their paychecks on visiting these hateful people. they really are haters and shouldn’t be trifled with… especially when precious commodities like money and time are involved.

    i have traveled all over the world and the united states will always be my favorite place to travel. it’s everything all the time, baby. we really do have it all. we have the same land mass as china with loads of different landscapes and cultures. the usa is huge and the only people who are bored here are boring people.

    for americans, i would recommend japan and china. the over-the-top hatred of americans that you experience in europe is virtually nonexistent in these countries. many of the younger people in japan/china take english in school and they try hard to communicate with you. to them, it is fun to meet americans and vise versa. their food is better, their people are friendlier, their culture is more beautiful…

  126. I have been living in the USA for past 10 years, but I have been born and raised in Europe (Poland). I am traveling with my family extensively. Right now we’re on a Sabbatical road trip through Central America (Mexico right now). I agree with most part of the article, but also with some of the comments. Obviously only assuming that we allow ourselves to generalize, talking about nations…

    21% of 300M is some 63M people. That’s about the entire population of UK, France or Italy. People in those countries travel on average more often than Americans, but on a much shorter distances too. Most Europeans travels in Europe, only very small percentage ventures outside. I’m sure majority of the mentioned 21% in USA is also related to weekend shopping trips to Canada and (maybe) Mexico. If you strip that numbers and compare intercontinental travels, maybe the balance will be recovered…?

    As far as American mentality is being psychoanalyzed here by a bunch of amateur Freuds, I have my two cents two. Most Americans don’t vacation overseas, because they don’t have the time for it. Or a need for that matter. They have all they want at home. Most of them won’t have enough time in their life to visit the places worth visiting in their own country, why bother with multi-day travels to places half way around the globe? Those who have the time, and the craving… they are among the 21%. The rest still’s got 50 states on their bucket list, before they venture outside…

  127. Becki

    I love the idea that YOU are afraid of US.
    You all have guns, you seem to think democracy is something to be forcibly imposed (Germany/communism/Iraq/Afghanistan/Libya/Iran?), your political culture is painfully conservative, almost all of you believe in the magic man in the sky, you don’t speak our language and don’t want to, you govern yourselves by a document written hundreds of years ago, and YOU HAVE ALL THE POWER.

    What the hell, America?

    • blablah

      @becki. we’re not afraid of you at all, sweetie. we just don’t want to get caught up in all your bullshit. i can tell that you swallowed all of the tired sterotypes about the usa that you could, without ever questioning whether or not it was reality.

  128. al

    We will soon see A LOT more Americans not travelling but fleeing their country to save their lives from the fascist, totalitarian governments that are increasingly building up there.

  129. Musashi

    Dear Mr. Kepnes,

    So you’re not afraid I guess? Why are you being such a crying baby when complain about being rip-offed in Vietnam?

    “People don’t like you because you are American. The world is violent. It’s poor. It’s dirty. It’s savage. Canada and Europe are O.K., but, if you go there, they will still be rude to you because you are American. No one likes us.”

    You wrote so true about you, including the cultural ignorance. So please stop travel and stay in your home.

    A not-American

  130. Melanie

    I really agree with the author and this article. I’m an American female, and when I finished grad school, I decided to backpack South America for 4 months. I visited Ecuador, Peu, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil. Based on my experience, I drew the same conclusions as the author. The vast majority of Americans I knew/talked to about my journey told me I was crazy and would be raped/killed. Americans are terrified of the world and base so much of their perceived notions of countries on movies they see. I can’t tell you how many times people referenced movies like Hostel, Taken, etc.
    The people who think that the US has everything they need just haven’t been out enough. Eating Chinese food in your neighborhood will never compare to eating the food in its country of origin…
    One of the best things people can do is to get out there in the world, see what it’s all about, and live a little! Going out of your comfort zone will be a wonderful experience.

  131. Ali

    Very true regarding what you said about New Zealanders. I’m Australian and the same applies to us as well as our neighbours. I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t been to two other countries at the absolute very least. I am speaking of an age range from teenagers to people in their nineties and of various income levels. Aussies and Kiwis just have a thing about travelling and we smile and shake our heads when other people complain about “long” seven hour flights.

    I guess it is just part of the culture, if you don’t have disposable money for a holiday, you work until you save up for it. I was astonished when I heard that my American friend’s rich parents won’t come and visit her in Australia (she’s been living here a few years) because it’s too far and dangerous – they “just couldn’t”. I think you are far safer here than in America (you probably won’t see a snake at all and our crime is much lower) and really, the plane flight is well worth it whether you are travelling to Australia or to America.

    I’ve always gotten along very well with Americans, so I don’t see why there would be any issues unless you were rude and voicing loud criticisms about everything. Just be your useful friendly selves and if you feel ignorant about a country, do some background research before you go.

    Travelling outside your own country doesn’t mean you don’t like it, it means that you will return with amazing experiences and a deeper appreciation of whatever country your homeland is (well, hopefully).

  132. Ali

    That’s because there’s over 300 million Americans, so maybe it is good that only 21% have passports. Otherwise everywhere would be even more packed with tourists haha.

  133. karla luna

    Hello Matt, this is one of my all time favorite posts for all your blogs! Being American I know exactly what you mean.. I see it all the time!! especially now that I am planning my first official solo trip to Australia.. When i tell people what I am doing or where ill be staying they look at me in shock and say HOW SCARY… and all I think about WHAT ARE YOU SCARED OF???? Also today in my class we were having a discussion about traveling when my professor said that she has always wanted to go to africa with her husband… She mentioned that they were going to go 15 YEARS AGO but they didnt because it started getting to dangerous and did not want to get killed. She said that her Africa fund has been sitting in the bank since then and just keeps adding to it.. Right away when she said that i thought about your recent post about how jessica will never go to Ireland… I know for a fact that she will not go… Also, she said that she will end up going with her husband when its SAFE.. i started laughing and thought its NEVER going to be safe there is always something happening crime will never going away… again that brought me back to your other post of how its never a perfect time to travel.. they just have to do it..!!! Hope your having a good time in wherever you are on this planet at the moment.. -Karla :-)

  134. Joe Smith

    I don’t know what is so great about traveling – the packing, the unpacking, the expense, getting used to a new environment and/or living quarters. I live on Long Island and I have no desire whatsoever to travel very far. I travel once in a while just to fit in with my friends. While some of my travels – which are pretty much just limited to the eastern states of the U.S. – are enjoyable, I must admit that anything I did somewhere else, I can do at home. Long Island has beaches, restaurants, bars, museums, etc.

    When I am looking to relax, I go for a drive or just sleep. When I get vacation time from work I am usually just so exhausted that I just lounge around at home for a week and it’s great. If I want to learn about other places, cultures, etc., I will just read about it.

    • NomadicMatt

      Different strokes for different folks but it’s one thing to read about it, it’s another thing to see it first hand. Long island has beaches (I used to go to Jones beach as a kid) but a beach in Fiji is very different. Long Island may have a museum but nothing to match the Louvre in Paris. You don’t have to be a frequent traveler like me but it’s a huge world! I can’t understand how anyone could have ZERO desire to see any of it? Even my workaholic office friends still dream of places..

      But whatever makes you happy, is OK with me.

  135. Michael F

    > Canada and Europe are O.K., but, if you go there, they will still be rude to you because you are American. No one likes us.

    Add Australia and New Zealand, as they are pretty tame (and English-speaking). Oh, and All-Inclusive resorts in the Caribbean and Mexico. Only the all-inclusive ones, as you don’t want to meet the locals on the street as equals, but only when they can only say to you (in English, of course) “Would you like more ice tea, sir?”

    And yes, the Europeans don’t like us. If you say you’re from America, it’s one reaction, generally blase, but try saying “Texas” and see how your average European reacts!

  136. William

    Some of your thoughts are interesting, Matt. But, honestly, if you think that americans are hated by the world is another reason for travelling more overseas and show them this isn’t true!

  137. Juan

    Honestly??? How can you call yourself a backpacker and use the term “americans” like if your country’s name is america? FYI my dear “backpacker”: America is the continent and your country is USA (just remembering if you forgot).

    It’s a disgusting shame to see the way you use America in your blog. Maybe you need to sorry for it, or even better: close this blog!

    Cheers!!! (and please don’t delete this comment)

    • NomadicMatt

      America, the States, the US are all accepted short hand names for the United States of America.