The typically wonderful month of May has been sort of wet in the Northeast; however, the summer months are right around the corner and vacation time is beckoning most of us who enjoy travel. I have been awash in articles reading about places, globally, I would like to see and have never been, as well as reading about old favorites with a new perspective. My wanderlust for travel was triggered when my family moved to South America, and I have never been the same.
I happen to know people who have a great passion for international travel. I suppose it is true that we tend to be the company we keep. However, although my immediate circle still loves to get on a plane and explore other countries, I have been wondering about those who don’t. Someone who has done sales in the vacation industry informed me that Americans really do not like to travel internationally.
So, I set out to learn a little bit about this and discover for myself if most Americans cared for international travel or really preferred to stay within the territorial boundaries of the United States. It did not take much more than a cursory search to find screaming headlines about Americans not traveling abroad and information about how Americans really prefer to stay in this country.
William D. Chalmers wrote a book entitled “America’s Vacation Deficit Disorder”. He summarized in an article for The Huffington Post entitled “The Great American Passport Myth: Why Just 3.5% Of Us Travel Overseas!” the following:
42 percent of Americans hold a valid passport
Approximately 9 percent of leisure travelers go overseas (i.e. not to Mexico or Canada)
When Americans travel overseas they go to Europe (35 percent), the Caribbean (21 percent), Asia (19 percent) and South America (9 percent).
The most popular countries are England (9 percent), France (7 percent), Italy (7 percent), Germany (5 percent), Dominican Republic (5 percent), Jamaica (5 percent), Japan (4 percent), China (4 percent), India (4 percent), Spain (4 percent), Bahamas (3 percent) and Costa Rica (3 percent).
6 percent of trips by Americans traveling overseas were to the Middle East, 3 percent to Africa and 2 percent to Australia/New Zealand
So, the obvious question is why such a low number of Americans travel overseas when there is so much to see, get to know and understand – particularly in this globalized world?
If you sit down and think about it, it probably is not very difficult to figure out some of the reasons, real or imagined, that have been posited for Americans not being interested in traveling overseas.
One explanation, which upon reflection probably does make a lot of sense is that the United States is diverse in its geography and topography. If you are looking to do the beach, there are wonderful destinations, including Florida and California. If you prefer to be in the mountains, there is a lot of beauty in the Rockies, for example.
A few other thoughts are that Americans tend to be working a lot more than people living in other developed nations and travel is deemed expensive for many Americans. The United States is the only developed country that does not require companies to provide paid vacation and holiday time to its employees. Most Americans, assuming they receive any paid vacation time, may get a week and if they are very lucky, two. Additionally, Americans find it expensive to travel overseas – despite the fact they can probably get more for their dollar than even in the United States depending on where they travel.
I also read articles about the “Ugly American” who simply is not interested in learning or interacting with any other cultures other than our own. I have been hearing this since I was a little girl taking my earliest flights overseas with my parents.
But, my favorite has to be that Americans are “scared” of the world, which as an American, I think is absurd. This theory – I did not see any studies that supported it as a fact – is that since 9/11 Americans have realized the world is a cold and dangerous place. And, so it goes that the descendants of the continent’s early settlers, the fighter’s the American Revolution, World Wars I and II, the explorers who first broke the speed of sound, landed on the moon and continue to figure out ways to break boundaries are too afraid to leave our national borders.
Whatever the reasons Americans have for wanting to vacation domestically, it seems that there is a romanticized remnant of Americans and overseas travel, perhaps, started with great American aviators such as Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindbergh and Howard Hughes. The reality is, however, if you are looking to plan some vacation time outside of the United States, the likelihood is your American friends won’t be joining you.