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Why Don’t Americans Journey? (answered)

(FYI, sorry Sarah Palin, just a joke for people who poke fun at Americans and LOVE to bring this up to me!)

As an American I am lucky. I have been blessed with a stable, safe country to grow up in. My American status gets me into some countries with ease, and I am grateful for that. There are some negative stereotypes of Americans that I’m always trying to break (we’re not all fat loudmouths). My nationality actually gets me better access to India than my British boyfriend can get. So, it begs the question, why are most travelers European or Australian? Why don’t Americans travel?

travel makeup

Only about 30% of Americans have a passport, and many of those passport holders have only been to Mexico and Canada.  The number was half that before we needed passports for our neighboring countries.

As for Brits and Australians, over 70% have passports! Maybe if we take a look at why we’re NOT traveling, we can try to make a change! Journey brings me so much happiness and I’m SO happy my parents are coming to visit me in India. Even in small trips, travel can be so life-changing.

7 Reasons why Americans don’t travel:

1. America is ranked in the bottom 3 countries for vacation time per year. We get, on average, 2 weeks vacation, while other countries get on average 4-5, some even more! We have a culture that is focused around work. We are less hire-able for a job if we take a gap year, while in New Zealand more graduates do, than don’t, take a gap year. We have such a work culture, that according to CNN, we aren’t even taking all the vacation time we are given. That’s terrible!

2. America is not that close to popular travel destinations. If I were from England, I would have backpacked all of Europe each summer. Look at this map of the world:

All of Europe is bigger than the US (I googled it to be sure), but barely. If I drive from Ohio to Washington state, that doesn’t sound so far away, but if I drive from France to the east side of the Ukraine I’m a worldly traveler! A French couple could go on a weekend holiday to Italy, no big deal. But in America, in the same distance, we’d be going to just another state. A European family of 5, that can’t afford plane tickets, can hop in a train and be off to another country for their big yearly vacation. In America a family of 5 that can’t afford plane tickets, will end up driving to their destination within the US.

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3. Because of the distance, flights are a lot more expensive. We aren’t the only place with this problem. Australians obviously have to fly everywhere as well, and they still travel, but I still think this should taken into account. If you live in NYC, LA, or really anywhere coastal, your flight not be that costly. But there are a lot of states in the middle, don’t forget! I take 2-3 layovers in the US before I’m even on my way to my 2 Europe layovers to get to India. Europeans are quite lucky to be close to many different countries. While Ben’s friends can visit us in India for under 800 USD, it’ll always at least 1400 USD from America (unless you live in NYC). My parents will visit at Christmas and a roundtrip at holiday price is 2,000 USD per person.

4. America is huge and there is a lot to see within the continental US. English people say often, that they had to get out of England, “it’s too small!” Most Americans don’t think the U.S. is too small. Personally, I haven’t seen enough of it. I have been have seen the Bean in Chicago, swam at Venice Beach in California, seen the Space needle in Seattle, and wandered through NYC. I have been to 28 states.. But, I still haven’t hiked through Yosemite, partied in Vegas, gone country in Dallas, or been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans. America has deserts, beaches, mountains ranges, forests, and beautiful national parks.

5. There is a lot of diverse culture in the U.S. Unlike many countries, when we drive 20 hours away from our home; we are in a place with a very different culture. Some southern accents I can hardly understand. Some people in Louisiana still speak creole. There are neighborhoods in NYC where the residents in different areas still speak the language their grandparents did. In southern California and Texas, the Mexican food is delicious and authentic, and many Americans speak Spanish. Each state is different; California is nothing like Wisconsin! The people, fashion, food, accents, and even laws are different.

travel, why americans dont travel, usa, uk, passports, abroad, backpacking

6. Some Americans, many that I know, are very afraid of “abroad’. They are afraid that the outside world hates them for being American. They let their fear keep them home. Movie and the news make people afraid of backpacking, traveling, and even staying in hostels. They think they’ll get kidnapped or blown up by a terrorist. I’ve said this before, but you have to take what the state department says with a grain of salt. The ‘you can’t go here’ list is sometimes just a guideline.

7. College loans. Schooling in the US is outrageously expensive. While many of my friends have close to 100,000 in debt, a bachelor’s degree takes less time and money in the UK, at around 30,000 to finish. School loans keep graduates at home, going straight to work, instead of on a post-graduate celebratory trip.

 Can this change?

Regardless of all the reasons, I have come from America, from the “working” culture, and I traveled and even live abroad. In Goa, I don’t know one other American & while backpacking I only met two. People tell me often in Goa that they remember me because I’m the only American girl in Goa (although there must be more we haven’t met).

However, I am not finding it possible to have both (travel and a “normal” American lifestyle. Once you choose travel, you kind of give up the option to go back and just jump back into things, unless you have some kind of incredible resume. It’s difficult to travel when you want, then come back hoping to find a job in the field of nursing for sure. I know a lot of bloggers say, “if I can do it so can you” and I probably have fallen into that at some time or other on here, but I know it’s not possible for some people, like a friend I mentioned with a sick child, or another friend in debt up to her eyeballs. I pretty much had to give up my life back home for this one.

I hope that the work culture in the states changes to a more leisurely culture so that more people will travel. The more kids start to take gap years, the more it will become the “norm” and American travel will increase.

Start traveling now, so that your kids grow up in a chiller lifestyle ;)

american in goa

 

2017-07-05T18:59:01+00:00

About the Author:

Rachel Jones left a career in nursing and lived on the beaches of Goa, India for the five years. Now she lives in Mexico where she gives advice on the 40+ countries she’s visited in the last 10 years. She’s the author of two India travel e-books: Guide to India and Insider’s Guide to Goa. Her blog, Werkenntwen, like its name, is a contradiction combining off-beat adventurous places with glamorous and bespoke travel. Werkenntwen has been featured in ELLE, Marie Claire, Grazia, and Cosmopolitan magazines. She’s a writer for Bravo TV.

55 Comments

  1. Justine August 20, 2014 at 8:33 pm - Reply

    Lately I’ve been doing a ton of research about working abroad. And it’s incredible how much more vacation time people who live in, let’s say, Europe get versus us Americans. It’s really hard to be a die-hard traveler AND work a 9-5 job in the US. And I think it is a huge reasons American don’t travel as much. Most people I know who do work a 9-5 rarely use their vacation time. That’s just the norm in the US, which is really sad. Journey just doesn’t seem to be on our radar because the work culture doesn’t allow it to be a real possibility. I wish this was something that would change about our country.

    • Rachel Jones August 22, 2014 at 2:08 pm - Reply

      It’s so sad how little vacay time is given in America and even sadder the work culture is so intense people aren’t taking the time.

  2. Dottie @Dots on a Map August 20, 2014 at 9:00 pm - Reply

    I think another reason is that more so than other countries, we perceive travel as an extremely expensive luxury for rich people. This is due to advertising by resorts and 5-star hotels that make it seem like their accommodation is the only option. Many Americans think that going abroad means shelling out at least $50 a night for a place to stay and are unaware what hostels really are. In general, we just aren’t as informed or completely misinformed about budget traveling.

    Great article. I enjoyed reading :)

    • Rachel Jones August 22, 2014 at 2:07 pm - Reply

      You’re absolutely right. In Europe especially, people are very aware of hostels and see backpackers wondering through their city. In Columbus Ohio the only people walking around with backpacks were homeless. We don’t see and hear about hotels and backpackers in the US, even though they are there.

  3. purcitron August 20, 2014 at 9:08 pm - Reply

    nonsense

  4. Soltatio August 20, 2014 at 9:08 pm - Reply

    I use to have long conversations with my friend from California over this while we were both living in Asia. I use to argue that it was downright disappointing that so few American had passports. But that was before I got to North America, and that is where number 4 in your list ranks so so true. The USA is just so diverse. Why would someone pay a fortune to go and ski in the Swiss Alps, when they can ski in Colorado or just head to Canada? Why fly to Thailand for beaches when they have Florida, Hawaii and California? Why visit other big cities when you have NYC, LA, San Francisco and Chicago at your doorstep. And an argument about “seeing other cultures” is even diluted with such a melting pot as the US. I’ll always continue to travel and love it, but I don’t think less of Americans anymore who prefer to take in all their beautiful country has to offer for much less than what it would cost them to see other parts of the world.

    • Rachel Jones August 22, 2014 at 2:05 pm - Reply

      You make a lot of great points! The US definitely has a LOT to offer :)

  5. Agness August 20, 2014 at 10:04 pm - Reply

    Great post and I agree with everything you’ve pointed out here, however I keep meeting more and more Americans on the road. They start to travel slowly, but surely and it’s great to see observe how they enjoy their first time in Europe :).

    • Rachel Jones August 22, 2014 at 2:04 pm - Reply

      I’m so glad you’re meeting more Americans. I think they are starting to travel more and take “gap years” I just am not seeing them as much in INdia.

  6. Lisa @ Happy Holidays Guides August 20, 2014 at 11:32 pm - Reply

    Love this thoughtful article. On the one hand, you could say that different regions within the US offer different culture. On the other hand, you could say that within the US there is a “lowest common denominator” of culture therefore even if we travel cross-country in every direction we are still not experiencing the diversity of traveling outside the country. Keep on traveling! ~HHG

    • Lisa @ Happy Holidays Guides August 20, 2014 at 11:33 pm - Reply

      didn’t know I could leave my latest article. I’m going to share yours!

    • Rachel Jones August 22, 2014 at 2:03 pm - Reply

      You’re right we won’t experience that new international culture, but at least across the US there are small cultural changes!

  7. Katelyn @ Diaries of a Wandering Lobster August 21, 2014 at 4:16 am - Reply

    GREAT post! I agree, it’s quite sad that two-thirds of 313 million people don’t have passports! Your point about the difference between Europe and the USA is spot on. Europe as a whole is the same size of the US. Their transportation system is definitely way more advance (and probably more economical). I have to wonder what the US would be like if each state became a country. Would more people travel?

    • Rachel Jones August 22, 2014 at 1:59 pm - Reply

      I hadn’t even thought about transportation- you’re right that makes a HUGE difference.

  8. Sarah G August 21, 2014 at 4:27 am - Reply

    After selling international airfare for over 16 years, primarily to Americans, I can honestly say that it is a misunderstanding of travel costs and fear that keep more US citizens from flying abroad. First, when most people only have 2 weeks to take a vacation, and are REALLY looking for a break – i.e. sitting on the beach all day waiting for your pina colada to be refilled, many travelers spend a small fortune on hotels/ resorts. Whenever your time is limited, it seems that people spend a lot more money on accommodation, tours, meals, transportation etc., trying to cram in everything they desire into a very short period of time. Anyone who has traveled for any longer length of time (i.e. 2 months to a year) has learned how to slow down, spend less, and dig deeper into the daily rituals of a culture. They know that a long term international journey, i.e. an around-the-world trip can actually cost less than what they would spend back home over the same time period! Most people tend to assume that the kind of travel you have done is wildly expensive, based on their own expenditures for a week in Hawaii (or for the mildly adventurous – the Caribbean cruise, or that crazy, rush, rush guided tour in England).
    The second inhibitor is fear of the unknown. Some people are incapacitated just trying to figure out how to get from the airport to their hotel. Others, are convinced that they will be mugged and conned, and simply aren’t prepared for any “third-world” discomfort. This common ignorance is what needs to be broken, and I am very grateful for your blog, and how you educate people about both the joys and challenges of India.

    • Karla August 21, 2014 at 7:29 pm - Reply

      As a Journey Planner I agree 100%. With such limited vacation time, it seems much too expensive for most Americans to travel any real distance. Without the travel skills, most people believe big resorts or group travel is the only way to do it. They really have no clue that they could travel for less than a fortune and have an even better time.

      Fear is the other factor. I feel safer in Europe than I do in my home city, but that’s because I know what to expect. I think we have a culture of fear in America in general.

      Thank you for your insights. I hope we will eventually change this mentality.

    • Rachel Jones August 22, 2014 at 1:59 pm - Reply

      You’re right on both counts. I think people don’t know how it can be done cheaply, or as they get older they don’t want to take the cheap option because they’re used to a certain lifestyle.

    • Tom Edwards August 29, 2014 at 2:50 am - Reply

      I think you nailed it with that comment. People are absolutely astonished when I tell them how little it can cost to travel abroad!

      And when I told people I was going to Thailand they all said “you’re going to get killed over there!” Really? In THAILAND? Arguably the most popular tourist destination in SE Asia?!

      • Rachel Jones August 29, 2014 at 1:05 pm - Reply

        Yep I heard the same when I went to Thailand! Crazy talk!

  9. Silvia August 21, 2014 at 9:18 am - Reply

    Ahh these are all so true! None of my old high school friends ever travel, and they always would make comments about how lucky and wealthy my family must have been to always go on so many trips. I don’t know where that mindset comes from, but it’s so sad to me that so many American are fine spending tons of money on fashion, new gadgets, and fancy cars but not on travel.

  10. Andrea Anastasiou August 21, 2014 at 10:05 am - Reply

    It makes a lot of sense – if you don’t have much vacation time, you’re not going to want to waste any of those precious days stuck on a plane when you can make a shorter domestic trip and enjoy more time exploring. It’s definitely time for companies in the US to give you all more time off!

    • Rachel Jones August 22, 2014 at 1:56 pm - Reply

      Such a good point! Even my parents have 12 days time over christmas and have to spend so much of that on a plane since they’re visiting me in India. Really cuts the vacay down.

  11. Laura August 21, 2014 at 10:36 am - Reply

    Interesting insight into why a lot of Americans don’t travel. I didn’t know that statistic that only 30% of us have passports, that’s shocking. There are certainly a great number of Americans over here in Korea, but I didn’t meet all that many while I was traveling Australia and New Zealand. Definitely some good points though!

    • Rachel Jones August 22, 2014 at 1:55 pm - Reply

      That’s great you have a nice American expat community in Korea!

  12. Karyn @ Not Done Journeyling August 21, 2014 at 10:48 am - Reply

    Wow – 70% of Americans don’t have passports?? That really shocked me! Particularly since my country (Australia) is the same size and a similar distance to the US to many locations, but yeah, most people here have them. Some people have them even if they’ve never been overseas or have no plans to, because it’s useful to have just in case you ever have to travel at short notice. I think I can count on one hand the number of people I know who don’t have passports.

    Personally, I think the root of everything lies in the culture of people basically being forced to go to college and then being saddled with a huge debt they have to jump right into work to pay off. You’re right, the more people who break the mold when it comes to travel, the easier it will be for the next generation to do so.

    • Rachel Jones August 22, 2014 at 1:55 pm - Reply

      I think a lot of people in the US don’t even CONSIDER going abroad and don’t even think about getting a passport.

  13. Alex, Speaking Denglish August 21, 2014 at 4:47 pm - Reply

    I think you hit the nail on the head with the reasons. I think many people that grow up without a family who travels also do not realize the possibilities that are out there. The internet helps now, but so many cultures are fascinated by the US because of the film industry, etc. but in the US we watch strictly American movies and have less exposure to other cultures, making us less interested? I really had no desire to travel until college when all of my friends had already been overseas and I found out what I was missing.

    • Rachel Jones August 22, 2014 at 1:52 pm - Reply

      You’re right. Some people catch the travel bug and spread it to their friends which is the bomb! My parents are coming to visit me in India- I think they will catch the bug from coming & hopefully spend their retirement traveling a ton!

  14. Brandon @ TheYogaNomads August 22, 2014 at 8:51 am - Reply

    Well done here. A fair and balanced analysis of a touchy subject.

    If we (Americans) had more vacation time, would we use it “wisely?” I’m guessing not.

    I think the #1 issue is our work work work culture that we’re spoon fed from birth. High education costs, willingly accumulating student debt, ignorance to travel options, etc are symptoms of this.

    Since travel is outside the “right path” many people don’t even consider the possibility that travel can be affordable or that the rest of the world isn’t “scary.” I personally experienced this, and it took me 4 years working in corporate America to see our faults with clarity.

    Thankfully our economy is changing (by necessity) and less young people will be able (and want to) pursue traditional 9-5 type careers. I don’t think things will change fast but I’m optimistic :)

    • Rachel Jones August 22, 2014 at 1:50 pm - Reply

      that’s a good question, I’m not sure if Americans would use it wisely or if they would even take the given time off. The whole culture is against that, so maybe not.

  15. Debbie August 22, 2014 at 1:22 pm - Reply

    That’s true, you are far and sometimes scared about the rest of the world. But I have met a lot of Americans and what I am jealous about you people is that when you travel, YOU JOURNEY! I mean you are far away from Europe and when you decide to come here you take it seriously, you plan it a lot and you stay for a lot of time visiting many places! I have met some americans who come to Europe travelling for months! that’s so cool! Plus your country is really amazing!! Dont think that Europeans travel that much anyways…

    • Rachel Jones August 22, 2014 at 1:49 pm - Reply

      Hi Debbie, you’re right- oftentimes when we do go abroad we plan to stay a long time! It also saves us money to do 1 big trip rather than say, 3 small ones.

  16. Hidden in a Book August 22, 2014 at 2:34 pm - Reply

    Interesting article. Spread the word that Europe is a very safe place for Americans to travel. :-)

    A lot of Norwegians I know love to travel, however they’vehardly seen any of their own country. Yet they travel to world, not only Europe, but the US, Asia, Africa…

    I love travelling myself, and want to see a lot more of the world. The more I travel, the more I want to see – and learn!

  17. Sarah August 22, 2014 at 8:57 pm - Reply

    I think college loans definitely play a big part for young Americans you aren’t “afraid” of abroad and who could easily safe up money to buy a plane ticket. Starting your life in debt is a real blocker.

    • Rachel Jones August 25, 2014 at 11:05 am - Reply

      You’re right it really can change they way you WANT to live your life

  18. The GypsyNesters August 23, 2014 at 6:49 pm - Reply

    I think that number 6 has a lot to do with it. The idea of American exceptionalism implies that everywhere else is inferior. We have seen it with tour groups of Americans even when they do travel, they are always comparing everything they see to America, and never in a favorable light.

  19. Ethan August 28, 2014 at 2:21 am - Reply

    An interesting study, so detailed! I’m from Canada but I can agree with these points, especially with the one that everything is so far and you spend a fortune on plane tickets… But another interesting point is number 4: America is really huge and it has all you can imagine. To be honest, I’m not a real traveller (yet), but I’m trying to slowly discover our amazing country, especially the nature. And there is still too much to see, even around my city! For example, I’m living in Vancouver for years and I just decided to try kitesurfing while visiting a beautiful lake, but what I actually didn’t know was that it’s a very unique tidal lake, so near! And it’s almost undiscovered by tourists (maybe I should share the knowledge? It’s called Nitinaht and it’s featured for exampe with all possible information). So I agree that we should travel more, but sometimes it’s also great to find the right places and meet the right people near you… (but yes, I will hopefully become a real traveller! :))

    • Rachel Jones August 28, 2014 at 2:53 pm - Reply

      wow kitesuring there must have been amazing! I really want to explore canada more, but I might start by downloaded that show “real housewives of vancouver” lol those types of shows are my guilty pleasures

  20. Tom Edwards August 29, 2014 at 2:33 am - Reply

    So many of these ring true… It’s a huge problem in the United States that our college loan system is so terrible! Just as you mentioned though, none of these mean we CAN’T travel. I find that Americans tend to have less desire to travel, compared to other countries. I hate that about our culture. The first time I traveled abroad, I saw other Americans about as frequently as unicorns! haha

  21. Sky September 3, 2014 at 11:39 pm - Reply

    You bring up some great points. With the price of travel (flights, mostly) and the limited vacation time, it seems most Americans just don’t find travel worth the time and expense. I also think many Americans realize how inexpensive travel can be (besides the flights). They also rarely consider places like Central America – a RT to most countries is under $600. I got a one-way to Costa Rica for $340.

    • Rachel Jones September 5, 2014 at 10:27 am - Reply

      Yes I think places like central america are a little scary sounding to northern americans. thanks, media!

  22. Danni @Leftnleavin November 19, 2014 at 4:53 pm - Reply

    My boyfriend and I got from D.C to London with a 5 days stop-over in Iceland for 480$ which was such a steal.We booked it 3 or 4 months in advance though. I think if people realised how cheap traveling can be and how it really isn’t as difficult or dangerous as it can seem they’d be all over it.
    The only 2-weeks-vacation thing is such a bummer. There really is a work-focused mentality. When I told my friends I was taking a year out of work after only one year of working full-time they thought I was nuts and/or irresponsible. It took me two years of working three jobs at a time to save up 25k for this trip.As a result I’m livin’ the dream and I now know that I can save up 25k in two years if I need to. It’s all choices in my mind. So I didn’t get to see the new movies and I cut my own hair but now I’m sitting in Venice with a nice Italian coffee and those long ass 15 hour days were so SO so worth it.

    • Rachel Jones November 20, 2014 at 10:49 am - Reply

      What a great deal on that flight! Sometimes making small sacrifices like cutting your own hair, can add up to being able to do something incredible

  23. Damon and Jo January 28, 2015 at 10:33 pm - Reply

    We always hear that Americans never travel, and we’re happy you are brought to light some great points. If you travel 100 miles in the USA, you’d still be in the USA, but if you travel 100 miles in Europe, you’d be in another country. We think is also why Americans get a bad rap when it comes to not speaking other languages (and THAT’S coming from two quadrilingual Americans). With Canada to the North the entire landmass of the USA, there isn’t as much NEED as, say, someone living in Switzerland who is surrounded by Germany, France, and Italy – three countries with three different languages!

    That being said, there are NO excuses, but these blogs do help people understand!

    • Rachel Jones January 29, 2015 at 1:02 pm - Reply

      Wow quadrilingual that’s impressive! I need to step my game up and get back to Hindi class.

  24. Jill Kozak April 5, 2015 at 6:13 am - Reply

    This post is all so true! I wish people weren’t afraid to travel abroad. Really, there is nothing to be afraid of. You can drown in your bathtub at home, so why not take the risk of seeing the world? I’ve done a lot of traveling all over the United States, though, and there is no place like it. Our country has immeasurable beauty and culture.

    • Rachel Jones April 5, 2015 at 8:20 pm - Reply

      You’re right, the US does have a LOT to see. Thanks for commenting :)

  25. Avi April 8, 2015 at 3:52 pm - Reply

    Well, it seems I was wrong about US. We Indians have the perception that Americans travel a lot, not so worried about the 9-5 job (in India its 9-6 or 7 or 8 or beyond) – The happiest people on earth! I guess its totally upto the individual no matter where he/she lives. Grass is always greener the other side.
    I can’t wait for a week vacation in Goa during monsoon!

    Happy Journeyling :)

    • Rachel Jones April 12, 2015 at 7:35 pm - Reply

      thanks for your comment! the grass is always greener.. so true

  26. Sara T. July 15, 2016 at 11:24 pm - Reply

    Most americans are too busy hamster wheeling in a hustling and opportunistic failed country. anything/everything for a buck. hustlers. and constant expansion, more, more, mas, more. They are hyper individuals, narcopathic nature obsessed with themselves and with more, more, mas, more =hyper consumerism/hyper expansion. They do not have mandated holiday time, they are even the only country that has ’employee at will.’ It is a sick, dying country/corporation that is in its dark ages (Berman). Most of the psychotic imbecilic populous exalt sports ‘heros,’ who got voted off the island, which teacher had sex with whom, and they sit on their arses consuming the nonsense “news” corporate owned propaganda. Most americans are generally too stupid to understand the world around them as most are narcopaths and present Cluster ABC mental derangements. Only ~12% have passports, and those that do usually go to Mexico, Canada, or cruiseship in order to avoid reality/truth. They love living in their delipitated country in cubicle concentration camps as they blindly clock in, clock out–nothing more than tax and debt slaves to a failed nation and its demented, profoundly ignorant priorities.. A bunch of Horatio Alger myths and -Steinbeck–Socialism never took root in america because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires. Enjoy the decline-Aaron Clarey.

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