“This girl is a world traveler.”
This was said by a 88-year-old lady I know, after we had a short chat about my time as an exchange student in Australia and my trip to London a few years ago. While, in my book, this may be one of the sweetest compliments one can receive, it really isn’t true. I have only been to 4 other countries (and that’s including Canada) and I’ve maybe only seen ⅓ of the US states. But those statistics are actually pretty good for a 31 yr old in our country.
The numbers are a little shaky, but according to one study, only 46% of Americans even have a passport. And only 32% of Ohioans.
So why don’t Americans travel more?
Possibly the #1 reason that most Americans don’t travel is money. It’s not that we don’t have access to money or jobs that would make enough money, it is the inability of most Americans to save for a overseas trip that may require a few thousand dollars. Also, I would say the average American would also rather blow $100 on a steak dinner at Ruth Chris than $120 on a passport. Or $50 on taking the family to a movie than $60 to tour a museum in another state. Just to get passports for our three children (and the photos), we spent $340. We knew that to make our travel goals a reality that this money was going to have to be allotted, and so we made that happen. No rocket science there.
Brian and I went to Australia in 2006 and 2008. At the time we had a few friends and colleagues say to us, “well I could NEVER afford a trip to Australia.” This was always an awkward question for us because at the time we were not making good money at all. It’s not like we were rolling in dough that just afforded us the ability to be able to wake up with $8000 in our checking account to be able to afford a trip Down Under. However, we did drive used paid-for cars (no car payments) and we also budgeted every dollar that we earned. We also picked up side jobs whenever possible.
Another crucial component, at that point neither of us owned any student loans. If someone is shelling out the equivalent of a house payment is student loan payments, it’s hard to blow some change on a big trip! I believe if money was handled more wisely and people made it a priority, they would have the money to travel (at least a little).
I believe the #2 reason that Americans don’t travel is that we don’t have a travel culture in America. Outside of the annual trip to Myrtle Beach, I believe some of this is that we have just set our standards too low (I mean, Myrtle Beach is great, but the $2000 you spend on lodging and entertainment there could be spent towards a week out west seeing some of our nation’s most beautiful sights). Since every other person is only going to Myrtle Beach, we aren’t starting conversations at dinner parties about the cobblestone streets of Italy or the Queen Victoria market in Melbourne.
Last, I think we are just indifferent. I just finished reading Jon Acuff’s book Start and he talks repeatedly about how the path to average is easy and everyone else is on it so there is no negative feedback from your friends. It’s easy to take the family to Myrtle Beach every summer, but it’s more work to save an additional $2000 and fly the kids to Phoenix to see the Grand Canyon and Sedona. It’s a logistical dance to take a car seat and a stroller and 2 kids and backpacks and toys. The choice to travel is no different than any other choice we make in our life. If we make it a priority and we are willing to make the sacrifices, it will be worth it…and we can make it work.
What do you think keeps Americans from traveling? Have you ever chose to stay home just because it was easier? Do you have a passport? Do you think the cost of passports deters Americans from taking the first trip towards overseas travel?
(P.S. Don’t hate me if your favorite spot is Myrtle Beach. I’ve been there a few times and it’s ok, I just have so much more of the world I want to see).