7 Reasons Why Americans Don’t Travel

If you have traveled even briefly outside of the United States, you will soon arrive at a conclusion which many before you have reached: American do not travel.

Not to the same degree which Europeans travel at least. No matter where I’ve gone, I’ve found more British, Australians, Germans and Dutch. I’m not talking about percentages either, but raw numbers. The United States – a nation of 300 million – often has fewer travelers in a given place than the Netherlands, with a population of 17 million. Many Europeans are shocked to learn that most Americans don’t even hold a passport.

If you ask Europeans why this is, the immediate answer they will give is vacation time. Europeans on average receive three to four more vacation weeks per year than the average American. This is certainly part of the reason, but it only compares averages. In a country of 300 million there are still millions of people who have European amounts of vacation. The population of people in the US who get five weeks of vacation per year is probably equal to or greater than the entire population of the Netherlands, so it really doesn’t explain why you see more Dutch than Yankees abroad.

While vacation time is certainly part of the equation, the real reason isn’t quite so simple. Here are seven reasons I believe Americans don’t travel:

#1 – North America is Huge

The collective size of North America is larger than that of non-Russian Europe. When Europeans visit another country, geographically, it isn’t that much different than visiting another state or province in North America.

The diversity of regions in North America is also much greater than in Europe. You can visit tropical regions in the Everglades, deserts in Death Valley, mountains in Colorado, grasslands in the Great Plains, high deserts in Oregon, fiords in Alaska, Polynesian culture in Hawaii, Latino culture in Puerto Rico and coniferous rainforests in the Pacific North West, all without ever using a passport.

That list doesn’t even include Vegas and Disney World. To visit the equivalent in Europe would require visiting several countries and, until the recent integration of the EU, required several border crossings.

Sunset Over a Greyhound Bus
Sunset Over a Greyhound Bus / © safaris

#2 – Americans Don’t Need a Passport

Until recently, Americans didn’t need a passport for most travel. Prior to the changes made after 9/11, there was no need for Americans to have a passport to visit Canada, Mexico and most of the Caribbean. That is a large area and quite a few countries to explore without ever needing a passport.

Now that passports are needed for any border crossings this may change. It is funny that Europe and North American are moving in totally opposite directions in this respect. Europeans can now travel farther without a passport while Americans and Canadians cannot.

#3 – Americans Value Time Over Money

Europeans and Americans place substantially differing value on time and money. Many Europeans who came to America did so expressly to work. It should come as no surprise we value work and leisure differently.

Europeans get more time off, yet earn less money, while Americans earn more, yet have less time off. It is a trade-off.

What isn’t often mentioned is that even though Americans have less vacation time, one third of all Americans still have unused vacation time at the end of the year. Why? Many employers will compensate employees in cash for unused vacation hours.

If Americans really were itching for more vacation, you would probably see it appear in more negotiations and you would see more Americans use up the time they have. Again, Europeans and Americans have different preferences.

Another fact often ignored is that American vacation rates are higher than those found in Asia, where you see even greater preference towards work. Globally, Americans are closer to average than Europeans.

On the Beach in Oahu, Hawaii
Lounging in Oahu, Hawaii / © tata_aka_T

#4 – Americans Take Their Leisure Time in Shorter Bursts

Americans at all income levels are much more likely to own a cottage or second home, recreational vehicles (snowmobiles, ATVs and boats, etc.), and to take vacations by car than Europeans.

Given space and income levels in Europe, that isn’t an option for most Europeans. Hunting, fishing, and camping are all more popular in the US where there are much more open spaces and wildlife than in Europe. All of these activities take much less time and are closer to home.

#5 – Americans Lack a History of Living Overseas

Europeans have been running colonies for hundreds of years. During that time, it was very common for entire families to live, work and grow up overseas. By contrast, America is relatively new at the overseas living game, and it has only done so in an era of jet travel, where you can return home or only be gone for relatively short stretches.

There are thousands of British who grew up in places such as India, Kenya, South Africa, and Hong Kong. Comparable American spots were relatively small places such as the Panama Canal Zone and Guam.

#6 – America is More Diverse

Another factor often overlooked by Europeans is that Americans don’t have to travel as far to experience different cultures in the US. The United States, particularly in large urban areas, is an ethnic smörgÃ¥sbord of people from around the world. Even major European hubs can’t approach the diversity of cities like New York and Los Angeles. Once you escape large urban areas in Europe, diversity decreases dramatically. Even smaller communities in the US can have populations of recent immigrants.

#7 – Americans Pay More for College

Americans typically accrue a great deal of debt in the process of paying for their higher education. This necessitates the need to start earning money immediately after graduation (or not) and curbs any chance of taking a year off to travel.

For many, the prime years they can spend long-term traveling is in their 20s, and for many Americans, that time is spent working off loans.

Likewise, the idea of a gap year between high school and college has never really caught on in the US. Many students are eager to start college, especially if they endured a highly competitive process to get accepted. The issue of debt can extend well into their 30s when they have already settled down and started a family, further dwindling their opportunity to travel.

55 Responses

  1. Mike Richard
    Mike

    Gary, I suspect you’re going to receive a number of heated and very opinionated responses to this piece. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  2. Rice

    I loved this article – so much that I had to subscribe today! I am always shocked to speak to someone at my work, in the middle of December, and find out that they still have unused vacation days. I think that many Americans don’t recognize travel as a regular source of entertainment, but rather as an extravagance or a “special treat.” If only they would count up the money they spend on movies and dinners on a monthly basis, I think they’d find that travel is more plausible and affordable than they had previously thought. Cheers and happy trails! Check out my website if you get a moment.

    http://www.theALTERNAtraveler.com
    Travel stories, advice & recommendations for the ANTI-TOURIST.

    Reply
  3. Scribetrotter

    As I’m spoilt for choice, please allow me to take issue with #6.

    More diverse than Europe, eh? With a single language, a single system of education, no foreign policy differences, the same TV channels, only two political parties…

    I live in France, one country, no borders, with such a huge diversity it nearly defies description. Normandy, Brittany, Alsace, the Basque region, the Pyrenees, Provence – different people and ethnic origins, different food (even the cheeses are different!), different attitudes, highly diverse landscapes…

    Lest anyone call this an exception, lets take Spain. Catalonia, the Basque country, Andalusia, Castile, Galicia… each with its own language, food, history, art (and in some cases even government).

    Both of these countries are small compared with the US, which makes the diversity all the more comparatively relevant.

    My small town of 5000 people (the nearest ‘city’ of a few 100,000 is nearly an hour away) has a large Muslim Turkish community, a good-sized group of Moroccans, a number of Spaniards, dozens of Swiss, some Brits…

    Exactly which lack of diversity did you mean?

    Reply
  4. Gary

    The diversity I am speaking of is immigrants.

    America has way more immigrants than Europe. That statement should not even raise an eyebrow of controversy. The anecdotal examples you bring up is just noting that there are some immigrants in Europe, but that is nothing like the levels or diversity of immigrants you see in the US.

    The fact that there are sub-groups of Spanish and French says nothing about immigrant movements and nothing to the diversity that may influence people to travel.

    Despite recent movements of North Africans and Turks to Europe, you still do not see the diversity that you do in the US. The only reason recent Muslim groups stick out is because they are the exceptions to otherwise homogeneous populations in Europe.

    I really don’t think that is even a controversial statement. The US is a nation of immigrants. Europe countries are not.
    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/45/Census-2000-Data-Top-US-Ancestries-by-County.jpg

    Take Germany for example. The latest data I could find shows that 8.9% of the current population are foreign born. In the United States it is 12%. Of the rest of the population, in Germany they are almost all native Germans. In the US, they are almost all descendants of immigrants who arrived just a few generations before.

    Also, there are far more languages spoken in the US than you realize:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Languages_of_the_United_States

    While English is the working language of the country, immigrants and native languages bring the total spoken to over 300 languages. Three states have official second languages (New Mexico-Spanish, Louisiana-French, and Hawaii-Hawaiian)

    Reply
  5. Scribetrotter

    Gary, while I can agree the US is a nation of immigrants, I don’t agree with your assessment of Europe.

    In Switzerland, for example, 19.3% of the population is of foreign origin; in Luxembourg, it’s 37.3%. The population of an additional 11 countries in Europe is more than 10% immigrant.

    Now, to languages. The European Union has 23 official languages, although to be fair, it does have twice as many people as the US. Tiny Switzerland has four official languages; Slovenia has three, depending on the region, as does Belgium; Ireland has two; that tiny little rock, Malta, even has two. And that doesn’t even begin to take into account each country’s minority languages. Also, according to the BBC, over 300 languages are spoken in London’s schools alone…

    As far as ancestry is concerned, I have no doubt Americans have a highly diverse ancestry. But so do Europeans, whose hugely varied and ancient history is one of shifting borders and waves of immigration and conquest.

    So for each fact that denies Europe’s diversity, another confirms it. This is neither good nor bad, just fact.

    Reply
  6. Eva

    Great post, Gary.

    I was often frustrated during my year in the UK to find people correctly noting the smaller numbers of Americans who travel, and then suggesting that it was a symptom of disinterest, ignorance, arrogance, etc. There is a lot more going on here.

    One thing I always argued about with my British friends was cost – although this is starting to change with budget transatlantic carriers getting into the mix, the cost of a trip to Europe from North America is FAR higher than the cost of a trip to continental Europe from Britain. Many of my Canadian friends don’t have passports (they’re getting them now because of the new US border laws) and have never been to Europe, and that’s largely down to cost. (As well as time, cheaper/passport-free options here, everything you mentioned.)

    As for the diversity debate, I was very surprised to see your statement questioned, too. I thought it was accepted fact that Canada and the US (and increasingly, Australia) have the most diverse populations in the world. It’s not about official languages, it’s about languages spoken, variety of countries of origin, sheer numbers of foreign-born residents. (India has only one official language, English. But would that make it less diverse than Belgium?) This is not an insult to Europe, it’s just a statement of fact. The histories of our population movements are radically different. You only have to visit Toronto, Vancouver or New York, and compare it to Geneva, Rome, Madrid, Paris, Vienna, whatever, to see the difference.

    Reply
  7. Gary

    What does foreign born to someone in Luxembourg mean? French and German? Moving a few kilometers over the border isn’t really same same as Africans, Asians, Europeans and Latin Americans all living together.

    By that logic, most of the state of California is “foreign born” because people moved there from other states.

    Reply
  8. Amanda

    Really interesting post, Gary! My query’s about #5 – “Americans lack a history of living overseas” (because Europe was the great colonizer, etc) … following that trail, Australians would lack a history of living o/seas too, but are a nation of huge travelers, and 5% of the population are spending extended amounts of time o/seas at any one time. And just walk into a good bar in any city and you’ll find an Aussie … :-)

    Reply
  9. Lola

    Great piece Gary! The fact that most Americans get 3-4 less weeks of vacation is a significant issue.

    I recently wrote an article – 8 Ways to Stretch Your Short Vacation Days to give some tips to those who only get 12 days or so per year.

    I believe productivity will actually increase if people are given more time off to rejuvenate and travel the world.

    Reply
  10. lissie

    America is huge – I don’t think so – the whole of Texas fits in NSW in Australia and NSW is not even a huge state by Australian standards! Its expensive to get to Europe ROTFL – you’re practically next door- its nearly 30 hours flying from east coast Australia to Europe – even further for NZers! Americans always seem to be very inward looking – they were 2 years late for WW2 after all! Australians are becoming more so too but that’s more recent and they still travel a lot. One of the disadvantages Americans genuinely have though is that its hard to get a working holiday visa to other English speaking countries -I guess that’s because of the American revolution

    Reply
  11. Eva

    Lissie – read more closely before you Roll On The Floor Laughing.

    First of all, Gary said “NORTH America is Huge” – referring to the fact that until recently, Americans could travel to Mexico, Canada, and large parts of the Caribbean without passports, as well as of course the whole US of A.

    But since you brought it up… Texas is one of 50 states, NSW one of 7 (plus the ACT). The total area of the USA is 9,826,630 sq km, while the total area of Australia is 7,686,850 sq km. If you want this to be a competition – which it doesn’t have to be – then Australia loses. Add in another 10 million square kilometers for Canada, plus a large chunk for Mexico, and that is (was) a gigantic passport-free zone. Even if you added Russia into Europe’s Schengen Zone (NOT going to happen anytime soon) North America’s might still be bigger.

    Responses like yours are what always bothers me about this conversation – people from elsewhere seem determined to prove that there is some sinister undertone to America’s travel deficit. Just because flights are expensive from Australia too, doesn’t mean that Americans don’t worry about the cost of travel.

    I was surprised to see from your site that you are an adult – knee-jerk anti-Americanism without any basis in fact is childish.

    Reply
  12. Patrick

    Very interesting posts. You know, I think it’s so true that Americans would rather make more money than to take vacation days. Not only that, but it’s quite expensive to travel internationally, as well as nationally. Also, it’s so difficult to find really good hotels at a reasonable rate that fits my needs and personality. Speaking of that, you guys should check out this site: site: http://www.roomforyourimagination.com. It’s has some really funny videos, and I think it showcases the whole point of hotels–to fit your personality and your style. My favorite video is from room 223 called Labels. It’s so hilarious! Gymnasts bouncing around on beds is good too! You need to go check it out! These videos are awesome…I work with them so I have the inside scoop! It might make you want to travel more!

    Reply
  13. Julia Rosien

    I think it’s funny that everyone’s jumped all over Americans and left Canadians out of the discussion.

    Unfortunately Canadians can dig in their heels about travel just as much. While we like to think we’re evolved and much more cosmopolitan to our counterparts to the south, many, many Canadians only venture off home soil to trek the I-75 south. Many never leave their own home province. Until recently many Canadians shunned passports as well – it simply wasn’t necessary.

    I do love that travel can mean many things to many people though. And our diversity – even among fellow travelers – is what makes it all so interesting.

    Reply
  14. Tristan

    I found this article very interesting, but I think a number of the entries are wrong and unnecessary. The simple truth is that the great majority of Americans do not look outside of their country for something more, but are happy with where they are and what they know.

    Reply
  15. Dan

    #3 Sounds like it’s backwards, if Americans are trading some of their measly 10 Days leave for money doesn’t that suggest they value money over time?

    Reply
  16. Shelly

    As an Australian who has lived in the US for 15+ years, I found the article intriguing. The arguments about the size of North America and cost of flights to Europe implies US citizens travel here, but many in fact do not. Living in upstate NY, I met people who had never been to New York City. Living in Texas I met many people who had never been east of the Mississippi and others who had never been to California. Having said that, i have never been to Ayers Rock….

    Reply
  17. Eliza Amos

    (Tristan–The truth is NEVER simple.)

    I grew up in a working class family–teachers, government workers, law enforcement, etc. The vacation/financial aspects are HUGE.

    Take my dad. He’s a big dreamer who has always wanted to go out of the country, but actually has ONCE–to the former USSR during the historic Baltic revolution–in my entire 32 years of life.

    Why? MONEY.He’s not greedy, spending his cash on big houses and Hummers. He’s scraping by.

    And Americans get absolute CRAP for vacation time. If you don’t have firsthand experience with this, then I would ask that you consider a compassionate stance. Because it sucks.

    Reply
  18. AJS

    From my experience from living both in Canada and the US, the Americans don’t travel for a couple other reasons;

    1) Comfort; it seems that the American culture does not like to be out of its comfort zone. Why do you think tropical resorts still offer spaghetti, hamburgers and all you can eat buffets? Americans need their luxuries to come with them, which is why the RV culture is almost entirely American.

    It goes further than just the comfort of their stomachs and the bottoms; American is a very non-bilingual country. Yes there is a large Spanish population in the country but for the majority of people that can afford to travel abroad they only speak English. Growing up half my life down there and staying in touch with old school mates I know they really do not push bilingualism in schools and in culture like Canada does.

    The reason why McDonalds became so popular in the US was not because of its delicious nutritious menu selection, it was because an American from one side of the country could travel to the other side where food is different and strange and still find that delicious pieces of pseudo-meat between two pieces of bread. American’s need their security blanket.

    2) Fear Mongering; The Americans in general are afraid. They are afraid of different people, different religions and different creepy crawlies. This fear is perpetuated by American media outlets which broadcast mistruths and over exaggerated non-news stories about “dangerous” things. Americans eat this type of media up. I love to travel and yet every time I mention a destination outside of the “homeland” that I plan on visiting, my Americanized father will regurgitate some news story of dangerous gangs in Central America or radical Muslim fundamentalists in Morocco.

    Now I do not go out of my way to put myself into dangerous situations so I do my own research and typically the stories that he has referenced were years and years ago and/or a very isolated incident within a certain area of a country. Now I do not blame him for his prejudices; he is merely looking out for my safety and is grossly misinformed by his information sources.

    I typically rather reference Canada’s Foreign Affairs essential information for Canadians abroad website which has a 24/7 operation/crisis centre constantly updating information about current affairs within said countries. (I have a friend who works there) http://www.voyage.gc.ca/consular_home-en.asp

    The information seems to be non-partisan and very up to date.

    My parents went to Paris for two weeks. In my opinion Paris would be a very safe destination and would even cater to the required comforts of spoiled Americans, however on my Parents return my mother had a wonderful trip and had story after story whereas my father could not complain enough about his terrible experiences and stated for the record he will not be going back again! When I rooted down to the problems it seemed the French either did not accommodate to his American taste in food or the transportation systems were not easy to understand. I asked him why he even left the country if he was expecting the same food and same languages.

    Reply
  19. Nick

    #6 IS CLEARLY WRONG!

    America has nothing like the diversity of all of Europe!
    This is a ridiculous assertion!

    How could you possibly say that, for example, Alabama is more different to Connecticut, Norway!

    Reply
  20. Andrew

    Sorry, “non-russian” Europe? What other kind of Europe is there?

    You can’t state it’s more diverse, and then only in a comment state you meant by immigrants. Europe obviously has more diversity in terms of nationalities, languages and cultures.

    #3 is in total contradiction, as stated earlier. If you choose money over vacation (by not using), then you can use that money for that ‘expensive’ flight to Europe.

    I agree American’s should travel more, but please, not to Venice where I sat in St Mark’s Square, and you asked me where McDonalds is.

    Reply
  21. Martin MacKenzie

    I agree with Eliza Amos.

    The time and money aspects ARE huge. Neither do we live high on the hog, so to speak. I supposedly have four weeks of vacation and was only allowed to take two by my employer. I do not work for a company that returns unused vacation time in money when we can’t use it. These things are not uncommon in the US of A.

    Another angle that no one has mentioned is that current exchange rates between most currencies and the dollar are largely unfavorable. My family and I would love to travel to Scandinavia, Scotland, and Australia but current conditions and circumstances make that impossible.

    However, I’m not giving up yet!

    Reply
  22. BW

    Vacation time is 0ne of the things I miss since being in the USA (4 years) and Puerto Rico (1+ years). From the UK originally and miss all those vacation days.

    But the point about the exchange rate is also valid – went back to the Uk last year and it was so expensive (flights, food etc.). Still it was worth it to get back home, even for a short time

    Reply
  23. Marion

    “Another fact often ignored is that American vacation rates are higher than those found in Asia, where you see even greater preference towards work.”

    Is this a comparison to the more affluent Asian countries like Japan, or Asia as a whole?

    Reply
  24. Jeff

    I agree with pretty much everything you said. Great points made and it’s very true. Speaking from experience, (I am a Californian) the farthest I’ve gone is down to Mexico via a cruise. Part of the reason I don’t travel abroad is due to a severe fear of flying (yeah, I know, I’m a wuss) and I just can’t afford it. Rent is ridiculously high in California. It would take me at least a year to save up for the type of vacation I’d want to take (travel to Japan, Australia or Europe). Not only that, but my fiancée fears terrorism. That’s something you might want to add. Fear is probably a reason why American’s don’t travel as much. Fear of just being an American and being ostracized.

    Reply
  25. Evan Bench

    Thank you for a well written article. Of course, like some, I disagree with several of your points.

    #1 – North America is Huge. Probably a reason why some don’t travel but not as important as it seems. There are many Americans that have no desire to leave the States they reside in. I’ve known many people in the U.S. who just don’t want to leave Texas, Missouri, Kansas, etc. They are quite happy staying where they are.

    #2 Americans don’t need a passport. Pre-911, I travelled often to Mexico and tried it once without a passport (a nightmare). Though legally you could fly into Mexico City without a passport, it was a horrible experience and so it was always practically required to have a passport for Mexican and Canada (driving across the border is another story of course).

    #5 Americans don’t live overseas (Guam and PCC): Not really accurate. American Military/Diplomatic/Corporate brats have had a long history of working, living, growing up in Germany, Japan, Turkey, Phillipines, Israel, Cuba, Spain, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia… There are over 100,000 Americans living and working in France, 300,000 American expats in the Middle-East. There is a significant tradition found in American expat lifestyles.

    #6 A diverse America. Certainly but not more diverse than the differences found in France, Spain, Germany, England. American culture in NY, LA is certainly diverse but not to the same degree as Europe, Asia, Middle-East, North Africa.

    I find Paris alone to be much more diverse than NY in terms of the number of different races, cultures, languages.

    American culture tends to become more homogenous and while there is diversity it dissipates over time. Other regions of the world generally show more tolerance to other languages, and creeds.

    Your article does help answer this question. There are, in addition, significant differences with respect to Race, Politics, and Social Status that also are factors.

    Reply
  26. carlos

    there are always 1000 reasons not to do something.. get out and see the world people!!

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

    Reply
  27. John

    Even Asia gets far more vacation time then you think Gary. Japanese workers get Golden week off on top of holidays, and a 3-4 week vacation. My friends and family in Taiwan and China enjoy more vacation time than I do.

    I think the real reason Americans don’t travel has more to do with fear than anything. The way terrorist news is so sensationalized here, it isn’t a surprise that most Americans are xenophobic.

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  28. Barbara

    What an interesting discussion. My husband and I just returned from a long-planned and long-saved for one month vacation in Europe. I was asked quite a few times why Americans don’t travel so much. Well, besides the recent economic downturns we’ve experienced, I answered that Americans felt ill at ease with other languages and with being in other cultures. Also, there is that “everybody hates Americans” thing which made us try to keep a low profile as much as possible. I love history and we went to Europe to find our roots and relatives and had a marvelous time. It was worth all the money and pre-travel anxiety.

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  29. Chevy

    I totally agree to a certain degree because it is so complex. I was fortunate enough to have spend 1 month in Mexico last year and 3 months in Chile and I loved every minute of it. Right now I want to return to Chile for a much longer period of time and one day, live in Europe for much longer. I can’t find a job right now in the midst of this economy, but once I do, I will pay off all of my debt and work overseas.

    Reply
  30. Shane

    Number 6 is an utter nonsense. London for example is far more culturally diverse than L.A.

    Reply
  31. Sabrina

    Of course, there is cultural diversity in the USA….and people would realize that if only they’d shut off the TV set and hop on that Greyhound bus and look around beyond the fast food joints! To find the diversity in the USA, try going to various festivals/fairs/special events in different states, get out into the rural areas instead going to the major cities…

    Also consider staying at bed and breakfast inns, youth/elder hostels or doing homestays instead of opting for some boring Motel 6 or Holiday Inn.

    One more thing: It really annoys me whenever I see Americans being criticized for not traveling overseas. Some people don’t like to travel, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Goodness knows there are plenty of “wordly” travelers who are very jaded about their experiences, and they only move on because they are either aimless or can’t find satisfaction or happiness in their own back yards….or they don’t fit in within their hometowns.

    Traveling abroad doesn’t necessarily mean that someone “better” or more sophisticated than someone else who chooses to travel within their own country or even region of the country. Bragging about it and putting down those who choose not to travel abroad is merely rude and pretentious. Plus there’s something wrong when a person can say they’ve gone to Paris or London, but they can’t even tell you about their own city’s landmarks!

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  32. Barbara

    After reading the latest post, I have one more reason. I’ll begin by saying I love the US and its natural beauty is second to none. I’ve traveled to many states and regions and plan to do more traveling. Now, here is another reason Americans ( including those in my own family) don’t want to travel abroad: sadly, Americans are ignorant and uneducated when it comes to other nations and cultures. It’s amazing to see how many “educated” Americans don’t know basic geography and history. The reason my husband and I love to travel is we love history, our fathers were servicemen who traveled the world and shared their stories. We have an American friend..an expat who lives in Europe. He begs his family to come visit. It’s like pulling teeth. All they’d have to pay for is transportation…he is retired and has time to take them everywhere. His home is comfortable and free. So we had this conversation while we were there. I plan to go back to Europe next year and rent a house in France. I’ve invited family and friends to come over and stay with us for free. No takers. They’ll vacation with us in the US, but not over there. Way out of their comfort zone. No interest. Australians were everywhere we went, so the distance factor is not relevant. And they go off the beaten track. Most Americans who do travel go only where Rick Steves recommends, but they are out there at least. Now, I have my own problems…had a chance to visit China and put it off. Outside MY comfort zone. But at least I know a bit about China’s history and culture and I can find it on a map.

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  33. Steve Moran

    I am an American and I have visited four other continents as well as about 30 foreign countries. I have also worked and lived in Germany, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Ireland. There are many Americans who love to travel and I think they benefit by it. I have also have been fortuanate enough to have had no major problems in my travels.

    However, why do we Americans have to be compared to other countries when it comes to traveling? I have met many Germans who are traveling on sex tours. Many English are on the road because they can’t stand their own county and their own people. If I were from the bland country of Canada I’d be traveling as well. The Australians are on the prowl for new beers to drink and to come to terms with the fact they must one day go back. The Japanese travel because it is cheaper to go abroad than to travel in their own country. They also do it because everybody else is doing it. The Irish and the Arabs travel to escape the religious repression of their own societies.

    I haven’t met too many French, Italians, or South Americans on the road.

    Besides, I haven’t met to many

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  34. -------

    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.

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  35. domnicella

    I have two words for all you non-American westerners out there: BACK OFF.

    There are reasons why Americans don’t travel as extensively abroad as Europeans do. For starters, we get two weeks’ vacation. TWO. At a minimum, Europeans get four; many get six. It doesn’t begin to compare. Do you know how fast two weeks is? Allow me to paint you a picture.

    Two weeks. That’s ten (business) days. Let’s just go ahead and scratch five of them right off the bat, as those are used piecemeal here and there for things like the Friday after Thanksgiving (if I’m flying across the country to see my family for one meal, you better believe I’m making a weekend out of it) and Christmas Eve. You heard me. CHRISTMAS EVE. We only get Christmas Day; the other is on us. The same thing happens with the Fourth of July and other national holidays: if you’re doing something, it pays to extend the holiday by an extra day to make a weekend of it. Please also note that the vast majority of us don’t get the week off between Christmas and New Year’s. That whole holiday spirit? It consumes HALF of our vacation time.

    So now you’re down to five days. Five days is hardly enough time to cross the Atlantic, admire Big Ben or the Eiffel Tower or what have you, and come home. By the time you’ve kicked your jetlag you’re boarding the plane back. Savvy?

    As for giving us shit about only targeting the big hitters: London, Amsterdam, Paris, Rome, Madrid, Berlin, etc, I have a little something called PERSPECTIVE for you. When was the last time an American gave you shit for never visiting Kansas? Hmm?

    I’d venture to say half of the Europeans I’ve met have never been to the States. HALF. And those that have wave the New York card. Which is great for me; I’ve lived in New York, I love New York, it gives us something to talk about. But for those of you who haven’t noticed, our country is ENORMOUS. We have beaches, mountains, rivers, oceans, every climate under the sun, and all of those things before leaving either coast. Throw in Alaska and Hawaii and you’ve got yourself one hell of a playground.

    It’s not fair to compare your having been to a dozen countries before you turned twelve, whereas most Americans won’t go to a dozen countries in their life. You have loads of vacation time and crossing borders is a matter of mere hours in a car or train, not days spent in airplanes crossing massive continents and oceans. When you country-hop for a weekend, it’s like the Cleavelander checking out Chicago. The time and money you spend internationally is what it costs us domestically; the time and money we spend internationally is what you guys spend during your “gap year,” something I had never heard of until a few months ago. To say the least, international travel is wildly costly (often prohibitively so) for us.

    So the whole “I heard only 10% of Americans have a passport” bullshit needs to stop. Americans are constantly traveling. Constantly. We do what we can, which usually translates to short domestic trips. And if we can throw in Canada or Mexico or the Caribbean every couple of years, we consider it a bonus. We’re making the best of what we’ve got. And I don’t think we’re doing too shabby.

    As for those who clearly don’t fall into the European contingent (i.e. Canadians and Australians), I’d say you guys are somewhere in between. I haven’t had a Canadian or an Australian give me shit about being American. You seem to be runners-up in the flak from Europeans department, and therefore more careful about doling it out. Canadians and Australians also seem surprised by my “un-Americanness,” but not to the extent that their European counterparts are. Their vacation time is typically higher than Americans but lower than Europeans, and both their geographic location and the size of their countries mean their international traveling trends are somewhere between as well. We also seem to understand each other without any preface.

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  36. 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!

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  37. Cosmo

    Aaron J your comment is very depressing to read, I fully understand your financial concerns about foreign travel. But the fact that you claim to feel uncomfortable around various cultures that you havn’t ever properly experienced (and trust me just experiencing the local immigrants is in no way the same) is just childish and unnecessary, you talk about getting people to “open up their minds”, what about you who point blank refuses to ever experience a foreign culture or land? You mentioned travellers claiming to have ‘perspective’, you clearly have little understanding of the word in a practical sense as evidently you have none whatsoever. You are right of course, do what you want, each to their own, be an individual, but from your tedious assertion that “Why should I subject myself to something I don’t like or need?” says it all – a boring close-minded personality, and I’m sorry if I sound rude, but there really is no other polite way of putting it.

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  38. Cosmo

    “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.”

    -Ugh, what a drab thing to say. Oh great travel means nothing now thanks to the computer screen that I am sitting in front of, not only that but life now means nothing also! I can experience every authentic part of life by staring into a 1-dimensional screen, fantastic.

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  39. Say what?

    Sorry, nice story but without any references to actual data. Europe is not an actual country, but simply a continent. The European union still doesn’t provide a passport to all its citizens so all comparisons are not very valid. (Especially if you take into account that eastern europe until 1989 (The Wall) hadn’t even been able to participate and profit from the western economy) I can contribute to a science based conversation about The Netherlands; 1.9 million holidays took place outside of Europe, out of the 15.1 million holidays in 2007. (http://www.cbs.nl/nl-NL/menu/themas/vrije-tijd-cultuur/publicaties/artikelen/archief/2009/2009-vakantieuitgaven-art.htm)
    I would like to see these figures compared to that of the US. The entire argument that Europeans try to get across is about the fact that Americans do rarely visit places outside the Western world. I believe this is in part because 13 percent of the US population lives below poverty-line. (http://www.nrc.nl/nieuwsthema/minder/article1718392.ece)
    No I will not translate, America is so rich of languages that you are able to figure this out right! :)
    And of course the US has more diversity, besides the few million native Indians at least a good 290 million of you are immigrants :)

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  40. Ashley

    Residents in other countries across the world are more likely to have passports for a simple reason: their countries are probably smaller than America. In Europe, alot of the time, travelling to another country is nothing more than a couple-hour long drive. America’s expanse is an entire continent, so yes, we’re alot less likely to travel to have passports.

    Americans aren’t as cultured as they need to be, yes, but this point is faulty.

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  41. Nicholas

    @Ashley

    Citizens of European Unions member states do not need a passport to travel within the E.U.

    So your point is incorrect.

    Also “their countries are probably smaller than America”
    WTF?

    Of course. Please spend some time looking at a globe of Planet Earth.

    From this i can tell you haven’t a clue about the world outside your own country.

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  42. Nicholas

    Americans don’t travel outside their own country because:

    1. they have little interest about it
    2. they have little knowledge about it

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  43. Kevin Post

    “I love how generalized people from the U.S. are! Man, they are so stupid for not traveling!” That way of thinking is incredibly ignorant. The United States of America is a massive country so I can understand the want to discover the incredible diversity that the U.S. has to offer. Sure, the U.S. has a common language but if you were to visit Maine, then New Mexico, then Kansas, then Arkansas, then Oregon, then Michigan you would say to yourself “Am I still in the same country?”

    If people don’t want to travel abroad then who cares, it is none of my business how one wants to spend his or her life. It isn’t my job to say to people, “traveling abroad was a great experience for me so YOU should do the same!” Because they don’t think like me doesn’t make me better or less ignorant then they are.

    A former co-worker of mine has only been to two countries outside of the U.S. – Perú and the U.K. and people gave him shit for only having two stamps in his passport. But this man completed what is known in the backpacking community (not “hostel hopping” community) the “Triple Crown” meaning he has hiked from the Mexican border into Canada twice via Continental Divide Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and the International Appalachian Trail (Georgia to Canada) taking him about four and a half months each to achieve. I guarantee that he has more travel experience then a European “hostel hopper” with a 95L backpack buried in a Lonely Planet guide book. I love those people that claim, for example, that they’ve been to 33 countries but when you ask them how much time they’ve spent in each country it is often only a few days to a few weeks in “backpacker” hostels. Sure, he or she has the stamps but only skimmed through the countries in order to say, “Look at me! Look which countries I’ve visited!”.

    I used to have that state of mind while hitchhiking at the age of 19 from La Guajira, Colombia to Buenos Aires, Argentina (it took me 13 months to complete). I used to believe that those whom didn’t travel abroad were more ignorant than I was. But with time I had realized that I was ignorant for generalizing entire peoples and thinking that my lifestyle was for everyone.

    Best of luck on all of your travels. Remember, the more stamps one has in his passport doesn’t necessarily signify more impressive experiences.

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  44. Jen

    Just the other day, I was saying to a Brazilian friend, “Why don’t more of your countrymen go out and explore the world? Aren’t you guaranteed four weeks of vacation? Maybe Brazil could pull itself out of third-world status if only your ignorant citizens stopped wasting their precious money on such frivolities as food, housing, medical care, education for their children, and transportation to their jobs that don’t pay much and instead focused on expanding their horizons by meditating in a yurt in Mongolia.”

    It sounds less rational to make that argument when you replace it with almost any other nationality, doesn’t it? Why do you think Americans aren’t affected by the same factors that prevent the majority of people from extensively traveling outside their home country? Sure, there are Americans who uninterested in or scared of the rest of the world or who want a tidy, homogenized experience when traveling, but those kind of people exist everywhere.

    Americans are often underpaid and overworked in comparison to their foreign counterparts, they have expenses that those living in countries with socialist policies rarely have to worry about, and they likely have personal responsibilities that are simply higher in priority than traipsing off to Bangkok to get a US$10 foot massage from a young woman who works 15 hours or more each day (and does things other than foot massages) to support her entire family back in her rural village.

    Travel is a luxury and a privilege, and for people like you and me, a hobby or a lifestyle. It’s no different than those who restore classic cars or spend hours each day playing WoW. I’d consider it a waste of my time, but they’re no less legitimate choices. I know it’s difficult for you to imagine, but some people aren’t interested in traveling and still others find the whole experience stressful rather than relaxing or enlightening.

    You say that there’s been an uptick in Americans applying for passports because “we are now required to have passports for travel to Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean.” So, Canada, Mexico and Caribbean countries aren’t “foreign” enough for you? They don’t have sufficient history or culture to pass your rigorous testing for what counts as “traveling abroad”? Is it because they’re in close proximity to the US or because you think you know better than everyone else as to what constitutes meaningful travel?

    I know plenty of Europeans who rarely leave their own countries, and when they do, it’s usually to a nearby country that is easily accessible via car, train or a budget airline. And when they do leave Europe, they tend to spend much of their time in hostels and clubs partying.

    I’ve lived outside of the US for more than three years, and I’ve found that because it’s such a sacrifice money-and-time-wise for Americans to travel and because most are aware of and fearful of embodying the “Ugly American” stereotype, they’re more likely to take time to appreciate what a country has to offer. If you really think non-Americans view travel as some kind of mystical retreat, you’ve obviously never been surrounded by Australians, Brits and Germans at a beach resort in Thailand.

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  45. Steve Moran

    I wonder too if we Americans have a “don’t go backwards” mentaility. All of our ancestors have ‘escaped’ (or were kicked out) from all of the other continents and many of the ‘escapees’ have no desire to return. I also feel that way about Americans who relocate to other parts of our own nation. After one or two trips back (normally for funerals) many lose all interest in their native soil. We even cut-off ties with loved ones. It’s all about pushing forward and adapting to new situations. We’re not traditionalists whereas the Australians and Canadians have a stronger bond with Britain than we do. I love traveling and meeting foreign people but I doubt it has really helped me much in being a more tolerant person. Many world travelers really are cultural snobs and like to go to places where they can feel superior to the natives.

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  46. MrRudy

    Oh where to begin. Americans don’t travel abroad for simple reasons. First, to clarify things a bit, Americans are different from region to region, coast to coast so it is unfair to generalize Americans as a whole because America should be viewed in sections rather than as a cohesive mash sharing one mentality.

    First, Americans eat up advertising. Travel deals and ads rigorously promote travel within the nation. The way to an American’s heart is through his/her wallet. The average American will not spend beyond the price of a cheap used car to travel anywhere for any reason. The hard earned dollar is too precious to part with. The compromise is to travel to cheap tourist places.

    New Englanders will almost always travel to Florida for the beaches and Disney. Southerners rarely travel out of state and typically like outdoor vacations like camping and such within state borders or at least to another state with a similar culture if the attractions are enticing enough. Some southerners like to visit family and turn the trip into a vacation of sorts.

    Many Americans take advantage of cruises that go to other places but visiting a port town hardly counts as “traveling to another country,” since port towns do not fully reflect a nation’s culture as a whole.

    The exchange rate is rubbish and whenever you see Brits in Disney world you can bet that the dollar has plummeted in exchange value. This does not help matters at all. However, even if exchange rates were to become favourable for Americans, I doubt that many would travel overseas anyway.

    Second, Americans are simply uninterested in other countries. Blame it on a lack of the educational system’s desire to pound geography into student’s heads, Americans couldn’t care less about geography and its relative information. The media reflects this. There are very few news outlets that cover foreign stories of moderate to dull interest. To contrast this, the BBC is all to pleased to comment on milk prices in a rural Bangladeshi town of 15,000.

    Hit American movies set in foreign locations are almost always wrapped in destruction and turmoil. If not, then the scene is shot in an unappealing section of a country with unappealing (to US standards) locals engaging in unappealing activities. While not entirely the fault of the American media, some foreign nations are picky about allowing a foreign film company make a movie on location. Some nations will flat out refuse to grant a film permit. To compare this, the city of Seattle Wa, has taken steps to keep non local film companies out of Seattle due to the multitude of problems in the past with television and film companies which is why one is hard pressed to find movies and tv shows with a diverse Seattle backdrop (thank MTV’s Real World Seattle among others). The people of Seattle are simply not interested.

    Now this obviously does nothing positive to the image of traveling abroad for Americans.

    Third, fear of the unknown. Now one should not use the word “fear” when talking to or about Americans, it strikes the wrong chord as fear means far more culturally than it does in Oxford’s dictionary. Perhaps, “lack of pertinent information to make an informed decision or opinion” would be a better description of why some Americans are not interested in traveling abroad. Americans are not as adventurous as Europeans are and since Americans require loads of information to make decisions about everyday life, traveling outside of America would require the same level of information Americans are used to having.

    For example, Disney world / land is popular why? Because virtually every American knows someone who has been there and it generally gets a favorable review. Not every American has been or will visit Disney world / land but through vigorous advertising and word of mouth (which is America’s greatest and most powerful advertising model) coupled with hard to pass up vacation packages, Americans have far more information about a Disney World / land vacation than a ski vacation in Zermatt.

    Fourth, language barrier. Americans at present, do not need to know another language other than English to live in America – in fact, many people living in America actually live comfortably without having to learn English. I myself have learned to speak 3 languages other than English but without reinforcement through culture, media and social interaction with native speakers, it simply wouldn’t stick beyond college. I don’t expect anyone to learn something they will almost never practice but “not speaking the language” means that traveling abroad almost always means traveling with a tour guide which is absolutely boring (for some) and too restrictive for the American free spirit at times. Some countries luckily have English speaking populations, normally within tourist hotspots. Communication is big with Americans (or any nationality) and not being able to express onesself is indeed frustrating for anyone. However, the language barrier problem is usually only considered by those who actually want to travel abroad but cannot decide where. Most Americans who do not wish to travel abroad usually have more weighty reasons other than the language issue.

    Fifth, time. Americans typically get one to two weeks of vacation. Wow, that really blows. You work hard to make your bosses rich and they won’t schedule the work shifts to allow employees to take vacations on par with world standards. Some companies actually offer four weeks of vacation but it is usually after 5 – 10 years of

    service. Two weeks is simply hard to schedule an international vacation for. Thankfully international hotspots are aware of this and will accomodate for this. The exception being Americans with family that live overseas. International vacations become less troublesome for a few reasons.
    1. Familiarity, staying with family is comfortable (sometimes) and your family is trustworthy (hopefully) and therefore they become your tour guides (unless they are boring).

    2. You will almost already have a passport in order if this is a family tradition either procured by yourself or another family member.

    3. You already know a ballpark figure about the cost of such a vacation with very little in the way of “unexpected emergency costs”.
    4. The time constraints are more or less easier to manage because of traditional activities that have been tailored way back when to accommodate you; your family abroad knows what activities can and cannot be done with the little time you have.

    If you do not fit into the category of having family to visit overseas, planning an international vacation to fit into a 2 week time slot, ice cold becomes a daunting and therefore undesireable task in the face of something far simpler.

    Sixth, boils down to convenience. It is simply too inconvenient to travel to another country. Passports, visas, choosing the best hotel, best flight, best tour, best food, etc. America is a nation of convenience, time is simply too precious and as the old American adage goes, time is money. You can thank the value menu at McDonalds for painting over American’s selection stratagem. Couple that with the above five reasons and you have a recipe for stay at home soup.

    Reply
  47. Shayno

    The trouble with Americans is that they don’t like other cultures cuisene, they’re loud and they never go outside to fart which makes them unpopular at dinner parties. Apparantly, George W Bush did that “you pull my finger and I fart” jokes to the Queen when he visited Buck house!!

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  48. Eli J.

    Europe is not nearly as diverse as the U.S. in terms of genetic profile. Those that say otherwise are relying on “culture” (eyes rolling) as a determinant. And while some areas such as cities will be diverse, in many rural areas of any country you will find homogeny. Moreover, most European countries suffer from a high level of nationalism and xenophobia, especially in France (lived there for two years and haven’t seen that level of anti-semitism since Hitler.) What I am saying is, you need to define the term diversity, before wax poetic. The author seems to be going based on diversity in terms of genetic factors. In that respect, the US is more diverse. Even more so that Canada.

    I think many of the people posting here, especially lissie and scribetrotter are just travel snobs who from the looks of their photos need to hit the Botox ASAP! They have sunscreen in France and NZ girlfriend! (Yes, I said it. White women DO NOT AGE WELL. Get on top of that! LOL!) Being a travel snob is a sign of insecurity. These are the same people who belittle anyone else’s experiences to seem superior. A jingo of the worst sort in my opinion. The funny part is that if you asked some of the “locals” they hung out with, they would call them a tourist, not a traveler as they like to be called.

    And trust me lissie and scribetrotter are bitches no matter what country they live in! That attitude is FOREVER!

    To those who travel and don’t brag and act like bitches, enjoy your trip and safe travels!

    Traveler there is no path. Paths are made by walking.

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  49. parker

    Actually I think lack of diversity is a good thing. I swear, the word “diversity” must have long since reached the status of most mindlessly repeated word in the english language

    When I travel to Europe, I enjoy seeing the various cultures. But when I go to France, I want to see the French, when I go to Italy, I want to see the Italians. I honestly am not interested in seeing other non European cultures. If I wanted to see such cultures, I would travel to non European countries.

    And, as many of those countries are so small, I can simply hop on over to another one in roughly an hour or two, if I feel the need for “diversity.”

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  50. Paul Keslowski

    Pretty simple really, I’m a math teacher who makes 33K a year(pre-tax). For my wife and I to travel outside the US that would mean spending 10-20% of my salary on a vacation. There is nothing inside or outside the US that is worth that cost. There is also enough to see inside the US to satiate my wanderlust(at a much more reasonable value I might add).

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  51. kowkow

    I am a Chinese who has lived in the states for three years. I went to schools in two U. S. states and am a frequent visitor to Canada . Americans, based off my interactions with my American colleagues, are generally disinterested in things occurring outside of their country. They also seem to value comfort more over curiosity or experience. I was shocked to know that many do not even hold a passport even living within 25 minutes drive from the border. In the city I currently live in, there is a huge presence of refugees from Burma, Iraqi, and Sudan. These refugees bring in rich cultural experience from their home countries and are transforming some neighborhoods in the city. Yet, few Americans I know will bother or be willing to venture into these ethnic districts, much less traveling overseas. Yet, All Americans I know who have lived overseas find life outside America quite rewarding. Yes, the U. S. has diversity, but what about curiosity?

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  52. Ed

    I have traveled the world a bit with the Navy and a wayfaring girlfriend. However, a lot of Americans (including me) prefer a recreational outlet to our travels. Just sitting in airports, airplanes, restaurants, tour buses, hostels, and hotels…just isn’t that appealing.

    Cultures? I have lived long-term in the Far/Middle East and I really don’t understand “cultures”. There are small differences, but we’re pretty much the same everywhere you go. Even traveling in Europe, I felt like the USA…even when car traveling and taking public transport. Asia was actually quite refreshing in that people seem more human. …but different? Nah…we’re all the same down inside. :)

    I personally like action (mtn biking, cycling, off-roading, motorcycling, backpacking (backcountry), etc)…and I can do that right in my proverbial “backyard”.

    Sure, I’d like to trek Argentina, Africa, and New Zealand…but they’re just in the bucket list for now.

    Reply

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