Why Americans Never Leave the States

It’s said that only 20% of Americans have passports. Even fewer bother to use them.

When I talk to my US friends about travel, a lot of them appear wide-eyed and enthusiastic when describing the dozens of Europeans and Australians they meet on the road and are quick to comment on how lazy their fellow Americans can be, never longing to see anything further than their own backyard.

Lazy isn’t a word I’d use though.

It’s unfair to compare Americans to Europeans and Australians. It’s inevitable that the latter group would travel more: Us Europeans have access to a huge list of super cheap airlines that fly in and out of each country more than 50 times a day without having to worry about Visas or vaccinations. Australians come from a large enough country but one that’s situated on its own wayyyy down south so it isn’t any wonder they have the inbuilt curiosity to wonder what’s out there.

And then we return to the United States of America. Why aren’t more Americans curious about the world?

Sidestepping the issue that those who follow the media are flooded every day by how dangerous everything in existence is and how it’s going to somehow kill them, we have to take a close look at the country they live in.

Case in point: California.

After spending my first day in Davis, wandering the sunny streets and exploring the beautiful bird-filled lakes surrounded by lush, green lawns, I was whisked away for a day in the mountains.

Our destination? Lake Tahoe.

Driving east of the small town, it didn’t take long for the surrounding fields to turn into trees. An hour was spent driving through tiny villages (pop. 78) that boasted nothing more than a few petrol-oops! sorry, gas stations, roadside cafés and a handful of small pretty cabins, camouflaged by the surrounding forests.

The tranquility I’d felt in Davis followed us as we rose higher and higher with every mile that passed us. It wasn’t long before snow started to appear in patches on the ground.

While it’s nearly impossible to take good quality pictures while riding in a car, here’s a little video I shot to demonstrate the scenery (complete with a cameo at the end by yours truly & California Man):

After another hour of driving and assurances from California Man that even though the state had bears (my reaction was along the lines of: ‘WTF do you mean bears? Turn around! Take me to the nearest airport!’), it was unlikely we’d actually encounter one, we finally reached the lake.

There it was.

That lake I’d only heard of by name in cheesy American films about families who take trips together for the weekend as a ‘bonding’ ritual.

Surrounded by snowy mountains, the silence of this place was like nothing I’d ever experienced. Not a word from another person, not a sound from a car, not a tweet from a bird to be heard. Just perfect silence.

Only the occasional soft thunk of a drop of snow falling from a tree branch to the ground broke the stillness.

There was nothing we could say about the place we’d arrived at. Words weren’t enough to describe how we were feeling. We’d arrived at  a place surrounded by man’s creations: ski resorts, holiday inns, bars and taverns, cafés, hunting equipment shops. But at the centre of it all, we were isolated from the world and catching a glimpse of one of nature’s gifts.

And it was there that I understood why Americans never travel.

Their country is so big and dynamic, they genuinely have everything in their own backyards. In one state alone I’d so far seen sunshine-filled, tranquil small towns, cabins in the middle of beautiful forests and now a lake surrounded by cotton-like snow.

With the economy not being at its best in the States and families getting bigger every year, why wouldn’t they stay in their own country? The idea is not only cost-effective but they also have their choice of beaches, large crazy cities, beautiful countrysides, and mountains full of pure clean air.

This was only the beginning of my trip. So far, California had surprised me. I always knew I’d enjoy visiting the States; I just hadn’t realised how deeply each place, each sight, each encounter would affect me. Happiness radiated through me.

I felt overwhelmed and extra sensitive in this country … but in a good way. I couldn’t explain how or why at this time though. It would take me another couple of days of adventures to figure it all out.

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21 thoughts on “Why Americans Never Leave the States

  1. Honestly, I think it has a lot to do with size and travel options. You have railways all throughout Europe. I got to travel so many different places when I was in Europe. But from where I live in Texas, I either have to fly – very expensively – or travel by car to leave the state, and in Texas, it takes 10 hours by car to hit the border in any direction. If you think about it, the whole of Europe is less than half the size of the US. I’ve visited almost half of the states in the US, which is almost like traveling all over Europe. Any time I’ve traveled outside the country, it’s been a huge deal – 15 hours to get to the Middle East, 10 hours to get to France, etc. The only “close” places I’ve visited are the border towns in Mexico, which are two hours away by car from where I live. In Europe, you have all these countries all around you. In the US, you have very few options without flying across the ocean, pretty much just Mexico and Canada. And it used to be possible to go both to Mexico and Canada without a passport, up until a couple years ago. A whole lot more people have passports now, particularly near the borders. So I think it has less to do with the amount of variety here, and more to do with the huge vastness of the country, and the lack of options in the near vicinity for travel outside the US.

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    • Oh, yeah, Amanda. I totally get that. Size, cost and time I know are huge factors when it comes to the States … and, like I said, the cheapass flights across Europe make it insanely easy to dip in and out of each other’s countries in no time at all. 🙂

      I actually used your example when it comes to driving through Texas, on FB yesterday when a friend mentioned how ignorant Americans can be about wanting to leave.

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      • Damn! WordPress lost my comment. Grr. I hate this new commenting system!

        Well, the short version is that 1) I wish we had cheap and dependable train and plane systems here, and 2) I’m so glad you’re getting to travel and experience so much. There was about two paragraphs more, but…yeah.

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  2. Yeah, the States is so huge it would take you forever to see all the states. You could probably spend a lifetime exploring California alone! I’m from southern California, and you should check out the amazing deserts as well.

    Your photographs are beautiful, by the way!

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    • Haha, Jess, I’m actually saving to do a road trip through all 50 states! Haha. It’s definitely going to take a long, long time. 🙂 Where in Southern California are you from? I got to spend a little time down south and visited Los Angeles and Oxnard.

      Thank you for the pictures compliment. 🙂

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      • Oh cool, that sounds amazing! Good luck.

        I’m from Riverside, which is halfway between San Diego and L.A. There’s one really cool thing to see there called the Mission Inn, which is a fancy Spanish mission-style hotel. So if you’re heading down to San Diego, it’s a fun place to see.

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  3. See, most of my friends travel. They have passports and use them, however, that is probably why we are friends. Once, while in the US, my husband asked me why more Americans don’t travel. Then we went on a week-long road-trip through seven states and he answered his own question. He was like, “I know why! It’s because you guys have so many cultures and climates and different scenaries here that you don’t feel the need.” And, I think he’s right. If you ask people who don’t travel, they will probably tell you that.

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    • Most of the Americans I know travel too! 🙂 That’s why I was so shocked at the statistics. Your husband is so right aswell. In San Francisco, I was gobsmacked to find so many different cultures there – In Chinatown, there were people who didn’t even speak English. It was a whole other world.. 🙂

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  4. At first I thought this was going to be a post bashing Americans, but then I kept reading and I loved it! And American do travel, just more within the U.S. than anywhere else. I still think they should all get passports and venture out more often 🙂

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    • Oh, hunni, I would never bash Americans. Seriously, there’s something so open and friendly and positive about all the Americans I know that’s addictive. My favourite people! 😀 And now I’ve visited a small part of the country, I genuinely love everything about the States.

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  5. I would definitely say size has something to do with it – but Canada is larger and we travel much more.

    I think it’s more about media. I think Americans consume so much of their own media they are curious about other states but not other countries.

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  6. Good point Ayngelina. While all these reasons are valid, I think it also has to do with our culture.

    Anytime I go back to my small hometown and talk to people about what I’ve been doing, they all assume I’ve got to be rich to travel so much. When most Americans think of travel, they think of the cost of flying over an ocean, staying in a hotel every night, eating out for every meal, having their hand held by a tour operator every day, the price of all inclusive resorts, etc. Most cannot comprehend that travel doesn’t have to be expensive. Many people have never heard of a GAP year, and have no idea what a hostel is.

    We are bombarded with advertising that tells us international travel is a luxury most of us can’t afford, and media that only highlights the bad things happening outside our borders. I think (hope) things are starting to change though.

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  7. Good point Matt, also I find Europeans are much more into international family travel than we are in North America. We think of a good family trip as camping or Disneyland but they`ll head to South America so by the time they are adults they`ve done far more travel than us.

    But maybe that does come down to size, Europeans are accustomed to hearing different languages, whereas we panic if we think we`re going somewhere that doesn`t speak English.

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  8. Hope you can make it to some more states. Sitting outside in the sun outside Seattle with the kids today. I love the fact that we could head to the beach today, catch a major league baseball game or go for a hike in the North Cascade. I find myself longing for a trip out of the country but when we travel in the US there is so much to see. We have two maps hanging in our house. Where we have been in the world and where we have been in the US. The kids have been to 12 states and that is more than some people get to in their entire life. It is easy to take all the beauty of the US for granted. Next stop Zion National Park, or Yosemite, or back to Hawaii or to visit grandpa in Alaska or maybe out of the country. So much to see. It is hard to choose.

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  9. Beautiful pictures! We’ve only been to the East coast of the US so far, but just planned a trip to TBEX in Colorado in June so we’re really excited to explore more of the States. We have family in America and they have traveled a fair amount, but mostly on cruises near America or to Canada/Mexico. It’s just a different mindset and all about what is available to them.

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  10. I really like this entry and thank you for being understanding and respectful. It means a lot.

    I’ve always wanted to travel since I was little. I would have photography books of Europe and find it fascinating; just getting a passport is expensive as hell as it is. I told my European friends how much the passport intself cost and they fell off the rocker in disbelief. I am simply happy to get out of the ghetto. It was a success just to get off the streets. I don’t think traveling was, um, on top of the list when I had to learn how to box just to have food in my belly and get off the streets (where many parents struggle to even feed the kids). Just saying. The American people I know ARE passionate about traveling all over the world but sometimes “life” simply gets in the way. One of my friends mother was sick and always had to attend to her needs and spend so much money on hospital bills. The only reason why my dad could travel because he was in the army and ended up being in Germany when it was East/West; heavily discriminated against because of his Polish heritage. I am not going to tell you why Americans as a whole don’t travel, but I can tell you why the few passionate, lively, people could not. A few of my friends could barely fill up the gas tank for the week – let alone buying a plane ticket. A few of my friends had to walk A to B just to get food due to no money to have a car for themselves. A few of my friends had to work two jobs for sick family members and no vacation time to pay ends meet. A few of my friends only get to travel through foster homes (like me – my dad was not fit at the time to take care of me) and that was “our traveling.” Don’t tell me how cheap hostels are when we can’t even sometimes find shelter in our own town. I’ve been homeless at the age of 6. Sure, it may have taken me so long to travel but I am not ashamed. We’re curious of the world. I’m curious of the world. I just have to work harder to get to have to priviledge to even think about exploring.

    I don’t mean to sound so serious but rather, tell you my side of the story for waiting so long. 🙂 I will be living in Taiwan and I am exicited. I’ve earned it. 🙂 Don’t even ask me the plane ticket to such a destination! ha! (faints)

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  11. I live in Australia and this is also an extremely beautiful, diverse country with snow, desert, tropics etc. A lot of people here complain about and query people who travel overseas as to why they travel when we have it all here. I tell them that I travel overseas for the exotic cultures, not necessarily the scenery! I must admit though that nothing prepares you for the grandeur of the Himalayas and flying next to Mount Everest! The people and lifestyles in India for example are amazing and the hill tribes in Indonesia and other south East Asian countries are fascinating. I’m not quite sure why some people think travel is all about scenery! I think perhaps it is the ads for travel that show lakes and beaches etc rather than the way of life in ancient cultures and religious ceremonies. That is why I travel! On a guided tour you don’t really mingle with the locals so I don’t travel that way. I just buy my return flight and wing it. In Asia there are plenty of tourist touts to take you around and it is so cheap. The accommodation is super cheap $10 a room for two people! And the food even cheaper.its all pretty basic but you are not there to stay in your room. Going to so called poorer countries helps you to realise how lucky you are to actually have the services we have like hospitals for example instead of complaining how long you had to wait in emergency! You also are reminded of how unimportant material processions are compared with family and community when you see how other cultures live and share with each other. That to me is the beauty of travelling outside our western bubble…..hanging out with people from totally different cultures and making friends.

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