…There were 61.5 million trips outside the United States in 2009, down 3% from 2008, according to the Office of Travel and Tourism Industries. About 50% of those trips were to either Mexico or Canada, destinations that didn’t require a passport until 2007.
The percentage of Americans with passports — a number that was in the teens just a few years ago — has spiked since the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative was adopted. It requires American and Canadian travelers to present documents showing citizenship when entering the United States.
Despite the climbing number of American passports in circulation, 30% is still low compared to Canada’s 60% and the United Kingdom’s 75%…
As we know, proportionally compared to other developed countries, Americans are not international travelers. But it is worth remembering that Britons are more likely to have passports for one simple reason: given the (relatively) small size of their country, a Briton needs one to go within a few hundred miles from his front door. The only exception is for the Republic of Ireland.
If Americans needed a passport to venture to every other state, more Americans doubtless would have passports too. And now that Americans are required to have a passport for even Canada and Mexico? Notice that more Americans are obtaining them.
A U.S.-Canadian passport ownership comparison is harder to make. Most Canadians live within 200 miles of the U.S. border. So population percentage-wise a Canadian seems more likely to travel to the U.S. than is an American overall likely to visit Canada, and so a Canadian may simply need a passport more.
Leaving those initial rather obvious observations aside, reasons for fewer passports among Americans are generally said to stretch to:
…the United States’ own rich cultural and geographic diversity, an American skepticism and/or ignorance about international destinations, a work culture that prevents Americans from taking long vacations abroad and the prohibitive cost and logistics of going overseas…
Let’s take those in order. As yours truly’s mother-in-law has remarked: “Americans have so much to see in the U.S., I can understand why so many never leave it.”
Second: the “ignorance/skepticism” stuff yours truly never much credits. For if one has the inclination, and most importantly the time, you are not apt to remain ignorant. Someone will always zero in on, and find out what he wants to learn about, if interested.
Third: cost is not necessarily the primary obstacle in itself either. It is about the same to fly to London from JFK as it is to fly from JFK to LA. But if you have to fly internally first in the U.S. before connectting in JFK for that transcontinental getaway to undiscovered locales exotic, yes, that is when cost jumps, and perhaps enormously so.
Fourth: time is likely the biggest single factor. If it takes 2 days’ journeying each way (and a very tiring 2 days, too, given what international air travel has become), when you have only perhaps 7-10 days total away from your desk, the most important issue is probably time. Specifically, a lack thereof.
Passport in hand, though, a Briton may book a weekend in Prague or Dublin without taking a day off from work. And without even stepping on a plane a Londoner can within a few hours’ drive and/or a ferry trip, find himself in Ireland, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, and, pushing it (to overnight ferry), even Spain.
In comparison, the best an American in Manhattan can hope to do within the same driving distance is Quebec. Not that there is anything wrong with Quebec; but Quebec (and Ontario) is about it. And no one (at least for the moment) needs a passport for a ferry trip which that same Manhattanite could make in a similar timespan…to Staten Island, or Bridgeport, Connecticut, or, if feeling really adventurous, New London, Connecticut.
So geographical time constraints is probably the major reason most Americans one encounters “touring” overseas are students pre-career (and especially pre-family), or retirees post-career who finally have the free time to travel. Anyone outside those age brackets who really desperately wants to find a way to get to London or Paris or Rome (such as honeymooners), certainly can manage it. But those are not most of the conventionally-living U.S. population.
…”Not taking the leap is comforting, because this is the American life,” said Matthew Kepnes, international traveler and creator of NomadicMatt.com, a blog chronicling his travels and observations. “Breaking outside anything that is your norm is scary.”…
That is simplistic and patronizing. One finds Americans all over the world. While the mass of the population is of course not wandering around the Maghreb, rafting on the Amazon, or bungee jumping in New Zealand, there are nonetheless still plenty who are as willing as anyone else to, urr, “take a leap.”
Who, incidentally, is this “Nomadic Matt”, to whom CNN for some reason hands a massive megaphone? And lots of free publicity? At his web site, he tells us:
I’m a twenty-something vagabond who has been on the road regularly since 2005. I’m a native of Boston, Mass but, now, everywhere has been my home. After a trip to Thailand in 2005, I decided to leave the rat race and explore the world so I finished my MBA, quit my cubicle job, and, in July 2006, I set out on an adventure around the world.
How many of us are actually surprised to read any of that? That he is not a 41 year old father of 4, working 7-7, with about 2 weeks’ vacation a year? And that he doesn’t have a wife who also holds a full-time job, and with whom he cannot often coordinate holiday times because they feel they have to take some of their limited vacation separately (if they even feel they can take all of it) so at least one can be around with the kids at various times during long summer breaks?
So this aside he offers is hardly shocking either:
Everything I own fits into one bag.
We get the picture: a conventional life is not — now, not quite age 30 — for him as of yet. That is fine; it is entirely his privilege and choice. That being so, he should enjoy his “rootlessness” while it lasts.
Unless he manages to make a “Rick Steves” career of it; but even that will always keep him in the distinct U.S. minority. Most other Americans cannot at age “40″ simply stroll out of “their cubicle”, up sticks, and fly off with their one bag of worldly goods whenever the wanderlust hits. Exploring Thailand simply cannot be high on the list of priorities.
Nor can global “adventures” necessarily be either for Americans who even happen to live abroad. They do travel more than Americans at home due to the plain reality that they are already outside the country and are therefore closer to any given destination geographically. Still, they too have to work, pay mortgages or rent, to confine travels plans to vacation time (even if they get more than they would at home) and school breaks, and endure daily routine just as they would at home.
Interestingly, in noting that, it is worth bearing in mind also that passing through anywhere is, by its very nature, always but a “superficial” experience. Meaning seeing Buckingham Palace is no more really to “experience” Britain than visiting the Washington Monument is to learn about life in the U.S. “Nomadism” is no substitute for rooting yourself to the point where you have work colleagues, a daily commute, friendships (or more), and knowing people in the local pub.
Just like at home in the States, save maybe for the pub that is. In any case if Mr Kepnes eventually finds himself worrying about housing a family, clothing children and seeing them through school, juggling limited holidays, and cannot then just “roam” at whim at least once every three months, a discourse on his international “adventures” at that time likely would not be particularly engrossing. Essentially, a decade or so from now, saddled with conventional responsibilities, if he manages even to get to Disney World once a year that would probably rate as one very special trip. CNN again:
…”Americans are going to have to speak more languages and be more culturally savvy,” Kepnes said. “We have to change because we have to do business with all these other cultures.”…
Some have been proclaiming Americans have needed to do the likes of that…for almost 250 years now. Overlooked, too, is how American business people already travel almost anywhere in the world business calls. (Yours truly does.) Or is it just a figment of our imaginations that it seems half of corporate America is currently at any given time “visiting”, say, southeastern China?
International travel operators, though, are naturally eager to get Americans to travel more internationally for leisure; and are especially desperate to get them to do so in a poor economy. That makes sense. After all, if non-business traveling Americans would spend more traveling internationally, that would definitely help their travel businesses in a poor economy.
But having the leisure to do so is key. Most Americans between ages 25-65 are simply too busy with family, and especially work, to place foreign, non-business tourism anywhere near the top of their life agendas. So barring major social changes — especially a legislating of paid vacations, which we all know is not going to happen anytime soon, if ever; or affordable flights that zoom from LA to London in about an hour — sorry but Americans are unlikely ever to travel outside the Western Hemisphere for merely sheer enjoyment in the huge numbers many in the travel business clearly dream they would.