Monday, March 29, 2010

Points on American Reluctance To Travel

Sherman Oaks, California

I had a question for travel guru Rolf Potts about why Americans are so reluctant to travel overseas. He answered it.

A few additional points:

✈ A frequent excuse is that the United States is geographically distant from the rest of the world.

Nonsense. Australia and New Zealand are also geographically distant -- Sydney to Tokyo is a 10-hour flight, and Auckland to LAX is 12 -- but their nationals travel the world. Because they want to.

✈ Geographic isolation is a meaningless concept in a world where two or three flights can connect any city pair. Airbus and Boeing have models which span one-third of the globe without stopping for gas. A person in Bamako, Mali, can fly to New York City with a single change of plane, and it works in the opposite direction, too.

✈Even if the concept were meaningful, the U.S. isn't geographically distant from everywhere. Mexico, in particular, is next door, and perhaps the American travel attitude that vexes me the most is the refusal of many Americans to see Mexico as a viable travel option. I chalk it up to the fact that Mexico is not seen as a glamourous destination. Co-workers won't ohh and ahh if you say you spent a week in Zacatecas; most will look at you funny and say "That's nice."

✈ Possibly the stupidest excuse I hear is that "we have everything in the United States." If all you're considering is the geography, maybe that's true. But the deserts of Nevada are not the deserts of Rajasthan, and the deciduous rain forests of Oregon are not those of Japan.

But nothing compares to the totality of being in a foreign country. The air, the people, the way the sidewalks are paved, the street noise, the dress, the layout of towns, the buzz of language -- everything in the natural and built environment combines into a gestalt that does not exist anywhere else.

Where in the United States can you see this?



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I sure can't answer for everyone, but I can answer for me; I love to travel but I HATE air travel.

I don't mind flying per se (I'm a private pilot). I used to enjoy air travel... but not anymore. but I'm fed up with the hassles inherent today. The crowds, the queues, the waiting, changing planes, and being treated like cattle by customs, TSA, etc.

For most of my life, I've gone overseas about once a year on average. Europe more often than not, but I've been to Korea, China, Japan, Thailand, Australia, NZ, South America, etc.

I've been to Mexico and the Caribbean several times. I personally prefer most anywhere else to both, but that's mainly due to my own preferences. Some people love those places.

I'm becoming increasingly fond of Canada; it's northwest is spectacular, and best of all, I can drive instead of fly there.

I agree that Americans should travel more; they don't know what they're missing. On the other hand, I'm finding myself ever more inclined to take driving trips in the US and Canada, because flying has become such a nightmare. I'm to the point where I'll gladly drive two thousand miles rather than fly. If I could afford first class tickets, I'd probably bellyache less about flying, but I can't.

Arizona CJ

5:42 PM  
Blogger Tom Salemi said...


Thanks for asking the question because I appreciated the understanding conveyed in his answer.

I love reading about your exploits and the inights they generate. They do give me a far deeper understanding of a world I admittedly don't know as well as I should. Thanks for that.

But I must admit, at no point have I ever uttered to myself, "Gee, I wish that were me." Not once.

I don't travel much. I simply don't. My passport expired years ago and I haven't even missed it. I'll need to get it renewed for potential business travel and a likely return to Canada, but it's expiration has never once come up in my day-to-day life. Not once.

This isn't a matter of fear. True, the logistics of traveling with kids are a bit daunting. There's great comfort in having all the tools you need close at hand. If I have to weigh the convenience of staying close to home (or at least out of airplanes) and the hassle of long-term travel, I'm going with the former.

I know this drives you mad and I apologize. But I'm happy with the life I'm leading right now, focusing my attention on my work, family, friends and two small kids. It's plenty for me at this point. Things may change in 10 years or so when I want to show my kids more, but right now I'm fine.

I'm sure this frustrates you. But I don't see this as a condition that needs to be cured. It's simply how I prefer to live my life at this point, and I'm actually quite happy.


1:52 AM  
Anonymous Joe said...

Hey Paul,

Personally, I'm mostly content in the U.S. because there's so much to see that we haven't and probably won't. A simple trip down I-80 will uncover geography, history, and characters most people will never see or know. While I don't think there's anywhere in the U.S. save Miami that has any sort of genuine foreignness of overseas travel, there's definitely a different feel to the parts of the country (though I'd say this is becoming less so). I suppose it's sort of analogous to space travel. We don't fully understand what's beneath our oceans, yet we are (were?) shooting rockets into the stars. Great for adventure and (not very cost effectively) science, but not all that necessary if you want to know us much as fast for less.

But I totally agree with you on the isolation point. My aunt's lived in San Diego for 30 years and never visited Mexico because "it's dirty." Nevermind that the dirty world has great delights of its own.

And the rainforests in Oregon are primarily evergreen, not deciduous.

3:11 PM  

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