Americans Not Traveling Abroad

There are over 300 million Americans. Less than 30% of them have passports. That means Americans are not traveling abroad. And 50% of those who do leave the USA are traveling to either Canada or Mexico. So, why is it that Americans are not traveling overseas in larger numbers?

Realistically, money and time are the two biggest factors in our estimation as to why Americans don’t travel abroad. Airfare is costly and flying is a hassle. Meanwhile, Americans on average get around two weeks of vacation a year– not enough to get abroad, get over jet-lag and start enjoying another country. In reality, many of those vacation days are used here and there for extensions on Thanksgiving, for family birthdays or other small events, and that results in, usually, less than two weeks in one chunk for travel. Its not surprising that Asia or the Middle East seems out of reach to Americans who have around 7 days to travel, explore and return. That doesn’t sound like a vacation, it sounds like a gauntlet.

In contrast, the average worker in Europe gets around a month of vacation. By law, all countries in the European Union must allow all workers four weeks of paid vacation at a minimum. Even part-time workers who have worked more than 13 weeks are entitled to their month of paid vacation. This isn’t accrued, its a right. And that doesn’t count public holidays, which are paid days. Americans get 13 days, on average, though some companies have adopted even stricter vacation plans for entry-level employees, like the company Mike worked for in Minnesota. They told him his two weeks of vacation were “To ambitious for an entry level employee.” To which Mike said “audios!” (Chart above shows average PAID vacation days by country)

Meanwhile, workers in the USA have longer daily hours, on average, then their European counterparts. This is interesting because the average salary (even taking into account cost of living) is lower in the USA on average. For example, countries in Europe have a standard 40 hour work week and depending on the country there are laws in place to put a cap on how many hours of overtime per week and year an employee can log, according to the Federation of European Employees. And although the 8 hour day wasn’t always in place, it wasn’t until 1937 that the Fair Labor Standards Act was signed into law and the 8 hour work day (44 per week) in America became accepted as a baseline for a new standard. (Chart above shows average work week by country and gender).

Granted, there are social implications to these differences in Europe and the US. For example, Europeans are taxed at a much higher rate and companies have to sell products at higher prices to follow labor laws. However, the work-life balance in Europe does seem to be more balanced than in the USA, where success is more important that enjoyment to many. Still, the differences are drastic, and many health related problems in America are stress related, possibly stemming from overwork and lack of holiday time.

Along an entirely different chain of thought, perhaps one reason for the shortage of Americans traveling is fear. American movies constantly have foreigners as the ‘bad guys’ and a general lack of knowledge about other countries and their cultures in the US may lead many to think it isn’t safe anywhere abroad. When the media constantly cover problems abroad in uniquely terrifying language, its no wonder people think the entire world is dangerous. Meanwhile, Americans don’t speak a second language, and this limits their capacity to travel abroad with confidence. Luckily, English is the language of travel, but to many places (Africa and Asia) even English won’t suffice. The American education system should require students to learn a second language fluently by the time they graduate from High School. What language they learn should be their choice, naturally, but it holds people back from traveling, working abroad or even understanding a second worldview when they are limited to one language. Ideas are only as solid as the language in which they are expressed, so learning a whole new language is like learning a second culture, a second way of viewing the world. Americans (myself included) miss out on this when they don’t learn a second language as a child.

CNN Travel recently did a story on the surprisingly low number of Americans who travel abroad. We were excited to see they quoted several of our fellow international travel bloggers, folks like Nomadic Matt and Everything Everywhere.

US citizens can learn how to apply for a US passport.

7 thoughts on “Americans Not Traveling Abroad

  1. Mike

    At the time I was told I was being, “too ambitious” for my first year regarding vacation time, I had only taken 5 days of vacation. 3 days to go fishing, and 2 days around Thanksgiving and Christmas to see my new nephew (and I had already been with the company for 9 months). To make matters worse, they did not have an official vacation policy, that’s right, no policy, because guilt tripping their employees seemed to work in their favor. When I asked for unpaid leave instead, I was told that it was not legally possible without meeting certain criteria.

  2. Ben

    My firm has much the same policy. Although to be fair I am in a profession that is known for requiring long hours.

    The only vacation policy that is written down is something to the effect of “We consider our employees professionals and expect them to balance vacation with responsibilities at the office.”

    In 18 months I’ve taken precisely 3 days of actual vacation. You could add in maybe a handful of Friday afternoons, but I think those are more than canceled out by the weekends I’ve worked.

  3. Sol Lee

    America has a “productivity” culture, if you’re productive, you could be assumed to be morally superior, but a good balance between work and life could help improve productivity.

    It is a lot easier for EU citizens to travel internationally because most European countries don’t occupy large areas, and they could hop on a train and be in another country hearing a different language in a few hours. Whereas USA is just so big, it’s not as easy as in Europe.

    During my visit in Beijing, the majority of expats I’ve met so far have been Americans, so it wouldn’t be accurate to say Americans don’t travel abroad, but I’ve met them in church, so maybe it’s because there are more church going American expats in Beijing. One interesting thing I’ve noticed is, the introduction that people make about themselves, in a small group setting, Americans tend to tell others they’re from whichever particular state, whereas people from other countries would tend to say their country of origin, unless they’re from world famous cities, like I tell people I live in Sydney, and mostly people get it’s in Australia.

  4. mike

    @Ben: That is really too bad. I can just imagine some corporate sociologist hired to come up with that idea of “no vacation” policy to get the most out of the employees.

    @Sol: Thanks for your comments as well and the video! I hope you take advantage of the holidays you have readily available, a luxury that most other people do not get.

  5. Independent007

    I think that here in Shanghai, there are many Europeans, and some Americans, but that all in all there are many more Europeans Canadians, and Australians here than Americans.

    That’s because Americans love to view the world through their eyes only and not through the way the world sees them. That has changed a bit with Obama in office, but generally the expats here just have a different perspective on life than those that are in the US. That is why we are here.

    I got sick of the rat race only recently and decided to jump across the pond to Shanghai and have not looked back since. I hope to return to the US only for visits, and maybe just maybe for retirement.
    Even then, I will probably retire in Central or South America. But still not sure about that, I have a ways until that happens anyway.

    I learned Mandarin in college while everyone was learning Japanese and its been the best decision I have ever made. Though I am not native I am advanced, and feel quite comfortable here.

    Sure there are some things I miss, but all in all, I have a different perspective on Americans, and I feel sorry for them. Its one big capitalistic country from the politicians on down, and it will stay that way until the people wake up. Since that will never happen, its in the politicians interests to keep everyone divided and carry on as if nothing is wrong. Maybe when the world stops using the American dollar as a benchmark people will raise their heads. I hope it doesn’t come to that though and really hope they start teaching more language in schools. And it should be mandatory that every high school in American offer either Spanish or Mandarin. Again, that will never happen but if you master those two languages you can speak to 75 percent of the world.

  6. Rob

    I don’t know how many years abroad it takes before an American can gain a realistic perspective on what life is really like in the United States. I left in 1985 and I think it took 10 years before it really sank in that it is not the “greatest nation on earth” by a longshot.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *