Why I Think Americans Need To Travel More

Being back home has been an eye opening experience for many reasons. For starters it’s winter and I haven’t lived anywhere cold in a long time, but mostly it has to do with the attitudes of everyone around me about everything from politics to my trip. Which got me thinking… why is my trip so absolutely mindbogglingly insane to everyone?? And more importantly why does everyone give me the same wide-eyed look after hearing about it?? …It’s not like I killed a man in Reno just to watch him die… I just went backpacking alone in a foreign country…

I’ve come to the conclusion that the reason my trip is so scandalous is because Americans are taught to work hard, go to college, get a job, start a family, buy a house, and travel when you’re older. I know I was always raised to believe that travel was something you did when you had a nice job and some vacation time available…you know, later in life. It certainly wasn’t something you did for 4 months at a time and almost always it involved Europe or a beach in Mexico.

Don’t get me wrong, I admire this lifestyle, it’s the sort of hardworking attitude that started this country in the first place, and over time has helped build it into the promised land for others seeking the same sort of opportunity and way of life. This notion is ingrained in our country, but it’s also the reason why I think Americans need to travel more… and not just to resorts but REALLY travel.

There’s An Entire World Worth Seeing

Travel

While tourism to a beach sounds like the perfect vacation to most, there is an entire world out there worth exploring.  It’s full of interesting people, weird and delicious food, beautiful things, and experiences you won’t find at an all inclusive resort. There are 7 continents and roughly 190 countries out there to explore, and all of them have something to offer as long as you’re willing to experience it. Travel isn’t about the being able to say you’ve been somewhere. It’s about being a part of the world. It will challenge you on a daily basis and open your mind. It will teach you about human nature and show you beautiful things, but no matter what, it will make your life interesting. I can tell you from experience that you won’t regret taking the risk. I’ve sipped coffee in the mountains of Thailand and eaten delicious food I had never heard of before. I’ve seen places I only read about in magazines, and although I love relaxing on the beach as much as the next person, I had a lot more fun getting lost and feeling out of place in Southeast Asia.

You Might Change Someones Mind About Americans

GriswoldsI can’t tell you how many times people were surprised to learn that I was an American. Everyone assumed I was from Europe because I wasn’t being overly obnoxious, I had managed to learn a little about the country and it’s language, and was traveling for  more than 8 days at time. I’m still not entirely sure if I should find this fact offensive or take it as a compliment, but what I do know is that it is absolutely absurd for people to believe that a country as diverse as ours is full of people who are exactly the same. I’ve chatted with Vietnamese people who were so excited to finally meet and talk to an American, had to hold my tongue while a Canadian told me they knew more about what Americans did than I, and discovered that despite how much I hate the stigma surrounding our country, 80% of the Americans I met in Southeast Asia where on short trips to party… but then again so where 80% of the Europeans and Canadians I encountered and no one really has a travel stigma about them…

You Might Change Your Own Mind About Other Cultures

DSCN3088It’s always hard to look past our own opinions, but sometimes the things we learned as children, see on the news, and read online don’t equal reality. A lot of the misconceptions we have about other cultures stem from breaking news stories and other peoples experiences. I have to admit that I wasn’t sure what to expect when I visited Vietnam. As an American, I was never taught anything about the country or its culture. All I ever learned was that we lost a brutal war with them at the expense of many lives. People told me of their hatred. Of the hatred they had for us. But what I found when I got there was a beautiful country full of bustling towns and friendly people. No one was rude to me because I was an American, in fact it was quite the opposite. Most people were excited to meet me and asked lots of questions about me, my trip, and my country. While I didn’t hold any preconceived notions about the Vietnamese before my trip, the point of the story is that without exposing myself to their culture firsthand, I never would have learned anything about them. *If you happen to love movies the way I do, then I suggest watching The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for an example on how views can change with travel.*

 Every Country Has A Government It’s People Aren’t Happy With

Anti-Politics-Street-ArtI added this section, because frankly I’m tired of hearing people talk about moving overseas to escape socialized medicine/gun issues/poverty gaps/gay rights/and governmental oppression. The cold hard truth is that no matter where you go, government exists. They teach us in history class as children, that there is no perfect government, but as we grow up and get more involved, we begin to doubt our leaders abilities. I hear people talk about how our rights are being taken away, and all I can think about is a conversation I had with my tour guide in Phonsavan, Laos concerning governmental policies that made school too expensive for most people to afford, leaving his country ignorant while the government allows foreign companies to mine in the mountains for a generous profit. I think about the man I met later that evening who had to take tests and meet special requirements to be allowed to travel from Laos to France on vacation, or about how not standing at the Song For The King in a movie theater in Thailand could get you jail time. I never would have learned any of this if I hadn’t traveled, and after taking the time to talk to people about their government, I’ve come to realize that the politics at home don’t seem to be such a bad thing after all…

You’ll Appreciate What You Have

AppreciateThe first time you use a squat toilet, I can almost guarantee that you’ll appreciate the first western toilet you encounter more than you ever thought possible. As simple as that sounds, the same principle applies to almost everything else. I love to travel, but I’ve also found that I have a new appreciation for things I always took for granted back home. You really don’t understand how spoiled our country is until you go to one with less. We take our homes, cars, abundance of food and everyday simple luxuries for granted. I’ve watched children dig through trash bags on a dark street in Cambodia and handed empty water bottles to countless people collecting them for a little extra cash. While these may be extreme examples, my point is that it doesn’t matter how many public service announcements you see about starving children or countries with unclean drinking water back home. You really won’t understand how real it is until you see it for yourself, and I promise that it will make you truly appreciate everything you have.

4 thoughts on “Why I Think Americans Need To Travel More

  1. Great comments, Susan. I’ve travelled a lot, lived in a few countries, spent decades in Australia, now live in North Cyprus, and if you are polite and open-minded with people, you realise we are all the same, different cultures but people want kindness, friendliness, and open heart, a job, a home, security and a future for their kids. I know people who’ve never left Australia and who are so bigoted it’s not funny. Travel opens your heart and mind, as you’ve said, and yes, you do appreciate how lucky you are when return to your own country.

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    • It sounds like you’ve lived a pretty cool life! Everything you said is exactly what I was getting at in my post. I wrote it specifically about Americans because of the viewpoints I’ve encountered here in my small town, as well as what I witnessed traveling, but I have no doubt that it applies to people from other countries as well. People are people after all, and hopefully travel will change someones mind about our perceived differences. Take care!!

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