BEYOND THE RED, WHITE AND BLUE HORIZON
According to a 2007 CNN Money article, the human resource consulting firm Mercer estimates the typical full-time employed American receives 15 days paid vacation and 10 days of paid holidays. The American Society of Travel Agents says that among Americans who actually take their vacation — two-thirds do not — the most popular destinations are Orlando, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami, Honolulu, San Diego, Washington, D.C., Chicago and New York City. In 2009, the state of Florida alone counted for more than 20% of all bookings by travel agents for Americans.
Though no firm statistics are released by the State Department, most estimates indicate that 21-30 percent of Americans hold a current passport. That means between 70-79 percent of Americans cannot leave the United States. A Gallup poll in 2005 showed that only about one in five Americans has traveled outside the United States.
Why don’t Americans leave the USA when they go on vacation?
FEAR OF TRAVELING ABROAD
At 26, I made my first trip abroad, traveling alone. Over the years since I have heard the same things over and over from Americans about why they don’t go overseas, and especially why they don‘t travel alone.
“It’s too expensive.”
“Don’t you get lonely?”
“”Don’t they eat…” (makes face to describe something unimaginably disgusting)
“What if I get lost?”
“Those terrorists are over there.”
“You can’t drink the water.”
“They hate Americans.”
“They don’t speak English.”
“I wouldn’t know what to do.”
“My —- won’t go and I can’t/won’t go without him/her.”
“My —- won’t let me go.”
“I can’t leave the house/kids/pets/plants.”
“I’m waiting until I retire.”
Christine Cantera of Montpellier, France, author of Miss Expatria (Lulu.com) says this: “I think that what makes people start traveling is personal and unique to each person, but is probably a combination of practical things like available money and emotional factors, which can be as simple as just needing to get out of the house.
“As for what keeps people from traveling … well, that’s probably money, too, first and foremost. But more than that, it’s fear of the unknown, plain and simple,” Cantera said.
Overcoming those fears is a big step and some people may never overcome it. It means going against long-held beliefs. There could be disapproval and active discouragement from family and friends. There will be warnings about not eating food from dirty kitchens, don’t sit on the disgusting toilets and the French are rude.
Matt Grigsby of Redding put it this way: “The main reason I began traveling was the realization that it was never going to be the perfect time to travel and I was never going to have the right amount of money put aside. Nothing was ever going to fall into place perfectly and I just needed to accept that and jump in. There are a million reasons not to go places, but I finally had to make that leap of faith that things would work out fine and I could handle any situation that came along. I also decided that I wanted to see the world while I was still young enough to enjoy everything.”
THE COST OF TRAVEL
Samantha Brown of TV’s Travel Channel has the best job in the world. Besides being cute and perky, she stays in fabulous hotels, eats in fine restaurants, goes on exciting excursions, wears designer clothes, and has an aura that says, “Golly-gee-whiz, I’m just the girl next door and I get to do all this!” I love her, love watching her show and vicariously enjoying all the glamour. But I wonder if American viewers see that and think, I could never afford that.
But let’s look at some things Americans choose to afford:
Average cable TV cost: $71/month or $852 year
Average price of cigarettes: $6/pack or $2,190/year
Adult movie ticket at Cinemark (Redding): $7.25 – see a movie once a week, that’s $377 a year, not counting popcorn.
Quitting smoking and banking the savings in a credit union account would pay for a pretty darn nice trip to Italy for two weeks. Switch from cable and movie-going to Netflix and you have nearly enough for a round-trip ticket from San Francisco to Tahiti.
This column will be presenting suggestions and resources to enable ordinary folks to take that trip they’ve always wanted to, and to encourage stuck-in-a-rut vacationers to explore the world instead of going to Aunt Hilda’s and Uncle Lloyd’s for two weeks again. You can send them a postcard.
Christine Canter is the author of Miss Expatria and is the Internet’s leading enabler of travel addiction. Follow her at
Barbara Rice is a native Igonian. Upon discovering the Beatles at age 9, she picked up an atlas and figured out how far England was and how long it would take to get there (5,371 miles, 12 hours). Though gainfully employed, she regards work as a necessary evil to finance vacations. In her spare time she looks up cheap airfares and daydreams about her next trip. She never did meet Sir Paul, but she knows where his office is.