It’s ridiculous: Too few American travel

Derek Thurber

It’s ridiculous that fewer than 30 percent of Americans even own a passport. That’s right, I said it: it is, in fact, ridiculous. It has been some time since my last column of such preface, but as an homage to those readers of the past, and because I still have a good rant left in me, I’ll say it one more time: it’s ridiculous that so few Americans own passports and even fewer have actually ever left the country.

At a British comedy club recently I heard a joke that hinged on this fact that less than 30 percent of Americans own passports. Though I can be as pessimistic about American ignorance as most people, this number seemed impossible to believe.

So I checked it.

According to an article in “USA Today,” 74 million Americans owned passports as of spring 2007. Though that is actually a good number of people, when you realize that there are a little over 304 million people that live in the United States, this number becomes much smaller. The percentage works out to about 24 percent with these numbers.

This is, of course, an old statistic, but most estimates put the current rate up by only a couple of percentages points. The other ridiculous thing to note from this statistic is that having 24 percent is record-breaking. The article probably rightly suggests that this is due to the increased immigration regulations between Canada and the United States.

Plus, Canada hardly counts as a foreign country, anyway.

As an American who is living in London this semester and has spent his free time traveling across England, Scotland, Ireland and mainland Europe, I can honestly say that it is truly sad how few Americans have traveled.

My recent trip across the highlands of Scotland has made this more apparent than ever. We got to see the great castle in Edinburgh, drink fine Scottish whiskey: Scotch: in traditional pubs, wander through streets that are full of history, search for Nessie on the great and beautiful Loch Ness, try to figure out the public buses, fear getting attacked by our hostel employee, take long train rides across the British countryside and generally learn about a whole different culture.

With so few Americans really and truly knowing what it is like to live and get around in a foreign country, it’s no wonder others think we are arrogant pricks. It is hard to defend our nation to weary foreigners when confronted with such startling statistics.

And, really, it is embarrassing to think that a country which arguably holds the most influence internationally out of any country in the world has so few citizens that have actually seen that world about which they are creating policies.

Of course, it is expensive to travel. Not everyone can afford to take romantic vacations across Europe, see the Great Wall of China or hunt for kangaroos in Australia. But there are certainly more than 26 percent of Americans who can afford to travel at some point in their lives.

Also, to be fair, the United States is very large and further away from most foreign countries than Europe for example. Although traveling around the United States is interesting, important and educational, it is not an adequate substitute for seeing at least part of the world.

On average, more than 70 percent of Europeans and between 60 and 70 percent of Australians have passports. Maybe more Americans should step out of our protected bubble and see something really new for a change. If I have done nothing else, then I hope that every person reading this will seriously consider traveling abroad whenever they get the chance. You will not regret it, and neither will the rest of the world.