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Why so many Americans do not travel abroad?

Jan 11, 2019

Here are the most common answers to the question
“Why so many Americans do not travel abroad?”

  • It’s too expensive
  • I am too busy
  • I do not speak any foreign language
  • Travel abroad can be too dangerous
  • I do not know when and where to go
  • I am too old to travel abroad
  • I do not have a travel companion
  • I do not have any interest in other countries

We’ll try to comment on the above answers

It’s too expensive

The advanced planning can make a trip abroad more affordable.

Yes, international traveling requires money. But if you want to travel, you can do it even on a limited budget. Just look at young backpackers traveling around the world.

There are numerous ways to save on your trips. When our daughter was just seven years old, we decided to go to Europe. At that time, our income was very modest, and we did not have any savings. Therefore we had to travel on a shoestring.

We started planning this trip before they created Internet sites like Travelocity, Orbitz, Kayak, etc. To save money on airfare, we had to check travel sections in the newspapers. After a few weeks, we found a great deal: $500 per round trip ticket from Los Angeles to Brussels, Belgium, on the Hawaiian Airlines. Who would think this air carrier had flights from Los Angeles to Europe?

We purchased three tickets and started getting ready for our first trip. We bought three suitcases at a garage sale. Looking back, we still shudder thinking about those heavy suitcases without wheels.

To save money on food, we bought a large aluminum mug to make coffee in our hotel rooms, a spiral water heater, collapsible cups, three aluminum bowls for soups and salads, portable silverware. Also, we bought a few travel packets of laundry detergent to wash our clothes in a bathroom sink, and a thin, but strong twine and tiny clothespins – to dry clothes.

To save money on hotels, we contacted our friends in Belgium, Germany, and England and were happy to know that we could stay in their places. Staying at friends’ apartments saved us a lot of money.

We wrote to the embassies and consulates of 8 countries with requests for free maps and booklets. To find cheap bed-and-breakfast places and hotels we used the services of European visitor centers.

We found out that it would be much more expensive to rent a car in Europe if you are already there. To save money on car rental, we reserved a vehicle before leaving for the trip.

During that long, eight-week trip, we visited Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, France, Netherlands, and England. Despite our extremely modest budget, we had a fascinating and memorable trip.

I am too busy

If you have a burning desire to travel, you will find the time.

All our life in the United States we were self-employed. It gave us some flexibility, but we had to exchange time for money: if we took time off, we did not make any money. Being self-employed, we did not have paid vacation time.

Many of our American friends were surprised by how often we traveled around the world. They were much better off financially than us, but they did not want to spend time and money on such a “frivolous” hobby as travel.

Later, when our business expanded and required us to work seven days a week, we still managed to find time for international travel. Also, we made time for an occasional cruise or went camping in one of the National Parks.

I do not speak any foreign language

You can travel around the world without knowing foreign languages.

We speak fluently only two languages, Russian and English. We took some time to learn Spanish and French, but without using these two languages, we almost forgot them. We were able to use our native Russian only in former Soviet republics, and in some Eastern European countries.

In the rest of the world, many people speak English. Americans are fortunate that their language is so widely spoken.

Once, when we were in Norway, we met a couple from Israel. They immigrated to Israel from Russia and spoke only Russian and Hebrew. In Norway, almost everyone speaks excellent English. How did this couple travel in Norway without speaking either Norwegian or English? Brave people!

When we were in Costa Rica (our first Spanish-speaking country that we visited), we tried to use our poor Spanish. Sometimes, the locals were able to comprehend what we said, but we did not understand their answers. While shopping, we solved this problem like this:  we asked what the cost of the item was, and gave the vendor a piece of paper to write down the price.

I had an amusing episode in Prague, Czech Republic. I decided to have a massage at our hotel. Like many people in that country, the masseur could speak German. Unfortunately for me, he knew only one word in English – OK.

I do not know German at all, and of course, during the whole hour, we were not able to communicate. As I was leaving the hotel spa, I overheard my masseur talking to someone in fluent Russian.

Travel abroad can be too dangerous

Be alert when you travel, and you will be safe.

Too dangerous in comparison to what? New York? Baltimore? Detroit? Chicago? We do not think twice about visiting these megapolises. Everyone knows that in these cities it’s better to avoid the areas with high crime.

You should use the same caution when you choose a foreign country. It is a good idea to check with the State Department and read the advisory about the situation in the country of your choice. If this country is not involved in a war or doesn’t have a coup or political unrest, it is alright to go there.

Of course, everyone has to use common sense. Do not walk alone at night, do not show your wallet with a bundle of cash in it, do not wear expensive jewelry or clothing (I do not wear any jewelry when I am on the road).

Almost all countries in the world have pickpockets. Exception – some wealthy countries like Dubai where the thief can lose an arm (I heard that they do not have pickpockets in Dubai).

If you travel with a guided tour, you are taken to hotels, restaurants, and sightseeing in safe areas. When you have free time, usually a half day here and a whole day there, always ask your travel guide about the safety of the area you want to explore. You can count on getting an honest answer; the tour company does not want something bad to happen to their customers.

Several years ago we visited Ireland. The tour included the Northen Ireland as well. We stayed in Belfast for three nights. Our hotel was in the heart of the city: old churches, parks, beautiful buildings. However, our guide warned the group that in the evening we should stay close to the hotel for safety reasons.

To us, this beautiful city looked peaceful and safe. We ignored the advice of our guide and decided to go to one of the best parks in Belfast. It was sunny Sunday and families were picnicking, playing games, and sunbathing. We decided to have early dinner close to the park, and then walk all the way back to the hotel.

We checked out two cafés, but they were getting ready to close and already ran out of many items on the menu. Walking back to the hotel, we noticed that almost all the cafes and restaurants were either closed or closing. There still were cars on the road, but no pedestrians. It looked eerie.

We started feeling uncomfortable. Finally, about half a mile from our hotel we saw people on the street. The restaurants and shops were opened. We felt safe again.

In South Africa, we had a fantastic guide, probably one of the best we ever had. He took us on a city tour. In Cape Town, one of the stops was a beautiful park in the center of the city. We learned a lot of interesting facts about flora in this part of the world. We also learned something that not many independent tourists know.

This park is a safe place until the end of the workday. After working people go through the park on the way home from work, this place becomes deserted. At that time, some uninformed tourist can become a crime victim. As much as we loved this park, we did not return there in the evening.

While being abroad, we experienced the crime three times. The very first one happened in Italy where we were waiting for permission to immigrate to the United States. We took advantage of this free time to explore Rome.

We had very little money from the foundation which supported the political refugees from the Soviet Union. The $30 that my husband had in his pocket was all that we had for the next two weeks.

When we were on the crowded bus, going to see the Vatican, the pickpockets stole all our cash from my husband’s pocket.

Needless to say that on that day we did not see the Sistine Chapel: we had no money for the tickets. Also, we had to return to our apartment on foot, not by bus.

The second time, in Lisbon, pickpockets stole from our backpack $2,000 and the E-book (read my page “Safety Abroad”).

We encountered the third “crime” in Japan. We had been robbed by the monkey (read my page “Why do I love Japan” about this unusual event).

We hope that 3 is a charm. We learned our lessons in safe traveling and are done being victims of petty crime.

I do not know when and where to go

To choose a country, read travel books, blogs, or watch travel shows.

There are lots of resources that will help you to choose the time and destination of your trip abroad. Let’s start with the easiest one – TV. These are the travel programs I like to watch: Globe Trekker, Departures, Shows by Anthony Bourdain, an Idiot Abroad, Parts Unknown, Around The World In 80 Ways. Rick Steves specializes in Europe. Nowadays, I wouldn’t go anywhere in Europe without reading one of his travel books.

And how about a library? I always check out several books before going to a new country. You do not have to read a lot of books. Just one or two books will be enough to prepare you for a particular country. Bookstores have large travel sections as well – another excellent source of information and inspiration.

There are travel meetup groups in your town where you can meet people who can give practical advice or become your travel companions. And last, but not least – the Internet.

I am too old to travel abroad

You are not too old to travel if you choose the right trip.

On my trips, in any country, I met many single women and men who were over 60, 70, 80. And all of them enjoyed their trips abroad.

Many Americans postpone traveling until retirement. I think it’s wrong. You can travel around the world at any age.

Retirees have more time for international journeys. They can be flexible with their schedule. It is easier for them to find discounted prices on plane tickets and off-season prices for cruises and group tours.

I do not have a travel companion

If you did not find a travel companion, join a group tour.

Do not be afraid to go anywhere in the world, if you do not have a travel companion. I’ll give you a few examples of different situations I witnessed while traveling around the world.

During my group trip to South Africa, I met a career woman (Susan) who, she said very proudly, was never married and did not plan to get married. She was in her 60-s.

She enjoyed that trip and became friends with a few members of our group. This woman was more adventures than the rest of us – she was the only one who went on an optional tour to swim with sharks!

Later, I received an email from that woman. She and another single woman from our South Africa trip decided to go to India. That woman asked my advice regarding the best itinerary in India.

Another single woman I met during my trip to Australia and New Zealand even took advantage of her “singleness.” In Sydney on December 31, she went to the opera at the Opera House (famous building on the waterfront).

Watching the fireworks from the Opera House building after the performance, she noticed that there was some party held in the lobby. She sneaked in and enjoyed great company, food, and drinks.  Next morning at breakfast she looked tired but happy.

I do not have any interest in other countries

I don't care.

We lived in Vermont for two years. On a few occasions, some local people boasted that they never ventured more than 20 miles from their house. As much as I wanted to, I did not make any comments to them about this revelation. I simply refuse to understand such people.

As you can see, there are quite a few reasons why so many Americans do not travel abroad. I hope I addressed all of them. If you have some other reason, I will be happy to respond.

About us

Hello! We are Elena & Alexander, the Florida-based world travelers, and bloggers. We are humbled to admit that we visited only 74 out of 197 countries in the world. But we are greedy travelers, and we want to visit at least 74 countries more.


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