Note: This is the second guest post by one of my best friends, Beata Rak. Here is a link to her first, about her travels in Europe. After graduation, Beata moved to London, got a job as a tour guide and bartender at her local pub and has traveled around Europe and the Middle East. After living in London, Beata moved to Australia to continue her adventure, where she currently lives.
In my travels I have come across pubs in London that have been around since 1666, churches in Paris built in 1207 and have seen pyramids in Egypt built in 500 BC. It makes you realize how young America is. It also makes you realize how rich in culture America is because it is truly a mix of nationalities from all over the world.
I think every American should Google their last name and find out a little bit about why their ancestors immigrated to the US. Even if its just to understand the origins of the name and historically understand what was going on in the world at that time. Then go out to those places and see where your family comes from. It will make you respect your great great grandparents more and will make you prouder to be an American. Visiting Berlin and Krakow truly made me saw the struggles my parents faced growing up in post WWII Poland and then it made me understand why they fled communism. Plus, you will add to the very low number of Americans out there traveling.
Another issue I wanted to bring up. American backpackers!! Where are you? I have been traveling for a while and the number of Canadians, Australians and British people I meet far outnumber the Americans I meet. And in Australia? I can’t tell you how many Americans I did run into who have told me, you are the only American I have met traveling. Americans do travel yes, but just not to the same degree as other countries. WHY? We have much more people that Canada, the UK, or Australia.
Is it really because we are such a big country that when we want to travel we can just go to Florida or Colorado? That we really do not need to leave the country to vacation? Is it money? Perhaps, but there are people who can afford Hummers so there are people who can afford to travel. Non-American backpackers claim its America’s size that keeps Americans in its borders. I do not agree with this. I think it is time. Few Americans have the time to travel. And I think it is a shame. What is eating up all of Americans time? Is it work? School? To do lists? I don’t know, I could attempt to blame it on corporate America, but I know that wouldn’t be fair, or entirely true. This is a topic I have thought about a lot and will return later too. It needs much more contemplation.
Only 20 percent of Americans even have a passport. A shame. Truly a shame.
After reading Beata’s email, I decided to include my response here.
So why don’t more Americans take time to travel? I’ve seen it time and time again on my trips to Europe. There are tons of Europeans and Australians and even a fair amount of Brazilians and Chinese. I’ve seen about the same number of Canadians as Americans, yet Canada is about 10% the size population wise as America.
I don’t think it is size. I think there are many factors. First, work and vacation time. Americans get the least amount of paid and unpaid vacation of any developed country. Most companies start new employees with 2-3 days of vacation for the first year, whereas Europeans get at least a month. Americans are putting in ever longer hours to keep up with the Jones’. This leads into my next point.
Materialism. There is a huge percentage of Americans who would rather have things than experiences. They would rather spend their money on a big screen tv, a new Hummer or a house with an extra bathroom. It seems to me that many people in the rest of the world would rather spend their discretionary income on experiences, rather than things. Many Americans think in terms of things, rather than experiences.
Third, the bastardization of American exceptionalism. I think that there is a decent sized chunk of the US population that thinks “America is the best, why should I go anywhere else.” Whereas previous generations thought that America was great but still respected and wanted to experience the rest of the world, it seems that currently some think the rest of the world isn’t worthy of our time and energy. This change is sad. It’s the same phenomenon as when people made fun of John Kerry for speaking French when he ran for President.