It seems like American's don't travel abroad; why? Because we are pompous, nationalistic, scared of the world, lazy, ignorant (and the list of reasons goes on). We just don't seem to have the spark. But, I would argue that among Americans, young and old, there is a desire to go out and see the world, but the definition of what is foreign is changing. The world is becoming very globalized and as a result foreign places are just not so foreign anymore and for many, understanding America is part of understanding the world.
For the past year I have been living in South Korea. It has really been an eye-opening experience and it has intrigued me enough to stay one more year and really embrace the language and my co-workers a little bit more. However, being here, I realize that being halfway around the world in Korea does not feel all that different than being home. Apart from the language and some minor cultural differences, it is a developed country that is shaping into a mold very similar to the place I came from.
Living here, I see how much of America is still foreign to me. I'm still a stranger in my home country just as much as I am a stranger here. I would be foreign in Texas or California because I have never been there. How can I say I understand America if I haven't been to California or Texas?
Know Your Roots:
This is a fact that I think is true for many Americans. There are places we call home that we have never seen and in order to understand where you come from, you need to witness it. America is a big country and it encompasses less of a culture of people and more of a melting pot (I know that's cliché, but it's true). It seems like for many it is the destination and it needs to be explored. With 300 million people, a statistic of 30% having a passport is still 90 million people. The percentage might be low, but the number of Americans actively traveling abroad is still very high.
People are traveling. A recent Los Angeles Times article shows that traveling abroad among Americans is on the rise. This year there was a 6% increase from 2011 -- with a reported 8.1 million people going abroad in the first two months of 2012. People are out there.
A Case for Traveling, Anywhere:
This article isn't to hinder traveling abroad. On the contrary, I think it is important. I think colleges should do more to get students abroad and I whole-heartedly recommend taking a year or two to work or backpack in another country. It's all about having a lens. Traveling abroad makes the home country the end of an odyssey. Everyone needs an odyssey and everyone needs a home to bring one journey to an end before the next one.
It is a destination that is all at once familiar and all new. But, in the case of America, it is such a big destination and there is plenty to see and experience that is foreign to Americans even if we have lived in America all of our lives. I think that the numbers of Americans traveling with passports, while low compared to many other countries (around 75% in the UK and 60% in Canada for comparison), still shows a great number of people pursuing a different lens on living life. These days, that lens is becoming a little bit more similar all around the world, but that doesn't mean there is nothing new to see.
Everyone Here is a Tourist:
In short, Americans are traveling. But, not necessarily “abroad.” Any place can be foreign and anyone can be a tourist anywhere they go. It is all about learning something new. Americans are traveling. That's the important part. Whether overseas or in America, people are expanding their world-view just is seeing a change of scenery. The number of people with a passport is not a marker for how worldly or embracing of the world a person is. People making a journey to see something new is the important part, that journey doesn't necessarily have to be far.
The world can be a big place or small place depending how we look at it. Americans are traveling abroad, seeing some new places, but also, they aren't overlooking the place they call home. It is not a matter of laziness or ignorance. People are just traveling their own journeys.
There is always something that will inevitably reveal something new about our world and who is to say it is abroad. People travel when they need to move, experience, and expand who they (we) are. Human nature at work. On a side note, America is one of Lonely Planet's friendliest places to visit, so no harm in staying a while.