Exceptionalism

According to the BBC, apparently there’s a stereotype about the United States that only 10% of the population has a passport. It was only inaccurate in 1994, when exactly 10% did; prior to 1994, fewer than 10% did. However, passport ownership has been on the incline; today, 42% of people in the United States have one.

Sometimes others chide people in the United States for not doing much international traveling. Lazy xenophobia, the implication of the chiding, definitely plays a role, but there are other factors at play. For example, the United States has more income inequality and higher poverty rates than other advanced countries. Traveling is expensive!

It’s easy for Europeans to visit other countries due to geographical proximity. If you’re in South Korea, Japan, or Taiwan it’s a short plane ride or ferry away from an international trip. While the United States does touch Canada and countries in Central America, the United States is gigantic! Depending on where you live, going to Mexico or Canada might be expensive, arduous, and simply long.

Speaking of the United States’ size, there are also a lot of traveling opportunities here. Want to enjoy winter weather? Ski in Colorado or take a cruise in Alaska. Yearning for an island getaway? Go to Guam, Hawaii, or Puerto Rico. Want to hit the beach? Florida and California have you covered. Down for good pizza and beautiful autumn colors? Come to Connecticut. The United States has not only huge cities like New York and Chicago, but also natural parks such as Yellowstone and Acadia. You can’t say that about every country.

To be clear: if people are able, I think that they should take opportunities to travel to, to learn about, and to engage with other places and cultures. Despite living in a globalized world, it’s far too easy to allow cultural misunderstandings to create divides. That being said, I sometimes think that people in the United States are unfairly pigeonholed as xenophobic or lazy without considering other factors.