In the United States, we have a tendency to blind ourselves to other cultures. Last year, there were over 72 million departures to foreign countries, yet more than 64 percent of Americans have never left the country. Our citizens are far less likely to travel abroad than citizens from other countries; unfortunately, it shows in the limits of our openness to foreign cultures and knowledge of international events.
How can we make more U.S. citizens travel to other countries?
Encouraging More International Travel
These are a handful of strategies we can use to encourage ourselves, our loved ones, and the next generation to spend more time traveling abroad:
- Understand and share how easy it is to travel. To the new traveler, booking accommodations and making plans may seem intimidating, as there are hundreds of options. Also, some fear that if they are not prepared with the right paperwork, they could have difficulty re-entering the country. That fear is largely unfounded. It’s relatively easy to get a passport, and fast (though at extra cost) if you use a registered passport expediting service. And even if you don’t know the language, it’s not especially difficult to navigate most foreign countries. Locals are usually friendly and want to be helpful.
- Share stories and personal experiences. We can encourage people to be more interested in international travel by sharing stories and positive personal experiences we’ve gained from traveling abroad. Tell your cousin about the amazing time you had in Spain, or talk to your coworker about what you discovered in Indonesia.
- Learn to travel inexpensively. There’s a popular misconception that you can only travel if you’re wealthy. But the fact is, almost anyone can travel on almost any budget. By finding inexpensive sources of food, staying in youth hostels (or couchsurfing), relying on foot-based tourism, and spending time on free experiences, you can enjoy an immersive international experience for a lot less than you might think.
But why is international travel so important in the first place?
Cultural Understanding and Sensitivity
Experiencing a little of life in other countries helps you understand and relate to the needs, wants, and behaviors of others—especially in cultures very different from yours. Spend some time in Japan, for example, and you’ll learn firsthand how embedded their collectivist culture is (in contrast to our Western individual-centric culture). This understanding can transform your interpersonal relationships, improve your communication skills, and better understand the needs of our diverse population.
Traveling to other countries also sets the stage for globalization, a process – inevitable, despite the objections of some people – of different countries working together for common international causes. The challenges and opportunities we face are now on a global scale, especially with modern communications technology allowing for instantaneous and near-infinite exchanges of information across continents. When people travel internationally, they become better equipped to handle communication and exchanges with that country, and more open to the idea of sharing resources and building alliances. Over time, this could result in a new era of global economics and diplomacy.
Diverse Experiences and “Comfort Zone” Challenges
Don’t discount the fact that traveling abroad forces people out of their comfort zones. This, in turn, gives people more confidence they can use in their daily lives, encouraging them to do things that once scared them, and equipping them to handle more challenging situations. Diverse experiences also give you a broader perspective on life, and put some context to all the habits, behaviors, and preferences you’ve established in your home country.
Languages and Skills
Finally, traveling to another country can help you learn another language and develop other skills that might otherwise elude you at home. Even after just a few days of being immersed in another language, you’ll start to pick up on some basic vocabulary. In six months or less, you can be passably fluent.
Encouraging more international travel within our population may not have immediate benefits (other than for the individual involved). However, over the course of a few generations, our population could become more culturally sensitive, more inclined to contribute on a global scale, and even more highly skilled. This is a change that we need to make, and the sooner we start, the better.