As a travel writer I receive dozens of press releases in my inbox each day. They are mostly pretty useless stuff like “Labor Day Travel Tips” or “New Hotel Opening in Santa Monica.” I would say I probably delete 95% of them without even opening them, which is why I feel lucky that his one actually caught my eye:
“5 Reasons Why It’s Best to Keep Your Travels within U.S. Borders”
And by lucky I mean lucky I didn’t go blind from rolling my eyes so violently.
The ensuing article was from a PR firm called EMSI and quoted extensively from a blogger named Alissa Abecassis who runs a blog called Explore All 50. I don’t know Alissa, and I feel a little bit bad calling her out so vehemently on my website, but she is the one who hired a PR firm to distribute her article so hopefully she won’t mind too much.
The article is a response to the recent travel warning from the Obama Administration, that were severe enough to freak a lot of people out. Instead of exploring the nuances of these warnings, or what they actually mean for travelers abroad, this article appears to take advantage of public unease to encourage travelers to stay away from the big scary world. A world which, having traveled extensively, I take offense for.
So without ado, here are the 5 reasons you should stick to travel in the US (with a few annotations by me).
At the risk of sounding paranoid: Travel to Mexico and you run the risk of being kidnapped and held for ransom by a drug cartel. Travel to China and you run the risk of getting severe food poisoning. “And Europe? – Too many terrorist threats for my taste – train bombings in Spain, riots in France and the list goes on,” Abecassis says. “I am all about seeing the world and exploring new frontiers, but right now, too many parts of the world are just not safe if you are traveling with an American passport.”
Okay, I guess I could start with the part that equivocates food poisoning with acts of terrorism (?), or the idea that all travelers to Mexico (or France!) are at risk of kidnapping or being blown up.
Instead I will just point out that the most deadly terrorist attacks in modern history took place in the United States, in New York- a very popular city for tourists. That the crime violent crime rate is significantly higher in the United States than in many, many other places. My own hometown of Washington DC has a higher murder rate than Bogota or Mexico City.
Look I’m not naïve, I know that bad things can happen to travelers, but if we’re going to make blanket decisions, let’s at least assess the real risks and not make blanket pronouncements based on nothing but fear.
Sure, places like Australia and New Zealand may be safer than others, but have you checked the prices? It’s ridiculously expensive! Despite the long and expensive airplane ride, Aussies come to the states in high numbers, in part, because it’s so much cheaper to vacation here. Why not feed your local or state economy? Have a taste for something different? – Travel to Honolulu, Anchorage, or the Florida Keys. When you stay within U.S. borders, you are contributing to the U.S. economy – and getting more bang for your buck.
No argument here that Australia and New Zealand are ridiculously expensive. I suppose if you deem those the only “safe” countries to travel to, then yes, it is a whole lot cheaper to stay put. Luckily there are a lot of other places in the world that are much cheaper to visit and also pretty safe. Personally I never felt safer anywhere than I did in Thailand and Vietnam, both of which are incredibly cheap.
Here’s the Global Peace Index. There is the United States down at number 99. Surely you can find somewhere above that which fits into your budget?
Consider all the turmoil happening around the globe and contrast it with the peace, stability, wealth and tolerance of America. We are so fortunate to enjoy freedom of speech, the liberation of women, religious tolerance and civil rights for all. Sadly, too many citizens don’t fully appreciate the historical forces that gave us these privileges because they just don’t know them. Brush up on your history, with a trip to Philadelphia, Gettysburg or Washington, D.C.
I don’t talk politics on this blog so I’m not even going to tackle the “peace, stability, wealth and tolerance of America,” or the “civil rights for all” (really? reeeeallly?). If nothing else travelers ought to get out of the US just to see how we really stack up against other places- we are both incredibly fortunate on some things (free speech) and incredibly unfortunately on others (health care).
One of the most important things that I have learned from my global travels is a greater appreciation of the role that America plays in world politics. I don’t have to stay in the United States to learn about US history- it’s a part of nearly everywhere I go from Japan to Laos to Serbia. The things I’ve learned weren’t always pretty but I know for sure they’ve made me a better, more thoughtful and more informed American for knowing them.
America IS a great country for a lot of reasons and there is a lot of cool history to discover so I will grant her that. But you know where else has a lot of great history (not to mention, as already established, a lower crime rate than Washington DC)? London. Kyoto. Rome.
Let’s face it – Americans like convenience. Global travel not only poses lots of logistical challenges (visas, customs, etc) which can easily become a nightmare, but also some other challenges like currency changes and language barriers just to name a few. On the other hand, you can take a long weekend or an extended vacation and travel anywhere in the states without having to contend with language or major cultural differences.
Yeah okay, it’s definitely way easier to take a weekend trip to the next state than to plan a larger scale trip to another country. That is factually true. I started this blog though, for the very purpose of encouraging those that are discouraged by things like visas and language barriers, because the more you travel the more you realize that these aren’t actually very big inconveniences 90% of the time.
Here’s the bit that kills me though “travel anywhere in the states without having to contend with language or major cultural differences.” This makes my spirits sink, it just confirms the worst stereotypes about Americans- that we are lazy and xenophobic. Part of the important learning experience of travel is contending with those language and cultural differences. That’s what teaches us and makes us better people.
To discard the rest of the world because they don’t speak our language… that’s not the kind of American I want to be.
5. Global Influences Here at Home:
If you still have a hankering for something with a global feel, you can find those influences all across the USA. We are a country of immigrants, right? It’s not just our history, but also our foods, architecture, accents, traditions … you name it. You can learn about Latin America in Florida, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California. You can learn about Scandinavia in Wisconsin and Minnesota, and about Europe in New York, Illinois and Louisiana, just to name a few. You won’t need your passport or the obligatory hassle from customs – just an open mind about your own country.
This one is actually the least offensive to me. I agree that diversity one of the most amazing things about the United States- we have so many interesting cultures that have mixed and melded together to create their own unique subcultures. Some of my best US travel experiences have been rooting out these local cultures from Flushings to Boston’s North End to the German side of Milwaukee.
Even so, there is no way you will ever get me to believe that experiencing German culture in Wisconsin is in any way equivalent to actually going to Germany or that visiting Chinatown in New York city is just as good as actually going to China. Chinese-America food is not Chinese food, Italian-American food is not Italian food and there is no way you would ever truly know that unless you get out there and see the difference for yourself!
Okay deep breaths.
I am actually a huge advocate of traveling in the United States. I write about it a lot, both here and for other websites. I think this is an amazing country that I could probably spend my whole life exploring and never fully see or understand completely. I’m pretty sure that is the actual message Alissa was hoping to promote, I just can’t stand the way she framed it.
Here’s why this article really pushed a button for me: I think it completely shortchanges Americans as travelers (not to mention the rest of the world). Everyone should explore America, but not because they are afraid to go anywhere else, they should do it because it’s an amazing place in it’s own right. Traveling the US doesn’t have to be at the expense of world travel. Americans can explore their country AND explore their world and become much better citizens and people for it.