Travel Makes Me Love the US More

Last week I read this great blog post from Kim at So Many Places, about her feelings after coming back to America after traveling the world. She makes a ton of valid points about how frustrating it is to come home to a country obsessed with money and things, with rules and “safety” over experiences.

Everything she says is absolutely true, but I still felt this vague sense of disagreement as I read. I finally traced it back to one of the first lines of her post:

“In fact, my love affair with America has been on a sharp decline since I started traveling around the world two years ago.”

Oh. That’s Kim’s experience and it’s perfectly valid, but for me personally, the opposite has been true. The more I travel, the more I love and appreciate my home country.

When I started traveling, just after college, my primary goal was to be anywhere but the US. As a native Washingtonian with very liberal parents I grew up politically aware and well versed in many of the issues this country struggles with. I wasn’t happy with my country, and I was ready to see what else the world had to offer.

Well, I’ve been traveling off and on for the last 8 years, and I’ve found the world has a LOT to offer. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel through both very poor and very rich countries. I’ve lived in England, China, Argentina and Mexico- very, very different countries. In the process, I’ve learned a lot about America, and myself as an American.

Being an American who travels can be incredibly frustrating. You have to be an ambassador for your country and you have to constantly defy the stereotype of the ugly American. You have to answer questions about America’s policies on gun control, abortion, evolution etc, and usually the only answer you can give is “I don’t know, it’s messed up.”

I would be lying if I said it didn’t make me feel a little defensive about the US. I mean yeah, we suck at a lot of stuff! Yes, there are a lot of really dumb, incredibly vocal people here. But, there is a lot of awesome here too.

Here are just a few things I didn’t know I loved about the US before I started traveling:

  • America is incredibly multicultural. I adore the fact that I can eat authentic Mexican, Vietnamese, Ethiopian and Italian all in the same week.
  • People are friendly here. They smile at strangers, and start conversations on the subway. I love the fact that I can basically start talking to anyone sitting next to me at a bar and it won’t be weird.
  • American’s are optimistic. There is a strong belief in the US that you can grow up to do anything you want to do. Although the truth is more complicated, I love that we believe that.
  • Shopping- Capitalism at it’s ugly finest means that you can get a hold of anything and everything, usually for pretty cheap. Our supermarkets are sprawling, our electronics are affordable and our fashion is disposable (okay maybe that’s not great). There is a reason people from other country’s come to America to shop.
  • Ingenuity- So many interesting new businesses from tech start ups to food trucks. My favorite is America’s thriving craft beer scene.
  • We are constantly evolving. There are a lot of people pushing for terrible things, but an equal number pushing back, pushing for change and progress. Look at the push for marriage equality. It takes us awhile, but we’re getting there. That’s not just my optimism speaking.
  • We cook the best hamburger’s in the world. Juicy red-centered ones, e-coli be damned.

I love America as a traveler as well. It’s one of the most geographically, culturally and gastronomically diverse countries in the world. I truly believe I could spend the rest of my life just exploring the US and never run out of beautiful, interesting or weird things to see. I would never limit myself like that, but it’s nice to know that all this is waiting in my own backyard.

So do those wonderful things excuse America’s faults? Probably not, but they do complicate my view of this great and messy country.

There are a lot of things about America I do NOT love. Politics would be a big one. I obsess over each election cycle, bemoaning a system which convinces people to vote against their best interests. I am truly terrified by this country’s attitudes over gun control. I am, as always, frustrated by sexism, racism, classicism on and on and on. These things frustrate me, they make me worry about the future, and question whether we should make our homes abroad permanently.

Truthfully though, I’ll always come back to my home country. I love it, in spite of it’s many flaws, too much to stay away. My family is here, my roots are here and deep down- I feel like an America (hopefully not the ugly kind). As Christine mentions in this lovely post, there are both great and ugly people everywhere in the world. The US isn’t a collection of stereotypes, it’s a collection of very, very different people.

So, I guess our relationship, like all long-term relationships is complicated.

I just know that I’ll always come home.

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42 thoughts on “Travel Makes Me Love the US More”

  1. Hey Steph, I’m new to your blog but this was a really great first post to read. I live in and I’m from England, but I’ve travelled to America a couple of times. I’m doing a three week road trip in September and hitting up a bunch of different states and I agree that you have so much beauty in the US that I can’t wait to see what I can cram into such a short space of time. I also agree that for the most part American’s are friendly, here in the UK shop assistants avoid you, but every time I’ve travelled to the US people make conversation with me – even if they just ask how my day is going and I think that’s super nice. I am always in a love-hate relationship with the laws in the states that say I can only visit for three months at a time, as I would really love to stay a little longer, but even if I had the opportunity to live in America long term, I’m not sure if I would take it based on some of my own political views (gun control is a huge thing for me). I guess it’s always going to be a complex situation but ultimately there are flaws wherever you go, it’s just whether you are willing to deal with them.

  2. I love American Craft beer too! I also love the National Parks. Of course the US has it’s faults but there is so much to love too. People need to see past the bad and see the good. Also, I think some people need to see past the good and see the bad – nowhere is perfect and the imperfections make it what it is as much as the good bits

  3. Steph, I do identify with Kim’s post. my family and I have become permanent travelers and we decided to be nomadic for a lot of reasons detailed in Kim’s post.

    I do thank you for bringing the other side to the for front though. I am Canadian and I love my home, not everything but a lot of things about home.

    I have traveled a lot and I think many things can come from a travel experience and those things will be different for every traveler. Different for you and Kim and me. Every country is different, better in ways and worse in some depending on ones experiences. That is what I love about travel the most. The perspective it gives you. If it makes you appreciate your home or another part of the world more than before it’s all good:) Peace.

    1. Yes, I definitely think it’s great that people can have totally different experiences with this. Since Kim shared hers, I thought I would share my opposite viewpoint. They are both totally valid reactions to living abroad.

  4. Great read. i have a very love/hate view of America, and I really appreciated many of the points you made. Currently at home in DC dreaming of travel, I have been ever so annoyed with Americans lately, but you are right, there are some good people here, with some good values, and there are some beautiful places and great cities. You just have to find happiness where you are, I am sure after living long enough anywhere I would have complaints!

    Thanks for your thoughts,

  5. So glad we felt similarly about that post! Totally agree with your points on what an awesome place to travel the USA is. Since moving back, I’m totally split between going abroad for every vacay or saving money and time by exploring closer to home. I’m still dying to visit Maine, Yellowstone, Wyoming–and cities like Seattle and Detroit! There’s a lot to offer here, and I think people often miss it by assuming that the grass is greener on the other side.

  6. Thank you so much for writing this!!!! I read that other article too, and it completely rubbed me the wrong way. It was like she had never even talked to a local person when traveling abroad. Living in Brazil for the past year, I can confidently say I love the US even more now and can confidently say that our problems are not unique. There is no such thing as a perfect country, but now I can see how many things we actually do right! Another thing I love about the states is our sense of national pride, we love America! That’s something you won’t find abroad, especially in Brazil.

  7. If anything, travel has taught me to see the beauty in any place, including the town where I was born and the city I moved to after. There is a lot to hate about the States, no doubt, but it’s still a country I want to visit and explore. You can’t throw the baby out with the bath water!
    Also, I’ve met very few “stereotypical” Americans… Though maybe that’s because the ones I meet are generally those who travel.

  8. I’ve lived in 3 countries (Mexico, England and Colombia) other than the US, my birthplace and I’ve traveled to scores of others. I have friends all over the world. In some other countries, supposedly more politically advanced than the US, there is an ugly undercurrent of a disturbing brand of nationalism and ethnocentrism — and it’s not really that far below the surface. As a Jew (even a non-observant one), I still get queasy in Europe and know I need to keep my ethnicity to myself traveling in most of the Middle East. In the US, we don’t have our race, religion or ethnicity on any official paperwork. We try to be a melting pot, but many of us revel in the “tossed salad” aspects of our culture. Yes, we are far from colorblind, or any other kind of blind, but the collective “we”,did elect a person of color president—twice. We are struggling with where we fit into the new global community of nations and Lord knows we have been way too fast to jump into frays that are none of our business, but many nations have the US Department of Defense on speed dial when the sh-t really hits the fan. Among ourselves, we are annoyingly contentious, self-righteous and frequently “out there”, but most of us will end any “argument” by agreeing to disagree and let’s get a beer. On a person to person basis, we are mostly kind and generous. We certainly have vast room for improvement, but most of us don’t deny that and try to be better. I used to be more chronically upset about us (you can still see where the Canadian maple leaf was sewn onto my backpack 🙂 ), but extensive travel has convinced me that at least many of us are trying to be good citizens of our communities, our nation and the world. I love to travel. I want to be a citizen of the world, but I also get a warm glow when the stern faced immigration officer at a US airport, closes my passport, looks me in the eye and says, “Welcome home.”

  9. I really want to visit America, it has so much to offer. I don’t want to be there for a long period of time though. I mean, for a start gun laws. This whole hobby lobby thing has frustrated the hell out of me. I have spent the last day or so explaining to Americans, who essentially react like I’ve said I’m from another planet in a different galaxy, that sort of health care (i.e. sexual health) is entirely free here from getting condoms, or nexplanon as far as sexual health screening. I just… I dunno, I guess I get frustrated at the very same things you must do, too, having seen so much more of the world.

    1. The Hobby Lobby thing has pretty much ruined my whole week. Very angry at it. I guess at some point it seems like the politics of this country are so divorced from the people I know in real life, they hardly seem related. I don’t know a single person in real life who agrees with that (or with the second amendment gun nuts etc). They are out there, I believe it, but it sure ain’t everybody.

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