Traveling as an American in the Age of Trump: What to Expect

Note before: I know this is a blog about travel, not politics, but it’s impossible to divide the two subjects, travel is political and politics effects travel in unmeasurable ways. If that’s not for you- ok, there’s plenty of other stuff you can read  Otherwise, let’s get into it.

2016 has been a rough year for a lot of people and November was probably the roughest part.

Like so many I was thrilled when I woke up on election day. I dressed my baby girl in her Future President onesie and told her that history was in the making today… we were going to elect our first woman president!

And then we didn’t. Luckily Marcella was already in bed when things started to come into terrible focus. She didn’t have to see me crying into a pint of mint chocolate chip ice cream. It’s been a see-saw since then but it’s hard to mope or dwell on anything when you have an adorable baby demanding your full attention.

Nobody really knows what the next four years will bring, but I’m not terribly optimistic about our new president’s potential as a world leader. A lot could happen that we can’t even foresee now, especially since our almost president is already pissing off foreign powers left and right.

Ugh, I don’t know.

I do know a little bit about traveling under an unpopular president though. Some of you lucky young’uns might not remember, but back before the golden age of Obama we had another president to complain about. At the time it seemed like George W Bush was the worst thing that could happen to our country (they were gentler times) and his unpopularity stretch far and wide across the globe.

it was a different, skinnier time…

I realize that having to travel internationally when you president is an unpopular orange blowhard is small potatoes on the scale of potential issues with a Trump presidency. But as travelers it’s something we have to deal with. So here’s what you can expect:

You Will Be Asked to Explain… A Lot

Why did the United States elect Donald Trump as president? Why do we still have a system like the electoral college? All of a sudden you are the spokesperson for the American people and you have got some explaining to do.

Those of you with international friends might already be experiencing that. In fact, a whole lot of people in the US are still grasping, trying to answer the question of “What happened?”

When this used to happen with Bush I would usually just shake my head. I don’t know. I didn’t vote for him. The US is a big place with a lot of people in it, I can’t speak for all of them. It gets tedious but it is a good chance to let other’s know that we’re not all the same politically.

You Might Get Some Blowback

Boarded up US Embassy in Belgrade, 2008

It’s possible that anti-American sentiment will rise again, particularly if the new administration’s foreign policy decisions are controversial. It’s not fair, but sometimes that animosity towards the US government may be directed towards you as a US citizen.

It’s not that the United States is beloved around the world as it is, but public sentiment has definitely improved significantly since Obama took office. Most people are smart enough to realize that not every American supports every American policy, but you may find yourself subjected to scathing looks, lectures, maybe even the occasional rude comment.

This isn’t to say that you should be afraid to travel abroad. Rudeness is a possibility, actual violence towards innocent Americans is unlikely. Of course you will want to follow your normal safety precautions and keep an eye out for tense situations.

Potential Logistical Issues

Certain policies and appointments that Trump is making may make your travels harder on a practical scale too. For example:

  • Economic policies that favor US trade could lead to a weaker US Dollar. Right now the Dollar is in a fabulous position for travel in Europe, Canada and other places, but this might change.
  • More Visa hoops to jump through. During Obama’s administration many countries (like Argentina) dropped the reciprocal visa fees charged to US Travelers. Less popular US foreign policy might lead to these fees being re-instated and perhaps more visa requirements.
  • Higher airfares. This article posits that Trump’s policies might favor US airlines and shut out foreign ones, leading to less competition and higher prices.

You Shouldn’t try to Hide Your Nationality

I initially wrote you shouldn’t be ashamed of your country, but to be honest I’m not fully onboard with that statement. In some ways I’m proud to be an American, but not in others, and I’m not sure my country is going to make me proud over the next few years.

That said, I will always BE an American and I refuse to lie about that.

Back in the W days US travelers would sometimes sew Canadian flags on their backpacks in an effort to sidestep the bad reputation that came with being an American. I’ve never liked this idea. 1) I don’t think it works very well. 2) it pisses of the Canadians and most importantly, 3) One of the best things about travel is that it helps us put a personal face on foreign people. Like it or not you are an ambassador for the United States

So steel yourself for the next few years of travel. You’re going to need a thick skin, some patience and all the compassion that’s missing in our new leader’s heart. We’ll get through it.

After all it’s only 4 years… hopefully.

25 thoughts on “Traveling as an American in the Age of Trump: What to Expect”

  1. Ugh, I totally relate to this (and thanks for writing it!). I’m an American living in the U.K. for the past year and I feel like an ambassador for the country constantly. Also am scared shitless of his presidency.

  2. As an American living in Germany, this topic has come up countless times. Most people here can’t understand how/why he was elected, and they’re pretty worried about the effects too. I’m definitely scared of what will happen while he’s president, and I’m scared of the long term consequences. It’s not like every negative thing he does can easily be reversed in 4 years. Ugh. I totally agree with you about the nationality thing. I don’t think I could ever pretend to be Canadian (or anything else) and I’d rather try to explain to people that not everyone voted for Trump.

  3. Currently in Iceland. Most people have been politely curious- and show increasing disbelief as the conversation continues. Most people treat it as a joke (though perhaps with a little fear)… just like many in the US. One woman I met in a pub, upon discovering that I was American, simply started laughing uncontrollably giggling, pointing and repeating “You’ve got Trump!!”

  4. Well written honest assessment of what we may face when traveling overseas. I’ve always tried to stay under the radar and not stand out as an American.

  5. I lived abroad for a year right after GWB was elected for a second term and it…wasn’t pretty. I got so many sneers, so many disparaging remarks, so many questions. Why? How? What’s going on? I won’t attempt to answer them at the moment, nor can I even begin to explain to my foreign friends how we as a country let this happen, but the one thing I’ll do is continue to travel and (hopefully) set a positive example of how educated, well-rounded and open-minded Americans CAN be. God bless America, and God bless you, Steph, for writing this post!

  6. As a woman of color travelling, I find that the stereotypes attached to being from The States seem to multiple beyond what I can handle. Lately, I’ve isolated myself by not interacting or communicating beyond what is necessary. But, we, my daughter, and I are travelling again soon and I want to believe things will be better but knowing how little respect certain individuals have for The States and people of color, I find myself even more anxious and sad than before.

  7. I think one should just shrug off potential political discussions and good humour will again make people feel better 🙂 it’s a tough world out there and humour will make us sail through it…

  8. I’ve been traveling through Europe and Asia the past 6 months, and have experienced all
    of these! I would definitely say the biggest thing I’ve encountered is people from other nationalities ‘telling me’ about or ‘lecturing me’ on America, American politics and Trump, without really wanting to have an open conversation, mostly just wanting to dump their opinions on the closest American (always me).

    I also had a restaurant in Ireland refuse to let me inside until I told them who I voted for!

    I’ve found the best way for me personally to handle it is to just politely decline the conversation, saying that I won’t judge them on the politics of their country if they don’t judge me on mine. And like others said above, never use it as a reason to stop traveling!

    Thanks for writing!

  9. Id only been living in Holland a week after Obama was elected, and someone walked up to me at an open air market and simply said “be glad Obama just got elected, otherwise, you wouldn’t feel so welcomed here”…. that summed up my learning experiences re: having to constantly explain and apologize for unpopular american presidents…. luckily I’m not overseas for this one.

  10. I’m a UK citizen who travelled to Spain the day after the Brexit result. I met so many Europeans who asked me why and lectured me on it being a mistake, even though I voted remain. I guess it’s healthy conversation if people aren’t accusing you as an individual, but people need to remember that a democratic vote does not mean everyone is on board with the outcome!

  11. To be honest as a Brit we’re all pretty horrifed by the Trump presidency. Racism, misogyny and homophobia has (literally) raised it’s ugly head on a public platform, and I think everywhere’s shocked. But to be constantly treated like a cultural ambassoder for America everywhere you go must become extremely grating, and I do sympathize.

    1. Yeah, we are pretty horrified over here too (some of us anyway). I imagine the Brits are probably going through something similar while traveling thanks to Brexit.

  12. I was in Vietnam after the election and more than one person replied “I’m so sorry” after I told them I was American. What’s worse though is before Election Day one Vietnamese man told me how good for his daughters it would be if Hillary won, and it breaks my heart to think about them now.

  13. My big plan the next time I travel overseas is just say I’m from California and not even mention “The US”. Thankfully most people know that California is unlike the rest of the US!

  14. As an non-American, my “fear” when meeting Americans abroad is finding out they’re a Trump supporter. I was in Austin in December and didn’t feel like I *could* bring up the topic (it’s not really my place), but didn’t really want to make friends with pro-Trumps. So, there’s kind of this weird vibe going on :/

  15. I’m travelling to Germany, Poland, and the Czech Republic in March and am already dreading the questions about Trump. I old enough to remember the Bush years and how badly he damaged America’s reputation around the world. Thankfully most people are smart enough to realize that the American government isn’t representative of its people and I’m going to employ the strategy of steering the conversation away from politics which is the last topic on my mind when travelling anyway.

  16. I feel like I got dumped on twice this year. First as a Brit with Brexit (ugh, why???) then as a Permanent Resident of the US with Trump being elected (I still can’t even believe it’s real). And I had to explain Brexit to everyone in the US and explain Trump to everyone back home in the UK. I don’t even get to vote in the US elections. My baby girl is a citizen of both countries so we joke she can choose to say she’s from whichever is the “least worst” at the time (when she’s old enough… She’s like ten weeks now. Hopefully things will improve when she’s old enough to travel by herself).

  17. Hajar - Rinjani Trekking

    Hello Stephanie
    Yes I do agree with you that politic will affect travels. However there are so many predictions on how Trump era will be. It’s still early now, just wait a couple of month.

  18. Myself I think Trump is going to do great things! I am absolutely going to be glad when we get our first woman president, but we don’t need one like Hillary.. The right one will come along.. Until then don’t be scared to travel here in the U.S.! I’ll gladly give you a couch even if you don’t like our president.. To me it is about more than all the racist B.S. this country is going through on both sides… come on my couch is waiting!

  19. Hey Steph, I’m late to the party, but just wanted to say how brilliant I think this is! I actually lived abroad during a lot of the W. Bush administration, so I was totally nodding along through the whole thing going, yup. Yup. Yup. Great advice for all of us. Trump notwithstanding, I hope everyone has some lovely travels planned for this year!

  20. Well I’m currently on my Germany, Poland, and Czech Repubkic trip and thankfully no one has asked me about Trump or given me any lectures about American foreign policies. I think what really helped was blending in as much as possible considering I’ve been mistaken for a local many times.

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