The value of getting out of your own back yard

I am settling back in after a mid week trip to another part of the great country I live in and I started to give some thought to why some people like to travel outside the country and others do not.  I have been fortunate to travel to several parts of the world in my life such as Japan, England, Germany, France, Kuwait and Dubai.       My first trip abroad was not until I was about 30, but I continue to foster an interest in seeing more of the world as I work.

Both of our sons have traveled outside the country, with our oldest son spending 2 weeks in China    after graduating from college and our youngest son spending 6 weeks in Australia on a current study abroad program.

I think it is crucial for people to know and understand the entire world.  Why don’t more Americans travel outside the country?

Being a data-driven person I wanted to learn just how many of my fellow Americans travel abroad.  I found the next best thing, the number of Americans who have passports, the only way to travel outside the country (legally).  About 37 % of Americans have a passport, but that was a much lower figure until it became a requirement to have one to travel to Mexico and to Canada (note the spike in applicants in 2007).

Why don’t more of my countrymen want to leave the confines of our states?  I have a few thoughts:

  1. Many will cite the cost.  To travel to Europe, Asia or south America there is a threshold cost you will encounter due to air travel and hotel expenses plus meals, but I would counter that taking a family to Disney world or Disney land would be a venture with similar costs.
  2. Perceived instability of other parts of the world will be another argument.  Our media does a good (?) job of portraying Americans as targets for every extremist group on the face of the globe.  Who wants to be a victim?
  3. Our country has a great geographic and cultural diversity and many will argue that they have parts of the USA they want to see first.

I will take this argument and twist it into a different direction.  There are a number of factors that make it essential for Americans to leave this country and see the world at large.  Here is my list of most compelling reasons:

  1. We live in a world economy and we need to understand and know the people we want to do business with
  2. America is a newcomer on the world stage when you look at the passage of history.  We have no real history here; if you want to see history, go to Europe, or Egypt or to the middle east
  3. Many Americans are insulated when it comes to their beliefs.  I am a reformed Christian, but there are many, many others in the world who worship their God or gods in a different fashion.  We don’t have to agree with that, but we do need to understand.
  4. Other parts of the world have false impressions of what Americans are like.  We are not all John Wayne     or Michael Jackson.  People need to see what real Americans are like.
  5. Most Americans are culturally ignorant of the rest of the world.  We owe it to ourselves and to our children, and their children, to gain a better understanding of our neighbors; not just those next door, but also those who live across the globe.

Some of the most rewarding, and tiring, experiences I have had revolve around world travel and meeting with others who are not from here or who are not like me.

Get out of your comfort zone.  Go out and see the world.  You will be glad you did!