expat life

Most Americans Don’t Own Passports

99 Comments 16 November 2010

most Americans don't have passports

Can it be true that most Americans don’t own one of these? If so, is that really so bad?

Urban myth or fact?

After years of suspecting this was an urban myth (but knowing deep inside that there was probably a grain of truth in it) I finally decided to Google ‘how many Americans own a passport’. Unfortunately, it is not an urban myth. Most sources suggest around 20-22% of all Americans over 18 have passports.

And how do you deal with this statement when delivered with gusto in the middle of a British dinner party?

You’re either yawning because you’ve heard it so often, or your hackles rise because you get fed up hearing it. Of course what they are really saying is ‘not many Americans travel’ and therefore ‘Americans are closed-minded, and thus we have exposed the root of the Americans’ problem.’ I heard it again the other day from a new acquaintance at a dinner party and it made me wonder how other expats deal with it.

American expats know the possible reasons for the low percentage of passport holders. They include:

1) For many Americans the two-week holiday allowance prevents much travel overseas. Only 14% of Americans will get a vacation of two weeks or longer this year.

2) The cost of travel from the United States to other continents is high. However, for someone to travel from Newcastle or London to Barcelona they will pay considerably less than an American will pay to travel from Dallas or Seattle to Barcelona.

3) Up until recently, Americans haven’t needed a passport to travel to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean, but they may have traveled to these other countries several times.

4) At any given time 12%-17% of the US population live below poverty line. It is unlikely that these people will be able to travel abroad, or need a passport.

5) Compare university students in Minnesota going to Florida for Spring Break with people in Britain going to Ibiza for the raves: one needs a passport and one doesn’t, but is a rave in Ibiza any more culturally enlightening than Spring Break parties in Florida?

There is an important point in this statement that can be used for other examples:

If a Briton wants to cross the channel to bulk buy cheap booze in Calais they will need a passport. If an American wants to cross a state line for whatever reason, they don’t need a passport.

If a British student wants to expand their art history learning and have a semester in Rome, they will need a passport. If an American student wants to expand their theatre studies learning and have a semester in New York, they don’t need a passport.

If a mature British couple want to travel to the sun, they will need a passport, the mature American couple will not need a passport.

6) Some people believe there is enough in the United States for one lifetime and would rather spend their money on vacations around the States. This does not make them insular; it makes them curious about their own country.

If I mention this one, someone always has to say ‘yes, but while I lived in the States I met people who had never even been out of their own state!’ Howls of derision all round the table. I smile serenely. ‘You have to remember,’ I tell them ‘that many of these states are the same size as Great Britain. I know people here who have never been outside Britain.’ Polite napkin fluttering. For those who continue to press the issue I usually try to end the conversation one of two ways, depending on my mood:

‘But would you really want more Americans traveling here?’ Ha ha! The sly American really does have a sense of humour (relief is felt in waves across the table—mostly from husband).


‘So difficult to generalize 306 million people, who live in a country the size of Europe, isn’t it?’ More napkin fluttering usually resulting in husband finding the moment suitable for a joke about living with a pedant.

I am fortunate enough to have traveled to many American states while growing up and this broadened my mind considerably. I am sure those experiences helped form my world-view as much as world travel and living in Britain has.

I am a great advocate of travel. I love it. I truly believe it is healthy for the mind. And living overseas has indeed changed me. However, I am not sure that I subscribe to the point of view that Americans MUST travel overseas. I am not convinced this is the best way for every American to learn more about other people, or the world. If this were the case, then surely everyone should all visit every country in order to truly understand the rest of the world.

The next time someone proclaims ‘most Americans don’t even own a passport!’ what will you say?

Your Comments

99 Comments so far

  1. Kat says:

    I usually go with #6.

    The other day actually, I was at my good friend’s house and a took her daughter’s globe that was sitting on a nearby table and was fiddling around with it. I found where I had lived in mid-missouri and then found my hometown in SC and put my fingers on the two points and casually said “to drive from here to here takes 20 hours give or take”…her jaw dropped.

    • Michelloui says:

      Yeah, I love that–people never realise just how massive the States are compared to many countries!

  2. I enjoy travel, have been to numerous places yet I’ve never been to America! So I totally agree, why should Americans be criticised for not leaving such a vast and varied country.

    • Michelloui says:

      I may have this all mixed up, but don’t you have a cousin in Chicago you could visit…? Thanks for stopping by Trish!

      • Yes I do! Toni (Expat Mum) – we have just discovered each other again. I may have to pay a visit to the Windy City now.

        • Michelloui says:

          Ha! That’s what I thought! I’ve never even been to the Windy City and I only lived two States away (and about two or three days drive…). I heard it’s a great place to visit.

        • Expat Mum says:

          There’s a lovely guest room with the head boards half way installed. (Ball & Chain put one on wonky. Sigh!) Welcome anytime cuz.

  3. cambridgelady says:

    I became very aware, when living in the USA, how little holiday/vacation time Americans had. And so many had relatives hundreds or thousands of miles away and would visit them in their 2/3 weeks off work. On top of that many working parents couldn’t take holidays simultaneously as they had to cover school holidays between them. So I do understand why so few have passports. I’m actually surprised it’s as high as one in five.

    When I would talk about my travels in Europe and Australasia many Americans would bring up their myth that “the government pays you Europeans to have 6 weeks vacation a year”. Erm ….. equally untrue. I’ve had 4-6 weeks holiday a year throughout my working life and have worked in both the public and private sector. I have also taken unpaid leave to travel – I think Americans are less keen to do that as they risk losing health insurance??

    Interesting post.

    • Michelloui says:

      Thats really interesting that American said that to you, I havent heard that one before and it’s enlightening. I don’t know about how unpaid leave affects their health insurance, but if anything could potentially put that at risk then you;re right, they definitely wouldn’t go for it. Another reason for free healthcare…

    • Mindy says:

      I would not only be concerned about my Health Insurance, I would be concerned that I would LOSE MY JOB! Most employers do not allow extended vacation time. My Husband is even limited in what months he is allowed to take vacation (June, July and August). And He is not allowed to take more than 1 week at a time.

      St. Louis, MO

      • Michelloui says:

        I am still so surprised, and sad, that US businesses are so inhumane.

        • Mindy says:

          I know, but when there are more people than there are jobs, it makes everyone replaceable. Not a fan of the corporation…..

  4. Lisa says:

    Interesting, I guess it shows you how people in different parts of Britain perceive America. I very rarely hear this type of comment from people in the North East (many of whom have never even been to London!) and they imagine America as a magical place where everything simply must be better than the North East.

    I’m quite thankful that I don’t get these types of cynical questions and comments. I usually spend most of my time trying to explain that council estates in Hartepool are paradise compared to Detroit’s inner city, the weather in the US Midwest is 10 times more brutal than North East winters and having the NHS makes life in Britain so much better than life in the US ever was. I find these constant explanations exhausting, but I feel grateful I don’t deal with this type of dinner party conversation very often!

    • Michelloui says:

      Thats really funny! It was actually when I lived in Alnwick, in Northumberland when I heard this comment the most!

      And I’m totally with you on the winters–that’s the first thing I celebrated: green grass all winter compared to snow and sub-zero temps back home in Minnesota. And the NHS is one of my pet loves as well.

      • awindram says:

        My experience is more in line with Michelloui. I’m a born and bred Hartlepudlian and was certainly aware growing up of the stereotype of many Americans not owning passports. I’ve also heard just as many cynical comments regarding the US when I’m back home as I ever did living in Cambridge or London.

      • Rebecca says:

        my favourite was a co-worker of mine saying last week “we got a lot of snow last winter, didn’t we?”…and I think Lincoln maybe had 10 inches total….wheras where I’m from in PA (and where my mom still lives) they had 2 feet of snow in one go! (and over 40 inches over the whole winter). So fun trying to explain that to people here.

        Also, my lack of a proper winter jacket that is waterproof, as I never needed one in the US and always wore a ski jacket if it was bad out.

        • Michelloui says:

          Hahahaha! Thats funny. Where Im from in Northern Minnesota it gets -40 in January so I like to think I can lord that one over people when they start complaining about the cold–but all my local friends beat me to it when Im the one complaining ‘I thought you said you grew up in the cold?!’ Uhmmmm… oh yeah.

      • Kirsty says:

        What an interesting discussion. I have to admit I’ve probably been in the position of annoying dinner party guest in the past, but your post has really made me think about it differently.

        Re: the different attitudes described above, I’d say that Alnwick is very middle class, and I imagine a lot of the homes there would be holiday homes for people who work in big cities. Whereas Hartlepool is more economically deprived. (I live in an ex-mining village outside Durham, and I’d expect different conversations in the pub here from those at dinner parties in the centre of town.)

        • Michelloui says:

          Thanks for joining in Kirsty! Yes, it’s true that class may have something to do with it. I do know a lot of people are not ‘middle class’ in Alnwick but the one’s I know who wouldn’t classify themselves as middle class also wouldn’t have much of an opinion about Americans and their passports. A fact that should also be thrown into the mix regarding Alnwick is that there has been a small American university student population there for the past 30 years. These students live in the castle but they have families whom they stay with at weekends or other times. Bonds are forged and Americans and their families visit their previous host families many years later–or indeed the host families visit Americans. There is a percentage of middle class Alnwick who know Americans quite well and so should be able to speak intelligently about them to their friends!

  5. Iota says:

    Great post. You set out all the issues very clearly. I didn’t know (3) – that makes a big difference.

    I have crossed the fence on this one. I used to be that smug British dinner party guest, but now I would leap to the defence of Americans (or their defense, even). If British people didn’t need a passport to travel in Europe, what percentage of them would own one?

    Travel just isn’t on the agenda of a lot of Americans, and most of us think travel is ‘a good thing’. But you could say that about lots of other situations: eg learning a new skill, reading books about politics or history, playing a sport, investigating world religions, voluntary work… etc. Personally, I think people miss out hugely if they don’t travel, but I’ve also come to accept that you can’t judge people by what’s not on their horizons.

    • Michelloui says:

      As I said to Nappy Valley… you’re another perfect example of why it’s actually good to live overseas (or travel)–you get to understand better why people are the way they are somewhere! Of course that almost (but not quite) defeats my point 😉

      An eloquent reply as always.

  6. Remember also that families no longer live near each other, they can be spread out for miles, over states or even across the country. So that measly two weeks is spent visiting family they can’t see the rest of the year.

    • Michelloui says:

      That’s an excellent point.

      • awindram says:

        Interesting but my, admittedly anecdotal, experience tends to be the opposite. Those living far away from their families in a different part of the States tend to be the Americans I’ve met who have the extensive experience of travelling in other countries.

        I’ve found it’s more likely that those who live close to their family, and who would theoretically have more oppportunity to go abroad than those who have spend vacation days travelling across the country to see relatives, who turn out to be the least well travelled.

  7. Since living in the US it’s really brought home to me what a huge country it is and why it is that Americans have less need to travel abroad. If they want a beach holiday, they can go to Florida; skiing, to Colorado; desert, to Arizona. Many people on Long Island simply take their summer break on the other end of Long Island, 100 miles away. And yes, holiday time is much more limited. However, I always feel it’s a good thing if someone I meet has actually travelled abroad – it shows a curiousity about the world beyond the norm and I normally find I have more in common with them than with people who have never left America.

    • Michelloui says:

      I guess you’re a perfect example of why it is quite good to get out of one’s country–one can only truly understand other nationalities after living with them!

      I understand exactly what you mean about feeling you have more in common with someone who has ‘been abroad’. It’s almost as if travel is a trait of a certain personality.

    • In my experience living in Britain and living in America, finances play the biggest part in Americans not going overseas. Only in about 1/4 of cases do I find it’s due to lack of interest and frankly, there are people who just think that America has everything they could ever want, it’s the greatest place on earth, so why bother?

      But on the other hand, I can’t tell you how many people say to me how much they would like to visit England, but “it’s sooo expensive!.”

      • One more note: Our last trip to the UK which was for a fortnight cost our family of 3 nearly $9,000. Yeah, you read that right and we stayed in a cheap flat to save money and used the kitchen to save on food. Because of our schedules and limited vacation time, we could only go in June which meant our flights cost us almost $4000 on their own. Our flat which was one of the cheapest we could find in decent condition, cost $2000 for two weeks. That’s $6000 before we even walked out the door! I wonder how many Brits can afford a $5000 holiday every year?

  8. Expat Mum says:

    I wrote about this at PowderRoomGrafitti recently and my main point is that you can bet if Britain got decent (guaranteed) weather in the summer, half the chavs who go to those awful places on the Continent would stay in the UK. Why else would they put fish n chip shops etc. on the Costa Del Sol? Just because they “travel” doesn’t make them any more open-minded.

    Also – I have a great new way of shutting people up when they’re on the attack and trying to make you look stupid – just smile. It kind of makes them feel ever so slightly foolish and bullyish.

    • Michelloui says:

      I shall go have a look, sorry to have missed that one. You make excellent points here.

      And I love your technique. Maybe I’m too mouthy. I shall practice my serene smile and see what effect I get in the future–sounds entertaining!

  9. Rachel says:

    Michelloui — beautiful new blog! And very interesting post. I think all of your points are good ones. This year I’ve worked with a Russian gal who once worked in a multinational company and had strong views on American culture. It was funny when she went on and on about how everyone wears a suit everywhere and calls each other “Mr. So-and-so” and never uses first names. I have consistently reminded her that making such generalizations is the same as saying that Russian culture is similar to Italian culture — because the distance is equivalent.

    I have to admit though, I’ve been a bit of a traitor. (Gasp!) When things go a bit haywire in the US and news comes here (like the Florida church burning Korans)or when a Jay Leno clip plays over here that shows that people on the street don’t know that India and Indonesia are different countries — the first thing that comes out of my mouth is: “Well you have to understand that people don’t really travel outside of the US very much.” Granted, I go on to explain that’s because our country is so huge, but I still use it as an excuse to explain some of the more unenlightened decisions of the country (e.g. the Kyoto Agreement.) Sorry! I’m a traitor! Don’t hate me!

    • Michelloui says:

      Thank you very much! I think we’re all the same unless we try hard to be different–with regards to stereotyping other people. It’s basic psychology, I guess. We want to put people in categories so we can more easily refer to a catalogue in our mind when interacting with those people.

      No, you weren’t being a traitor. There’s millions of Americans inside the States who would have been outraged at the Koran burning (non-Muslims), or embarrassed by the lack of knowledge of world geography (even non-geographers would be embarrassed). When a member of your team lets you down it’s frustrating!!

    • Nataliya says:


      The “Jay Walking” segments of these talk shows would horrify me until I realized that for every 10 people they’d interview, they’d stumble upon one illiterate ‘chav’ who cannot find his (collective) ass with both hands and a ‘torch’. Therefore, naturally, they would delete the 10 educated people and only show the humiliation of those who have ‘fallen between the educational cracks’. It is entertainment, after all.
      In addition, nationalistic or ‘patriotic’ people are everywhere; the American (often) is the stereotypical inbred hick, while the Brit masquerades under layers of elitism and pedantry.

  10. Rachel says:

    Just one added thought. I guess it is easy to poke (gentle) fun at the US when you’re from there — but I do get my hackles up when someone from outside the US makes fun of our country. In our relationship my (English) boyfriend and I have an agreement. He can poke fun at American stereotypes as long as I can poke fun at Coachtrip.

    • Michelloui says:

      It’s like you can poke fun at a family member but you can’t stand it if someone outside the family does!

      Good agreement you two have 😉

  11. Juli says:

    You make some excellent points in this post, and I definitely shall borrow some of them in the future during those pesky conversations about Americans.

    I now live in a remote, little country where an OE/working holiday scheme is a rite of passage for a great many of its citizens. This may be in part due to a lack of opportunities in New Zealand (which is obviously not the case in a big country like the U.S.).

    But being a pedant myself, I just wanted to point out that cost and distance are not always prohibitive to travel. “Seeing the world” is part of the Kiwi psyche!

    • Michelloui says:

      Cost and distance are definitely not always prohibitive of travel, that is an excellent point! I suppose that’s when the other factors matter for some Americans, such as the two week holidays and/or the vast number of things to see and do in the States. And those Americans for whom those factors don’t make travel outside the States difficult (or less desirable)…well, they’re the ones with passports seeing the world!

      I must admit that I loved how many people I met from New Zealand and Australia when I was backpacking–I loved that a period of travel is such a part of the cultures of those countries. I also love the gap year culture in Britain and wish that had been more a part of American culture when I was that age. Perhaps it will disappear when people have to (sadly) start paying for university in Britain. Now I’m off on another tangent though… 😉

  12. W says:

    You make good points. But the problem is conducting wars with countries the US electorate has no affinity with. American kids press buttons without any sense of who the people they’re about to kill are. It doesn’t matter that Canadians don’t travel; they don’t start wars. The vast standing army and huge spend on war equipment places a heavy responsibility on Americans to understand the “other”. Britain is similarly militaristic of course, less wealthy and less effective at killing people. But to some extent more interested and connected with other cultures.

    • Michelloui says:

      That is a really excellent point. And interestingly, the military is the only way a vast number of Americans are able to travel the world. The handful of people I know who are in the American military have used their opportunity to live in other countries to also travel around in or near those countries. I’ve always been so impressed with their determination to see the world while they have the opportunity. On the other hand, these same people tell me about colleagues of theirs who never leave the military base. Sad.

      • But it’s our government that chooses to go to war, not the electorate. We don’t hold nationwide referendums on war. And many of the pols that hold office have been overseas at different points of their lives. We shouldn’t all be held accountable for what our government does especially when most of the time they are elected with less than a majority of the people’s vote (thanks to the electoral college.) And if I accept W’s point, it shouldn’t matter who starts the war but who all is involved in it. If Canada sends troops then they should know who they’re killing as well. Why do they get a pass?

  13. Joe Harris says:

    I have to say that this has never really bothered me, but that’s probably because I do think it’s a shame that Americans travel so little outside their own country.

    The real issue with Americans never leaving America is that they’re never forced to confront how much of their ‘culture’ (customs, politics, religion, etc.) is completely arbitrary. The American way isn’t the right way, it’s a just one way.

    OK, it’s a big country, but ‘so what’? It’s still just *one* country and if we’re being honest the “varied” part is being steadily eroded (if not already gone). Don’t you find exactly the same coffee shops, restaurants, etc. everywhere you go in the states? Every time I return home I find fewer unique retailers, less life downtown and another strip mall.

    Anyway, the UK is far from perfect. As you can tell I’ve been in too many of these conversations myself.

    • Michelloui says:

      I love that point–that Americans never have to face how much of their culture is arbitrary. It’s like having one’s faith tested, isn’t it?! It’s good for the mind and the belief to be questioned from time to time. In another post How Living Overseas Has Changed Me, I talk about just that. It has helped me appreciate the States in a different, perhaps deeper way.

      But is it necessary for Americans to have this experience?

      I agree with the increasing ‘sameness’ of the country, but I do still find differences in spite of the chain stores/coffeeshops/restaurants. It is sad that those differences aren’t as great as they once were.

  14. Mother Hen says:

    Wow, by the time I got to the bottom here, I forgot the question!
    I was lucky enough to start traveling when I was 10 and have had an American passport for more then 30 years.
    I Know I am not the norm even for an East Coaster or a Yankee for that matter. Now that I live here in the UK, I have been able to put stamps from all over the world into my passports and so have my children who carry American passports. The strange thing is though, that most of my family in America have passports but Never use them.
    I can see how travel from Anywhere, USA to even Europe can seem daunting when Texas is as big as Europe. My family are happy to travel to Cape Cod when I travel there, with my passport, to America, but are not keen to travel to me in England no matter how much time they have off. It’s odd.

    Great post!

    • Michelloui says:

      You are indeed lucky to have traveled so much–you must really love that living in England means you’re even closer to many destinations! Interesting how your family have passports yet never use them–even with a place to stay in England!!

  15. Rebecca says:

    I found it shocking when Facebook reconnected me with many of my classmates and I discovered that more than half of them still lived in our TINY hometown (our town was “one square mile”) or in some of the surrounding communities. We’re talking, at least 200 of my high school “friends” on facebook. That’s incredible.

    I got lucky. I didn’t go on family trips at all from the time I was 6 months old until I graduated HS, but I went on a lot of school and church trips, including Canada, Mexico, the UK, Germany, and Austria. (And actually, my mom and my trip to the UK when she met Tim’s parents was our first actual family holiday!). At the time, we didn’t need passports for Canada or Mexico, but a surprising number of us got them for the Europe trip….though I’m sure they never had then renewed or got any other stamps.

    My mom wouldn’t have a passport if she didn’t need it to visit me, but she suffers from another problem I think some Americans have. She doesn’t quite grasp the concept of other cultures. Things are “wrong”, not different, and instead of trying new things, she’ll complain.

    And just like I know people who never left their home state, I know plenty of people here who haven’t even been to Wales or Scotland…or even London.

    • Michelloui says:

      Rebecca you’ve got an interesting story! AndI completely understand about your mom–I know someone exactly like that as well. Sad. And frustrating for us.

  16. Meagan Lopez says:

    Great post michelle!
    Working where I work now – getting people jobs – and having to check ID’s frequently, the one thing we always say is “Bring two forms of ID – Social Security Card, Birth Certificate or Driver’s License – oh, but if you own a passport, you only need one.” Well, I’ve only been working for a month, and I’ve only seen one passport so far – so there ya go!

    Strange to me, but I certainly agree. I think travel is important, but the vacation time is so true. We have all our vacation booked this year already – weddings, holidays, bachelorette parties – how do we find the time to do other things??

  17. Heidi says:

    Interesting topic! I am the wife of an American Military member and the military life has given us the opportunity to travel. My husband father was in the Air Force and spent about a third of his life in Europe. I think being married to him, the background that he has and his love of Europe has been an asset to select a new country to explore. Before my marriage to him I have never had a passport since travel to Mexico and Canada never required it.
    In my experience, travel to both Canada and Mexico were quite cheap in comparison to what travel costs from America. Would I have done so much if I were still living in America, probably not. My own family has not come here as much as I would have liked but for some of them the expense is more than they can manage. Even with a place to stay.

    I now have the opportunity to travel most anywhere I would like to go and quite cheaply as well. I am fortunate to be given this wonderful opportunity over the past ten year and have taken advantage of it as much as possible.

    I do get a little put off by those I know who never leave the base. It amazes me to know that people I know are not interested or care to see the country that they are lucky to live in for three or four years. I just cannot understand why some people take the opportunity to live in Europe but have no interest in learning about our host country. I don’t think it has anything to do with being American and all to do with apathy!

    • Michelloui says:

      Thanks for stopping by Heidi! I think it is completely fantastic that you’ve got such opportunities and that you’re taking advantage of them when you can. And yes, it is really sad that your fellow Americans stay on base and don’t see what an opportunity they’re being handed on a plate.

  18. J says:

    Your reasons as to why most Americans do not own passports are very understandable. However, do you not think that the lack of foreign travel, for whatever reason, promotes ignorance and narrow-mindedness of other countries/cultures? For example, Brits travelling in the US often get asked whether they know the Queen or their friend who lives in London. Some seem to think that British people are under the complete control of the Queen, who may impose whatever law she wishes to impose.

    Then again, I think the atrocious US news services are to blame. Fox News in particular, with it’s talk of the NHS “death council”.

    • Michelloui says:

      I totally think lack of travel creates a narrow mindedness of other cultures. But I also agree with you about the media coverage of the world from within the US. I had one module on Theory of Persuasion in Media when I was at uni many many years ago and that was enough to open my eyes to the amazing power the US media (well, any media) has over it’s country. It is constantly open for corruption and mis-use–whether the media people realise they are being used or not.

  19. TampaLimey says:

    Fascinating debate! It’s funny, I’ve lots of friends from home in the UK who’ve been globe-trotting but haven’t seen much of the diversity of Britain, which amazes me. For a small group of islands you have the bustling capitals of London, Edinburgh or Cardiff, fantastic beaches in Cornwall, then there’s the rugged scenery of the Lake District, the Highlands, Wales or even along parts of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Add in the Channel Islands and you have quite a mix… Can you tell that since I’ve been in Tampa I’ve more than done my bit plugging for the British tourist industry?!

    I definitely get the points about Americans not having enough holiday (am here on local terms!) and this country is incredibly vast. But here’s my question: Do you think the lack of much mention of the outside world in the American media plays a part?

    Take this past week’s news: little mention of the G20, or China redirecting net traffic. No mention of Ireland (and maybe Portugal) teetering on the brink of the financial abyss. Little mention of Burma finally freeing Aung San Suu Kyi.

    Top stories here? The Palin and her reality show and how she can beat Obama. How much Obama’s trip to the G20 did or did not cost. Some House politician who may or may not have broken some rules. There was admittedly some coverage of Cholera in Haiti and a certain engagement. But then People named “The sexiest man alive”… Oh and don’t forget the coverage of the new Harry Potter and then the best Black Friday deals!

    I do love exploring America and meeting people here, and heaven knows, having grown up near Swindon (identified this month as “most ignorant town in Britain!”) there are the culturally ignorant in every country. However I have honestly been asked this summer by someone old enough to know better “Do Hobbits come from Britain?”…

    • Michelloui says:

      I think the media plays a HUGE role in the mis-perception Americans have of the rest of the world. I met an American man at a dinner party recently who had the good luck ad/or intelligence to do extremely well in business and he was able to retire very early with a vast amount of money. The first thing he did was buy a load of plane tickets to places in the world he had heard about on the news–countries in Africa, in Southeast Asia, Russia, the Middle East and so on, because he wanted to see what they were really like. He was aware enough to know that Americans may not always see the real picture. I loved hearing that story!

  20. Paradise says:

    Hi,I loved reading this, you put it so well. Personally I applaud you & apologise on behalf of fellow Brits for being so smug & condescending, not to say rude. Surely anyone widely travelled & curious wd tap into the gd fortune of having a real life ‘other National’ at their dinner pary to find out more about that continent ratehr than ‘pronouncing’ on it.
    Your arguments are spot on & indeed there is So much to see & such beauty & gd weather in the States, you can see why Americans might not feel the necessity for travel in the same way as others. I agree with others however, about teh cultural differences & accommodating differences, adapting, enduring,accepting,having preconceptions challenged are such vital components of travel, tho I feel one gets these more from living abroad than merely travelling or ‘sightseeing’
    Thanks for a great post.

    • Michelloui says:

      This made me chuckle! Thank you for your apology but completely unnecessary. I think they believed (with one or two glasses of wine on board) that they were sparking an intellectual debate. Debates can be entertaining and enlightening, but when people come armed with false facts and refuse to budge then I find them dull and frustrating.

      Like you I know there’s a big difference in people who do get out and travel or especially live abroad. Usually people are better for it! Ive definitely changed for the better because of living overseas.

  21. Metropolitan Mum says:

    I know a few people who have never left Britain. My neighbours, for example. As you said, there are many valid reasons not to travel – for Americans as well as
    Europeans. I find it astounding how many people think they were entitled to judge about others.
    PS nice new layout !!

  22. Danielle says:

    I think you left out the biggest difference.

    In the UK, I had to have a passport to: Open a Bank account, sign a lease, get a drivers permit, get an National Insurance number, sign up to a GP, even transfer money. Now more places will take Driving licenses as they have photos, but for a until pretty recently they were just bits of paper that could not be used as identification.

    In the US I could use a gov./state issued ID, drivers license, birth certificate, social security card, etc.

    US citizens have passports to travel,
    UK citizens have passports to live

  23. Lo says:

    Another reason that many Americans probably don’t own passports: they’re expensive. As Danielle said above, the only form of identification you’ll use in the US for the vast majority of the time is your state-issued ID/driver’s license, which is about $20 every 5 years to renew (at least in my state.)

    Compare that to a passport, which is $135 minimum. Granted, you only have to renew it every 10 years (for an additional $110 fee,) which admittedly doesn’t add up to much over the long run, but I can understand how many people would see it as a needless expense when the cost and difficulty of travelling overseas don’t allow much opportunity to use it.

    I think your first point is a large part of the problem, since American employers aren’t required by law to give ANY vacation time, especially to part-time workers (which constitutes 25 million Americans according to workforce.com’s 5-year-old statistics. Those numbers have no doubt risen due to the economic climate of the past few years.)

    • Michelloui says:

      Of course that’s a very good point. It does cost a lot (I should check what it costs on the UK). I have to renew my daughter’s American passport for a trip coming up in April and I’m certainly not doing that before Christmas!!

      • Mindy says:

        My passport is about to expire also, I do not remember it costing quite that much?? I have a vague memory of it being around $75…. Oh well, cant remember.

        • Michelloui says:

          I think mine cost more than that, but it could be because I had to get it in the UK?

  24. Michael @ adaddyblog.com says:

    Hello, Michelloui.

    First of all thank you for dropping by my blog… not least of which for the fact it introduced me to yours. I’ve been trolling through some of your posts, and thought I’d at least leave a footprint so you’d know I was here.

    I like the way you’ve put this in perspective. I grew up alternately in New York, Vienna and Amsterdam, so I understand how easy it is to travel through 2 to 4 European countries in the time it’d take me to get to the nearest foreign country to me.

    I’ve visited more than half of the states here, but there are so many I’ve left to see. I entered all the countries I’d visited in my life from the USSR (I’m older than you) to Micronesia (Federated States thereof, to be exact) and the tool told me I’d only visit 17% of the worlds countries.

    My understanding of those who either due to limited means, need or interest haven’t traveled abroad not withstanding, I can’t imagine not having a passport. My wife who lived in Ireland when we met, has both a US and an IE passport. As will my daughter once we get around to the paperwork. It easies EU border crossings.

    Anyway enough about me… tell me what you think about me. Sorry… It’s been a long day. As I said in a quick response to your comment on my recent blog, I loved your intro. Will want to hear more about your life in a castle and now a pub. Sounds cool… well, and also cool? Def’ put the kettle on. I’ll be back.

    -Michael (http://twitter.com/adaddyblog)

    • Michelloui says:

      Wow! I’m really pleased you left your footprint. I love meeting interesting people through the blogs. Looking forward to reading more of your posts and comments.

  25. I don’t know if you will ever see this but I am also an American Expat and though I live much of the time in Qatar now I lived a LONG time in the UK and loved it. Consider myself part British in fact. I think it’s sad that many Americans don’t have even a priority to travel. Barring all the reasons above, many have no real fire to travel and I never got that. I have always loved living overseas. I’m glad I am in good company! PS I lived in a former pub when I lived in the UK too.

    • Michelloui says:

      Very nice to ‘meet’ you! Like you, I love living overseas, but as I get older I find it harder to be so far from family. Qatar, wow! The closest I’ve been is Dubai for a couple of weeks. And how cool that you also lived in a former pub!

  26. Tara Moyle says:

    Thanks for this! I’ve been so frustrated with this issue and plan to write on it, as well as a few other common misconceptions about Americans. The biggest problems, like you said, are cost and simple geography, but there’s also the cultural one. Many of the people I grew up with were working class, and it simply wouldn’t have been within their realm of possibility to consider traveling abroad. It costs too much, and people wouldn’t even know how to go about much of the travel planning–where to stay, how to get around, etc. They don’t consider it an option.

    All Americans are not rich. America on TV does not equal America in reality. Cannot say this enough….

    • Michelloui says:

      Yes, it just shows that it’s not just Americans with the mis-perceptions about the world!

  27. Freat peace of work its all bout the american i love to read that ..

  28. Martin says:

    Michelloui – thanks for a great post. I’m a naturalized American born in the former Czechoslovakia, my wife is an American. As just about anyone I know who was born in Europe, I considered this passport thing a “proof” of a certain cultural superiority. “We” were “different”; enlightened, worldly, etc – never mind the sorry condition of the societies, lands and hell-holes we left.
    But the longer I’ve lived in America, the more I’ve learned to appreciate that this is a continent running from Arctic to sub-tropics, connected by great roads, dependable services, and populated by a very civilized and distinct society. My last and probably the best vacation was to Grand Canyon and northern Arizona – I’ve never seen anything like it.
    As far as the country of my birth goes – and the rest of Europe I had a chance to see – I tell people that it’s a great place to visit…
    Well, I better quit before I get too sentimental… 🙂

  29. Sian says:

    I had no idea this was true until I read this post. I think if I’d heard this in conversation I’d have reacted in the typical way, but your points really made sense. Really enjoyed reading this article.

  30. diney says:

    it’s taken me such a long time to read most of your other comments that I’ve run out of time so just a quick word – i know 3 people up here in Northumberland who have only been into Newcastle once or twice in their lives, never been to London EVER and have never been on a plane. Presumably they don’t have passports either. Sticking my neck out, it is a class thing in these examples and I’m sure there are many many more people in the same circumstances. With regard to Americans, why would they need to travel out of the country as it is so vast that it could never be fully explored during a 2-3 week holiday period stretched over a lifetime! The same goes for the UK even – we had a great holiday last year exploring part of the west coast of Scotland but ran out of time. We went to south Wales for a week also, and once again just touched on all the wonderful places to visit. HOWEVER, to travel is also to expand ones mind and stretch ones horizons to experience other cultures so it looks like I;m sitting on the fence, where I don’t need a passport!!!

  31. Megan says:

    America is big. It’s really big. It’s also quite far away from other places, unless you live on neighbouring borders. There is so much to see within the United States that an American not having a passport is not quite the same thing as a European not having one. I think so anyway!

  32. Strawberry says:

    While living in the UK, I had this comment/conversation so many times, I was sick to death of it. I had a boss who casually/disparagingly mentioned Americans’ lack of travel probably once a week.

    One day I got a map out and we measured the distance an American would have to travel to get “abroad”. We started with the coasts (NY and California) and then moved our measurement to states in the middle of the country. We discounted Canada and Mexico as foreign travel simply because he (and most Brits making a similar complaint) didn’t view either of them as sufficiently “foreign” to count as foreign travel (their distinction, not mine!). We also discounted much of Central and South America, as he (and, again, most other Brit commentors) were not themselves willing to travel to developing-world countries for their holidays, so it seemed only fair to apply the same standards to the Americans they were criticizing.

    When we then looked at the map, the first non-Canada non-Mexico developed-world country that Americans on the west coast could go to is Japan, and the first countries for east coasters are in Europe. And, when we measured the distances, particularly for Americans coming from the middle of the US, and applied them to travel from the UK, they equated to a Brit taking a holiday to South Africa, to India (developing world, I know, but it illustrated the distance), or to China.

    I turned to my boss and asked him, “So, how often do your holidays abroad take you to South Africa or China?” Not often, was the answer. In fact, he agreed grudgingly, he would consider those destinations to be ‘once in a lifetime’ kinds of holidays, unlike his frequent hops over the Channel to France.

    Now, I asked, what if you got only 10 days holiday per year? And from those 10 days, you not only had to take your annual trips, but also the days you stayed home for the plumber, or your occasional half-day of rest, and all your kids’ days off school? If your holiday time was *that* limited, how often would you travel halfway across the world for your annual vacation?

    Not often, he concluded. Hardly ever, in fact. And THAT, my friends (…and my critics), is why most Americans don’t own passports.

    • Michelloui says:

      Wow! Very well handled, nice twist and doing it like this is the best way to convince people of the reality of this situation. Thanks for your comment.

    • Anita Smith says:

      Strawberry – you’ve got the best answer to this that I’ve read so far! Well done!

  33. #1 was the first thing I thought of. Many people in Europe have a few weeks of holiday each year. Americans get a couple weeks, if they’re lucky enough to work somewhere that gives paid vacation.

    I didn’t have a passport until the military hooked me up with one when my husband got orders overseas. The only places I had been to outside the US (Canada, the Bahamas, and Mexico) didn’t require a passport at the times I went.

    I think it’s great for people to travel and if they have the opportunity they should. But the US is a huge country to explore. As you point out, some of our states are bigger than many countries. I moved from Toledo, Ohio to Orlando, Florida, a distance roughly the same as the distance from Britain to Berlin.

    • Michelloui says:

      And I’ll bet that your move from Toledo to Orlando was almost as big of a move as when you moved overseas–new everything except money! Even grocery store chains aren’t the same across the States!Travel definitely opens the mind, especially if you can travel overseas, but if Americans are just travelling throughout their own country, they’re still doing pretty good (especially in this economy).

      I read a blog recently where the writer was complaining about his move to a smallish town int he US after being an expat in a smallish town in China for many years. He learned that the quickest way to stop a conversation was to say that he and his wife had recently moved there from China. No one in the States was interested. But when he first moved to China everyone wanted to know all about his travels, the country he came from and what life was like outside their country. He was suggesting that if Americans traveled more they might be more curious as well. But do the Chinese travel any more than Americans? And why do the small town Americans HAVE TO be curious about the rest of the world? I suppose curiosity leads to knowledge and knowledge helps people understand why the world turns the way it does, but I’m still not sure about his argument.

      Thanks for your input, it’s nice to ‘meet’ you Amanda!

      • Well, I haven’t moved yet. Just got the blog started a little early since there’s so much preparation involved and we really didn’t have the warning we would have liked as to what we needed to do and so forth, so I figured it might help other people if the info is out there. But, yeah it was a pretty big move. You’re right most of the stores aren’t the same, although now that I’m in GA I have Kroger that I was used to in OH but not the Winn Dixie I got used to in FL lol. I think so. It can cost as much or more to go overseas as to travel across the US. I know people who’ve never been out of my home state and maybe never will be.

        Interesting. I guess it’s probably because to the Chinese he was a foreigner but to the Americans he was just an American who returned home? I don’t know. People don’t have to be curious, and some I’m sure aren’t regardless of where you’re from. It varies place to place too. In FL which is a very transient state, it was pretty common for people to ask where I’m originally from (and I met a lot of people from New York, Michigan, and Ohio). In GA, the only time I recall being asked was today in the store by some guy who was trying to sell us a phone, asked my husband where I was from, and asked if I’m from the same place lol. A couple times friends have introduced me saying where I recently moved from, but other than that it seems most people here either don’t care or don’t think to ask.

        You’re welcome. Thanks. Nice to ‘meet’ you as well 🙂

  34. I really liked your points 5 and 6.

    When my foreign husband came to America only to discover there were different laws in every state, different drivers’ licenses issued by each state, etc., he said he felt exactly like he was crossing country borders in Europe or Africa.

    You make really good points that if Americans had to have a passport to travel to Hawaii, California, the Gulf Coast, Floriday, or New York City (much less Canada or Mexico), then far more would have passports. You have shown how what Europeans need to travel to other countries to get, Americans can easily find in America (other than the old-world cities and hearing different languages, of course).

    Lynne Diligent, Intercultural Meanderings

    • Michelloui says:

      It is interesting how this Europe-like aspect of America isn’t more obvious to Americans.

      • Anita Smith says:

        We don’t need a different license to be in another state, though. That’s huge.

  35. Also, in reply to some people above who asked if Americans risk losing their health care if they take an unpaid absence from a job in order to travel, the answer is NO. However, what they DO risk is LOSING THE JOB…..and if they lose their job, yes, they lose their health care that goes with it (if they were lucky enough to have a job with that benefit these days).

    When taking an unpaid absence longer than a vacation, the business usually would have to hire a temporary worker to fill in, or resentful other workers would have to fill in the slack.

    I once took an unpaid leave to travel, but it was a special circumstance. I was hired for a job, but before the interview my husband and I had already paid for a foreign trip that was coming a couple of months after starting the job. I mentioned that immediately when they offered me the job that we had already paid for this trip and so I would need those ten days or so with no pay, and they were willing to work with me on this. But very seldom would a business be willing to offer more that the one week of vacation if that is standard in the business, or two weeks if that is standard.

    Lynne Diligent, Intercultural Meanderings

    • Michelloui says:

      VERY good point about losing the job! I’ll bet that’s something not many people know.

  36. Most Europeans tend to stick in mainland Europe – the French largely go on holiday in France. We Brits often know mainland Europe better than we do the UK and most of us should probably be spending less time flying around the place and more time exporing the UK, there are some great places to holiday here. Most island nations tend to be great travellers whereas continental types stay at home more – think of New Zealanders, Australians and Brits.

  37. Shelley says:

    Michelle – This is an amazing post and you have sparked some really interesting comments. I’ve run into this comment before and I have to admit that whilst I’m prepared to hear a reasonable amount of criticism of Americans (some tourists are pretty Ugly, after all), this is a comment I generally tackle, almost word for word as you have listed: limited vacation time, expensive to travel across the US, never mind across an ocean, visiting family is a priority. Then I talk about how very lucky I feel to have travelled as much as I have. Growing up I never ever expected to SEE Britain, never mind live here and travel to many other countries. I do sometimes think this comment from a Brit is sort of a snobby put down and whilst I’m not nasty about it, I do give this back ground in hopes of letting them know what they don’t know.

    The other comment I’ve had a few times is about how awful we were in having slavery in the South for so long. They imply that Britain was never involved in the slave trade. I was in Liverpool a couple of years ago and saw something that really opened my eyes and let me form a reply…not that I’ve had the comment since I found this! http://shelleyshouse.blogspot.com/2009/02/liverpool-international-slavery-museum.html

  38. MT says:

    Could it not also be the case that part of the reason only 20-22% of Americans own passports is that many Americans are not interested in other countries?

    I think as well as looking for a list of defensive answers to this question, maybe people should consider that America, like every country does have problems and blind patriotism is unfortunately one of them!

    p.s. I am a dual UK/US citizen and have no bias to either county.

    • Michelloui says:

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Of course that is very likely part of the reason. What I wished to dispell was the belief amongst many people I spoke to outside of the States that this was the main reason why so few Americans own a passport. Seeking a list of accurate replies that encompassed the other reasons many Americans don’t have passports was the point of this post.

      I have experience with Americans who have no interest in world travel, and they are not what people would call the stereotypical non-passport-holders (or whatever!). I dated a boy in high school who came from a family that enjoyed a lot of travel. His father was a doctor and they could afford long road trips across the States. But when his dad learned that I wanted to travel to England, he replied that ‘we have too much to see in our own country, there’s no point spending time and money on other countries until we’ve seen all of our own first.’ His lack of curiosity about the rest of the world surprised me. I doubt if he had a passport.


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