Before reading this article, I would like to clarify that I am not bashing Americans and I am proud to be an American. I am merely suggesting that a percentage of Americans don’t understand the value of travel or cultural acceptance.
Did you know that we have 322.7 million people living in the United States of America? Did you know that 38% of Americans have valid passports?
Meanwhile in the United Kingdom, of the 56.1 million usually resident population of England and Wales, 76% (42.5million) hold a passport.
Due to current events, I’ve concluded that some of us are inherently xenophobic; or maybe some of us choose to be. Regardless, it’s pathetic.
If more of us traveled we’d have a greater understanding and acceptance of people, cultures, and societies.
We’d be more open-minded to considering the possibility that we aren’t the greatest country in the world. Some of us believe America is this this amazing country that can do no wrong - but personally, I think we are just the biggest bully on the playground.
I have lived all around the world and am the first to recognize that having the time and the resources to travel is a privilege. I understand it’s more difficult for some people to travel than it is for others. However, I’ve also worked my ass off to travel and to learn about other cultures, religions, and societies that are different than mine. So for those of you who think traveling outside of the United States is stupid, unnecessary and a waste of time and money because no place is better than here (brace yourself, you’re not going to like what I have to say next!), I am here to tell you to your face that you’re dead wrong.
Yes, I am pissed. Trust me, it was a hard lesson for me to learn too. I’m from New York City and I thought it was one of the greatest places on Earth...until I actually traveled this planet.
I am done justifying the ignorant actions of an entire culture who is too afraid to step out of their comfort zone. I am mortified when educated people whom I respect proclaim to me that Portugal is in South America. I am disgusted to have surrounded myself with people who honestly believe that the color of their skin or the way they were raised, educated, and prayed at the dinner table makes them superior to anyone else. It’s as though we forgot how America became America. It’s as if we forgot about the generations that built this country on hard work and principles.
My parents are Cuban immigrants that came to the U.S. because they believed in the American Dream. They left a Communist country to be part of a land that allowed them to make their own decisions and their own beliefs. They worked hard to establish themselves in a country that allowed democracy; and for that I commend them. If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be writing this article. If I were born in Cuba, I probably wouldn’t be allowed to even speak my opinion. But I was not - I was born and raised here. On American soil.
And truth be told, I’ve never really struggled. Yes, I’ve worked hard to earn a dollar, but I don’t know what it feels like to be poor, go to bed hungry, or not have a roof over my head (Thanks mom and dad!). Yet, I’ve never sat a day in my life and thought I was privileged because I am an American.
I am not saying that every American I have met has this mentality of ‘greatness’, but I have met a enough of them to recognize a pattern - and a problem.
If I have already made you angry, this article is probably written for your benefit.
The following are four reasons why people DON’T travel but NEED to travel.
1. Lack of Education
This is a big problem. I went on a date once with a guy who asked me if Colombia was in Europe or South America (there was no second date). A different friend of mine once mentioned to me that the “city of France” was in the “country of Paris”. Really? It isn’t that hard. PICK UP A MAP or better yet, Google it. Sadly, these aren’t the only people who’ve audibly mislabeled a world map to me. The worst excuse I’ve heard is: “I don’t like to travel outside of America, so it doesn’t matter that I don’t know.” Well, guess what. It does.
2. Blind Patriotism
I have witnessed a consistent pattern of Americans believing that because they were born in America they are special. This false sense of entitlement is a colossal mistake. Many of the benefits we experience at home are also present in countries half a world away from us. Some of these so called “benefits” we reap are actually even more well maintained or facilitated outside of the United States. Benefits such as gun violence, education in the math and sciences, and healthcare. Instead of thinking we live in the ONLY country that strives to provide a safe and welcoming home for its citizens, what these people should be thinking is how blessed they are to have been born in one of the countries around the world that allows them the freedom of speech, wear whatever they please, or love whomever they want to love.
What’s key here is to acknowledge that just as we don’t chose who are parents are, we don’t chose what country we are born in. And no one has more of a right to these blessings than anyone else.
3. Unfamiliarity with Race & Religion
If Americans traveled more they would have a greater understanding and sense of respect for other religions and races. I believe this type of enlightenment would allow us all to be less violent and more accepting. Exposure to different cultures and people makes us more aware of our surroundings and teaches us to appreciate the unfamiliar. This knowledge breeds acceptance rather than hate, because when we hate others whom we have never met, it often stems from a fear of the unknown. By learning about each other, we discover we all are the same.
4. Lack Of Understanding
Everyone wants to visit Paris and Rome, but for a real life changing experience, take the opportunity to travel outside the US to a 3rd world , or even a 2nd world country. Earlier this year I was invited to India for the very first time by Hands on Journey. Through their program I had the opportunity to exchange my time and knowledge in the slums of New Delhi. This experience provided me with a tremendous appreciation for what I have. While there, I was exposed to how these extraordinary people live. How they survive. How they love. I witnessed just how well they work with what they have. I returned home with much greater appreciation and understanding of life.
I am proud to be an American.
I thank my parents for having the courage to leave their home and start a new life in a land full of customs, traditions and even a language that was foreign to them. If they had been afraid to travel, I would not be here today.
It’s 2016. We need to become more aware of the cultures around us. Start out simple. For no money at all you can pick up a book or look at a map. It takes only a few minutes to visit your local post office or, even better, sit in your underwear and apply for a passport from your own home. This world is changing every day, for the better, but also for the worse. Be the change.
America is known as the country where dreams come true. This is why we are the melting pot of the world. This is why people from every corner of the world have come to build a life for themselves here. Ask your parents, grandparents, great grandparents or even great great grandparents. That’s the thing about America. We all came from somewhere else. Let’s not forget that.
Appreciate what we have so we can maintain what we already have.