After four years of traveling, I’ve noticed some differences in the way that Americans travel, versus how people from the rest of the world travel. Let’s look at the steps you should take if you want to travel like an American.
- First of all, don’t travel abroad in the first place (unless you are from California, New York, or maybe Colorado). Hell, you only have a 30% chance of having a passport, anyway.
- When you do travel, try to make sure it only happens for 2 weeks per year. You’ll probably go to a nice hotel and make the most of your stay, spending more in two weeks than others would spend in two months.
- Don’t even consider the possibility of traveling without your laptop and cellphone. You absolutely MUST stay connected.
- If you do decide to travel longterm, understand that you MUST have a job back home, a business online, or plans to return to a job. The idea of quitting before setting out on a long journey is absolutely unthinkable.
The above four bullet points may sound a bit critical, but they aren’t. They are common threads I’ve noticed in American tourists and travelers. We have a different cultural mindset than other countries—it’s not wrong, just different.
I, for instance, am an extreme example of #3 and #4. I find myself unable to travel without at least an iPad or iPhone. Hell, in the issue of my most recent email newsletter I promised to take a trip to Southeast Asia without any technology. At the last moment, to my own chagrin, I found myself stuffing my iPad into my backpack. I am addicted to technology.
An interesting difference I always notice when I am in Europe is the process of meeting someone new. Think about it—what is the first question you ask someone in the US? “What do you do?” That’s unthinkable in Europe—the first question is always “Where are you from?” or “Where do you live?” In the US, we define each other by the work they do. While traveling, we stereotype by location and origin. Again, it’s not an insult—it’s just something we do.
Is work really everything?
Over time, I’ve come to believe that American culture is shaped by work.
Call it the protestant work ethic if you like, but something about pure unadulterated labor is endemic in our culture. Americans cannot escape the feeling that we should be working—and if we’re not working, we guilty about not working.
But what happens if we stop working? What happens if we manage to put a strict wall between work and travel? Would the world end if you were to take a month away from work, away from technology, away from communication?
Sean Ogle wrote a great post where he described an interesting effect that I’ve noticed for years—the less time I have to get something done, the more I actually do. Think back to when you were in college—didn’t you often get your work done at the last minute, when a deadline loomed? In today’s society, many people ‘suffer’ from malleable deadlines, meaning that we can continue to waste our time on reddit and Facebook, and never actually complete our tasks. But if we HAD to get our work done, they would get done much more efficiently.
In the same way, when Americans travel, we have trouble letting go of our normal life. We stay connected, chatting with the same people, posting stories to Facebook, and we live in two worlds at once—both in our old lives, and in our new travel destination. What the hell is the point of me being at a beautiful pool in Thailand if I’m on my iPad while I do it?
And how the hell do Aussies travel so freakin’ much?
Picture above is from Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai, Thailand. You can also watch a video of me holding it’s tail and being afraid.