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Maneesh and Lulu the Tiger

How to Travel like an American

04/23/2012

in Travel

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Don’t even consider the possibility of traveling without your laptop and cellphone. You absolutely MUST stay connected.
  4. 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.

{ 13 comments… }

Vincent Galiano January 14, 2014 at 5:51 am

“And how the hell do Aussies travel so freakin’ much?”
Because they earn a LOT of money. Really. A LOT. That’s why it’s so popular to go work there (at least for many young Europeans). I met an Australian girl who had a normal job (like a psychotherapist assistant or someting like it) she was able to save around 1500-2000 australian dollars a month… I live in Paris, it’s hard to save more than 100 euros a month.

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Tony Milano September 6, 2012 at 2:42 pm

Maneesh,
The Photo alone was awesome. The post is just a bonus.
Thanks for sharing,
Tony

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Rose Barker May 18, 2012 at 10:14 am

Thank you for your amusing, perceptive, and concise post!
Last week I was attempting to explain why it is so novel for me, an American, to quit my job and move to another country just… because.
I’ll forward the article along now.
BTW – as an ultralight packer, I also have the syndrome of last-minute suffitis, and bring along items I’d spent a week convincing myself I could live without. :)
Cheers!
- Miss Rose

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Joona April 29, 2012 at 2:30 am

Bryan, yep as a Finn I can say that Finns are quite often over represented abroad, especially in many hot spots. I’d say the same applies to Swedes and Norwegians too.

We do like to travel since our country is such a small and, lets be honest, kinda irrelevant/meaningless on the world scale. It’s good to see some other places and see how is life out there.

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maneesh April 29, 2012 at 2:43 am

also scandinavians tend to have a lot more vacation time, and their economic situation is often pretty conducive to travel—you earn more than most europeans.

I’m studying swedish right now, video coming soon :)

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Bryan April 24, 2012 at 10:27 am

Aussies? Maybe, but I swear there are more Finnish people outside their country than within it. Finland has a population of about 5 million and at any given point it seems like half of them are outside traveling the world. Swedes too.

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Kevin April 24, 2012 at 9:10 am

You find #4 common amongst many Europeans as well.

But in Europe we have something called the “Gap Year”. People, mostly students who take a whole year off to go travelling.

People don’t graduate with such a heap of debt like in the US, so they can sometimes afford to go travelling after graduating as well.

In Europe we also get much more vacation. 4,5 or 6 weeks according to country is common.

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Ilhan April 24, 2012 at 1:59 am

I think #3 and #4 apply like…to everybody on this planet? Who after all woudl take that risk ;)
#1 is a pretty American thing, though. In your defense, America is a huge country and you could see as many great places in the States as you could in Europe (of course, the experience wouldn’t be that rich in regards of culture or self-development, but that is a totally different issue)

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Maria April 23, 2012 at 6:17 pm

Hey Maneesh,

#3 and #4 and common for Europeans as well. However, I do have the same opinion that Americans want to stay connected VERY much!

It makes sense though as internet, e-mail, and social networks are deeply ingrained in the American culture. E.g., it’s common to see American people posting Facebook posts like: “Thank you such and such for a wonderful evening tonight!”. However, that is not so common for Europeans.

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Ron April 23, 2012 at 8:08 am

Maneesh, you lost a bit of credibility in my books… you promised to take a break from technology, and you clearly failed at it. I’m a bit disappointed, but the tiger video is pretty cool, so I guess I’m not that mad about it…

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maneesh April 23, 2012 at 8:10 am

ahaha if you’re expecting perfection, you DEFINITELY came to the wrong blog. Check out zenhabits instead :)

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Andy Haynes April 23, 2012 at 7:15 am

Working at theme parks, nothing baffles me more than people watching a show while they film it from behind their Ipad. Like they’d rather have it filtered through the technology for possibly enjoyment later as well instead of just experiencing it while they are there.

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maneesh April 23, 2012 at 7:21 am

you’re talking to the master of that right here. I have to think about it and make an effort to actually enjoy the show.

Reminds me of a woman who continuously said ‘I love this beach, I can’t wait to come back someday.’ Well, you’re here right now! Why not enjoy it now, instead of making plans to enjoy it later?

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