When traveling aboard, I find myself in the minority as an American amongst other young international travelers. Running into a young American traveler while aboard is rare; it’s even more of an anomaly to run into American travelers of color; or should I say anybody who looks like me, an African-American woman. There is usually an 80% chance I’ll join a tour or share a hostel dorm with Aussies, Canadians, or a diverse mix of Europeans. This almost always means a good time so I’m not complaining; the only drawback is I get home to the states and catch myself calling my close friends my mates; such an Aussie thing to say.
In spending time with young Australian and European travelers (aged 18-35), I’ve found that they tend to be much more well rounded in character, cultured with a global perspective, and outright fearless. All attributes and qualities that are cultivated from exposure to diverse experiences in early adulthood; including international travel. I couldn’t help but question why international travel isn’t woven into the fabric of American culture the same way it is for the rest of the western world. Then I realized that as Americans, we just have different values; leaving me to envy young adults in other western countries and here is why:
Travel as a Rite of Passage
Most Western countries have a major cultural focus on traveling; going abroad after high school or during university years is a rite of passage. Whether its Thailand or Spain, young people are more likely to get out and see the world. Exposure to international travel happens in early adolescence, planting a seed for the desire to explore the world.
Don’t get me wrong, international travel isn’t cheap, so a major advantage of being a young person in a country like Germany or Holland is access to a free or relatively affordable unversity education. This alleviates the burden of student loans, a major financial stressor for the average American which might be a strong factor deterring a lot of young Americans from traveling in early adulthood.
Work life balance
Most western countries are way ahead of the curve when it comes to adequate paid time off. My European counterparts are guaranteed at least one month of paid time off each calendar year, making international travel a viable choice. The struggle of asking an employer for more than two consecutive weeks off is real for most young Americans. We are successful in many things as a country but striking a healthy balance between work and personal life has yet to become a reality.
The livable wage
A livable wage in most western countries isn’t just reserved for those deemed worthy. Most people are able to get by, from bartenders to baristas and school teachers. I had to find this out the hard way by leaving a tip for my waiter at Nandos in central London; he looked at the five pounds I’d left on the table with confusion until he realized I was American. I was glad to hear it wasn’t the norm to tip in the U.K but ashamed that people working in customer service jobs back home were getting the short end of the stick. Since plane tickets don’t fall out of the sky, earning a livable wage is definitely important for building a travel fund.
You see how traveling gives perspective?! Let me know what you think….
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I came across this blog a while back. This girl has really good posts about travel, culture, traveling as a Westerner of color.
Thanks for sharing Lucy! I love Oneika’s blog!
Once in Scotland, I met someone else from New Jersey who knew someone from my college – a rare find in a new place.
I certainly understand what you mean. More and more, though, students are taking advantage of studying abroad (which I am all about!). I think a lot of people have the desire to travel, but x, y, and z get in the way of them putting it into action. It helps when others around you are completely on board – encouraging, even.
The more examples you and others like you set, the more people will be inspired to make that trip :]
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I couldn’t agree with you more! I love that more students of color are aspiring to study abroad and just get out and see the world. It’s so important to our social development!
It really is!
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