Contrary to popular belief, Americans are the second most well-traveled people after Finns. In fact, it’s the only non-Viking (Scandinavian) nation to crack the top five.
Still, only 36 percent of Americans hold a valid passport, according to the State Department, compared to 60 percent of passport-holding Canadians and 75 percent for Brits and Aussies. That means almost 70 percent of us are unqualified for international travel. And in actuality, only one in five Americans travels abroad with regularity, according to a recent survey.
The knee-jerk, judgmental, xenophobic and often ignorant answer is that Americans themselves are culturally ignorant. Although Americans are certainly not immune to ignorance, the real answer is a lot more complex and innocent than that, according to research.
Reason 1: Their backyard is as diverse as it is enormous.
After Russia and Canada, America is basically tied with China as the third largest country. But the real kicker is that the U.S. is widely regarded as the most geological, meteorological and culturally diverse nation in the world by a wide margin. Beaches. Mountains. Deserts. Forests. All manner of ethnic foods. On top of that, it has reliable infrastructure and convenient amenities to efficiently move from A to Z. “You can do all kinds of things without needing a passport,” argues travel blogger Gary Arndt.
Reason 2: Leaving the country is expensive and time-consuming.
Of the 20 percent of Americans that do travel overseas, the average person pays $2,700 to do so, according to the Office of Travel and Tourism Industries. Airfare alone costs nearly half, which is a far cry from the $100 bullet trains Europeans enjoy en route to new, exotic places. Another price Americans pay for living in such a big country flanked by two shining seas: the time it takes to leave its border, upwards of a full day each way.
Reason 3: Domestic travel begets domestic travel.
Since those who travel abroad are in the minority, the majority of Americans refer each other and endorse native attractions over international ones. And since many of them believe the best the world has to offer usually washes upon their shores, they view interstate travel as a way to experience different forms of life without leaving the comforts of home. Short-sighted, yes. But understandable when you’re told you live in the world’s largest melting pot.
Reason 4: They value work more than adventure.
Although Americans are known for having fewer vacation days than other developed countries, many of us fail to expend the limited days we do enjoy for fear of “falling behind” at work. That or we book shorter domestic trips instead of more time-consuming international ones. This too is short-sighted, given the benefits that travel affords us. But it’s a value that many Americans still hold.
Reason 5: Some are scared.
I’ll admit it. A considerable number of my friends, family and colleagues are content spending the rest of their lives on U.S. soil—bagging the country’s states, greatest cities, territories and national parks instead of foreign countries. Several have expressed security fears as their reasoning and feeling like an easy target in a post-9/11 world. That’s a shame. But I don’t fault them for wanting to experience their gargantuan native land first. Instead, I’ll do everything I can to encourage my fellow Americans to fall in love with the outside world.
Off the Grid columnist Blake Snow writes epic stories for fancy publications and Fortune 500 companies. Follow him on Twitter.