30 March 2006

The American Travel Cringe

Since the first time I found myself staring up into a skyful of stars I didn't recognize, I have adored Australia. There is something about it that makes you want to just roll around, revelling in the spirit of the place. After my first visit, I became a minor student of Australian culture. Not so much the Fosters-and-INXS kind of export culture, but the beetroot-on-burger kind. And stumbled upon the Australian Cultural Cringe. It certainly explained why Australia, despite all reasons why it should be so, was not yet the center of the universe. But then again, I'm an American. A nation that prides itself on knowing more about everything than anyone, but still supports the following embarassing statistics:

  • Only 27 percent of American adults hold a valid passport
  • 25 percent of American adults have never left the U.S.
  • Only 36 percent have visited more than two countries
  • Only 42 percent of Americans have ever held a U.S. passport
You want cringe? *That* is material for cringing. The American Travel Cringe. My pal Isabel is not a product of America, directly, having been raised in Turkey, and then ports, well, everywhere. She's utterly fearless. Her blog about packing up and walking the Camino de Santiago with her cat Arthur is linked to on the right nav. I tell bits of her story to people, and they freak. Spain? A woman? Alone? With a cat??? The logistics freak them out. The very notion that it's an utterly doable thing, even if she did sidetrack into other fabulous adventures, is ungraspable for a lot of people. I'm finally getting around to getting Kestrel's birth certificate, only because I need to get his passport, since he's over six months old and therefore needs one now, to get out of here should we be stricken by wanderlust. I was mentioning this to a work acquaintance the other day, and they were flabbergasted. The mere idea of a passport for a baby was so... unusual. But then again, this adult I was speaking to didn't have one. Hadn't ever left the country, and so hadn't ever needed one. How bizarre and insular is that? We live within one border, we speak one language, we eat one hideous diet, we watch one television, and we think that's The World. And now who's cringing?


At 3/30/2006 09:19:00 PM, Blogger Isabel said...

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At 3/30/2006 09:52:00 PM, Blogger Isabel said...

I absolutely love it that you said this, Ree. My battered little ego sticks its head out and grins. Smug smug smug me. I feel so cool you could chill a margarita on my ass.

Sadly, it wasn't as easy as throwing the cat on the plane and keeping him in before they closed the door.

I had lost pretty much everything I thought had mattered (except my best friendships, obviously) and finally realized the One Utter Truth about travel ... love ... life ... pretty much everything that really does matter to me after all:

The most difficult part is getting over the idea that it's too difficult to do. That's it.

After that, it's just tasks. Nothing a little common sense (and common courtesy) won't take care of.

Take that, cowardice.

At 3/31/2006 08:21:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another non-American friend of mine did the Camino de Santiago last year on her horse; and in large stretches alongside a male friend of hers who is NOT her bf, if Americans can get that.

Getting my baby a passport (actually 2, since she's a dual citizen) was one of the FIRST things I did after she was born - can't imagine any of us being in a sitch where we could NOT get somewhere else if we needed/wanted to, at least not from a bureaucratic perspective.


At 4/11/2006 11:19:00 AM, Blogger Moira said...

I am happy to say that I am of the % that has been to two countries (three if you count Mexico) and have taken my kids! although I have failed they don't have current ones... I will have to work on that.

At 4/12/2006 02:30:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Americans have good reason not to travel outside of their continent- first, their own country is enormous; second, going anywhere other than Canada or Mexico generally requires air or ship travel which is much less pleasant than the options available in Europe; and third, their educational systems are so poor that they can rarely communicate in any language other than English.


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