If More Americans Traveled, So Many Of Our Problems Would Go Away

by John Haltiwanger

I've always had an incurable desire to explore every nook and cranny of this big, beautiful planet, and I've done my best to appease this unrelenting restlessness whenever possible. To borrow from Susan Sontag,

I haven't been everywhere, but it's on my list.

But it seems a majority of my fellow Americans don't share this enthusiasm for traversing the globe.

According to the US Department of State, there were 121,512,341 valid passports in circulation in 2014. And based on a report from the US Department of Commerce released in February, only around 68 million Americans traveled overseas last year.

To put this into perspective, the population of the US is around 322 million, meaning only about 21 percent of the country went abroad in 2014.

Even when Americans do travel abroad, they tend to stay relatively close.

Fifty-five percent of Americans traveling abroad last year only visited our neighbors, Mexico and Canada, the top two international destinations from the US, according to the International Business Times.

Europe received 11.9 million American tourists in 2014, making it the third most visited region. It was followed by the Carribean, with 7.2 million American visitors.

Comparatively, South America received 1.8 million American visitors in 2014, and Africa only 358,000.

It seems a majority of Americans don't want to leave the country at all, and even when they do, they limit themselves to a very small portion of the globe (primarily the Western world).

It's true that traveling is a privilege, and requires both time and money. But it's also true many Americans are taking fewer and fewer vacation days, and not taking advantage of paid time off.

If you have the money to travel and the time, and you have yet to leave the country in your life, find a map of the world, pick a location and GO.

The US wields unparalleled global influence and its policies impact the entire world.

It's somewhat unsettling many citizens of the most powerful country on the planet seemingly have very little interest in exploring it. And one might argue this is part of the reason a majority of Americans often support imprudent aspects of US foreign policy.

In other words, the fact most Americans don't travel helps perpetuate widespread ignorance and limits the country's collective worldview. And this has palpable consequences. To borrow from Mark Twain,

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.

We desperately need more Americas to travel.

Travel frees us from fear and fosters peace.

This country is visibly divided at the moment, with each side completely unwilling or unable to entertain the other's perspectives. Much of this has to do with fear surrounding immigrants and refugees, among others.

Travel makes you less fearful of the world and its peoples. It breeds solidarity and understanding. The further you travel, the more you begin to comprehend this simple but profound fact: we are all human.

We all laugh, cry, bleed and die, regardless of culture or origins. And the vast majority of us just want to find our own version of a calm and happy life, in which bothering or harming others rarely crosses our minds.

Indeed, most people are inherently good. If this weren't true, we all would've killed each other off and gone extinct a long time ago.

This does not mean there is nothing out there that threatens us. But we could die the moment we walk out of the door each and every day, and a life spent indoors is no life at all.

Go out into the world and be an ambassador of goodwill for the United States. Embrace other cultures, immerse yourself in other ways of life. Come home and encourage others to do the same. In the process, you will have benefited yourself, your country and the planet in immeasurable ways.

Travel is one of the most effective ways of building peace. To go out into the world without fear is to exhibit solidarity and tolerance with all people.

We are all the descendants of nomads; we were born to travel.

Explore America; it's a world in and of itself.

Oscar Wilde, the famed Irish playwright and poet, traveled to America for the first time in his life in 1882 when he was 27 years old. Wilde gave a talking tour and visited 150 cities across the country.

How many of us can say we've visited that many US cities? How many of us have barely explored the 50 states, or never even our own?

We live in a massive country, with geography and landscapes as equally beautiful and diverse as its inhabitants.

In the words of Oscar Wilde,

America is not a country, it is a world.

Each state in this country has its own history, culture and traditions. We might share a common language, but we obviously aren't communicating well right now, given how ideologically split the country currently is.

It's time for Americans to reconnect, and to learn that just as it is with people from other countries, the small differences in our ways of life and perspectives are not justifications for hatred and confrontation.

We used to be a country of adventurers -- a people willing to traverse the continent in wagons with wooden wheels. We need to recapture this intrepid spirit, or we will find ourselves feeling increasingly separate from one another and the rest of the globe.

Simply put, travel not just for yourself, but for the sake of the world.

Traveling is one of the wisest things we can do -- it reminds us who we are are, where we came from and where we're going.