Why Travel Is Important Under President Trump
In the days since Donald Trump took office, his presidency has largely been marked by a seemingly concerted effort to return to xenophobia and isolationism as federal policy.
This is evidenced by the increase in deportation of undocumented immigrants (including DACA recipients), the attempted travel ban (which was recently struck down, once again, by the Ninth Circuit) and a failed bid to pressure congressional Democrats into including funding for a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico in a vital spending bill.
Not to mention the tweets. Oh, the tweets.
Trump's twin thesis statements (“America First” and “Make America Great Again”) are predicated on the notion that America has lost itself, and the only way to find its way back is to close itself off to the rest of the world.
And in this fraught environment, one with a rise in reported hate crimes and racially-motivated bullying, many ostensibly apolitical acts are becoming statements of resistance -- not least of which is traveling outside of the United States.
We've written before about the benefits of travel, and despite the time constraints (Americans have the least amount of vacation days among developed countries), it is essential that we travel outside of the U.S. during the Trump presidency. Here's why.
Leaving the country is a political statement.
Trump's executive orders and early morning tweets all seemingly promote the same line of thinking: that America, as a country and a culture, is and should be static, male-dominated, white. (In the time since he announced his candidacy, Trump has repeatedly insulted Mexicans, non-Christians, women, and Muslims, and made disturbing comments about black Americans "living in hell.")
If Trump's America is walled-off and isolated by restrictive visa requirements and tariffs preventing global trade, then exploring another culture is saying that America by itself is not enough -- and that's okay.
International travel promotes open-mindedness and flexibility.
Myriad studies have shown that traveling abroad can change individual world views, making them more open-minded, flexible, and accepting of different cultures.
The “stranger in a strange land” feeling that many people experience abroad can actually be beneficial. Being surrounded by different languages, different food, and different cultural norms is not a life-or-death situation; it is merely uncomfortable -- something which humans can manage. This rewires the brain to accept new situations and new experiences as non-threatening and even enjoyable.
Learning to enjoy and accept other cultures, religions, and languages is essential if the nearly half Americans who identify as people of color and the roughly 15 percent of Americans who are foreign-born are going to survive this presidency in peace.
Travel can lessen anxiety around culture shock, which is essential as the core demographics of the U.S. change.
At the same time, only 36 percent of Americans have valid passports. An estimated 40 percent of Americans have never left the country. To boot -- within our borders, racial segregation is alive and well, preventing cross-cultural exchange among Americans.
Among Trump supporters, The Atlantic reports,
Nearly two-thirds of the white working class [Trump voters] say American culture has gotten worse since the 1950s. Sixty-eight percent say the U.S. is in danger of losing its identity, and 62 percent say America's growing number of immigrants threaten the country's culture. More than half say discrimination against whites has become just as problematic as discrimination against minorities.
The U.S. population is changing: both the ethnic and religious makeup of the U.S. is rapidly becoming less white and less Christian than in previous years, and that is concurrently giving white voters what has been dubbed by mainstream outlets as “cultural anxiety.”
In 1965, over 80 percent of the population was white, according to Pew Research Center, compared to roughly 62 percent in 2015. The self-identified Christian population is declining, while non-affiliated, non-religious, and Muslim populations are growing. This doesn't show signs of slowing down or stopping, and travel may help those with "cultural anxiety" accept change.
Travel helps Americans see how diverse American culture really is.
As the U.S. population becomes increasingly diverse, it is important that we say that what makes America great is the fact that it is a mixture of things. The U.S.'s favorite comfort food is pizza (born in Naples, Italy). A quarter of practicing physicians are born outside of the U.S. Hell, even apple pie is from somewhere else.
But it's essential to not merely take my word for it, but rather to see for yourself. Studies show that first-hand experience and tactile learning -- or, doing things for yourself -- are critical to true understanding.
Travel is a means of discovering the parts of the U.S. that have been integrated from other cultures -- which makes it all the more difficult to conflate American culture with European whiteness and makes it that much harder for Trump to argue for walls and bans.
Creating physical distance helps emotional processing, which can help reinvigorate those experiencing Trump Anxiety and Trump Fatigue.
According to the American Psychological Association, 57 percent of Americans stated that "the current political climate is a very or somewhat significant source of stress."
Similarly, many are experiencing fatigue from the break-neck news cycle. And while social media already has a negative effect on anxiety sufferers, the constant stream of updates on the Trump administration has compounded that effect for many.
For those experiencing Trump Anxiety and Trump Fatigue, travel has been shown to increase agreeableness and emotional stability. In others words, it's a break for your brain and your heart. Not to mention: when you're traveling, you don't have much time to check social media.
The combination of creating physical distance and logging off creates some much-needed emotional distance, which will allow you to process difficult feelings, much in the same way that taking short walks has been shown to help alleviate signs of depression.
The world is a beautiful place, and visa requirements for any number of countries may change at any moment, so now is the time.
Americans have one of the most powerful passports in the world, according to Passport Index, with the ability to travel visa-free to 157 countries. But that could change at any moment.
As recently as March, the E.U. considered visa requirement for U.S. citizens, due to our failure to allow reciprocal visa-free travel for several E.U. members.
Additionally, the Trump administration has discussed reviewing the U.S.'s policy on visas for Cuba. While that could mean just about anything at this point, Politico reports that Americans should prepare for retaliatory visa requirements if Trump's administration succeeds in passing more restrictive visa requirements for foreign travelers.
So, hey, you might as well go now.