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March 8, 2014

Is it still OK for Americans to travel overseas?

Vagabonding, Italy

Some questions just never get old. 

This question came in almost eleven years ago from a reader. Rolf’s answer is as applicable today as it was over a decade ago. Do you wonder if it’s still safe to travel?

I got an interesting question from a woman in Texas. The gist of it was this: With all the news of war and anti-Americanism abroad, is it still OK for Americans to go vagabonding?

This is what I told her:

“The short answer is: Yes, it’s still safe for Americans to go vagabonding. Despite the impression you might get from the news media, the world is still an inviting place for travelers of all stripes — now as much as ever. You’d never guess this from watching the evening news, of course, but travel allows you to see the world a way that traditional news media never will. If you need a little encouragement in this regard, just check out traveler message boards at BootsnAll or Lonely Planet. Listen to dispatches from Americans abroad (including a recent one from France by humorist David Sedaris on public radio). Email your friends traveling overseas and ask how they’re faring. Without exception — from Egypt to China to Peru — the refrain I’ve heard (and seen — I’m in Thailand right now) has been this: people around the world may vehemently dislike George Bush’s bellicosity and/or American foreign policy, but they invariably treat Americans with respect and humanity.

“The only catch here is that you, as a thoughtful American traveler, must return that respect. Even if you collect George Bush memorabilia and derive your self-esteem from American foreign policy, your job as a traveler isn’t to argue and pontificate, but listen to what people overseas are saying (this goes for anti-war liberals as much as pro-war conservatives). Ask questions. Learn. Grow. You might go into a country worried about how you are perceived as an American (as I was a couple years ago in Syria and Palestine), but you will invariably come out with new and encouraging perspectives. That is one of the charms of travel.

“Admittedly, there is no such thing as risk-free travel. Guidebooks warn against crooked cops in Mexico, bad roads in Mozambique, and aggressive monkeys in Myanmar. Various websites, such as the U.S. State Department Travel Warnings (which you should definitely peruse when researching your travels), detail hazards in countries worldwide. But keep in mind that even these are worst-case scenarios. Statistically, you are no more likely to come into harm traveling overseas than you are walking across your hometown. Be careful on the road, but not paranoid. Engage local people and travel in such a way that you benefit local economies. And, as much as anything, exercise your humility as you walk through the world — a strategy sure to win hearts and minds everywhere.”

What are your thoughts? How would you answer the question?

Posted by | Comments (1) 
Category: Vagabonding Advice


One Response to “Is it still OK for Americans to travel overseas?”

  1. Marcello Arrambide Says:

    Wonderfully put. I’ve been all over the world in different continents and met a lot of nice people. But travel always comes with risks regardless of one’s nationality. Hey. I’m not very American looking because of my lineage, but I still got kidnapped and shot at while I was in Caracas :-D

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