20 Aug 2009 10:00 am   //   Filed under: Travel

Can’t stay long – I’m an American

I love visiting other countries, learning about new places, and meeting fellow travelers. Last week in Rio, I stayed in a hostel, a place that draws together a lot of budget-minded, English-speaking wanderers. We usually have some predictable things in common (a go-with-the-flow sense of adventure, an interest in people different from ourselves, big backpacks). We also have some predictable differences (professions, faith beliefs, sports allegiances).

Wherever I go, including Brazil, new friends inevitably ask where I’ve been, where I’m going, and how long I’ve been traveling. And I say, “I’m only here for a week, then I’m heading back home.” People then give me a look of pity. If you’re an American and you’ve ever been abroad, you know what I’m talking about.

Most hostel-goers travel for a month to a year at a time. They’re often students, or young people not working, or Europeans who get a month of leave from work. I, on the other hand, am an American with a full-time job. Most American workplaces frown on workers taking more than two weeks off in a row. Hence, Americans tend to stay close to home. Europeans, on the other hand, tend to be better traveled. (I’ve never seen any data to back this up, but anybody who travels knows it’s true.)

Americans do have some options — Many college students spend a semester abroad, and everyone is certainly free to quit work and go travel if they can afford it. It’s tempting. But I need to work to pay for trips.

Should Americans get a month off, like our friends in Europe get? I can’t make a good case for that. I’m from a culture that values work, and I like the discipline of working every day. And I still have incredible opportunities for safe and cheap international travel, opportunities only possible since the invention of the jet engine. I’m learning about the world in bite-size nibbles, one week at a time, every year of my life.