American Fear of travel


I’ve been traveling this week in northern Mexico, in Sinaloa and Durango, Mexico. While I’ve been here there has been yet another multiple killing at yet another school in the United States. This has got me to thinking about those who fear traveling abroad from the US, and the ironic tragedy of that fear.

Fear of the World

Maps of the greater world, especially the places that get prominence in the serious world news, can, to some Americans, read like a Bosch triptych:


Full of tempting and terrifying possibilities. Best to stay at home and not take that bite of the apple, or, maybe worse, mango. If you do travel, it might be wise to stay with old Europe, or a cossetted Caribbean cruise. Don’t tempt the fates.

The world view of too many Americans is formed by the media, resulting in a perspective not unlike this:



I think this can be a bit unfair to the many American who do travel (unfortunately, as in all stereotypes, there is also some truth in the above map). The graph below shows the great increase in the number of Americans holding passports. By some reports it is up to 35-45% of the population. There has been a great increase in part caused by the new requirement that Americans need passports or travel cards to travel to Mexico or Canada. By comparison, though, 75% of Brits hold passports.


Infographic by user @Jishai (hosted here)

Generalized Fear

But still, Americans don’t travel nearly as much as other nationalities, and I don’t think it is just because of lack of time or interest. I would suggest that the American agoraphobia is fueled also by the violence on their own streets and in their own schools. A generalized existential fear accompanies living in a place where random deadly rampages on a daily basis are becoming normal. My sister rushed me out of a store in LA when a young Latino male got upset because he felt the store clerk was watching him closely because of his race. She was afraid of what would happen next if things escalated. This is a level of fear that, when projected on an even more alien environment outside of the US, could be intolerable. Better to stay home with the television, and watch the melee behind locked doors.

The Guardian reports that there were 994 mass shooting in the US in the last 1,004 days. It provides a startling graphic that illustrates this slaughter. “The data compiled by the crowd-sourced site Mass Shooting Tracker reveals an even more shocking human toll: there is a mass shooting – defined as four or more people shot in one incident – nearly every day.” The graphic is huge, so I won’t reproduce it here. Have a look if you have a chance.

This reality does not create a “world-open” perspective. It is basic human psychology that fear tends to make people conservative and risk averse. America these days, in my opinion, and experience, is a place of fear and danger. From a distance I can better appreciate the effects that fear has on how people are learning to live their lives.

14 thoughts on “American Fear of travel

  1. I love that little map of how Americans see the world. It’s weird–but any time I criticize my American United States, friends an family get really upset–they tell me how America is the greatest country in the world. I have to tell them I’m not dissing–I’m CRITICIZING. And rightly so. Americans are so woven into their cocoon that they just cannot see beyond their little nest. There is a wonderful world out there. beautiful people with different cultures and we need to embrace that. Travel, to me, is the most enlightening activity I’ve ever had. If I were super-wealthy, I would do nothing more than spend my time traveling and meeting others from various cultures. Seriously . I am diggin’ that map. I just may steal it from you! XOXOX

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Feel free to steal it. In fact, I should go back and see if I can find the proper citation for it. As I said in the post, Americans actually have a lot of reasons for their lack of travel. I take the “greatest country in the world” stuff as a defensive posture. The cocoon, or the nest, are apt metaphors because they are safe places to be. Thanks for the nice comment. If I were wealthy, I also would travel, but still on the cheap. Traveling 1st class means not meeting those other people and their cultures. The rest of the money would be put to good use, as I am sure it would be for you.


      1. It will take a whole lot for it to change. I have lived in the US and in some other places and the problem I have encountered with the US is the thought that they are the World and the rest are others. Very funny but sad notion.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. inc

    I like that map and especially the one of Australia, which says “kangaroos”. Maybe it should also say koalas? A friend who traveled to there told me about how it had cost him about $30 to just take a pic of him holding onto the koala. He didn’t really enjoy the moment, though, he said. Guess it was just too brief.
    I don’t travel much, besides Asia and the States, but had once considered visiting a friend in Colombia. But when I looked up info on the country, even its government travel website had a huge warning on it about how hundreds of tourists are victims of kidnappings in that country, even by taxi drivers. Yowzers! Needless to say, I changed my mind about goin’.


    1. $30 to hold a Koala? That’s bad.
      Don’t be afraid to travel to places that people say are dangerous. Check them out for yourself – do some research. Columbia is rather safe these days. On the other hand, being a young woman is not completely safe any where. I lived in Miami in the 80’s and 90’s, and friends thought I was crazy because it was unsafe. But where I lived it was always well lit and full of people. Back in Seattle I didn’t go out in the evening because the streets are poorly lit and empty of other people. A woman can be unsafe anywhere, so it is up to us to figure out how to protect ourselves and be as safe as possible wherever we are.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. A little late to this post but felt a need to comment. People here in the US are sadly insulated from the realities of the larger world, some of that fear is the ginned up stupidity reflected by the media. We have managed to visit a number of countries and have always wished we could stay longer. A number of years ago we traveled by bicycle for 6 months through 9 countries, at the end of that trip we became citizens of this amazing world, we just happen to live in the US. I wish more could travel and those that can travel, would.


    1. You have stated it well. Fear is manufactured for political purposes, and getting outside the everyday din of the media and into the rest of the world is a great antidote to fear. I hope you get to travel again soon.


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