I was going to write about my personal travel bucket list this week, but a few days ago a colleague brought an extremely troubling statistic to my attention. He told me that only 10% of Americans have valid passports. I was confounded by this and immediately looked it up. That’s way too low, right? Weel turns out that even though the number isn’t quite as dire as 10%, there are still only 41% of Americans that have valid passports. Not horrible, but definitely not great. That means that out of 325 million people nearly 170 million of them don’t have a passport and have thus probably never been outside the country.
I recognize that I may find this surprising because I grew up relatively privileged, with a passport since birth so that I could travel to Greece to visit my dad’s side of the family. I used to think that the people who didn’t travel simply didn’t because they were too scared or too unsure about how to plan or afford it. And while I do understand that there are financial and emotional burdens to undertake in getting a passport and in overseas travel, I also know that those obstacles only account for a fraction of the 170 million who don’t have passports. This number has to include people who don’t even have a base desire to go anywhere outside their home country and that is unimaginable for me.
Obviously, I am a travel nut. I love to see new places, experience new things, and explore different cultures. I think an inordinate amount about dropping everything to become a travel blogger and am constantly updating my bucket list (and by ‘updating’, I mean ‘adding to it’). It is incomprehensible to me that there are people out there who have no desire to see other places. Even my most homebody type friends have at least one far away place they’d love to see someday.
The reason I believe this is important to discuss because I learned some of my most important lessons about myself and about the world from travelling. Travelling to different places is an exercise in perseverance, and most importantly, in empathy. Depending on the place you’re going, there are certain obstacles to overcome: language, transportation, etc. which all enhance problem-solving and personal creativity by figuring out ways to survive that you wouldn’t normally have to use at home. However, the more important skill, in my opinion, is the practice of empathy. It is easy to sit at home, watch the news, and believe everything you see about the rest of the world. But it is quite another to actually travel to a place, and experience it for yourself.
For example, for many people, all they know about countries like Afghanistan are that they are war-torn terrorist hotbeds. But if you look at travel blogs and videos from people who have visited, they will rave about the food or the kindness of the people. I truly believe every single place on this planet has SOMETHING to offer and it’s a terrible waste that there are so many people out there who have no desire to experience something new.
I am probably at a loss with this concept because I don’t really know too many people who do not have a passport. I know I sound like a spoiled brat, but I honestly can’t imagine having never experienced anything outside my own country. If you or someone you know doesn’t’ have a passport, I would love to know what their reasons are for not having one or for not travelling. Since nearly 60% of Americans don’t have one, there’s gotta be a reason, right?