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Where are the American RTW Travelers???

Because so many of the spectacular temples in Bangkok are along the river, a night boat along the Chao Phraya is a feast for the eyes… and a feast for the belly, too, if you opt for the dinner cruise. Check it out!

As you peruse these pics, let us ponder a major question for a Round the World Traveler: WHERE ARE THE AMERICANS?? A profound cultural difference is laid bare when you wander these hostels filled with Europeans, Aussies, Israelis, and Canadians. Where are OUR people??

You can throw out the theory that America is too far from Asia, because much of Canada is just as far. Throw out the whine that the dollar is weaker than the Euro when you meet those Aussies, Israelis, and again the Canadians.

Listen to a few of these stories and see how, ultimately, it comes down to a philosophical clash of values.

“That is an extremely rude question,” Sinead said, glaring at me from under her wispy red hair. “I just asked you what job you have back in Ireland!” I squealed, embarrassed and confused. “In Europe,” Sinead said, we work to live, not live to work. What we do doesn’t define us. Sure, I spend a few hours a day teaching businessmen in Spain English grammar, but I just do it to be able to pay for my delicious nights out with friends and my trips like this!”

At the time I argued vociferously with Sinead, saying that what you do for over half your waking life SHOULD define you. Upon further reflection, however, I am starting to see how that philosophy traps Americans.

“You’re a teacher,” said so many people in the U.S. before I left on my eight-month trip, “How can you POSSIBLY afford to take that crazy trip?” And yet, in this Bangkok hostel I have met the following Round the World travelers:

– Canadian Conrad, who saved for his fifteen month trip though three years at his job as a grocery store assistant manager

– Pete, a Brit who got his funds through working as a firefighter for less than a year and selling his motorcycle

– Ian, who is a student in Liverpool and paid for his trip through one year working at a hotel

– Dov from Israel who saved by living at home with his parents while he worked as a bartender for a year.

I highlight these people because I think they crush the America assumption that, to travel around the world, 1) One needs a hoity-toity job, 2) It takes a lifetime to save. Looking at these examples, the ability to take a “gap year” of travel seems, rather, to be about financial priorities, and confidence that such a trip CAN be done and IS worthwhile– perhaps from seeing other people like you doing it.

For those Americans feeling fearful of flying out into the unknown, I assure you: it is so very, very doable, and so very, very worth it.


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Thursday 13th of December 2012

Oh wow this hits home with me! I'm doing a RTW trip now (I'm from California) and you are totally right. I'm surprised how few people have asked or care about what I do back home for work. For most cultures work is just a means to an they can do great stuff like travel. That's also why they have 4,5,6 or more weeks of vacation a year. In the US you are lucky to have 3. Our priorities are askew!


Friday 14th of December 2012

So interesting that you're seeing this, too!


Friday 30th of December 2011

Great post, which I found via your twitter link -- am inspired to comment as a follow-on to your earlier tweet about Asia and technology. I don't know the answer, really, but as an American expat who's spent a lot of time in the Asia/Pacific region since 1995, I've thought a lot about travel and attitudes, etc.

FWIW I shared some of my own thoughts about 'US Airlines, Infrastructure, and Attitudes' on my blog here:

Cheers and it's great to see you inspiring so many others to explore new countries and cultures! Best of luck with the upcoming Beijing trip - it should be magnificent.


Friday 30th of December 2011

Great comment and fascinating post. Thanks for making contact, and do be in touch!


Wednesday 14th of July 2010

Wise comments, all! It strikes me that this is the perfect post in which to plug the awesome "Meet Plan Go" ( ) event on September 14 about extended travel. I am the Boston coordinator ( ) but it's taking place in over a dozen major cities in North America, so if you're interested in extended travel, yourself, make sure to sign up on the site! ...and keep those comments coming :)


Wednesday 14th of July 2010

Here's another reason not yet mentioned: Paid time off.

Teachers in the US have an interesting work schedule in that they have a long layoff from work during the summer. Sabbaticals and leaves of absence are a little easier to swing as well.

In a typical 9 to 5 or most other year-round structured careers, employees tend to get anywhere from two to five weeks of vacation per year. Also, if a leave of absence is granted of three months or more, employment is not always guaranteed upon return. Gap years are extremely uncommon in the US. The Brits & Aussies (I think Canadians, too) take them more commonly than Americans. Perhaps the previously mentioned reasons, along with the pressure from our society to get a job right out of college/university hamper our efforts to see this opportunity.

I agree wholeheartedly that most anyone who puts forth enough effort to save up for a trip like this can and will find a way to do so (I see it all the time in my line of work). I also agree that an opportunity like Lillie has taken is NOT to be missed.

Rant over. Time to read on.....................

Zoe Zolbrod

Thursday 3rd of June 2010

Good post. I noticed the same thing when I traveled in Thailand and elsewhere. (Although interestingly, the one place that was crawling with Americans was Vietnam.) I think it affects our country's worldview and foreign relations, but I guess we can't be sure what's the chicken and what's the egg. I wish Americans got out more. (I just published a novel about travel in Thailand, incidentally. It's called CURRENCY.)

Deborah Fortuna

Wednesday 17th of June 2015

It's so true. I'm an avid traveler from the USA. I always wonder and often get the question posed to me by travelers from other countries, "why don't we meet many Americans?". Well, there is a definite culture of fear over here. Just listen to the news. We're inundated everyday with new stuff to watch out for. I ignore it. When I left on my last trip which was 4 months long, my family had such fear for me, it actually put a pall on my own experience. I agree with Zoe, if Americans travelled, they would get a better world view and a better knowledge of foreign relations.

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