Every six months or so I see an article about the terrible behaviors of American tourists traveling abroad. As a long-time domestic traveler, I just took those at face-value since I wasn’t able to confirm or deny any of the claims made by the authors. Now that my travels have hit the international circuit, I have to say that my perspective has changed and I’m no longer sure that those articles really carried a lot of water. Are we really as bad as they say or do the authors just have a low tolerance level for those not from their own homeland? I suspicions are towards the latter and I’ve created this post to explain why.
Americans, like any other visitor to a foreign country, are going to be lost especially in regards to local customs and behaviors that differ from their own culture. No place is every going to be exactly like home and no tourists is ever going to be exactly like a local neighbor. Therefore, I have decided to break the mold of travel writers and provide some evidence on why American are the BEST tourist in the world. I mean, we claim to the best at everything else so why not keep it going on the world stage!
1. Respecting Space
I’ve read that the United States is the land of abundance. Huge food portions, gigantic egos and cars that are bigger than some houses are just a few examples of the American obsession with size. Although, those can be seen outright, one thing we have in great abundance is personal space. According to the World Bank, Americans enjoy 5,000 square meters of open space per resident. This means that every person in the country could spend their time doing donuts in their own personal school parking lot and never hit another car. We like space…a lot!
Many popular travel destinations can be completely opposite. Not only for the country or city itself, but also for those who travel from even more dense areas. People from these places just grow accustom to being so close to everyone else which also means they have no issue violating the personal space of others. They’re not doing it to be rude, it’s just they’re way of life. Americans on the other hand will do just about everything we can to maintain the space around us. We also do our best to extend that courtesy to everyone else. Breathing on other people’s necks, touching while riding public transit and even kneeing people in the butt who move too slow (yes, that happened to me) is taboo. If you happen to see some Americans wondering down the streets on your hometown, you can guarantee they will keep their distance. And be thankful!
2. Money to Spend
America has a lot of space while at the same time, we also have a lot of money. We are by no means the richest country in the world (despite what many actually believe) but our personal income does rank in the top five. Add the fact that our tax rate is lower than most of the other countries on the list and you will see that, in most cases, Americans have more expendable income to burn…and we love to spend it!
In 2016, Americans spent over $123 billion on international travel. Only second in the world to China. When we come to your home, we come packing…with cash! Not only do American’s spend, we will buy all the cheap, mass-produced tourist crap you can throw at us with as much of a markup as you can handle. This along with our obsession and having an “authentic” experience is where the locals can rake in the big bucks. Of course, by our standards, authentic refers to doing the exact same thing that thousands of other people have already done (and already posted on Instagram) yet for some reason we still think it’s special. Venice gondola drivers figured this out years ago and the price tag for them paddling you down a sulfur smelling canal with 5,000 of your closest friends has skyrocketed. Be on the lookout world, whatever experience spot your locality has to offer then Americans are your cash cow…one photo at a time!
3. We Don’t Hold Grudges
One thing America is really good at is pissing off the rest of the world (there I said it!). We come by this naturally. Our country started because a bunch of old, business men got tired of drinking tea and decided to chuck boxes of it into the ocean and start a war. From that point on, it was just one fight after another. Great Britain, Mexico, Germany, Austria, Vietnam, Iraq…you name, we’ve fought it. Yet despite all this aggression, we for some reason have a burning desire to visit the countries we have either beaten down, or those who have handed us our own asses and told us to go packing. It seems like we have a middle school mentality when it comes to warfare; you fight, get up, shake hands and move on to get a juice box!
Out of the top international destinations for American travelers, the ones where we have fought extensive and bloody wars have steadily grown in popularity. Over the last few years, American tourism to Vietnam has increased over 30% making it one of the most popular places in Asia. And it’s not just the generations to come after the war traveling to these areas. Many veterans and even tours specifically for veterans of foreign wars are the ones heading there the most. This just shows that although we may be the world bully ever now and then, we’ll eventually let our defenses down and go enjoy the destination…maybe as a way to say, “Hey man, I’m sorry!”
4. Obsession with Sanitation
Every suitcase, carryon, backpack, purse, fanny pack or satchel either carried, dragged or worn by an American tourist contains one item in common…hand sanitizer. You will never find an American anywhere in this world without at least one tube of jellied alcohol stashed somewhere in their luggage. This is just a single example of how crazy we are about sanitation and the lengths we will go to so that nothing funky from somewhere else in the world enters our bodies without at least having to wade through a sea of anti-bacterial, -viral, -parasitic concoctions.
Like Starbucks, shopping malls or commercials advertising pharmaceuticals, sanitation is just part of the American lifestyle. It’s forced-fed into our brains from the minute we pop out of the womb and continues throughout our lifetime. We take this mentality with us when we travel overseas by means of anti-bacterial products, preventative medications, water filters and even face-masks on some occasions. Of course, there are plenty of locations where precautions are needed and anyone traveling to these regions should take heed. Americans just seem to take this (like everything else) to the next level. Another tip to the locals: If you want a quick hand wash without going to the restroom, just look for the nearest Yank…we got you covered!
5. Discovering our Roots
One hot-button political issue in America over the last decade has been immigration. Depending on whichever polarizing media outlet you choose to frequent, this can either be a good or bad thing. The funny thing about U.S. immigration is that if you really stop and think about it, we’re all immigrants from somewhere (and no, that is not me taking a position…). That very fact (although, hated by one side of the aisle) makes for a great reason to travel. Americans, by and large, want to discover our heritage. And we will travel far and wide to find it.
Nothing solidifies this argument more than the impressive growth in genealogy services and products sweeping their way across the U.S. Every day you see a new commercial advertising a different type of service allowing you to spread your DNA on some sort of swab or piece of paper and send it back to a lab for analysis. Of course, a red-headed mick like me doesn’t have to think too hard about where my ancestors originated but for many, this is a mystery. Once their newly found heritage is revealed, the next part of the journey is to travel to your soul’s original destination and pretend like you fit in. This American sense of discovery seems like a trivial matter, but I can’t help but think the rise in new popular tourist destinations isn’t at least somehow connected to this phenomenon.
So, there you have it. Solid and not at all sarcastically opinionated reasons why Americans are the best tourists. Although, I will concede that the occasional American jack-ass will ruin our image for some unsuspecting locals, in the grand scheme of things, we’re really not that bad. Having people visit from other parts of the world, wherever it is, is always a treat for both the tourists and the hosts. The hope is that we all continue to learn from each other and create a more unified global community. Ha, ha…yeah right. Let’s just do our best not to start another war!