Why do young Americans do so little long-term travelling?

I really miss buying boba in Taipei

I really miss buying boba in Taipei, speaking Mandarin, and eating so much food!

This question popped up on Quora, and I was stuck reading some of the quotes for about 15 minutes.

For me, a response that hit closely to me was:

Expected Career Progression – In the US, people feel that they need to explain “gaps” on their resumes and that they will be penalized for not showing that they worked hard consistently at work and at school.

Face it: America is a work heavy culture that strives to use education, grades, career titles, ambition, as a definition of your identity. If I told you that I traveled a lot, you’d have a very difficult time relating to me as my experiences and values have shifted and become different as a result of overseas experience.

In addition, my friends & family have felt worried I would get robbed in a foreign culture, taken advantage of, or will not have good career growth overseas versus living in the US because of its perception of the United States being the best (which I don’t believe it is in every aspect)

Now that I’ve traveled, I’m thinking about making trips to Malaysia, Philippines  and Indonesia while working in Asia because I want to focus on personal growth. I believe personal growth will help be become a better male. This also means letting go of my own personal expectations about myself and career growth (and trying to put less emphasis on the monetary incentives of life).

Another statement:

I went on a one-month trip to Europe after graduating from college in the US.  I’d met all of the goals instilled by my childhood community:  finishing near the top of my high school class, graduating from a private four-year college, landing a stable post-University job.

One of my first realizations was that my European, South American, and Australian counterparts found this boring and scary.  “You’re starting a career at 22?  Are you nuts?  There’s so much life to live!”

The American culture I know rewards hard work, accomplishment, and societal advancement; diversity of experience isn’t at the top of this list.  Achievement is far more valued than exploration.  We view starting a career at 22 as an ideal.

In some ways, other countries such as those in Europe view traveling as a form of personal growth, which is very important. I think it’s also important to distinguish explicitly the difference between personal growth and career growth; I personally value personal growth much more than career growth, and am perfectly fine with really focusing on career growth when I’m much older (i.e. age 30 or 40) and maturer in life. Career growth can take its time and slow down.

In some ways, I’m glad I’m graduating college soon as I will be focusing more on personal growth first.

And finally, this is the kicker:

Helicopter parenting. American parents are very actively involved in their childrens lives through their mid-20’s. This includes managing their children’s time and regulating the activities in which their children participate. A lot of parents do not see the value in letting their children aimlessly wander around the world in an unstructured environment. Sometimes this is because of a perceived safety concern. US parents are more likely to let their children enroll in relatively rigid study abroad programs, which are different from hostel based backpacking.


Contrary to what people think, going by yourself in an unstructured environment teaches you more about life than a 4 year degree in college will ever will. You’re not just passively absorbing information, but you are actively making decisions in an unfamiliar environment, taking lots of risks, and making lots of mistakes as you go a long.

Because you travel long term, you are constantly practicing making these decisions, and in the long run, you are training your brain, your mind, your dicipline to be able to handle a variety of different cultural contexts and people: cultural sensitivity. You learn how to establish trust, empathize with other people(and adjusting those factors to what extent).

In any work place, communication, team work, and leadership among a variety of people is a key in getting something done, or working on projects /causes you believe in.

Now that I’m graduating, I highly encourage high school grads, or college graduates to consider doing gap years before entering higher education or any professional career, as traveling will help synthesize and hone your direction in life about what matters to you, what career paths you want to take, where you want to live in the future, etc.

Why? You are in the process of physically experiencing a new environment, separate from parents and family, and you have to make decisions on your own, away from the INFLUENCE from your peers. You are your true self when you are travelling. Don’t underestimate the value of traveling.

To end, Haruki Murakami once said in his book, “What I talk about when I Talk about Running” that only when you have physically challenged yourself (in his case, running) and went through all the stresses and struggles of what you are doing that you have truly learned something.

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One Response to Why do young Americans do so little long-term travelling?

  1. Pingback: Advice for aspiring urban studies undergraduates – Francis Chen

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