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  1. #1
    Senior Member JivinJeffJones's Avatar
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    Default Americans + backpacking

    I've traveled a fair bit and noticed that Americans seem decidedly underrepresented in the backpacking ranks. By "backpacking" I mean young people (usually) who travel the world on a shoe-string budget, often for many months. I'm not talking about camping trips. Backpackers frequently do casual work from time to time to make ends meet. There are tons of Canadians, tons of Europeans, tons of Brits and a disproportionately large number of Australians and Kiwis out there backpacking. Young Americans are pretty scarce though, especially considering the population of the country. There are quite a few middle-aged Americans traveling around in a hotel-to-hotel, tour-package-to-tour-package kind of way, though. In Australian culture, traveling when young is encouraged and widely seen as a great way to develop a sense of identity, perspective and maturity.

    I'm wondering if anyone else has noticed this and, if so, to what you attribute it?

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    Protocol Droid Athenian200's Avatar
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    Well, accommodations in America are expensive and hard to come by. People are expected to be independent and goal-oriented. Not to mention that most people in America don't trust each other, and pretty much rely on their own ability to hold a job, or their parent/significant other's. It's hard to just up and leave your situation here because of how things work, with all the bureaucracy, social structure, etc. Also, backpacking is often associated with vagrancy, likely because of the Great Depression.

  3. #3
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    Yeah, my instant thought was: "Homeless? I wouldn't want to do that again, and I had a car for that stint."

    Also, I do believe it's easier for you and other people from commonwealth countries because it might be possible for you to work wherever you wind up easier than it is for an American. We're hated more economically in, say, Canada, than Americans dislike/hate illegal Mexicans, even if we're legal. So, those that do anything like this turn up in...well...the US. Maybe they hitchhike across the US, put down temporary roots somewhere to make a bit of money, and blow on to the next location. Probably one of the best examples is a guy that died in Alaska (his name eludes me). He only worked in the US and lived within the country the entire time (except when hitchhiking through Canada). Beyond that, you can scarcely leave this country without proof of 3-5k in savings/credit/etc if they actually check you at either border (I have it on good authority that the Mexican government harshly punishes and deports illegals, including Americans), and they will check you if you don't look wealthy enough.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wolf View Post
    We're hated more economically in, say, Canada, than Americans dislike/hate illegal Mexicans, even if we're legal.
    really? I thought Americans were considered to be good workers in other countries.



    American Character Gets Mixed Reviews: U.S. Image Up Slightly, But Still Negative - Pew Charitable Trusts

    In most countries surveyed, Americans are viewed as “inventive” and “hardworking".
    I don't wanna!

  5. #5
    Senior Member JivinJeffJones's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by athenian200 View Post
    Also, backpacking is often associated with vagrancy, likely because of the Great Depression.
    Interesting, so the American disapproval of "vagrancy" comes from the Great Depression? Makes sense, I suppose. I've noticed this disapproval and even fear of vagrancy in American popular culture, and always wondered where it came from.

    I'm also wondering if Americans have security concerns even traveling around Europe. Since America isn't the safest place for hitch-hikers, maybe they think the rest of the world is similarly dangerous?

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by JivinJeffJones View Post
    I've traveled a fair bit and noticed that Americans seem decidedly underrepresented in the backpacking ranks. By "backpacking" I mean young people (usually) who travel the world on a shoe-string budget, often for many months. I'm not talking about camping trips. Backpackers frequently do casual work from time to time to make ends meet. There are tons of Canadians, tons of Europeans, tons of Brits and a disproportionately large number of Australians and Kiwis out there backpacking. Young Americans are pretty scarce though, especially considering the population of the country. There are quite a few middle-aged Americans traveling around in a hotel-to-hotel, tour-package-to-tour-package kind of way, though. In Australian culture, traveling when young is encouraged and widely seen as a great way to develop a sense of identity, perspective and maturity.

    I'm wondering if anyone else has noticed this and, if so, to what you attribute it?
    Pretty much since WWII (when America abandoned its historical isolationist policies and first accepted its role as "the world's policeman"), Americans tend to see themselves as disliked abroad. Here is a pertinent passage from Booyalab's link to the Pew Survey:

    Americans, however, hold no illusions about their standing in the world: nearly seven-in-ten think America is "generally disliked"--the most self-effacing assessment of global popularity given by any nation in the survey.
    I think that the quote from Booyalab's link is the biggest problem for Americans. As the U.S. sees it, the Europeans lecture us about being "ugly Americans," Latin and South American countries hate us for meddling in their politics in past generations, many nations want to pay us back for our historical role as military and/or economic oppressor, and the U.S. is routinely pilloried in the foreign press abroad for pretty much anything that happens anywhere in the world.

    Our State Department issues constant travel advisories whenever there is a political or military upset anywhere in the world, and Americans worry that as tourists they will become high-profile targets of opportunity for frustrated terrorists, criminals, hijackers, or even corrupt local officials. Popular opinion holds that American tourists should travel in groups as part of package tours (safety in numbers), and young people traveling individually on the cheap are advised to slap Canadian flags all over their luggage to keep from being harangued about American politics or worse. Many Americans just advise staying at home and touring locally; the U.S. is a big country and one can spend a lifetime exploring destinations within the borders.

    So I think this is the biggest traditional deterrent to American travel abroad: There is a longstanding fear in the U.S. that Americans are disliked abroad and that U.S. tourists will be harassed or scapegoated in one way or another. International surveys routinely show worldwide dislike of the U.S. (like the one that Booyalab linked), and they are publicized as part of regular debate about U.S. foreign policy; as a result the average U.S. citizen hears a constant drumbeat of negative feedback from abroad. Then you get an occasional high-profile incident where American tourists or U.S. interests abroad appear to have been targeted for the sole reason that they are American, and it locks in the perception that travel abroad is more trouble than it's worth for Americans.

    Of course, a lot of what I said above is mostly popular fear and prejudice. I traveled abroad quite a bit in my 20s (at the end of the Vietnam war when the U.S. was very unpopular abroad) and I received a warm reception pretty much everywhere. Most of the world understands that individual American tourists are not responsible for their country's politics; and people abroad are usually aware enough of the U.S. culture that they're pretty lenient and forgiving about American tourists' cultural errors and misunderstandings.

    I agree with the OP, though. When I was traveling abroad in the 1970s (mainly in conjunction with the military), I was surprised by the lack of young American tourists on the trains or in the city streets. If I wanted to run into other American tourists, I pretty much had to go downtown to the high-priced hotels and catch the package tour groups circulating through.

    But in summary, I think that the quote from Booyalab's link says it all. Seventy percent of Americans believe that the rest of the world doesn't like them. As a result, I think there's a big popular sentiment in the U.S. that travel abroad is going to be unpleasant, and that foreign travel has to be approached in a way that maximizes safety for the traveler and minimizes unpleasant interaction with cultures and people abroad. So Americans who want to travel abroad tend to avoid individual travel and instead sign up for group travel packages or fly straight to resort areas where they don't really have to deal with the local culture.

  7. #7
    Senior Member JivinJeffJones's Avatar
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    Interesting. I guess it's understandable that young Americans would be afraid that international negativity towards their country would translate into an unpleasant or even unsafe travel experience. I've traveled with Americans before, though, and they never had problems because of their nationality. If anything, people in non-western nations tend to look on them with mild awe, as if they are probably related to a movie-star. Maybe it's different for older people traveling - they could possibly be seen as representatives of a malicious global power.

  8. #8
    Senior Member Veneti's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JivinJeffJones View Post
    I've traveled a fair bit and noticed that Americans seem decidedly underrepresented in the backpacking ranks. By "backpacking" I mean young people (usually) who travel the world on a shoe-string budget, often for many months. I'm not talking about camping trips. Backpackers frequently do casual work from time to time to make ends meet. There are tons of Canadians, tons of Europeans, tons of Brits and a disproportionately large number of Australians and Kiwis out there backpacking. Young Americans are pretty scarce though, especially considering the population of the country. There are quite a few middle-aged Americans traveling around in a hotel-to-hotel, tour-package-to-tour-package kind of way, though. In Australian culture, traveling when young is encouraged and widely seen as a great way to develop a sense of identity, perspective and maturity.

    I'm wondering if anyone else has noticed this and, if so, to what you attribute it?
    Australians and New Zealanders are in the majority 1st or 2nd generation immigrants and also makes them more interested in visiting their ancestoral countries (In the vast majority Britain). Given that Britain is close to Europe then its a natural to have a look at it.

    I am a bit surprised that not more US/CA youth visit Britain, as its the same language etc. But if your friends are not doing the OE (Overseas experience) thing then its less likely you will.

  9. #9
    No me digas, che! Recoleta's Avatar
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    I've backpacked a little in Europe and South America, and there are some major differences between those places and America. For an American, I would not reccommend their first trip outside of the country to be a backpacking adventure just because other countires are so different. In America, public transportation is pretty hard to come by unless you live in major cities like NYC or LA. Yeah, we have bus and some train systems, but they're not all over the place and are kind of cumbersome to use. Really, if you want to travel in America, it's best to have your own car. Plus, cities are not really clustered over here...so getting from one city to the next can take hours of driving as opposed to Europe where you can be on the other side of a country in a few hours. Also, we don't really have hostels or cheap places to stay readily available. The cheapest you might find would be a crappy Motel 6 for about $30 dollars per night.

    Backpack-type travelling just isn't easy to do in America, so you really have to get out of America to do it...and it takes hundreds of dollars just to get a flight out of the country. I agree with what Athenian says as well. It is hard to just up and leave your situation...especially if you don't live with your parents anymore or own your own home.

    In my experiences I have never had people hate me for being an American. Although, I mostly have stuck to Spanish and English-speaking countries just because I can speak both languages. If I was in France, Germany, or Brazil for example, I would be much more anxious.

  10. #10
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