Traveling to Australia – and living there for a year – was the best time I’ve had in my life.
The people from all over the world, the weather, the beaches and the work culture all added to an experience that is hard to put into words. What I can articulate is that international travel, particularly independent from family, was eye-opening, rewarding and leaves you wanting more.
But while in Australia, I met fewer than 10 Americans during my entire time there. Though this seemed odd, studies support that little international travel is done by Americans across the globe.
According to the State Department’s most recent statistics, 46 percent of Americans don’t even own a passport. If you think that’s high, consider that in Germany 90 percent of the population has one. When Americans do travel internationally, 50 percent of the trips are to Mexico and Canada only. But why?
In a CNN article (January, 2014) travel experts listed four reasons for Americans’ lack of overseas travel: the U.S. offers its own broad cultural and geographical differences, Americans aren’t that knowledgeable about countries other than their own, they have vacation time too short for long travel and the logistics of planning an international trip is simply too daunting.
But I urge others, especially young people, to consider living or traveling extensively overseas. Yes, the U.S. has its beautiful national parks and fun cities to explore. These sites offer easy access compared to international ones, which is why you should put them off until later. What you’ll get from international travel is the realization that life is much bigger than the U.S. That experience alone is a humbling one worth having.
Understand that you have time in your life to do this now. A career, a house and a family will all be here when you get back. Vacation time in the U.S. is some of the shortest in the world, and our culture tells us that work and success is more important than travel. Longer periods of transition will become fewer as you age. If you have a gap in your schedule, consider that traveling abroad may lead you to your next adventure.
Once you’ve decided that traveling internationally is what you want to do, choose short-term travel or living and working in the new locale. English-speaking or foreign language? Talk to people who have done both. Don’t limit yourself; all countries have something to offer. You have to pick the one you think is best suited for you.
The logistics can be daunting but are not impossible to overcome. Go to the country’s government website and find out what qualifications you’ll need to visit. Most countries require a visa – a permission to enter – and they may not be cheap. Once you’ve applied for the visa, you’ll receive confirmation, or rejection, and a visa number. Some countries have visas specifically for young people, so be on the lookout.
Plan a flight well in advance to bring the cost down. Sign up for special flight alerts. Consider traveling during the off-season. And save, save, save. Talk to your parents about how to make that happen. And trust that when you come back broke, it was well worth it. You’ll have had the time of your life.
My time living in another country changed me forever. Take the leap and travel. You won’t be disappointed.
– Joanna Massey, Islands’ Sounder