Why Don’t Americans Travel?

I think this post on Why More Americans Don’t Travel Abroad gets it partially right. As a person who has been fortunate to have traveled to a fair bit of the world, I have my thoughts on this and I think it comes down to three things really: 1) Ignorance 2) Laziness 3) Cost Misperception .

Ignorance – I’ve seen and heard this one a lot. Here is a sampling of what I have been asked: “Why would you ever want to leave the US – it is the best place in the world!” “Do they even celebrate Christmas in Spain?” “What are you going to eat in Thailand?” “Doesn’t everyone ride elephants in South Africa?” People really think that Spain is just like Mexico – um, yes, in the same way that England is just like Canada or the US.

Laziness – Apparently it just takes too much effort to get a passport and deal with money that doesn’t look like the good ole ‘merican greenback. Heaven forbid you have to deal with people who don’t speak English and that you might have to learn a few words of a foreign language. Here is a secret folks: any place you go in the world, there are people who want to take your money from you and they are more than happy to speak your language (and are amazed if you even make the effort to speak theirs!).

Cost Misperception – Maybe this is an excuse more than anything but apparently people believe that it is really expensive to travel to Europe. Most every time that I have looked, it is the same cost or cheaper to fly to Europe that it is to the west coast. Frankly, I am amazed at the coin that people will drop to go on a cruise or to some barfhole like Disneyland (or even a cruise at Disney). Those costs would more than accommodate a trip out of the country.

I guess I am lucky that traveling is something that my family loves to do, so we save up for a trip once a year. And kids don’t have to be an obstacle. My daughter has been traveling since she was six months old. At the tender age of ten, she has been to 17 countries (some of them multiple times). I am willing to bet that she has seen more of the world in her first decade than most Americans will see in their entire lives.

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Google Earth – Now With Weather

Google Earth is a fascinating and useful tool for learning about places and even just taking virtual tours of places you would like to visit. With the 5.2 release, you can now get a sense of what the weather is like in those locations as well. For most locations you can enable the ‘cloud layer’ and in some places you can actually get a weather radar overlay.

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Observations On DC

Here are a few things I wanted to get off my mind after returning from a four day ‘Spring Break’ trip to Washington, DC:

Spring Break + Washington DC = 10 million people in one place who act like they have never been off the farm before.

Dear DC ‘hipsters’: huge Sophia Loren sunglasses look even stupider on guys than they do on women and that’s plenty STUPID!

Dear DC ‘hipsters’: the whole Converse wearing thing is totally stale/lame; when they make them for geriatrics ITS OVER.

Dear DC ‘hipsters’ the mullet was never in style and putting it in a pony tail just puts you in quadruple lameness jeopardy. Color and streaks just magnify the lameness.

Dear DC ‘hipsters’: the long sleeve shirt under a short sleeve shirt is stale/lame as well; elementary school kids do it (ugh!). move on.

Dear DC ‘hipsters’: the flip flops with tattered jeans was over 5 years ago in Europe and has reached the Midwest — give it up it is LAME.

Everyone in DC: I don’t care who you think you are, you can wait in line like everyone else. I’ll remind you when you forget.

In general: DC you are a city of ‘big thinkers’ living tiny thoughts. Get over yourselves.

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Power to the Traveler

Thankfully, AirPower has nothing to do with militancy. Rather it is a community effort that is worthy of support. The intent is to provide a wiki to hold the locations of power outlets in airports around the world. It is off to a modest start now, but seems to have more entries every time I check into it.

I intend to map out some power outlets at the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky airport on my next trips.

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Thoughts on: Does the US Suck at Design?

The posting Does the US suck at design? focuses quite a bit on currency design, but brings up some other points that remind me of a conversation my wife and I had while we were in Spain in June. As we travelled around, we were constantly struck with how much attention to design and detail was taken. From the presentation and packaging of your morning pastry, the abundant (modern) sculpture to the style of the people you pass on the street it was a refreshing change from what you would encounter in the US.

My first trip abroad was our belated honeymoon trip to New Zealand. It was then that I started to take note of the differences in attitudes toward design and presentation. One of the first things that I noticed was that food that you would get in a pub in NZed was often much better that what you would get at a restaurant in the US — always fresh, well made and very, very tasty. The other thing I began to notice was the attention that was given to public spaces and buildings. As we have traveled the world from Dunedin to Bergen, I am often struck by how train stations have fabulous facades and thoughtful layouts within. Squares are built to sit and enjoy and are frequently enhanced with sculpture and stylized lamp posts. Even in the narrowest alleyway, there are colorful flower boxes to brighten the space — people take it in their own interest to add these touches.

One comment in the original posting that I don’t necessarily agree with is that ‘beautiful things work better’. I don’t think that it follows that they work better, but they may be more fun to use and, as such, come into your hand more frequently that the ‘ordinary’ would. I also recognize that this notion can go too far — just look at nouvelle cuisine and any of the bling crapola like diamond encrusted ipod cases. When it becomes more about form than function, a thing can become confusing/unsatisfying to use.

So what accounts for the difference in the US? Part of me wants to say it is the pre-packaged, short attention span society that permeates the US. It seems that everyone wants to be an individual but they take their cues from television so they just wind up largely being one undifferentiated mass. Sadly, this seems to be particularly true of many of the ‘creative types’ that seem unable to create a style of their own and are happy to simply endlessly rehash goth, punk and hippie themes. Equally sad is that this lack of creativity is not just in the younger generation; it is a trend among adults to rehash youth culture with staggeringly bad results. It is sort of like the old joke about Elvis impersonators — none of them really look like Elvis, but they all look like each other.

It is somewhat amusing to spot the trends in other countries and try to forecast when they will show up in the US and from there, when they will make their way into the Midwest. For most things, it seems to take about 3-5 years. For the most part, it is quite easy to spot an American abroad due to the differences in style and behavior.

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Effects of Learning and Lack of Sleep on the Brain

New research confirms something that many probably already knew: Learning new things helps to ‘rejuvenate’ the brain while lack of sleep undoes that effect.

I can definitely attest to the sleep deprivation part. There have been a few really long plane flights (New Zealand, South Africa, Thailand) combined with time zone shifts and minimal sleep that have left me struggling to do simple things like calculating the gratuity to add to a bill or to maintain any sense of direction once we are on the ground. A good nights sleep does quite a bit toward addressing this.

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What Time Is It There?

Gchart is a nice little Google Maps mashup that allows you to input the names of countries or major cities and find out what the local time is as well as international calling codes. Right now it’s 10h45 AM (tomorrow morning!) in Wellington, New Zealand — I’d love to be there.

Where in the World?

Came across this nifty site at world66.com that lets you generate a map of the places that you have been (which appear in red on the map) and even the ones that you would like to visit. Mine looks something like this:

It appears that the idea of the site is to allow travelers to add their own commentary and advise on places that they have visited or lived. It will be interesting to see how this evolves.

Book: The Hero With A Thousand Faces

Hero With A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell

I have had this book for a while now and just finished it in while on vacation in Alaska. In fact, I bought this book back when the original Power of Myth PBS series aired some time ago.

I have always had an interest in mythology, religion, cognitive psychology and linguistics and this definitely plays into the first two and to a lesser extent the third. It also builds on my interest in the works of Carl Jung as well.

It was interesting to finish the book in Alaska, a place where the indigenous practices have (seemingly) not been surpressed as they have been in other places. The visit to the Alaskan Heritage site was rewarding to talk to some of the people who are from the various tribes and collectives of Alaska.

In a subsequent conversation, I was curious as to where young kids these days get their mythology and how do they learn the lessons that a cultures mythology attempts to internalize? Video games? Television? Internet? Sadly, interaction with parents and the community seems to be a scarce commodity.

Travel: Alaska

Just back from two weeks on a driving tour of Alaska. We had decent weather for most of the trip (which was handy because we were outdoors for most of it). The itinerary was basically a few days in Anchorage and around, Wasilla (just to get out of Anchorage), Seward, Homer, Whittier and back to Anchorage to fly home.

Considering that we were in coastal places the entire time (ok, except for Wasilla) I was shocked at how appallingly bad the food was, particularly the seafood. Think about it, you are in a place with fresh seafood coming in everyday (and all day) and what do they do to it? Batter and deep fry it or slather it with some disgusting concoction that tasted like ketchup mixed with honey. And forget about vegetables (you wouldn’t want them even if they were on the menu). To add insult to indigestion, you pay top dollar for the honor.

On a hiking trail that is basically right in Seward, my daughter and I came within 50 yards or so of a black bear cub. So while she stood there with her mouth agape, I was mentally running down the list of things to do/not do when you encounter a bear (make lots of noise, don’t get between the cub and the mother, stand your ground if charged, etc). As luck would have it, by the time I thought to reach for my camera and power it up, the cub took off like a shot. Nicola still talks about it to this day. Perhaps, obvious to some, but worth a note, the mosquitos in the area are awful so plan appropriately when venturing into the woods.

In addition to the hiking we did, the highlights were the two glacier cruises that we did on the Kenai Peninsula and Prince William Sound. While the wildlife viewing was so-so, getting up close to some of the tidewater glaciers was quite impressive. As an aside, on the Prince William Sound cruise, the BBC were onboard filming what appeared to be a travel show on Alaska.

Lastly, the 22+ hours of sunlight a day does take some getting used to. There were many nights when Martina would tell Nicola “you need to get ready for bed in a couple of hours”, then realize that it was after 10PM! Waking up in the middle of the night always gave you that “oh crap, its morning already” initial shock before you realized that it was 3AM. Defying all logic, one of the hotels that we stayed in didn’t even have blinds on the windows, let alone black out shades. Thank goodness for eye shades.

Photos from the trip are here and here on Flickr.