In many ways Western Europe is the easiest transition for Americans to make when traveling abroad for the first time. The cultures, infrastructure, and familiarity between the two make Europe (primarily mean Western Europe) a good place for people who’ve never left the US to get their feet wet to international travel.
Yet, there are many compelling reasons Europe isn’t the ideal first place to visit. There are many reasons to not make your first trip outside of the US to Paris, London, or Berlin. For those of you who are deciding on your first international jaunt outside of the US, consider these reasons to put another region of the world at the top of your list.
Europe Is Expensive
Europe is expensive and the British pound, Euro, and others are strong against the dollar. Figure out the best places to travel on a weak dollar and make the most of your simple travel budget.
Consider Central and South America, both places that have generally advantageous exchange rates.
Caters To Western Tourists
Compared to most other parts of the world, Western Europe’s travel industry to a large extend caters to Americans and Europeans. France, Germany, England, and the rest of Western Europe are where many Americans, first timers or not, travel to each year. It certainly can make traveling easier if it’s your first time out, but it can also give you a mistaken view of the world and tourism.
Although the numbers are rising (since it’s now required for travel to Canada and Mexico), two-thirds of Americans still don’t have passports. If you’re trying to drag your husband out for his first trip overseas you might be thinking Europe because it’s the most similar to what he knows. It can also make travel interesting-dull (for first timers) and reinforce the notion that the world is much like the US. You (or your reluctant first timer) might be less inclined to travel abroad afterward; going through the hassle of airport security, and spending money on airline fees only to see places that vaguely resemble home.
Not to take away from the intricacies of European culture but you’ll be better able to discern them if you have a wider frame to put them in.
Others Have Done It
You won’t be the only or first American to make your first international trip to some destination outside of Western Europe. As Sherry Ott added to one of my posts last year about 5 Turkish cities to add to your itinerary (other than Istanbul):
Turkey was the first country I traveled to – only 10 years ago. I loved it as it ignited my wanderlust and I haven’t stopped since. I find myself longing to go back and see Turkey again since I’ve become a more seasoned traveler.
It’s Good For America
The more Americans travel, the better it is for America. There are many reasons why Americans don’t travel overseas and there is a perception that the world hates Americans. The world opinion of the United States has fallen considerably since 2000, yet many of these attitudes are about the government and specific international policies. Every traveler acts as an ambassador to their home country – and the impression you leave behind is more influential than any government or marketing initiative.
Notoriously Americans don’t travel and if they do, it’s to Europe. Citizens of the world superpower are under a microscope by everyone else, yet most have never met an American. People stereotype most what they understand least – something that goes both ways.
[photos by: cemre, ThomasThomas, keithusc]
Turkey has always ranked number one of my list of favorite places I’ve visited. In the short time I was there I realized I could keep going back throughout my life and still have more to see on each new visit…now I said it is ONE of my favorite places…India is another…The Maldives another…and the list goes on 🙂
Some many places so little time 😉
great reasons – i think people should just GO!!! my first trip abroad (other than to canada) was to japan – it changed my life.
I’m with you. No matter where you go, traveling abroad is an important experience everyone should have and continue throughout their lives. The impact is profound on many levels and gives your a perspective and insight you can’t gain otherwise.
Thanks, this is an interesting perspective for Americans who are newbie travelers.
According to the statistics there are many of them!
Now that I’ve done other places like SEA, I have been telling other people this exact same thing. I loved the backpacker vibe in SEA and feel like it combats that “sameness” that Europe has to the US. Many of my friends don’t think that they can handle the uncomfortable nature of travel outside of the Western world…but how will they know if they don’t try! 🙂 Great thoughts Anil
Thanks Shannon, when you leave the ‘West’ you can really get a better idea of what it is. Lots of people in the US I’ve spoken to are really afraid to travel to SE Asia for some reason too. I’m not sure quite why this is or where the fear comes from.
I think people really are discovering the world outside of the EU. Maybe it’s just my perspective working in around the world travel business for so long, but it seems more and more people have been breaking the mold and trying the more “exotic” destinations: Africa, Asia, South America, etc. And also discovering that’s it’s not difficult or anxiety-inducing to try new places. Quite the contrary in fact.
Thanks for keeping people inspired, Anil!
Nico, I’m with you on that, it’s opening up. I wish I could get my hands on some demographic information about where Americans of various ages travel to. I suspect there would be some clear correlation between age and destination.
I’m all for Americans travelling more, I think it would be great for America and the world if more travelled outside of North America. It’s kind of expensive and North America is somewhat isolated, so whatever we can do to encourage them, is probably good.
I wonder about Eastern Europe, too. It has almost all the “advantages” of Western Europe from a US perspective, but it’s a lot cheaper. You know, a couple of weeks in Czech or Estonia or something.
Good suggestions Richard. Eastern Europe is a good choice and still close to the West so could make for a combo trip (although with an average of only 10 days off a year, might be hard for most Americas).
Overall I think Americans should be encouraged to travel more and wider – it’s good for the world and Americans.
Some excelelnt ideas and points. Personally, I think people (sucject to budget) should go to the place they have always dreamed of going for their first intl trip. Whether it be because of your heritage, a fascination with that country, a relative/friend who lives there, a smattering of that language or whatever, you are more likely to enjoy a place that you have a true enthusiasm for and some background knowledge. Though being Australian, my dream countries were France and Scandinavia and they certainly didn’t disappoint when I made that my first intl trip some 20+ years ago. For an American, that could equally be Canada, Mexico, SE Asia, Europe or South America.
Excellent point Mark. It’s a personal decision and if you love France, Spain, or otherwise you should certainly make it there. It brings up an interesting and idea about how a first trip shapes up one’s impression of travel overall. Does a terrible first trip hurt down the line – (for Americans in particular who are generally reluctant to travel abroad?)
Unfortunatley, I’ve haven’t been outside the USA yet, with the expection of Ontario part of Niagara Falls. When, I start doing some international travel, Europe will NOT be my first. Heck, I may never go to Europe since it outrageously expensive. Europe might as well fall under the overrated destinations list.
An interesting article I found:
I’m probably not missing much if I don’t see Europe. There are more fascinating destinations in the world i think.
Western Europe has an intricate culture, more evident outside of the big cities. That said, it is very expensive and you can appreciate those differences better once you see some *really* different cultures and places. Not a knock or whitewash of Europe – hopefully when/if you do make it there the dollar fares a bit better against the Euro.
American culture and Western European culture has alot of similarities i believe.
One German lady told me: “If you want something alot different from the US/Canada go to Africa or Asia. If you want something alot similar to the US/Canada than Europe will do just fine.
The cultures you find in Victoria, British Columbia and Quebec are no different from the UK and France.
Even if the dollar fares a bit better against the Euro(which I doubt), it still would be no more affordable. US dollar is stronger than the Danish Krona for example, but prices are outrageous. Europe are going to get more expensive.
UK got the £1000 train fare late last year. I’m sure there’s a €1000 train fare as well.
The prices are expensive, even though the exchange rates are currently better. But having spent a significant amount of time in both the US and Western Europe, I’d say there are absolutely cultural differences and the cultures are different between countries as well as locally within each country. They just aren’t as evident if you don’t live or spend a lot of time in a place.
This guy seems to speak the truth:
1 EUR = 1.36401 USD
1 USD = 0.733132 EUR
Sorry that’s still not a good exchange rate.
Great post! I agree though that the main goal should be to get Americans travelling at all. However, Eastern Europe is a great region for exploration and though it’s changing rapidly, I would highly recommend certain cities for lower prices, great food and a cultural experience entirely different from those found in Western Europe (read- less catering to Westerners, though it still exists). Prague, Budapest and Krakow spring to mind immediately but there are tons of other great cities too!
Thanks for the suggestions – funny you should mention Poland, I’m thinking of making my way there to ease my budgets for some time while I’m in Europe.
Anil: Your statement: “The world opinion of the United States has fallen considerably since 2000, yet many of these attitudes are about the government and specific international policies. Every traveler acts as an ambassador to their home country” is right on the money. Thankfully, most citizens of the world can differentiate between the people of the US and our government. I have never been treated rudely simply because I am an American. And I go to great pains to be a good representative of our country, rather than an “ugly American,” hoping to improve our image. Barbara
Despite reports to the contrary, Americans are just like most other people in the world 🙂 I think most of the world understands this but there is a sentiment in the States that this isn’t the case. Even if it weren’t the case, more Americans traveling would prove them wrong.
I wouldn’t have thought that on the whole Americans didn’t travel because of world perceptions but more because of being immersed in their own culture and lacking interest in others . At least that’s what some of my American friends tell me.
As for acting as ambassadors, that is so true of travellers of any nation. It’s easy to cringe over someone’s behaviour and make their fellow citizens wear the same label.
It’s hard to say I suppose and varies from region to person. Fear, lack of interest, etc. can all be reasons. For the younger generations I think there is an interest in the outside – but travel isn’t part of the culture like it is for Europeans. Many aren’t exposed to international travel until their college years. My guess would be the longer one waits, the less likely they would be to travel in life.
This guy seems to speak the truth:
Europe is no longer Europe actually. With the massive number of muslim immigrants coming to Europe and not assimilating. Europe is starting to look like Saudi Arabia, India, Pakistan etc..
Europe is overrated. I enjoy doses of Europe, don’t get me wrong. But it’s difficult to enjoy it on a budget. Gondola rides, museum tickets, monument climbing and the like add up to 100’s per week. And that’s without eating or sleeping. Which means no gondola rides, museums or monument, but then why go to Europe?
You get WAY more bang for your buck pretty much anywhere else in the world.
To play devil’s advocate, I’d answer your question by saying to see some aspect of European culture. That said, it is expensive although don’t think it should be indefinitely avoided.
I have no desire to travel to Europe, UK and the US.
I prefer going to places that aren’t so westernised.
If I am traveling, I am looking for an experience, not to just do more of the same sh*t in a different location. I want to be exposed to different cultures and have an enjoyable trip that is also an experience.
I’d love to go to Tibet, Mongolia, Oman, to just list a few.
I’ve been to:
Hong Kong – quite a few times.
Macau – pop in every time I go to HK
parts of China
Thailand – traveling from Bangkok down the country to the islands – Koh Samui, Koh Phangan etc
One shouldn’t be under the impression that there isn’t culture in Europe or the US – culture is an innately human trait and it would be a mistake to discount any place. Perhaps a trip there is worth it so you can compare your preconceptions with the experience.
Europe is not going to interest everyone. Not everyone is interested in castles, churches, gothic architecture, etc. etc.. Not everyone is into European culture. Like they say you can’t please everyone.
True, and that goes for anywhere 🙂
The number of American tourists visiting France has decreased, despite the allure of the Eiffel Tower:
Might be the reason for the increase in travel to C.America.
Other euro-zone countries, UK and Scandinavia has also have decrease of American tourist.