Happy Thanksgiving, American travelers! In the spirit of our country’s most gracious and delicious holiday, we’ve put together a list of some of the things American travelers have to be grateful for.
You can go pretty much anywhere on an American passport. Sure, Cuba and North Korea are tough to get to, and some countries make you pay hefty fees and jump through hoops, but you can still get pretty much anywhere in the world with an American passport. As of last year, you could get to 172 countries on an US passport. Only three countries can beat that (The UK, Finland, and Sweden, all of which have visa-free access to 173 countries).
Travelers in many countries in Africa and Asia have a much harder time getting around the world. Lebanon, Sri Lanka, and the Sudan can only get to 38 countries without a visa, while Iraq and Afghanistan have a dismal 31 and 28 respectively. So the next time you’re sitting in a customs line, annoyed at the wait, just remember: the world is your oyster as an American, and if the accident of where you were born had turned out differently, you could have a lot fewer travel options.
The age of the loud, clueless American traveler is over.
That story you heard about only 10% of Americans having passports? Not true! Nearly a third of American citizens now have passports, which is impressive when you consider how much further most of us have to travel to get to another country compared to, say, Europeans.
And the quality of our travelers is improving. No longer are we considered the most obnoxious tourists (the French, Brits, and Russians have beaten us in various polls), while the number of our students studying abroad is increasing. Our recent college grads are making travel a priority, too. Welcome to the Golden Age of American travel!
21st-century travel options
Ibn Battuta, one of the greatest travelers of all time, traveled from his home in Morocco to China and then back. In the 14th century, this took him 24 years. Now, in the 21st, you could do that trip in a total of about 26 hours, if you spent all your time on a plane. Not that you’d want to.
Battuta’s travels were impressive for any time, but if we wanted to trace his route, we could do it way faster, and we could avoid stuff like the Black Plague and blisters. The globalized world seems to have been made for travelers: this is the first century where, at the start of it, pretty much any place on the face of earth that was above water, had already been discovered, and most of those places you can get to in a matter of days.
The US may not have the best train system in the world, but it does have the best aviation system in the world, and is home to over 15,000 airports. Recent years have also seen an increase in budget airlines. So our travel may not be the most comfortable, but it’s certainly easy and dirt-cheap.
God, what hasn’t the internet given us? We can thank the internet for cheap flights, travel blogging, democratized deal hunting, forums where you can share tips with other travelers, and the ability to communicate quickly, cheaply, and easily with family and friends on the other side of the world.
And I personally have the internet to thank for my employer. Thanks, internet, for Matador!
The rise of green travel (with WiFi!)
More and more environmentally friendly travel options are becoming available as the world starts to recognize the dangers of unlimited carbon emissions, which is good news for travelers, considering how bad planes are in terms of emissions.
This means more trains and electric cars, hopefully, but the Union of Concerned Scientists reports that the greenest method of travel is motorcoaches like BoltBus and Megabus. They’re super cheap and they offer free WiFi.
Low gas prices
Okay, so low is a relative term, but in comparison to years past, a gallon of gas costing under $3 is an amazing holiday treat. Is it going to last? Certainly not. Are we still spiraling toward climate change and global catastrophe? Sadly, yes. But this holiday season, the poor budget travelers among us will get to make affordable road trips home to our friends and family. And for that much we have a lot to be thankful for.
The de-suckification of amateur travel photography
Sure, not everyone’s producing NatGeo quality work, but with the ubiquity of smartphones and the improvement of digital-camera technology, everyone at least has the option of taking some really incredible pictures and then, thanks to the internet, sharing them with the world. Don’t believe me? Go to Instagram. Go to Pinterest. Go to Flickr. Some of the amateur stuff out there — stuff that’ll never end up in a publication — is pretty amazing.
Amateur photography has seriously risen in terms of quality in the last few years. And that’s not even considering the incredible stuff we’ve been getting from GoPro and drone enthusiasts. Gone are the days of being forced to watch shitty carousel slideshows of people’s trip to Europe: now, you can post the photos online, and anyone who wants to look at them can look at them.
Special thanks to Matador Community members Paige Ashley Smith, Jennifer Melroy, Katka Lapelosova, and Jill Kozak for helping this curmudgeonly writer come up with more things to be grateful for.