Since I talked about USA Passport Day 2010, I asked myself why don’t more Americans have passports.
I contacted the US State Department via Twitter @travelgov and they told me that roughly a third of all Americans have passports. Given the US population of about 300 million that’s about 100 million people. So what about the other 200 million?
Americans who don’t get passports usually use one of the reasons below:
Size of the USA and its Immediate Neighbors
Many people cited the size and breadth of options within the US as a reason why some won’t venture beyond its borders. You can see deserts, mountains, beaches, farmland and every type of climate in between. You can visit Puerto Rico (a US commonwealth) or the US Virgin Island (US territory) if you want the Caribbean. Hawaii or even Guam is available if you want to see the Pacific. None of those options require passports. From sea to shining sea, the United States has a lot of options that could have you never your home state, much less the country.
You’ll need a passport now to FLY to Mexico and Canada and the Caribbean, but you can get by with a passport CARD if you’re going to those locations over land or sea.
As Tony Humphrey said, “There is so much available in the USA, Canada, Mexico and Caribbean countries for the average traveller…so who needed a passport.”
Photo Credit: Chazoid
Misunderstandings about the Passport Application
Linda Farley wrote, “The vast majority of people that I know think the process is complicated and expensive.”
She relates needing your birth certificate and a friend who had to get her name changed because her parents never officially named her at the hospital. Her first name was legally “BABY”.
Looking at the passport application today, new applicants have to apply in person and have
2 2×2 photos
Proof of citizenship like a birth certificate
Current ID like a driver’s license
See all the requirements for new applicants for a US passport. Not much to pull together if you’re a functioning member of society.
Lori Iannuzzo, a luxury cruise specialist, is one person who hopes that passports become MANDATORY for everyone. The rules for usage of passports vs passport cards vs birth certificates or other ID are confusing and having everyone have a passport would make travel easier not only for the traveler, but for the travel industry that has to assist them.
Leif Erikson noted, “Kids are more likely to spend time overseas (and more likely to have a passport) then they (older Americans) are. So it’s changing. I think you’ll find a larger portion of passport holders in the 20-30 something range than older.”
There is probably some truth in that, even though I don’t have any stats to back that up. In an interesting note Champlain College in Vermont is offering to pay for a passport for incoming freshmen if they can maintain a 3.0 average.
Perhaps the old adage “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is true. If you were not interested in international travel when you are younger, will that change when you get older? Do people wait until retirement, when these days alot of people don’t even know IF retirement will ever come?
Lack of Vacation Days
This is the one I heard most often and I personally believe is the biggest reason. Devon Dudgeon, an American who has lived in the UK for the past few years stated, “Most Americans only get two weeks’ paid vacation. In the UK the standard is 25 days.”
You’re less likely to plan that trip to Australia or Southeast Asia when you’ve only got 2 weeks and it may take 2 days of travel in each direction to even get there. More vacation time for the American worker would require a cultural shift in the mindset of many of us. But I think most would favor it. I mean, what employee would not want more vacation time? Big business on the other hand, might oppose attempts to change that.
This is also why Arthur Frommer called for all Americans to get three weeks paid vacation. That’s a start but won’t get us to European levels of vacation time.
Photo Credit: Powi
Passports Used as ID
Julie Ann Schmidt talked about Europeans having passports that are used for ID. British driver’s licenses for a long time didn’t have pictures, whereas American driver’s license do. So Americans can use driver’s license to setup utilities, open bank accounts, etc. Other must use a passport. And if you have a passport already, you are more apt to use it. Americans don’t get a passport until we absolutely need one.
Fear Of – Whatever
Pati Brown said Americans have become fearful of travel (especially post 9/11) where as Brits who grew up with WWII bombings in their cities and terrorist bombings in their subways for years, don’t have that same “fear factor”.
You can lump in fear of a foreign language, fear of foreign currency, just plain fear of the unknown. The new reports around the world certainly don’t help. “Death to America” chants and the feeling that everyone is out to get you certainly would turn off alot of people. Why deal with it? Why risk it?
Just like most things in life, there are two maybe three sides to every story. There is danger all over the world, but the odds of anything happening are small. The gains in personal growth and knowledge of other people far outweigh any overblown risk.
The other fears can be easily neutralized. Fear of language means you get a phrasebook or take a few lessons. Fear of going by yourself means you pick a guided tour.
Perhaps it is the mindset of the individual American. It is not American so it can’t be as good. We are the best nation in the world so why do I need to go any place else. I’m sure some folks out there feel that way and traveling far from home is the farthest things from their minds.
Photo Credit: marxalot
My hope is that my fellow Americans will take time and get their passports at the upcoming Passport Day even if they don’t have any immediate plans to travel. It’s good for 10 years and easily allows you to get up and take advantage of the great deals on travel that could quickly go away if the travel industry and world economy recovers.