How to Improve the World: Pay Americans to Travel

Rick Steves, the popular Europe travel expert, has the quote of the day from his interview with the Seattle Times:

I think if the world knew what was good for it, it would establish a fund to pay for Americans all to have a free trip for six weeks, anywhere they wanted around the world upon graduation. It would be the best investment the world could ever make. Because right now an America that is threatened by, fearful of and misunderstands the rest of the world is a costly thing on this planet.

14 comments on “How to Improve the World: Pay Americans to Travel
  • Good for American perceptions of The World Out There. But after being exposed to hordes of American 18-year-olds, many of whom have never been outside their area, let alone the country, I think the rest of the world would hate us even more.

    Imagine it, old-worlders trembling with rage when confronted with a whole cafe full of loudly-dressed travel newbies complaining that they can’t get a soda with ice in it and demanding to know where they can get drunk and meet those slutty foreign chicks. We’d do well to learn more about the world, but I think it’s all for the best if foreigners don’t learn too much about us, at least not in intimate detail 😉

  • What a bunch of collectivist bullcrap. No wonder my Rick Steves travel cubes are so shoddy – this guy’s head is in the clouds.

    Where do people get off regarding *any* country’s residents as one big, faceless, voiceless blob?

  • “Loudly-dressed”?

    New, but quite accurate description!

    For my sins, I happen to have lived in Cambridge, Oxford, Edinburgh and London, all locations terribly popular with visitors from over the pond. I can tell you that no accretive growth in my knowledge of America happened for all the throngs I have had to pass on the way to work, to classes, to home.

    In fact, one way to tell those visitors, who fancy themselves ‘travellers’ rather than ‘tourists’, is to look for Rick Steve’s guidebooks in their hands!

  • Maybe we need a very good new global TV channel which visits one country a day and shows the life of an average person a day. This will be cheaper than sending people around

  • Rick’s funding idea is well worth trying…Perhaps he’s caught up with the impressions most tourists, not just Americans carry while they travel; the world that looks different from home should be pretty tough to live in.

    It takes a seasoned traveler (a very rare breed that) to make allowance for the fact that the view from outside could be exactly opposite. A natural traveler can instantly get tuned to, if not fall in love with, a new place, new weather, new culture, new people, new traditions and customs without as much as a smirk. His mental prism adjusts itself so well, is devoid of bias and has a scattered magnetic field about it that attracts people from far and wide.

    Rick’s funding idea could just be his enthusiasm to see more countrymen as natural travelers; perhaps he’s trying to do his bit to dispel the misgivings that america has towards outside world and vice versa.

  • I think “an America that is threatened by, fearful of and misunderstands the rest of the world” is a costly thing to America. The rest of the world (well, larege parts of it) is busy educating itself on how to function in a global economy, but so many of us are living in either ignorance or denial. Sooner or later (and probably sooner), that’s going to become a major problem. Many of the young people in college today won’t know how to interact with the rest of the world, and will fall behind in business as a result.

  • There is actually a small engineering school in the Rocky Mountains that does this exact thing! Upon graduation, graduates get a 60 day paid vacation*. Now, not all of them head overseas, but the overwhelming majority go on trips around the world to explore our great world!

    *Five years of military service required upon completion of travels. For more info please visit

    **Also reference Ben’s post about his trip the the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Spring, Colorado

  • Having traveled all over the United States on my own nickel, I’m not so sure about this “pay young people to travel” idea. I think they should earn the money and use their own ingenuity to do so.

    However, I have heard good things about those paid trips to Israel. They’re offered to young Americans who are Jewish, and from what I’m told, they’re very worthwhile.

  • Rick Steves is so dreadfully conventional, and this is an example of that thinking. Send Americans overseas, where as the above poster points out, they will most likely be viewed as bumbling, loud and stupid? Why not instead send residents of other countries HERE to see us in our own environment? It seems to me every friendship made between an American and a citizen of another country will reap enormous benefits, and that will probably happen here more than there.

  • I think people suggesting that others come to America are missing the point. Americans need to get out of America because they (we) have a very narrow view of what life is like.

    Europeans generally get 6 weeks of vacation/holiday per year, and (as an American living abroad) I have more British in-laws that have been to the US than American relatives who have done so (and considering that my own family is about four times the size of my husband’s–that’s REALLY saying something!). Some things they really like about America. Other things bemuse them, other things turn them off. None would hesitate to go back.

    But if Americans don’t travel out of North America, they miss the opportunity to be faced with questions that are worth pondering. Why IS there so much water in an American toilet bowl? Do we really need to flush that much away? Why DO I think that languages are so hard, when it’s so clear that other people can speak several? IS there a connection between per-capita car ownership and obesity rates? (And why DO we only get two weeks of vacation/year?) One can learn things and even change things by starting to ask these questions.

    Yes, you can ask all of these questions from the comfort of your living room, watching the Travel Channel, but would you? The actual experience makes a huge difference. And getting to know and respect people from other countries makes one care more about how one’s own country’s actions affect the lives of others.

    I don’t agree with Rick Steves that the answer is to have people travel at graduation (does he mean high school?) on someone else’s tab. Packs of roaming teenagers–without responsibilities and excited by the lower drinking ages outside N America–do not make for good cultural exchanges. But school year-abroad programs do (especially living with a host family), as do many ‘gap year’ programs (very popular among the British), in which young people (and sometimes these days, the older) go away to do volunteer work in another country (not as heavy-going as the Peace Corps) or paid work (I’ve known a few British teens who fund their US travels by being camp counsellors). Someone else above alluded to Israeli kibbutz programs, which also offer people a chance to really get to know another culture–not just the parts that have been partially digested for American tourists already. The ‘two days in Budapest, two days in Prague’ approach to travel (encouraged by the short vacation times that Americans get, and the notion that traveling abroad is a ‘once in a lifetime experience’ not to be repeated again) leaves people treating Europe as a theme park and is unlikely to involve positive shifts in cultural understanding on either side…

  • Ugh, yet another middle-america bashing comment from a media “elite”.

    Rick also needs to upgrade his videos – there are others who are doing a better job than he is. Perhaps he needs to go on a trip to see what his competition is doing…!

  • If only there were more free trips for students and recent post-graduated adults. There are options like the Peace Corps for students to immerse themselves in another country, another culture and world issues.

    Another program (which caters to a very small group but is not only for Americans) is the Taglit Birthright Israel trips which operates on a belief that it is every Jewish person’s birthright to visit Israel. To date, nearly 145,000 young adults from 52 countries have traveled to Israel for the first time on Taglit Birthright Israel trips. The trips are free.

  • The real question is whether or not that travel time will be done strategically and wisely.

    It makes little sense for us to send American children to nations that already hate us and it may even upset our friends. Also, whenever we send Americans over to the Third World to do good deeds, we cultivate Third World dependency on American benevolence.

    A far better, although perhaps more costly, venture would be to have Americans learn at least one foreign language before the age of 13. As a tri-lingual American, I can tell you that it makes life that much richer.

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