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How Visiting Family is Ruining America

Visiting your grandma is making you dumb and ruining the United States. I just realized this while reading Smile While You’re Lying: Confessions of a Rogue Travel Writer.

The author, Chuck Thompson, briefly mentions that most Americans travel to visit family members across the country. That, and the meager piece of vacation time doled out to Americans by those cutting their paychecks, are the roots of the problem.

Americans get the shaft when it come to vacation time.

I get 120 hours per year, and this is considered a king’s ransom of vacation time in the United States. Meanwhile, I get snickered at by part-time baristas from Holland for that measly chunk of paid time off (and for my health benefits, which to them is the equivalent of being cared for by faith healers, witch doctors and veterinarians).

So there’s problem one. We have a limited chunk of time.

And grandma and the rest of the family are hungry for you to spend your tiny sliver of time off on them.

Maybe it’s residual Puritanism and the continuing effects of Catholicism, but Americans are really good at succumbing to guilt. We’re happy to surrender our own interests and goals to keep grandmama happy. So you keep shuttling to Dubuque for family reunions so you and your cousins can belly up to the Cheesecake Factory, which is to food what Dan Brown is to literature.

So that trip to Australia or France or Tuscany? Next year. Or the year after. And so on. The next thing you know, you’re grandma.

And that’s if you have some curiosity about the rest of the world, which not all Americans do: A meager 28 percent of us, as of FY08, had passports. And I’d bet even fewer use them – and that the only reason it’s so high is that we now need passports to visit Mexico and Canada.

Some people raise the argument that Americans also don’t have the money to travel. Bullshit.

We obviously have enough money for the latest mobile phones, enormous plasma screens and all the high-fructose corn syrup we can get down our gullets.

America is great at entertaining itself. It’s a lot easier to plop in front of a TV or to play a fake guitar (the act of which is a perversion against true creativity) than it is to travel. There’s no shortage of people who will snivel about small airline seats – but how many people exult in the awesomeness of being able to board a plane in Los Angeles and get off in Melbourne? Seriously, you’ve just cruised a major part of the globe in a mere 14 hours, and you want to whine about turbulence and security lines?

So we also hate being uncomfortable, even if the reward is emerging someplace new and cool and different. I’ll admit, TSA security lines are a drag. Flying can be expensive. Travel can be stressful. But you’ve gotta swing a pick to mine some gold. It’s that simple.

Now here’s how this is turning the United States into a shadow of its former self.

Americans don’t expose themselves to new sights, new places, new people or new ideas. They don’t stop to consider that there are places where people don’t accept post-college torpor, getting lazy and sheepishly watching their waistlines expand.

Picture these two cities: One has a public building that houses a full weight room, a swimming pool with ample lap lanes and outdoor hot tubs heated by geothermal energy. The other has three public pools, only one of which has a full weight room and a generous amount of lap lanes. None have any sort of hot tub.

The first of these cities is Reykjahlith, Iceland. Population? 300. The second is Scottsdale, Ariz., an affluent suburb of Phoenix with more than 200,000 residents. Reykjahlith’s people gather at their gym. They exercise. They socialize. They get away from their TVs. Scottsdale should be embarrassed to have its city services hung out to dry by a village in north Iceland. But the mayor and council there likely wouldn’t care or notice enough to change things. Meanwhile, they find plenty of money to provide tax breaks to lure businesses into Scottsdale.

Now, Australia and New Zealand would fit in right with Iceland: public pools, public gyms, sports leagues for adults. Moving around and sweating aren’t just for kids.

This is a concept that just isn’t ingrained in the United States. And I’d never have realized that it’s not that way everywhere unless I’d left the country.

Every time you fly to Cedar Rapids to visit your family, you’re depriving yourself. And your country.

Every trip you don’t take abroad robs you of a chance to see something new, and to bring something new back to the United States. It doesn’t have to be something game-changing. It can be a small idea you apply to your own life. It can be a business concept. It can be a tiny bit of foreign slang to liven up your speech.

So the next time, make a stand. Apply for a passport, and use the damn thing to visit a nation that isn’t a NAFTA member.

Meet someone new. Learn something different. And don’t forget any of it when you clear customs. Share it with your friends – and watch things change slowly, bit by bit, for the better.

8 thoughts on “How Visiting Family is Ruining America

  1. Addy

    This is awesome! I love it. Since they don’t read this blog and will never find out I wrote this, I will tell you that my sister and mom are coming to visit me soon and I keep trying to say, “Oh you don’t need to come out here. I’ll be fine.”

    It’s not working. There is only so much hiking time out here, and I only have a little time off work. I don’t want them here! Family members are ruining America, at least, they are ruining my trips.

  2. admin

    I won’t tell you mom and sis if you don’t, Addy!

    I was in quite a mood when I wrote this post, I’ll tell ya. So many people just don’t take time to do things that make them think. I didn’t really mention it, but there’s no reason why that couldn’t take the form of epic backpacking trips. I imagine some silence and solitude would do people some good!

  3. Ronda

    Love the post, but you are talking about my current state. Do you really have family in Iowa? You have inspired me that when I am the grandma, I may just try to break traditions and we will do family holidays instead of killing the bird 🙂

  4. admin

    Hey, Ronda. I may have some family on my maternal grandmother’s side. But I really just picked a place where a lot of people are from and used it as an example. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Travellyn

    Some of us think just as you do. I always do my annual pilgramage to visit my mother interstate, however I too have become a grandma now, so a few years ago I decided to travel regardless of everyone else’s wishes and thoughts. Guess what, they have now accepted it. However it does seem that it has become cheaper to travel so I still get a trip in to see my dear old mum. Bless here heart. Bite the bullet and do what you want!

  6. Nichole L. Reber

    Couldn’t get past the first line without cracking up. Your stellar sense of humor rears its wicked head again!
    Did you know that some reports indicate 39 countries top America on a list of numbers of vacation days allotted/taken? (http://www.businessinsider.com/countries-take-most-vacation-2011-7#americans-get-10-vacation-days-full-time-employees-often-get-an-additional-10-15-days-1)

    ‘Every time you fly to Cedar Rapids to visit your family, you’re depriving yourself. And your country.’ I concur with this statement in more ways than you intend through this post. However, having been abroad for two straight years with no return trip to the US, my gracious was it refreshing to come back home and let two years of knots and kinks work themselves out. Now I’m in Peru for six months and will enjoy my two-week trip back to the US over the holidays.

    Cheers, fellow traveler!

  7. WanderingJustin

    Yeah, I was a bit fired up when I wrote this. I’m not a bit surprised about the vacation time. Thanks for the link – I’ll have to refer to it next time I write about this.

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