Going away

Some people just don’t get out much. Out of their home nation that is. Sometimes there’s a good reason for this: North Korea and Zimbabwe are going to be difficult to leave alive, Andorra has no airport or railway stations, and the police might be taking care of the passports of certain British citizens who enjoy a little football hooliganism on the weekends.

Tourists have existed since 1772 – when the word was first used – though humans have travelled for leisure since the earliest of times. Tourism, by contrast, wasn’t invented for another 40 years.

It seems some nationals just get out more than others, and that this has little to do with living on hard to escape islands or the heftiness of bank accounts. Citizens of New Zealand, for example, are actively encouraged to holiday at home rather than travelling abroad, though I can see why they might be eager to leave.

I wanted to find out which nations get out more, but was stumped by the lack of real statistics, so turned to the example of the United States, the nation that earns more from international tourism than anyone else.

Somewhere in the region of 30% of US citizens hold valid passports. Of those who do, half the trips taken out of the country are to Mexico and Canada. Until 2007 US citizens didn’t even need passports to visit its contiguous neighbours, and passports were held by less than 20% of the population.

The low numbers (75% of UK citizens hold passports) doesn’t seem to result from the United States’ global position stuck between vast oceans, since 60% of Canadians have passports. It’s also true that a flight from one side of the country to the other would take just as long as a direct flight to Europe or South America, and that double the number of Americans visit England than any of the islands in the Caribbean just next door.

Disappointingly, it could all be down to tax. The US system very generally means if you hold a US passport you pay US tax, even if you’re living in Monaco rather than Massachusetts. This means that not only do expats abandon their US citizenship (and right to a passport) when settled abroad, but new US citizens aren’t adopting the passports of their new nation.

The thing about international travel over national travel is that it takes people out of their comfort zone, it can be scary, and some people just don’t like that. And they might just all live in the US.

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