This is one of those off-topic posts. In the last few years, Americans have been criticized by Europeans and others because they believed we did not travel outside the US borders. Misinformation. Or to be blunt: check your facts. Yes, it is true that more European has passports in comparison to Americans. But having a passport did not mean that Americans did not travel beyond our borders.
Europeans needed passports to go next door, to travel to the country just a few feet away. The Iron curtain also made travel difficult, but the growth of the European union and relatively open borders has changed how Europeans travel. Europeans, Canadians (who should have known better) as well as Aussies and others have made rather snarky, unkind remarks that have been published in the media, and elsewhere.
FYI to our European friends. You got it wrong. Until earlier this year -- and thanks to the 9-11 terrorists -- Americans did not need passports to visit more than a dozen foreign countries. We did not need passports to visit Canada or Mexico or Panama or Bermuda or St. Pierre & Miquelon or the Bahamas or the Cayman Islands or Aruba or just about any other Caribbean island that is not a US territory or Cuba. (Passports are not required to visit US territories and most Americans are barred from visiting Cuba.)
In the 1980s, when I lived in Saratoga Springs, New York, I used to take my dad's Camarro, and say, Dad, I am going to Montreal for the weekend. Montreal was 3.5 hours away, a beautiful drive through the Adirondack Mountains and the Plains of Abraham. Although I have had a passport since I was 8 years old, I did not need to bring it with me when I headed for the border. All I needed was proof of citizenship (and most times, all I needed to do was declare at the border that I was a US citizen), and that was that. I carried with me my voter registation card. No photo id. My New Jersey driver's license was paper and had a very long number.
That was it. I crossed the border numerous times, driving, taking the train (9 hours from Albany to Toronto), or flying. Never needed a passport. The train got even easier. Amtrak would stop at Exchange station in Buffalo, and we would wait for the Via Rail train to come. Eventually, Via and Amtrak came to an agreement. There would be a stop in Buffalo, but no need to change trains. The Canadian crew got on, and the American crew got off. The booze rules changed, too. The drinking age was 18 in both countries. But Canada had a crazy rule. You had to drink your alcohol at certain tables in the snack bar car In the US, you were able to bring your drink or your beer to your seat.
There was a way to circumvent the rule when you crossed the border. All you had to do was touch one of the tables with the beer bottle, and then go off to your seat.
Same for flying to Canada. No passport. Canadians didn't need passports to enter the US. Nor did citizens of Bermuda. Oral declarations of citizenship were accepted. Because most flights from Canada go to domestic airports in the US, you will find that Canadian airports have Canadian and US customs and immigration.
In the good old days, you largely breezed through both. No passport.
Canada is a foreign country. Well, sort of. Neighbors. Millions of Americans traveled each year to Canada. No passport needed until recently.
Spring break. Europeans probably know very little about Spring break. How about going to Cancun or the Bahamas. You made your reservations, you got on a plane, and flew to foreign countries.
No passport needed. Are you a US citizen? Yes. If the Customs and Immigration wanted to, they could ask for proof of citizenship, which is why one carried a voter registration card. One time, I brought a birth certificate with me because I could not find my voter registration card.
Mexico is a foreign country. Millions of Americans visited Mexico without the need of a passport.
Bermuda is 900 miles of the coast of North Carolina. The Bermudian dollar was kept on par with the US dollar. For those of us living on the East Coast, Bermuda was a hop, skip and jump by plane. No passport needed (and Bermudians did not need a passport to visit the USA.)
It is all changed now. Passports are required for Americans flying to any foreign country, including Canada and Mexico. Land crossings between the US and Canada and the US and Mexico also now require more identification. The State department is now issuing the Passport card, cheaper than a regular passport, but good only for land crossings and for cruises. Americans who have a passport do not need a passport card. The Passport card is largely designed for Americans who travel often to Canada or Mexico or go on Caribbean cruises. Passports or passport cards are not required when traveling to a US territory.
In the last three years, the number of Americans with passports has increased, due to the need for a passport to travel outside the US, even to Canada and Mexico.
Most Europeans tend to visit neighboring countries for holidays. We did the same thing. But we didn't need passports do to so. Perhaps one day, in the not-too-distant future, the old rules, perhaps modified slightly, will be reinstated.
Unlike our European cousins, Americans do not have to travel far for sunshine in the winter. We do have Florida and Arizona and California. We also have our own paradise, Hawaii. And then there is Alaska. The Rockies. Texas. New Orleans. Boston. New England in the fall. Millions of Americans live within 1-3 hours of a coastline. Great beaches up and down the East Coast. We can also hop on planes and head to Bermuda or the Bahamas or the Cayman Islands.
Unlike our European cousins, we do not have legislated vacation time. The average American vacation is 14 days per year. I had nearly four weeks vacation in my old job. I started a new job in January, and I earn 12 vacation days a year. (I became official in June so I did not start accruing vacation time until then. I earn one vacation per month so I won't be able to take a proper vacation until next summer. I did have a long weekend in London in May and my boss gave me three days off in August - not a part of my vacation time, and I went to Busch Gardens Europe, which is in Williamsburg, Virginia).
Twelve vacation days per year for five years.
Americans have far less time each year to devote to vacation - and with the American dollar worth less than Monopoly money, we are finding that traveling to Europe is rather prohibitive. I've been to Britain 35 times and hope to go back again. I also want to go back to Iceland, a place I really adore.
It's time for our European cousins to stop saying that Americans don't travel outside the US. Millions of Americans ventured beyond the borders without a passport. That is how it used to be.
A wonderful way to travel. No real stress, and we truly appreciated what it meant to have the largest open border in the world.