Advice for Today’s US Travelers: How To Best Present Yourself as an American Abroad
By Phyllis Stoller, NABBW’s Group Travel Associate
As we travel these days, some of us are wary of being identified as American. We often forget that we can be ambassadors as well as tourists. Whether or not you agree with the Trump Administration and the current state of US politics in general, you — yes, you — can contribute to our image abroad in many ways.
Remember, we are the Peace Corps generation, the people who – in our youth – journeyed to Europe on rickety old ships we used to call “student ships,” then lived “off the land,” in cheap student hostels.
In other words, due to our past travel experiences, our generation has the ability to be our country’s best ambassadors. Here are a few suggestions to help polish the brand of “The United States” during your next trip overseas…
Learn a little about where you are going and its relationship with those destinations.
- Knowing a bit of history will help you decide how to represent our country. Example: our group is going to Chile next week. The US and Chile have had a checkered history; we supported the dictator Pinochet.
- Classified documents were just released on our involvement and on the possible murder of liberal poet Naruda in Santiago.
- Read recent disclosures and talk with facts. Be able to describe our domestic politics not as an excuse but as a teacher. Most Chileans do not resent us; however, be up front about how our government works, and about how strong our system is. And of course how good usually gets through.
Don’t compare the US with another country.
- Example: “In xxx, service is faster and our xxx work quality better.” I hear this from time to time. Put yourself into the shoes of a local Mexican who might have to deal with strikes, road blocks, rock falls, school closures for her children, and poor public transportation, vs. someone in a city like Chicago, where we have access to a direct train, consistent public school hours, limited urban street closings etc.
- We all have issues to deal with; Americans are lucky compared with most of the world. Appreciate our luck rather than criticize others seeming inability to act.
Don’t defend our government, explain it.
- When our group was in Iran on election day, locals asked us what happened. They were concerned that US companies would not come to Iran and expected jobs would not materialize.
- They were not angry at us, nor were they particularly interested in knowing about Trump.
- Many Iranians actually told us that they understood that the current political situation might not be of our choosing: all countries have governments which, from time to time, they do not like.
- Explaining our system helped locals to understand we were people not villains.
Finally: Looking at some English language newspapers from your destination can help you to start a meaningful conversation with locals.
- Find out what they want to talk about and how you can contribute as a foreigner. For example: in a recent issue of the Indian English-language news magazine India Today, the headline in the World News section was about US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s trip to Afghanistan. The article is mainly about Pakistan and its support for the Taliban.
- In other words, if you’re traveling in India and you want to be a good ambassador, do engage with locals. But consider asking them about Pakistan, not about why cows walk in the street. (Though that is an interesting question also.)
We hope you like our suggestions, and take them apolitically. If you wish to contribute to this article, please add your comments below. And as always, I invite your emails at firstname.lastname@example.org
Travel tips are courtesy of www.thewomenstravelgroup.com, which specializes in tours for women — from Israel to Japan to India to Africa. One of our unique features: Singles arranged with shares whenever possible.