Every year Gallup, the premier polling body in the country, asks Americans where they would travel to if money were no object. The answers have changed over the years and tend to reflect the perceived wealth of the nation as well as the constantly shrinking world we all live in. The most recent answers I thought were particularly telling, so I decided to pick five of the top responses and try to surmise why, from an American point of view, we all want to visit these places so very, very much.
1. Hawaii – This really isn’t a surprise and has been a top pick for a very long time. We Americans are very lucky in that our nation has a lot to offer, including this tropical paradise. (This diversity is also one of the reasons cited as to why more Americans don’t have passports) Hawaii has long figured in the daydreams of Americans, a faraway place that promises peaceful solitude amongst the swaying palms. Before first visiting the islands, I thought much of the hype was unwarranted, I couldn’t believe it was much different from any other tropical destination. And I was wrong. It’s not just the beaches and mountains that make Hawaii a special place, it’s the pace of life and an indefinable feeling that exists there. Life really is more relaxed, more chill and more fun. Hawaii absolutely deserves to be on this list and I hope it stays there for a very long time.
2. Europe – Given our close historical ties, Europe maintains a healthy spot year after year. What intrigues me most about this answer is, well, the answer. The survey you see was open ended, meaning that people could write down whatever they wanted to. Rather than list a specific country, these respondents instead wrote down Europe, the continent. Why is that? I would guess that many of those who answered Europe have never been there, so instead of thinking about one country they instead aspire to a concept of European travel. There is something inherently romantic to us Americans about traveling through the Old World. Ancient cities, cute cafes and famous landmarks capture our collective imaginations in a way that nothing else does really. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t love to stroll down the streets of Paris or enjoy a large meal in Italy. Different from palm trees and nice beaches, Europe is our cultural and historical travel aspiration and I imagine that it will always retain this important position.
3. Australia – This answer surprised me. Not because I disagree, I love Australia. It surprised me because it’s not a trip to be taken lightly. It’s far away, on the expensive side and requires at least a couple of weeks to visit. Americans don’t typically travel that far away and we definitely don’t have multiple weeks of vacation to spare. So why is it on this list? Because it’s a dream destination, it is highly aspirational, it’s a place we all dream of visiting one day. The fact that English is spoken is important, many Americans have a pretty robust fear of navigating foreign lands where they can’t communicate. But it’s also the promise of exploration and freedom that it offers. It’s a massive country with everything from large cities to the vast Outback. Kangaroos, koalas and bush are what we all want to see. Add to that the gregarious Australian personality and we’re sold. We can relate to Australians in a way we don’t with many other countries and that is why it is so high up on this list.
4. Italy – Finally, we drilled down to a specific country in Europe! So why Italy and not Ireland or the UK? (In decades past the UK had claimed a top position) It’s not necessarily because of familial connections, those haven’t changed that much in recent years. So it has to be something more than just researching where your great grandparents grew up. The perception of Italy is steeped in warm images featuring amazing landmarks, friendly people, nice weather and of course delicious food. All of this is true, if not highly whitewashed, and I think all point towards the reason for its inclusion. It also seems slightly more exotic than other European countries, a little more spice and pizazz than the UK, but just as easy to reach. It is also a very romantic destination, and couples longingly gaze at travel brochures imagining special moments in Rome, Florence and of course Venice. I think Italy has done perhaps the best job of selling itself as a country to the American audience. We all want to visit Paris, but our knowledge of the rest of France is limited. Spain seems nice, but other than Madrid and Barcelona next to nothing is known. Italy though, from Milan to Sicily is familiar to us; we see its great cities in mass media all the time. In what other European country can Americans name multiple cities? This familiarity is most likely the chief reason for its inclusion on the short list.
5. Alaska/Alaskan Cruise – As I noted in my discussion about Hawaii, America is a lucky country. We really do have just about every sort of natural environment you’d ever want to visit and Alaska is the yang to Hawaii’s yin. Alaska is our last great frontier. It’s the promise of Western expansion, manifest destiny and every other ethos we hold dear. It’s unexplored, rugged and insanely beautiful. It’s a type of exoticism that while different from a place like Hawaii, still holds the same level of mystery and interest. Of course one of the easiest ways to explore the massive state is by cruise ship, which is why it’s co-listed. For the casual traveler figuring out how to explore Alaska is a daunting task, and cruises offer the promise of exploration without the struggle of learning how to actually do it.
So, what do you think about my inferences? Am I wrong? Right? Other? What other places do you think should be listed?