Where Americans Want To Travel And Why

Wailea Beach Villas

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.

 Eiffel Tower Paris

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.

 Uluru Sunset Australia

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.

 Gondola Venice

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.

Photo courtesy of Twenty-SomethingTravel.com

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?

Add to Flipboard Magazine.

Subscribe and get my free ebook!

Subscribe to the LandLopers newsletter and get a free copy of my new book, "My Favorite 50 Travel Photos."

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer. Also follow Matt on Twitter, Facebook and

17 Responses

  1. Mojo

    Travel should not be a lugury so whenever it travel with my family on vacations or on business trips I use hotelsmixmatch.com they will give you ‘80% off your hotel which is just crazy to me and they are a underground company so that’s why they can afford to give those low rate. If you have time just check out their magical search. Box and you will be blow away with the rates they give you thanks to my friend nick for telling me about them

    Reply
  2. Charu

    Italy, but of course! I think every American is obsessed with Tuscany. And Hawai’i is not surprising either. Would have thought the Caribbean would be up there…

    Reply
  3. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures

    I think Americans are obsessed with the Caribbean!

    Reply
  4. Laura Patton

    Australia is definitely a surprise. I didn’t think it was that well imprinted on the American travel consciousness.

    To be fair Americans saying they want to go to Europe and not differentiating between countries is no different than me saying I want to go to America and not differentiating between states. They’re both large land masses conjuring up a plethora of varied travel experiences.

    Reply
    • Jo

      Not really. Europe is a patchwork of completely different languages, cultures and politics. The vastly different histories have left an impact on every single aspect of life that simply doesn’t exist in the United States. Western European countries like Britain and France are literally incomparable to former Soviet states like Belarus or the Ukraine.

      Even if by ‘Europe’, you mean Western European tourist hotspots, I’d still say there’s far more diversity than in the US. You can’t discount how much having a common language and history does to unite a country and give it an identity. There’s a reason why the 50 states of the US are happy to be locked together as The United States (even though they have their cultural differences), but each of the 50 countries of Europe remain resolutely independent.

      I’m not disputing that US states have awesome variety, but Europe and the US are not comparable simply because they have a similar landmass and geographical/ meteorological variation.

      Reply
  5. Jeff @ Go Travelzing

    I am not surprised by this list at all. Most of these places are highly marketed to us. Italy probably make the list over France or Spain because of Italian food (at least our version of it) is so popular here unlike Spanish or French food.

    Reply
  6. Sam

    This list is so cliche! I think Americans are still afraid to get out of their comfort zone. Hawaii, Alaska, & Australia are all ‘exotic’ to Americans yet it’s not so daunting since English is spoken there.
    Sadly, France and Italy is America’s concept of Europe though many countries make up Europe. These two will always be a travel destination due to American film, history and food culture.

    Reply
  7. Frank

    Nice post but all very predictable as the others above have said. Americans (generally) always prefer 1) not having to deal with a different language 2) not having to deal with a different currency 3) not having to deal with too many colored people. 2 of the 5 destinations don’t require a passport so keeps things simple. Australia a surprise, but as you state “where they would travel to if money were no object” . Doesn’t mean that’s where they go. I don’t want to sound critical though – Americans have less holiday time than most Western nations and if I have a week, 10 days, I would want to find a place where I could relax and have the fewest headaches possible. All of the above are safe, but fine, destinations.

    Reply
  8. Anonymous

    What is your opinion on Americans wanting to travel to Africa?

    Reply
  9. iGottaTravel

    I am from New York and living in Australia now and my own family won’t visit me because it is just too expensive. I am flying home for a visit next week and the RT ticket on Delta was $1268 USD, I am telling my friends back home how I can’t believe I got this AMAZING price, but they just see over 1k on airfare and they roll their eyes at me.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      It can be a pricey ticket, no doubt there. One reason why it’s probably so aspirational. Of course though it’s well worth saving for.

      Reply
    • Peggy

      My partner is in the same boat as you, iGottaTravel. Having moved to Australia for just over two years now, only ONE person from the US has come to visit him, despite our entreaties of free accommodation.

      I’m a little disappointed with this list – it doesn’t seem to change much. How does it compare to the places Americans wanted to go to ten years ago? It may be interesting to see if their worldview has shrunk, or expanded in that time.

      Reply
  10. Pitin Echevarria

    Totally surprised Cuba is mentioned, when we have Puerto Rico as a.very inexpensive destination, US money, US Hotel chains, including Westin and Trump Golf Resort. Fully bilingual and the most beautiful beaches and delicious seafood you can imagine. Tropical Forest, Bioluminescent bays, fishing, scuba diving, mountains, ziplines! Everything you can think of but most magnificent, the people!!;

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Let me guess where you live… 🙂

      Reply
  11. Turf to Surf

    This list makes me sad. It’s evidence that a lot of Americans lack adventure in their choices…these are some of the least challenging, most similar-to-home destinations to visit. Not to mention 3 of those 5 are English-speaking. Maybe some exposure to the travel blogs of adventurous, independent travelers will change this list in years to come – we can only hope!
    -Tasha

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      I’ve never been one to judge where people choose to travel. What’s most important to me is that they travel. It’s also a lot more expensive for Americans to travel. If I lived in the UK I could hop on a 50 quid (at the most) flight to Paris and call it a day. To get to Paris from here is on a good day $800-$1,000. That’s a big difference.

      Reply
  12. Matthew

    Revisiting this blog as it showed up in my Twitter stream… Nice post @Matt! I’ve found a number of Americans that I have met and talked with about travel in the last couple of years have shown a renewed interest and fascination over visiting Japan.

    I always encourage them to do so since I believe that the “Japan is SO expensive” line of reasoning to opt out of visiting there is not right. After living in Vermont the last 14 years with frequent travel to Japan, I find that many commodities in Japan are CHEAPER than what I find them costing in the USA and you can get far better, affordable priced deals (and customer service) at a plethora of hotels in Tokyo compared to places like San Fran or NYC.

    Reply

Leave a Comment