Why Americans Stay Put and Never Live Abroad

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Only a small percentage of Americans ever cross the ocean to live abroad. But with so many places to see, why wouldn’t they?

Many people grow up with plans to explore their genetic roots in Ireland or Germany, but those intentions often fade away in the on-going rat race to work and live in the United States today. I myself had dreams of drinking my way across France and Italy, one vineyard at a time, but at the young age of twenty-one, I was buried in debt and working just to pay the bills. Like most of my fellow coworkers and friends, my expectations of visiting Europe was replaced by hopes to vacation in the Caribbean, which then further dwindled to thinking I might visit Florida one day, if I could afford it.

Low Stash of Cash

A good chunk of society in the States fits into the same category as I did: desirous of traveling abroad, but prevented by lack of funds to do so. These folks work hard every day, for a small piece of the pie to take home. They take that piece and split it up over the assortment of loans they’ve accrued to survive a somewhat comfortable existence, and then there rarely is much left over for pleasure.

What is left over is spent on entertaining oneself with nice things or going to nearby nice places. Before you know it, that dream-trip to Europe becomes a silly, childish wish, now that you’re in the real adult world. Unfortunately, this isn’t how the rest of the “real world” sees it.

The Web Effect

There are other reasons why people who wish to travel from the States feel like they just can’t. Being a part of a close-knit family is pretty much like being a butterfly stuck in a spider web. You want to spread your wings and fly, but you can’t get away. Never mind the severe guilt trip you’d receive if you did make plans to escape the continent for a serious amount of time, because you would naturally feel a heavy weight on your conscience for even wanting to leave your loved ones, anyways.[quote_box_right]DID YOU KNOW? Costa Rica is One of the Top 10 Retirement Destinations for 2014.[/quote_box_right]

For grandparents, it is especially hard to be ripped from their young brood of growing and changing grandchildren. This emotional bond keeps senior citizens from flocking to warmer waters, and young couples from venturing from their family ties.

When we left the States with a toddler and a baby, we were keenly aware of the hearts we were breaking; we didn’t know how the “Mom-Moms, Grammas, and Pop Pops” would go on. Even if they didn’t quite hint at the damage we were causing, we well knew it would be painful for them to lose their angels. This is a common and unfortunate sacrifice to living a life abroad.

The Four Letter “F” Word

If the bills or the parents don’t keep you settled at home, there is one more weapon against the you if you are fighting to get out of the box: fear.

Fear of the unknown world out there. Fear of losing the life you’ve built thus far. Fear of being alone. Each person creates a whole slew of connections, comforts, and memories in their home-town, and it takes a very strong individual to cut away from everything they know. You literally have to start over again in the new destination of your choosing. Some people can do this alone, but for most travel-lusters, the courage needed for a “living-abroad” adventure just isn’t in their make-up.

Traveling Anyway

If you’re reading this and think one of these descriptions has you pegged, consider standing against it. If your stuck by the lack of funding to get “out there,” create a plan to make traveling possible.

You can do what I did, and sell your house and car, and rent month-to-month until you have enough to get away. If you fit into category number two, and your deep love and need for your family keeps you grounded, explore a less-distant part of the world to inhabit.

After living in Norway and then in Costa Rica, we’ve found that Central America is a much easier place to be for your family’s heart-strings. They may or may not visit you, but knowing that you are connected by earth makes a big difference. It is also less expensive to take a quick trip home, if you are feeling unbearably homesick.

Lastly, if it’s fear that’s holding you back, chill out! Once you get through that first long plane ride, and train ride, and bus–you’ll feel a pride in yourself you never knew. You can do it! It’s easy. In my own traveling experiences, I’ve always been surrounded by helping hands, throughout Europe, Central America, and the Asia-Pacific. There are wonderfully pleasant people waiting out there to meet you. Don’t you want to meet them, too?

Go on and pack your bags, you can make this happen.

[quote_box_center]She’s a mother, blogger, and world traveler. Now Emily R-P Shea is the first columnist of our new section “The Great Escape” featuring articles written by a small handful of US expats who have some amazing stories to tell. From why they chose to live in Costa Rica to how to raise a more eco-friendly baby, The Great Escape will be a great reference as well as fascinating entertainment for all travelers who find themselves in paradise.[/quote_box_center]

  • Jacqueline Zaleski Mackenzie

    There is nothing that you said that cannot elicit an “Atta, Guy/Gal!” for me. However, some of us do not have the same family ties due entirely to how we grew up.

    By grade two, I had moved all over the USA… in that grade alone we moved 7 times in nine months! My father was USAF under General Curtis “The Homewrecker” LeMay (the movie “Dr. Strangelove” was his personality biography). By grade 10 I had experienced living in 26 different states.

    No, we did not live overseas, but we lived in or visited every state but Hawaii, and we always knew that we “might” go overseas at any time. My father was once gone an entire year mapping the equator. After the USAF he worked for NASA; so “out of this world” was also my “normal.” My husband has seen most of the world thanks also to the USAF. Yet, my first trip into Mexico was emotional, then I fell in love with Central Mexico; I taught there for a decade. Then, we moved to Ecuador two years ago. Yes, we have kids, grand-kids, and soon great-grands, but having always moved so much and not having tight family ties, I cannot imagine going back to the USA to live. I’d rather bring family and friends here to join us.

    • Hi Jacqueline,
      Thanks so much for sharing! It’s a pity you’re not in Costa Rica. I’d love to have you share your perspective in our Great Escape column.

  • jeffhre

    Emily, please tell us that your next article is going to tell you people to live below their means. So that they can have the chance enjoy all these wonderful experiences and perspectives – before they reach retirement age.