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Americans who have traveled internationally stand out in their views and knowledge of foreign affairs

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Travelers line up for TSA screening at Orlando International Airport in Florida in December 2022. (Paul Hennessy/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Do people who travel think differently about the world? A new Pew Research Center survey suggests they do.

Americans who have traveled internationally are more interested in and knowledgeable about foreign affairs, feel closer to others around the world, and favor a more active foreign policy, according to the survey of 3,576 U.S. adults conducted in spring 2023. We also surveyed people in 23 other countries about their international travel habits.

This analysis examines international travel with a focus on Americans’ travel, including which Americans travel abroad and how their interest in the world and views of international affairs differ from others.

For this analysis, we surveyed 3,576 U.S. adults from March 20 to March 26, 2023; 3,581 U.S. adults from March 21 to March 27, 2022; and 10,606 U.S. adults from June 14 to June 27, 2021. Everyone who took part in these surveys is a member of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology.

For non-U.S. data, this report draws on nationally representative surveys of 27,285 adults conducted from Feb. 20 to May 22, 2023. All surveys were conducted over the phone with adults in Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, South Korea, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Surveys were conducted face-to-face in Hungary, Poland, India, Indonesia, Israel, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. In Australia, we used a mixed-mode probability-based online panel.

Here are the June 2021 survey questions and responses used in this analysis. Those for the March 2022 survey may be found here, as well as those for the March 2023 survey.

How many Americans have traveled internationally?

Roughly three-quarters of Americans (76%) have visited at least one other country, including 26% who have been to five or more. About a quarter (23%) have not traveled internationally, though most in this group say they would if they had the opportunity.

Related: How experience with international travel varies across 24 countries

To analyze how Americans’ travel experiences relate to their attitudes on other questions, we placed people into three categories:

  • Globe-trotters have traveled to at least five other countries. About a quarter of the U.S. public (26%) falls into this category.
  • Casual travelers have traveled to between one and four other countries. Half of Americans fall into this category.
  • Nontravelers have never left the United States. This category includes 23% of Americans.

Compared with Americans, people in many European nations are more likely to have traveled to five or more other countries. For instance, 88% of Swedes have done so.

A map showing that Americans are less likely than Europeans to have visited 5 or more countries.

However, international travel is much less common in many middle-income nations. It is strongly correlated with a nation’s gross domestic product per capita. (For more on international travel and views about global engagement, read “Attitudes on an Interconnected World.”)

Who travels internationally?

A horizontal stacked bar chart showing that U.S. ‘globe-trotters’ are more likely to be older, have higher incomes and more education.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, older people are more likely than younger people to have traveled internationally. Americans ages 65 and older are more than twice as likely as adults under 30 to fall into our globe-trotter category (37% vs. 17%).

Income is even more strongly related to travel than age. Two-thirds of upper-income Americans have traveled to at least five countries, compared with 9% of Americans with lower incomes.

Similarly, Americans with a postgraduate degree are far more likely to be globe-trotters than those with a high school education or less (59% vs. 10%).

Residents of suburban and urban areas generally have more international travel experience than people who live in rural areas.

There are no significant partisan differences when it comes to international travel: 26% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents qualify as globe-trotters, as do 28% of Republicans and GOP leaners.

Do travelers know more about the world?

A bar chart showing that Americans who’ve traveled widely abroad have greater interest in foreign affairs.

Globe-trotters are especially likely to say they are interested in foreign affairs and follow international news. Casual travelers, in turn, are more likely than nontravelers to do so.

Globe-trotters are also the most knowledgeable about international affairs. In 2022, we conducted an international affairs quiz, asking Americans 12 questions related to international news. On average, globe-trotters got 8.2 of the 12 questions correct, compared with 6.4 for casual travelers and 4.2 for nontravelers.

Is international travel related to views of global engagement?

A bar chart showing that ‘globe-trotters’ prioritize U.S. engagement in world affairs and value compromise with other countries.

International travel experience is also linked to Americans’ views about international affairs and their feelings of connection to other people around the world.

When asked which comes closest to their view, 57% of globe-trotters say the U.S. should be active in world affairs, while 43% say the U.S. should pay less attention to problems in other countries and concentrate on problems at home. In contrast, most casual travelers and nontravelers say the U.S. should focus on problems at home.

In all three groups, at least half of respondents say that when the U.S. is making foreign policy, it should take other countries’ interests into account – even if that means making compromises. But globe-trotters are especially likely to hold that view.

Globe-trotters are also particularly likely to say they feel close to people around the world, with 42% saying so. By comparison, 34% of casual travelers and 30% of nontravelers say this.

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