Over the past few decades, the numerical rankings that demonstrate each country’s propensity for travel have remained remarkably unchanged. Every year, the citizens of the Scandinavian countries of Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark are ranked in the top five of world travellers; their dominance is only interrupted by the United States, which usually places second or third.
The Canadians and the Australians also usually rank within the top ten, begging the question — what do citizens of all of these countries have in common that allows them to travel so frequently? The answer, we’ve found, is a mix of cultural values and economic imperatives.
The United States
The U.S. is a bit of a strange case — its citizenry travels a ton, usually making up to 4 or 5 trips per annum, but the vast majority of those trips take place within the country’s national borders. International travel is anathema to many Americans — it is estimated by census officials that nearly half of all U.S. citizens do not own passports.
Why the enthusiasm for domestic travel and avoidance of international travel? The first reason is obvious: the United States is a sprawling country that spans from the Atlantic to the Pacific, north to the tundra and south to the desert. Travelers can visit any number of incredible natural scenes, national parks, and bustling cities without having to pay extra for international airfare, travel great distances or speak any language but English.
The cultural impact of national monolinguals is important too. Many Americans are more uncomfortable with foreign languages and situations than their European or Canadian counterparts. The combination of this monolingual legacy with the American tradition of automobile vacations and “road trips” leads to an overall embrace of domestic travel and rejection of international travel.
Australians can be spotted all over the world — the country’s globetrotting populace is given flexibility to travel because of lengthy national vacation time, a relatively strong currency, and a high passport ranking of 8 (meaning that the Australian passport alone brokers passage into 169 countries.) Australians travel most frequently to relatively nearby countries in Southeast Asia as well as other commonwealth countries such as Canada and the UK.
Travel has always been part of the Australian cultural imperative, but the rise since the 1970s of discount airlines has made international travel possible for most middle-class Australians. The biggest obstacle for travel-loving Australians is distance and therefore plane ticket cost, and discount airlines have taken some of the financial sting out of flying around the world.
Canadians travel a lot, and for some of the same reasons that Australians do. However, they also have several travel tendencies in common with the U.S. — they tend to travel within North America, but because so many Canadians take vacations to the southern United States, Canada’s international travel numbers are a bit inflated.
Similarly, Canadians appear to value cultural exchanges more than their Southern neighbours. Canadians are much more likely than Americans to visit countries where their descendants originated, such as the United Kingdom or France. Canadians also have long summer vacations and ample time off in the winter, which they use to travel to island paradises such as Cuba that United States citizens do not have access to.
Scandinavia — Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland
People from the Scandinavian region travel more frequently than people from any other corner of the globe. It is in this region that cultural norms perfectly align with economic imperatives. Scandinavians receive massive vacation time allotment throughout the year, which allows them to travel throughout Europe and even to more exotic locales in the South or the Far East. As many as 1 in 5 Scandinavians also own a second house within the region, so travel within the four countries is similarly high. Economically, the cost of living in Scandinavia is incredibly high, so residents almost always get more bang for their buck when they vacation outside of the region.
Culture + Economics
The countries that routinely top most-travelled lists are all countries with high standards of living, cultural traditions of internal or external travel, and an elevated emphasis on time off from work (well, except for the U.S.!) Countries that do not share at least two out of these three qualities will always struggle to crack the top 10 in any frequent flyer or driver list.