The Passport Map: Who Travels Among Americans

US Passport MapI always thought that if someone wanted to counter the agenda of the forces in our country peddling fear and make America more progressive and open to the world, they would simply give people determined to build walls passports and plane tickets. I’ve also thought that about the best investment the rest of the world could make in the interest of everyone’s well-being would be to establish a fund to give each American a trip to a foreign land of their choice (not Canada) upon graduation.

This map shows a hard-to-refute correlation to percent of population with passports and political persuasion. It also shows a economic correlation between those who travel and those who don’t. I’m not sure what conclusions to draw from this, but it is thought-provoking. Does travel make someone more savvy about politics or more mixed up? Or is this just a quirky coincidence with no real meaning?


61 Replies to “The Passport Map: Who Travels Among Americans”

  1. looks like the states with lowest passport levels are also the poorest.

    Posted by: Matthew – Mar 29, 2011 11:08 AM
    This is passport ownership it doesn’t mean they are traveling.

    Posted by: T – Mar 29, 2011 11:43 AM
    There’s no state poorer right now than California! :-) I also looks to me as though the map follows population density, with Alaska being the exception.

    Posted by: Mike – Mar 29, 2011 11:43 AM
    I’ve been to Europe three times in the last ten years, and I’m more conservative than ever. However, I’m a more well-travelled conservative than I was in 2000. I think Rick sees righties like myself as being ignorant know-nothings who will be sure to convert to liberalism if they are only exposed to the wonders of the European socialist utopia. Travel abroad, which I thoroughly enjoyed, only helped me appreciate the beauty of American capitalism all the more. God bless America!!

    Posted by: Joe – Mar 29, 2011 12:41 PM
    In general, coastal (or border) and richer, more urban states have more international travelers. Appalachia and the plains states are the heart of low-passport territory, because they are interior, generally poor, and largely rural. The coastal states with low passport ownership (the Carolinas, Georgia, and the Gulf Coast states other than Texas and Florida) are relatively poor and/or rural. Arizona is an interesting anomaly for its region. As is Colorado. Given the overall trends you’d expect their positions to be switched.

    Posted by: Cascadian – Mar 29, 2011 12:42 PM
    I would also point out a potential correlation between the states with International Flights… not many International flights out of Alabama. Also, Ethic makeup… NY, California have a large number of various ethnic communities that may or may not have family connections somewhere global. its always fun to look at maps like this, but careful to draw specific conclusions about something as broad as International Travel & Politics.

    Posted by: Jeff – Mar 29, 2011 12:44 PM
    Any strong correlation of this map with ETBD tour takers?

    Posted by: bk – Mar 29, 2011 12:47 PM
    Rick, I would go with your final sentence.

    Posted by: KenK – Mar 29, 2011 12:52 PM
    “This map shows a hard-to-refute correlation to percent of population with passports and political persuasion.” Correlation does not equal causation. If we had time, I’m sure we could come up with dozens more correlations that have no causitive association.

    Posted by: Tom – Mar 29, 2011 1:10 PM
    I think the map is pretty interesting.. that the states that have the lowest rates of passport ownership, are prominently in the south or Midwest. And also tend to be the states with the worst educational systems, lowest median incomes, large minority populations, and tend to vote republican or Dixie-crat in national elections. So looking at it that way, I can’t say I’m unhappy that these people don’t own or use passports.. They are the ones I would least want the rest of the world to see since it would only reinforce their opinions of the rest of us.

    Posted by: anonymous – Mar 29, 2011 1:23 PM
    Rick, I have to strongly agree with Joe, and take exception with your ‘hard-to-refute’ correlation. Having travelled to over 40 countries in the 20 years that I’ve had a passport, my conservative viewpoints, are if anything, more strongly rooted than they were before my first passport stamp. I think it just as likely that travel affirm one’s values, than provides them from exposure.

    Posted by: Mike – Mar 29, 2011 1:29 PM
    “worst educational systems, lowest median incomes, large minority populations, and tend to vote republican or Dixie-crat in national elections” wow… so if you’re not a rich, white, ivy-league educated democrat, you’re an embarrassment to the US? keep it classy, liberals!

    Posted by: Matthew – Mar 29, 2011 1:30 PM
    Now that you need one to go anywhere beyond the border there may not be as much correlation as there used to be.

    Posted by: Patrick – Mar 29, 2011 1:44 PM
    Passport is not necessary to go from Texas to Mexico. Many Texans visit family on the other side of the border but do not own a passport. Map is interesting but I would not draw any correlation using it.

    Posted by: DENISE – Mar 29, 2011 1:48 PM

    1. Worst Educational Systems

    A 2007 report from ALEC shows that AL, GA, SC, LA, MS, and AR are six of the bottom nine states in terms of academic achievement. I think it’s a safe bet that “achievement” is related to quality of the educational system.

    2. Lowest Median Incomes

    The same six states are in the bottom 12 for median income in 2008-09, according to the Census Bureau. KY and TN are also in the bottom 12.

    3. Large Minority Populations

    I’ll assume this one is the most controversial, since a lot of my fellow southerners tend to substitute “minority” for “black.” That said, all of the six states I listed above are in the top 12 for black population per capita. TN is also in the top 12.

    4. Tend to Vote Republican in National Elections

    Save Clinton’s elections ’92 and ’96, this one can’t be denied either.

    Matthew, “Keep it classy, liberals” is just as offensive as the way anonymous couched his/her observations. These are simple facts, no matter how they were presented. I am a poor, white, public school-educated democrat, and I think both of you were out of line.

    Posted by: Cody – Mar 29, 2011 1:55 PM
    @Joe- I think you’re reading more into this than is there, and it speaks volumes about your own self-doubt. But either way, the fact remains: The more Republican the state, the less educated, the poorer, the more likely to be on welfare, and the less traveled it is. Are all of those things connected? It’s hard to think otherwise. And I say this as someone with strong conservative (but not Republican) leanings.

    Posted by: Michael – Mar 29, 2011 3:41 PM
    cody, i didn’t debate any of the demographical data regarding the states in question. it’s certainly true that those are more or less accurate statistically. i merely pointed out he unintentionally exposed his bias against people of those demographic categories with his assertion that they wouldn’t be good ambassadors of the US while abroad. obviously he feels the poor and minorities are among those that would embarrass us. i disagree. i think superior-minded folks with sticks firmly implanted are the bad ambassadors. since when is referring to someone as a liberal an insult? he clearly distanced himself from the conservative end of the spectrum with his revealing comments.

    Posted by: Matthew – Mar 29, 2011 3:57 PM
    There is a great book called Deer Hunting with Jesus by Joe Bageant…the “young intellectual kids” LOL at work told me to read this book…this man was from the conservative part of the country, listened to Rush etc left town, went to college and became a liberal, however, he does a great job in telling you why these people think like this…it gave me a new understanding of those area’s in our country….then again, people with high educations and lots of money can be biased and if they have the power, have people believe what they tell them…I tend to believe that one must be fair and balanced

    Posted by: AA – Mar 29, 2011 4:01 PM
    Looking over this map, looks like the most passports are in the greatest populated areas. Makes sense to me, don’t read more into it. I think the biggest problem right now is that all those passports are going to get dusty. With high airfares and gas and food and unemployment, money will be spent in other places.

    Posted by: Judy – Mar 29, 2011 4:51 PM
    You make a very good point Rick. Travel really does broaden the mind especially in the young.

    Posted by: Prim – Mar 29, 2011 4:53 PM
    Actually I’m not a Liberal in any way shape or form, I Live in Georgia, and try my best to rectify what I see as problems in the state, but hey, theres only so much one person can do. I simply recognize Facts for what they are and realize that there is at least superficial correlation between lower passport ownership and poverty/lack of education and also a connection bizarrely between poverty/lack of education and people voting against their own best interests for strange reasons like religion. Or the obverse, voting distinctly in their own selfish interest which leads the politicians to fight back by removing abused programs which exacerbates the poverty and poor education. I don’t see anything wrong with not wanting Larry the Cable guy or Lil’ Wayne representing the USA.

    Posted by: anonymous – Mar 29, 2011 5:59 PM
    Geography does play a role…when it comes to flying. You can get direct flights from the coasts overseas; anywhere else you have to connect and the price shoots way up. It would be great if everyone could travel, its my passion, but if people can’t afford to go abroad they can hopefully still travel within the states.

    Posted by: A – Mar 29, 2011 6:16 PM
    Yay!!! Damn religion. I always knew there was something wrong with the New Testament. Some guy running around preaching peace. WTF!!! But it’s ok. I live in SC, so that makes me an uneducated conservative. Wait, I was born and raised in Ca. Now where does that put me? Oh and I have traveled. I’m confused will someone please tell me how to vote. I don’t want to come off as selfish. Don’t judge people by the color of their skin, just by their political party.

    Posted by: na – Mar 29, 2011 6:29 PM
    Interesting map, and while factors such as income clearly seem to come into play, the relationship between travel and political views is an interesting one. As a researcher, I have to wonder if much (any?) research has been done on the issue. Obviously, the distinction between correlation and causation must be made, but the direction of causality needs to be made clear as well. Perhaps it is not that travel makes one more liberal, but that liberal people enjoy/value international travel more on average? As someone who is liberal, I can’t say that I think travel has made me more or less liberal, but I do believe it has educated me and made more able to articulate the pros and cons of both the way we do things in the US as well as in other parts of the world. If travel can provide more nuance and knowledge to one’s political views[INVALID]whatever they might be[INVALID]then that is an overwhelmingly good thing, regardless of where one is on the political spectrum.

    Posted by: Buckeye Chuck – Mar 29, 2011 6:43 PM
    I lived in Europe the last three years and traveled extensively during that time. I would agree that travel expands your vantage point about culture, politics snd human nature in general. It was amazing how many people have no interest in the world outside their tiny bubble.

    Posted by: Leslie, Atlanta – Mar 29, 2011 6:47 PM
    Looking more closely at the map, it is interesting how the travel/political views narrative fits much better for the East than the West. Alaska obviously stands out, perhaps Wyoming too (although, having just moved here, I can say there’s a lot of money in this darkly red state) … as is the fact that much more conservative Arizona has more passport penetration than the more progressive New Mexico. Utah is particularly interesting though … LDS (Mormon) members tend to be quite conservative but also quite traveled as well (often as a result of their 2 year mission, which is frequently overseas). Not sure what to make of all that, but it’s food for thought.

    Posted by: Buckeye Chuck – Mar 29, 2011 6:49 PM
    Sorry, in my first post, dashes seem to be showing up as [INVALID] … not sure why

    Posted by: Buckeye Chuck – Mar 29, 2011 6:50 PM
    To DENISE: Maybe a passport is not necessary to go from Texas to Mexico, but you need one to go back; because as of June 2009, US citizens entering the United States by land or sea must present a passport or other WHTI compliant travel document like a passport card. I am mexican living in Sonora, next to Arizona. We get lot of tourism from the US, not as much as we used to because safety concerns, but they carry passports.

    Posted by: ALEX – Mar 29, 2011 7:16 PM
    I have followed you, Rick, since the early 1980’s when I first attended your presentation in Edmonds. As a teacher, whenever I was asked what we could do to improve education, my answer has been, “Have every child travel to the 4 corners of their state by the end of 4th grade, to the 4 corners of the USA by the end of 8th grade, and spend 6 months in a non-English-speaking country by the end of high school. That would change the world in one generation.” How many bombers would it take to pay for it?

    Posted by: RuthAnn – Mar 29, 2011 8:02 PM
    It would be interesting to see a map of US passport ownership by state. Do people with more than one passport affect the data? Do I have six passports per capita, five of them expired?

    Posted by: Chip – Mar 30, 2011 4:30 AM
    Democrat. Republican. Libertarian. Green. Hey, it doesn’t matter your politics…JUST TRAVEL!! :)

    Posted by: Ryan – Mar 30, 2011 6:26 AM
    I also agree with Joe.

    Posted by: Don – Mar 30, 2011 8:06 AM
    I would guess that the high rate of passports in Alaska is probably due to the fact that overland travel has to take them through Canada. I also agree with RuthAnn that we need to encourage young people to travel abroad any way we can.

    Posted by: Diane – Mar 30, 2011 8:28 AM
    Before sending kids on travel field trips I would reinvest that “bomber” money into the schools. My daughters school had to end their music program to save money and I’m sure there are countless other examples. In Germany text books cost a fraction of what they cost here. If we want to cut back on financial aid and allow college students to travel then that is something that needs to be addressed. It is the parents responsibility to raise these kids. And I think this generation needs to learn right from wrong before being shuttle to the four corners. Before selling all your bombers you might want to keep a couple for defense. Last I checked there were still crazy people with crazy access to crazy weapons. But before you start attacking don’t forget Obama just used our F-15’s to bomb Khaddafy and he didn’t even have WMD’s. I know I know Saddam was a saint and a martyr.

    Posted by: T – Mar 30, 2011 8:36 AM
    OH and why hasn’t Rick addressed the Japanese Tsunami or promoted travel there like he has for Haiti?

    Posted by: T – Mar 30, 2011 8:39 AM
    For those pointing out that there are more passports in states with higher populations, be sure to notice that this is a chart of passports per capita.

    Posted by: Rick – Mar 30, 2011 8:58 AM
    What about states with companies that have much overseas business? Business people who travel internationally would “up” the passport count. Illinois and especially Chicago have lots of businesses with overseas requirements.

    Posted by: Judith – Mar 30, 2011 10:48 AM
    It is impossible to draw valid conclusions from this map. It does not provide enough data. Its value is in raising questions. My first question would ask, “What is the effect from multi-national organizations?” Personal experience has shown me that some companies require their HR departments to maintain inventories of employees with passports and to encourage employees with certain skills to get passports to be ready to respond to business opportunities. Amazingly many of those passports go unused. But the cost of not having a passport at the right moment can easily exceed the cost of getting passports for everyone in the company. The oil business alone might easily explain Alaska’s high percentage. The financial industry might account for a lot of New York’s and New Jersey’s percentages. Delaware’s business-friendly incorporation laws result in vast numbers of businesses incorporating there though their company headquarters may be housed in any state. Delaware is an especially good place for foreign companies to incorporate their US subsidiaries. Do they need to maintain local law offices in Delaware? “What about Mississippi?” Economics might be the answer but might it be the absence of multi-national organizations more so than poverty or education? “California?” In the world’s fifth largest economy, no one explanation is valid. It has aerospace/defense, fashion (SI swimsuit photos), entertainment (on location filming), travel (cruises), oil, electronics (dominated by multi-nationals) just to start the list. If the above did not conclusively provide the answer, then, and only then, would I look at political leanings, education, other economics and immigration. Considering that the cost of using a passport far exceeds the cost of getting one, I am very pleased that passport ownership is as high as it is.

    Posted by: Charles in Plano – Mar 30, 2011 12:37 PM
    Looking at this map again, I still see where high population would result in more business travel, foreigner travel and some of the states are stare where people have retired and retired people travel a lot. As far as giving people a passport and ticket, only if they really want to travel. Traveling with people who don’t want to be there and it is not their interest would be a nightmare!

    Posted by: Judy – Mar 30, 2011 4:31 PM

    Sez Rick: It also shows a economic correlation between those who travel and those who don’t.

    Well, I’m glad you pointed that one out, Rick. Those who can’t afford to travel don’t. Way to go! I had a friend in my university days. His Ph.D. involved plugging all the Welsh election results for the previous 100 or so years into a computer, then trying to find correlations between the results for individual constituencies and whatever other criteria he was looking at. No doubt he found some correlation between voting patterns and the number of retired left-handed ex-miners who were born on a rainy Tuesday. Which is a long-winded way of saying that correlation and causation are two entirely different things.

    Posted by: Brian – Mar 31, 2011 2:21 AM
    As an American who has travelled in Europe (six trips in the last 10 years including one Rick Steves tour and another one in 2011)I can say that Americans who do not travell abroad are shortchanging themselves. I have aging aunts and uncles in Germany and I have witnessed the absolute wonderful medical care that they receive thru their government run health care. Looking at your map it is not surprising that the states where the people have the least passports are the most conservative and very poor. If all Americans could and did travel abroad it would open new thoughts on solving old problems here.

    Posted by: John – Mar 31, 2011 9:10 AM
    My parents are from and live in Mississippi. Yeah, that one dark state. They are not poor, but actually doing better than most in this economic climate. They both have they’re passports, and have traveled a lot, both internationally and domestically. Despite these things, they are also rigidly republican and conservative. I did a lot of that traveling with them, but am almost the polar opposite in terms of political views. We don’t agree much on that topic. Personally, I think traveling is a good experience regardless. However, I also think is presumptuous to link political savvy to travel. Many people who are open-minded and have great, new ideas simply don’t have the means to travel. Also, many people who have the means and do so, are the ones building the walls you speak of.

    Posted by: Ashley – Mar 31, 2011 7:12 PM
    Reading these comments makes one thing VERY clear to me…… liberals simply think they’re BETTER than the ‘peons’ living in middle America!

    Posted by: The Truth – Mar 31, 2011 8:30 PM
    Reading these comments makes one thing clear to me, there seems to be only two basic opinions. Again, a divided nation or at least writers to this blog. One question I have asked for many years is why do middle and lower income Americans in any state vote Republican? Finally, I find travel very rewarding both within the US and to foreign lands. Meeting the people and seeing the sights makes the trip worthwhile. Keep on traveling.

    Posted by: Henry – Apr 01, 2011 12:27 AM
    “One question I have asked for many years is why do middle and lower income Americans in any state vote Republican?” THEY DON’T! The Liberals keep promising and giving them ‘free stuff’ which is how they ‘buy’ their votes. The few who do vote Conservative are those who cherish freedom and want the government out of their lives; which by the way, is exactly what the Founders intended!

    Posted by: Wake up people! – Apr 01, 2011 7:13 AM
    Liberals preach tolerance, understanding, and freedom. Get to know people, let people live don’t judge by race or sexual preference. They won’t to bridge gaps with other nations, friends of the world. Then they turn and vehemently attack those who don’t see eye to eye. When people are attacked for their beliefs, they in turn with fight back thus voting republican and vice versa. I believe in having a strong military defense, yet I have no problem with gay marriage. I don’t like abortion but I’m not opposed either. So where do I stand. This I feel is the real problem. There are left, right, and a LARGE majority sitting smack in the middle, without a voice. And we’re all tired of listening to these two parties B!@#h, complain, and attack each other. I know people say well there is no middle people are to scared to pick a side. BS. My belief system has outgrown your archaic two party system.

    Posted by: T – Apr 01, 2011 11:43 AM
    @ Wake up people-I recall the majority of the southern and middle states regularly vote Republican yet a majority of these states citizens are middle or lower income Americans. What are they getting if they vote Repub? As for the founding fathers, they were followers of the Age of Enlightenment and had a very different view of the world then most Americans seem to believe today.

    Posted by: Henry – Apr 01, 2011 12:50 PM
    The southern and middle states are populated by people who tend to be very patriotic and want the government to leave them be, so they tend to vote conservative. In the more populated states, you get the middle income and poor folks who want a handout, and there are far more of them than there are in the southern and middle states, Thus the preponderance of democrats. Also, take a look at the electoral map. Why do you think the presidency can be won without carrying a majority of states? Because of the imbalance in representation between a fewer number of populated states versus the rural ones.

    Posted by: Wake up people! – Apr 01, 2011 5:03 PM
    I think travel can make someone savvier about politics, but that depends if people want to see it as an opportunity to reflect, confront, and shape what they know about cultural policy, implicit and/or explicit. When I travel, I know that as a tourist I have a limited amount of time on vacation and that in of itself allows only for the “outside looking in” perspective and the “surface” culture experience of a country. I see what I plan to pay for- no time for deep exploration or immersion. But the politics is still there in the choices I make to consume a certain product, service, and experience over another. And sometimes there is no choice.

    Posted by: The Bucket Rider – Apr 01, 2011 11:38 PM
    ugh, stick to travel and skip the condescension. Just because people happen to have a different set of political beliefs than you do, doesn’t make them inferior. Just because popular media (Rick fitting this definition if it is applied very loosely) happens to be of a particular political persuasion it assumes superiority and thoughtlessly portrays itself in that manner. There’s a name for that, arrogance. Europe is fine, especially the parts Rick mentions in his book, but live there for a few months in a place you could afford and your opinions of it’s supposed superiority might fade slightly. Happy Travels

    Posted by: TexasThankYouVeryMuch – Apr 02, 2011 5:22 PM
    “The southern and middle states are populated by people who … want the government to leave them be, so they tend to vote conservative.” How would these people react if the government did leave them be? Remember most of these states are welfare cases in that they get more federal dollars sent to them than they pay into the federal treasury. In some cases over $1.40 for every dollar sent to the federal treasury. Should we give them their wish and let them be?

    Posted by: Nels – Apr 02, 2011 9:13 PM
    @TexasThank-I need to ask what country or countries are you trying to describe with your statement about living in Europe for a few months, in a place you can afford and your opinion might change? I see you added might so that is your qualifier. The world might start to rotate in another direction too. I expect you have first hand knowledge to your referenced counties? Which countries in Europe have you lived in and when? I think the Bucket Rider has some points to consider. Some people say politics is in everything we do or say. That may be true.

    Posted by: Henry – Apr 03, 2011 3:01 AM
    @ Henry: print every country you’ve lived in with a link showing your passports, purchase or rental statements for the entire period of time in which you’ve lived there. Have it verified by a notary so we know that you didn’t photoshop them. Add your work and home address so we can verify who you are. Any and all diploma’s or certificates from an accredited school showing your qualifications. State which party you are affiliated with and how much you’ve given them in campaign donations etc etc etc…

    Posted by: JUS – Apr 03, 2011 2:44 PM
    I happened upon “Travel as a Political Act” about a week after attending a presentation by a Brit (Austin Vince) who motorcycled around the world. His comments were in line with “Travel”, along the lines that meeting different kinds of people teaches both the traveler and the people met. I agree with him and am enjoying Rick’s book tremendously. While my daughter’s in college, we’ll be traveling mostly in the US and Canada. After that, we’re bound for Europe and as many other places as we can manage. Turkey would be awesome, as would Russia. And there’s always the chance that I’ll get to visit my company’s India office!

    Posted by: Don B – Apr 04, 2011 5:09 PM
    One other thing: shouldn’t we be able to have conversations about this topic without it descending into the usual right/left fingerpointing? Signed, a liberal NRA life member

    Posted by: Don B – Apr 04, 2011 5:11 PM
    Rick, I am not sure what the map shows… but I believe if more people could travel to more countries and be exposed to more cultures, it would be harder for people to want to start wars and military actions all over the world. (of course this assumes the travel is done not with the mindset of a tourist, but with the mindset of a citizen of the world….wanting to engage the locals, being tolerant of differences and respectful of the gifts other cultures have to offer. baworldtraveler!

    Posted by: baworldtraveler – Apr 08, 2011 4:06 PM
    I would agree with KenK. btw, who actually wrote this part of the blog? Maybe an intern between their freshman and sophomore year you’ve hired from Western Washington’s University Fairhaven School who designed his/her own major in political activism?

    Posted by: AMEDDnurse – Apr 09, 2011 5:55 PM
    Why the hate for Canada? Me? I’ve long wanted to visit places like Vancouver just because it looks so pretty in TV and film! Hell, until today I thought that Toronto might be worth a visit. Not anymore! Probably all of Canada is filled with smug D-bags like Rick Steves. Who wants to associate with that kind of trash?

    Posted by: Deety – Apr 11, 2011 2:05 AM
    Mr. Steves sees what he wants to see when he draws a causal connection between politics and passport ownership. Does he know for certain that it is the “blue” voters from the “blue” states that travel overseas? Of course he doesn’t. Does he take in to account the fact that U.S. Military personnel on active duty (disproportionately drawn from the South and West) don’t need a passport to travel overseas on orders? Of course not, for he is probably wholly ignorant of this fact. Just more self-congratulatory claptrap from a Leftist, as if the world needed more.

    Posted by: Alec Leamas – Apr 11, 2011 5:14 AM
    My husband and I were born and raised in Georgia, lived in SC for 25 yrs and now live in Alabama. We are conservative Christians and independent in our political views. I have been to Europe 6 times, our 15 yr old daughter has been 3 times and she will go again in 2012 with the band from her private Christian school. My husband has been more times than he can count. We have never been on a ETBD tour because it is so much less expensive to do it on our own. And FYI, we probably have more advanced degrees than most of the people posting their comments about the backwardness of the South!

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