How should Americans travel abroad in the age of Donald Trump? No matter how you voted in the last election, the answer is the same: carefully.
But also, definitely.
As the president-elect prepares to take office Jan. 20, travelers have expressed worries about how they'll be perceived internationally after a lengthy campaign that tested the limits of civility.
"A potentially controversial president means you have to prepare," says Colby Martin, an intelligence director for Pinkerton. "Americans traveling abroad need to have a comprehensive plan for staying safe."
Reality check: Most international trips abroad will probably—hopefully—be uneventful, regardless who's in the White House. That's because our most popular destinations are Mexico and Canada, in that order. And they're used to the ups and downs of our political system and accustomed to American visitors. Roughly the same number of Americans visit Canada as they do all of Europe. But wander outside the well-trodden areas, and things could get interesting, say experts.
"The likelihood of any impact on American travelers abroad" will depend on what policies the new administration enacts, says Scott Hume, the director of security operations for Global Rescue. He says you shouldn't be surprised by people who ask you direct questions about American foreign policy and politics. If your goal is to avoid those conversations, "Take care not to stand out as an American," he says.
So how do you do that, exactly?
Taryn White, a writer and frequent traveler based in Washington, tries to maintain a cover. "You have to look the part," she says. "This means no white sneakers, 'I Love NY' T-shirts or sweatpants. It also means being considerate of local customs and dress."
One simple trick: Pack black. Darker colors are versatile and ensure you don't stand out. Beyond the wardrobe selection, it means downplaying American mannerisms like laughing out loud, smiling a lot or using hand gestures.
But others say now may also be the best time to identify yourself as an American. Kori Crow, a political consultant from Austin, Texas, and a world traveler, says that counterintuitively, the more fractious a country's politics are, the better your experience could be.
"They're more forgiving because they don't usually equate elected leaders as a reflection of its citizens," she says.
Crow says people understand that American visitors are not its ambassadors. "You'd be surprised at how many foreigners will over-compliment you just to try and make you feel more welcome," she adds, mentioning a particularly warm welcome at Vietnam's American War Crimes Museum.
All of the above is true. There are times when you'll want to fade into the crowd, but ultimately you have to be true to yourself. And as the experts say, don't leave anything to chance.
How do I know? Because I grew up in Europe during a time of controversial American leadership. Most people I met were smart enough to know that American citizens do not represent the American government, and they knew from personal experience that democracy is imperfect.
In fact, I think we should all travel more internationally during the next four years. Just to show the world that Americans are a far more varied lot than the politicians they see on TV or read about in the paper.
Three things you should do during the Trump years
- Apply for a passport. Less than half of Americans have a passport. You'll need one if you want to travel abroad. Click here to start the process. Cost: $110 for adults, $80 for kids under 16. Does not include a $25 "execution" fee.
- Learn another language. No matter where you go, knowing a few words in the native language will take you far. The next four years are a perfect time to pick up Spanish, French, German or Mandarin. Check out Duolingo for a crash course on your chosen language.
- Build a bridge. Whether you strike up a friendship with someone who lives outside the U.S. or take a volunteer vacation outside the country, you can use your travel to show the world what Americans are really like. Check out organizations like GlobeAware or tour operators such as REI, which offer extensive volunteer vacation programs.
Consumer advocate Christopher Elliott's latest book is How To Be The World’s Smartest Traveler (National Geographic). You can get real-time answers to any consumer question on his new forum, elliott.org/forum, or by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.