Credit: Thrillist Travel
One of the strangest sensations when traveling abroad as an American is the heightened sense of your American-ness. Point of fact, you don’t even need to be all that charming to be intriguing. We’re #blessed with a solid currency, a language that our colonial forebears took global, and a luminous pop culture that put Michael Jordan jerseys on kids in Buenos Aires and etched Michael Jackson jams into karaoke playlists in Seoul. Your American-ness precedes you, often for the better. So look past what you think the world thinks about the United States writ large. When you’re an American abroad, you’ll find warm welcomes many places — these countries perhaps most of all.
Why they dig Americans: Until 2016, any American who made it to Cuba was risking federal charges. And Cuban people respect that. I went there LONG before it was legal (statute of limitations FTW) and every single Cuban, after asking me if I knew their cousin Yurisleidi in Miami, asked how I got there. Then, as now, they were excited to share their music, family, and food with us, diplomatic impediments be damned. I think they saw us Americans as a blank slate to fill with beautiful images of Cuba and its culture. Literally four different families invited me to have dinner in their homes. Also, those valuable dollars we bring with us don’t hurt.
Why you should go: It is, right now, a surreal otherworld that has barely budged since the 1950s. In Havana people drive (and maintain) cars you’ve only seen in American Graffiti. The buildings are stunning, if dilapidated. Shows are the sort of cabaret you’d have seen opening for Ricky Ricardo. Best of all, it’s been hermetically protected from American franchises, American media, American tech. But get out of town, to the beaches of Varadero, and you’ll also be backstroking through some of the most beautiful waters in the Caribbean, with just a fraction of the price or the crowds of other islands. The diving here is pristine, for now. You’re best served to go soon, before you read that inspiring story about the first Starbucks in Havana. — Matt Meltzer, Thrillist staff writer
[Related Post: Melanin Guide: Havana]
Why they dig Americans: Indians are some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet, and they’re mostly keen to offer up directions, travel advice, or a helping hand to anyone — regardless of nationality. Being so well-versed in English, locals aren’t averse to expressing their curiosity, either. It’s a cordiality that can be pleasantly infectious.
Another reason to connect is India’s burgeoning middle class, rapidly being exposed to new ideas from abroad. They’ve got a little bit of spending money and they’re curious about the West. Whether it’s American shopping brands, coffee culture, fast-food chains, or craft beer, India is starting to delve into lots of new concepts — and they’re interested to hear about what’s new and trendy back in Illinois or wherever you’re escaping.
Why you should go: You’ll share your culture, and Indians will be more than happy to share theirs. You can’t get that kind of open, honest exchange just anywhere — especially in a place so drastically different from the States. Culture shock can be a welcome jolt.
Besides offering ethereal journeys through Hinduism, ancient customs, and tradition, India serves up gorgeous physical surroundings. Look to the epic sunsets on Keralan backwaters or Goa’s golden coasts. Or, go to the most beautiful place in the world, as determined by a Japanese man who traveled the world straight for 40 years and who offered me this tip at a hostel in Laos: the mountains of Ladakh. Where, it should be noted, far too few Americans venture. — Barbara Woolsey, Thrillist contributor
Why they dig Americans: OK, so the survey might say otherwise (a 2015 poll revealed that only 37% of Japanese people think Americans are honest — yikes), but in my experience, the Japanese are nothing if not graciously patient with, and kind towards, Americans. This is particularly true when you begin examining the little pieces of American culture that have been adopted in pockets across the country. Hula schools and Hawaiian food are beloved across the country, with some people dropping wads of cash on appropriate hip-shaking attire. And, lest we forget, one of the greatest traditions for Japanese families on Christmas Day is gobbling down a bucket of KFC. (Yes, really.)
Why you should go: For starters, Tokyo is the greatest food city in the world (come at me about this: seriously, I dare you), but there’s so much more to explore outside the glittery high-rises of Shinjuku. The Japanese countryside, whether trekking up into the mountains or headed towards the beach, is its own special brand of charming, and here, running into an American is — for many Japanese — an unexpected treat. I once met several octogenarians on an island in the Seto Inland Sea whose faces lit up when I told them that, not only was I American, but I loved jazz. Stevie Wonder might be onto something with this whole music-as-a-language thing. — Sarah Baird, Thrillist contributor
Why they dig Americans: To understand Thailand and America’s tight ties, go back to the Vietnam War. Thailand struggled with insurgencies that were emboldened by the Communist advances in neighboring countries, and formed a partnership with the States. Thousands of American soldiers were deployed around Thailand. For a country that had never been colonized, it meant an entirely new and formative contact with the West.
Those days were by no means happy-go-lucky (think prostitution and narcotics use, plus we all know what happened in ‘Nam). But they laid the foundation for Thais to get used to Americans who kept traveling over through the years. One of Bangkok’s most legendary figures was a Delaware-born businessman named Jim Thompson, who helped revitalize the country’s silk industry in the ’50s and ’60s. His former home, now a museum, is one of the capital’s most beloved attractions.
Why you should go: If you haven’t been to Thailand yet, your FOMO is totally warranted. Sure, even your fifth-grade teacher has probably been to Phuket by now, but off the tourist-beaten paths, Thailand has plenty more to explore. The eastern islands such as Koh Mak and Trang have handsome, sprawling beaches with far less traffic than the south. Or, heading north, you’ll find the likes of Lampang and Loei, misty mountain towns that are sleepier than popular Chiang Mai. — Barbara Woolsey, Thrillist contributor
Why they dig Americans: A) We speak English and carry American dollars in our wallets. B) We aren’t the British, their former overlords. C) If you’re an American in Belize (and not sequestered in some fancy resort), chances are you’re a pretty cool cat. Commonalities spring outward from there. Belize can often feel like an even chiller extension of Southern California: diverse, laid-back, and always ready to eat some killer fish.
Why you should go: It’s a nice picture of what your life could’ve been if you had shirked all responsibility and went firmly for the “no worries” lifestyle (aka what you probably should’ve done). The small nation can feel like thousands of Wailers cover bands decided to populate it and, damn, that’s groovy. When I went in high school for an immersion trip, the people couldn’t have been more welcoming, especially when they were passing us Belikin beers that we couldn’t have consumed at that age stateside. Get sunburnt snorkeling around the Belize Barrier Reef and head to a bar in Dangriga for a Panty Ripper (coconut rum and pineapple juice). The inevitable reply when you ask what the moniker of the beverage means: “When the ladies drink ’em, they rip their panties right off!” You better Belize it. — Colin St. John, Thrillist contributor
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