What It’s Like to Travel Abroad in the Age of Trump
“What do you think about the outcome of the election?”
It seems like all anyone can talk about these days is the presidency of Donald J. Trump. Maybe it will make you feel better—or maybe worse—to know it’s not just the U.S. with a Trump obsession.
People who have traveled internationally say that residents of everywhere from Bali to Japan want to talk about America’s new president. And many of them have a question that might sound familiar: “What happened?”
Dan Suski, an experienced traveler who founded Seatlink.com, was in Sri Lanka in early January.
“I was amazed the number of Sri Lankan people who both asked what we thought about Donald Trump and wanted to share their opinions,” he told Travel + Leisure. “It was a topic of discussion almost every time our nationality came up in conversation. Many remarked that they hadn't met a single American who voted for Trump, so they couldn't understand how he won the election.”
Suski said he was never treated badly after people found out he was American.
”One guest house owner even gave our group a round of free beers because he said he felt bad about our new president,” he said.
Sadness seemed to be a common reaction among foreigners when greeting Americans post-election.
“I was in an Uber in Bali and my Balinese driver asked, ‘Why does Trump hate Muslims? That's not right. I'm Hindu, but can't imagine traveling to America right now.’ Broke my heart,” she said.
She said when people first hear she’s American, they give her raised eyebrows, until she clarifies she’s from California.
“Then there's a head nod of understanding,” she said. “A lot of friends and family said, very seriously, I should say I'm from Canada while traveling this year.”
Katharine Phillips also found while traveling to Iceland that once people learned she was American, they needed to check on her political leanings.
She was in the Toronto airport and shared a table with a local, who looked her square in the eye and asked how she felt about her new president.
“I could tell it was a test,” she said. “I'm not going to get political but I could physically see him relax from my response. Passed the test. As we talked more I could tell that there was a lot of concern over the current state of affairs.
“‘You guys set a lot of the tone, you know,’” he told her. She said she nodded solemnly in response.
Peggy Goldman, president of Friendly Planet Travel, found herself fielding a lot of questions when she traveled to South Africa.
“I was honestly very surprised about the degree to which knowledge of Trump and the controversies surrounding him had penetrated into the local communities,” she said. “We had a driver who had moved to Johannesburg from a remote village in the Eastern Cape to find work and support his family, who still lives there. This man had very little education and was marginally literate. Yet, when I told him I was from the USA, he laughed heartily and said Americans were really funny in their choices.”
Travel blogger Juliana Dever was in Canada before the election and also found herself answering questions.
“Every Canadian led with questions about why (Trump) was even in the running and were genuinely baffled that he was being considered as our president,” she said. “Frequently the conversation would start with, ‘What about this Donald Trump character, eh?’ and continue from there moving from discussions about nativism, inflamed racism and a concern for his temperament and tweeting habits.”
Dever also traveled to Jordan after the election, where locals had more serious concerns.
“Daily I would speak with people who would read the headlines and come to me with questions,” she said. “I was asked why there was such focus put on the size of the inauguration crowd, what I thought about Trump and Putin being in a partnership, and did Americans really hate Muslims this much.”
Nerissa Marbury has been traveling throughout Europe and South America, and said most of the people she met were against Trump.
“However I did meet two older gentlemen while in Belgrade, Serbia who were pro-Trump,” she said. “They felt a woman wouldn’t be able to run America as well as a man.”
But, she said, she never felt treated differently because she is American.
“In some countries—Spain, or Colombia for example—having Trump as the U.S. president makes the person more empathetic to me,” she said. “I’ve heard more than once how locals in the country I am visiting can completely understand, relate to, or empathize with having a country or governmental leader who is an embarrassment.”
But Barbara Ann Weibel, a travel writer and photographer, said she worries she is being linked with her new president’s reputation.
“In the past, I always found that people were able make the distinction between American citizens and the policies of our government,” she said. “Lately, however, I'm beginning to sense an animosity that goes deeper than the government. When people learn I'm an American, there is an immediate rolling of the eyes, which in every case so far has been followed by denigrating comments about our current president. I'm ashamed and embarrassed by the image we are creating around the world, and frankly, it's making travel a bit more difficult for me these days.”
The reactions internationally are so frequent that some travelers said they grew tired of talking about Trump. Peggy Goldman, the president of Friendly Planet Travel, said she met some Australians while traveling and within a few minutes, the subject of Trump came up.
“‘What do you think about the outcome of the election?’ one of them asked.
“Not much,” Goldman’s travel companion replied.
“We don’t think much of it either,” the Aussie replied.