Last week I fulfilled l a lifelong dream to travel to Europe.
It was fun, yes. It was tasty. It was romantic and adventurous and interesting. But more than anything, it was expanding. It changed my perspective on so many things cultural and historical.
As an American, I found it particularly enriching to visit the continent of my ancestors. My blood has only been American for a couple hundred years (and in some lines, only a few decades). Before that, every ancestor whose genes I carry lived in Europe.
I believe that every American, traveling-type or homebody, rich or poor, European-descent or not, should go to Europe within the next couple of years.
1. You realize that human history is MUCH older than the Revolutionary War and Plymouth Rock
Yes, I know that in history class we talk about European monarchs, the Roman Empire, and ancient cities. But without seeing anything, these things tend to just feel like stories. Our curriculum seems to focus much more heavily on the few hundred years of white people in America. All we get to actually see are Civil War fields, some 100-year old statues in big cities, and buildings a few hundred years old on the east coast.
Walking into the 2,000 year old Colosseum, seeing intricate ceramic murals on Roman bath-houses and business offices, walking into a 1,500-year old French castle and market house, and climbing the steps of the centuries-old Notre Dame cathedral put things into such perspective. By the end of the week I honestly caught myself brushing off buildings from the 17th century because they “were pretty new”. And then I realized that the oldest buildings in white-man American history are not even that old.
2. You realize that America is NOT the center of the world
I was surprised by how few people spoke good English. Prior to my trip I was told that everyone in Europe has great English. Not the case. And most of the time, they didn’t seem to care. They seemed perfectly fine only knowing French and Italian, just like us complacent Americans are only good at English. I’ve always been taught that anybody in the world who wants to “make it” or be successful has to be great at English. That was pridefully wrong.
They had their own French TV shows, their own Italian mannerisms and values, their own brands of cars, and their own way of doing things. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I think living in America ingrains you with “Everybody Needs and Wants Us!” syndrome. Their lives are just fine without America.
And while they aren’t the massive-portion big picture barbecuing people that I belong to, their attention to detail is beautiful. The detail can be seen in their centuries of intricate buildings, artwork, food, and “Bon Appetite” language. Their cultures have been around for thousands of years, and they act like it. Europe makes you want to be a bit more refined, to eat slower, and to notice the world around you a bit more.
3. You realize that America is a really great place to live
The bread in France was tasty. The pizza and gelato in Italy was incredible. But towards the end of the week I realized that all of the food I had eaten could be easily obtained in America. In our land of immigrants, the world’s wonderful food has come with them. Within a mile of my house there are places that I can get excellent/authentic Mexican, Italian, Chinese, Malaysian, Thai, Indian, Korean, etc.
And the food is just one example. We have reasonably-priced grocery stores full of foreign and domestic food, huge green parks, safe streets, a stable government, an economic atmosphere that lets businesses improve our daily lives, and music and movies that are at the top of the charts worldwide. In all of my travels, I always find myself at the end of the trip so glad to be an American.
4. You realize how amazing public bathrooms and public drinking fountains are
Public bathrooms in Europe are few and far between. And the ones that you can find, will usually cost you a Euro to enter, theme-park turnstile and all. Let me tell you, paying the equivalent of a dollar fifty to pee kind of changes the way that you view the world. The other public restrooms you find usually don’t have doors, or are under heavy guard. These people are really sensitive about others using their facilities.
Drinking fountains? Not really a thing. In France I saw a couple in the airport, and one in the Arc d’Triomphe (it was out of order). That was all.
When I go out for the day in the US, I don’t give a second thought about bringing a water bottle or having to “hold it”. We’re a spoiled bunch!
5. Going to Europe is cheaper and easier than ever
Leading up to the trip, friends would often say things to me along the lines of, “Yeah, we’ll never be rich enough to go” or “I wish I could go to Europe, but I know it will never happen…”. Too many people treat it like an impossible dream.
I’m not rich.
You know how we went? I got an email from Kayak’s email list, was re-directed to EuropeanDestinations.com, found a cheap week to go, and bought the package. It cost us $1,500 per person for flights to Paris, flights to Rome, flights home, and 4 star hotels the entire time we were there. We bought the package, they sent us the tickets and confirmation codes a few weeks before the trip, and that was it. In Europe we went to just about every big site and museum, went to 4 cities, ate like kings (and ate gelato 4 times a day in Italy), and only spent about $250 per person.
Anybody can plan out a trip for 6 months down the road, set aside $50 a week, and go.