“I would love to travel there!” How often do I hear this after I have just let somebody know that I am from Germany?! Believe me: almost weekly and mostly from people of working age. I never ask why they don’t simply do it. I have long realized that there is quite a difference in traveling experiences for Europeans and Americans.
A huge impediment, respectively advantage are distances and traveling times. When I was still living in my original hometown, it took me a mere two hours by car to reach Austria, Switzerland, or France. A two-hour-flight would have brought me all the way into Scandinavia, the United Kingdom, Italy, Poland … you are getting the picture. Here, in Lakewood, a two-hour drive takes me not even to the eastern state border or the Canadian border and barely to the state border of Oregon. That’s how huge Washington State is!
Now let’s talk how much vacation time somebody in the United States has compared to a German. It’s a no-brainer that with triple the average vacation days, a German can easily spend two weeks on two vacations and then have another two left over for family, emergencies, and other extras. In the US, many people have family in other states. In order to keep in touch, their mere 14 days are spent on family visits, and any leisurely traveling outside the country will have to wait for retirement.
Also, if you want to travel outside the US, it gets very pricey very quickly. The flight outside already is a fortune – imagine you wanted to do this with a family of four! And then, traveling expenses continue in the country you travel – hotels, food, transportation, souvenirs… Whereas in Europe you can fly with German Wings, Ryan Air, and other airlines on a shoestring budget. Traveling to a destination outside your mother country only gets expensive once you leave Europe.
Quite a few Americans are also scared of traveling outside the US because they don’t know foreign languages. Don’t worry! These days, almost everybody anywhere in the touristy world speaks English. So, being understood is definitely not much of an obstacle anymore. But still, to know a foreign language has its clear advantages. For example that of helping to keep budgets down. Travel agencies, stop your ears now! If you know the language of your travel destination, you can book hotel rooms and transport via local websites much more affordably and snatch some charming experiences into the bargain. After all, who wants to stay in an interchangeable national or international chain hotel when they can experience a typical country inn with their regional breakfast buffet?
I have to admit that Germans are at a huge advantage over Americans when it comes to traveling vacation. But though I have had my share of international vacations on four continents and I have always been able to add a touch of vacation to business trips during my time off, I also simply loved to explore my mother country. I have spent extensive vacations on North Sea islands (and still not seen all of them). I have explored the Black Forest and the Bavarian Forest to all their length and width. I have seen pretty much all of Bavaria, from the Alps to the lakes and Franconian beautiful cities and small-towns. I know the Rhine-Ruhr-region well, and have learned to love its industrial charm. The list of my Germany trips is longer – and I still haven’t covered so many areas.
So what can I suggest to a Washingtonian who would love to travel, but doesn’t have the money, the courage, or the time?
Start where you live. Take a map of your beautiful state and figure where you haven’t been yet. Make a “bucket list”. My husband had me write one down when I came here, and it was a Western Washingtonian list only. It was quite a long one. After seven years, we finally have worked it down, and I could triumphantly rip it up only recently. But guess what?! I have already a new one! It is letter-size and Washington State only, line after line after line. It might take us another seven years to see all these places and explore all the areas that I dream of. It will have to happen on weekends when we are not doing work around the house or run other errands. Some trips might include an overnight stay somewhere unknown. There is so much adventure out here!
The Chinese philosopher Lao Tse said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. It can be taken literally, with a step outside your door and a map in your hands. Drop the GPS, and explore maps again for the places of wonder around you. Traveling can start with a day trip into the unknown. And when you finally have the time to visit foreign countries, you will find you are not just pretty excited about traveling outside your comfort zone. But you will be able to tell people out there how wonderful your home state is.