Every time I go to Europe
, I swoon over how well organized the cities are, how good looking the people are, and yes, the heated floors. Then I come back to America and sit on my couch, cursing urban sprawl while eating peanut butter out of the jar. This time when I return to The States, however, I’ve decided that there’s no need to romanticize the European lifestyle because many amazing parts of it can be recreated at home!
“Traveling can, and should, lead to permanent changes in our perspective”
I once asked a Greek woman what the difference was between Americans and Europeans. “Europeans,” she said, “like life.” Maybe this was an insult, but I have interpreted it to mean that Europeans are more willing to find joy in everything- have you ever driven 140 kilometers per hour on the Autobahn
? I’m not endorsing speeding, but the fun, free mindset Americans often adopt on vacation gets thrown out in the wash with our dirty laundry as soon as we get home when suddenly the freeway looks less like a race track and more like a torturous commute. Traveling can, and should, lead to permanent changes in our perspective.
Food and Enjoying the Small Things
First, change how you view food. Europeans tend to regard food as a cultural experience and something to savor, unlike Americans, who treat it like fuel, or sometimes like a drug. Dawdling in your favorite diner may drive your waiter crazy, but no one’s likely to care if you sip the same latte for two hours in a café. Use food as a tool to spend more time with those you love by catching up, hanging out, and having good conversation over a meal.
Be mindful of what you’re eating, and eat for flavors and sensations, not to feel full. Take your time instead of racing to finish a plate. Europeans pay attention to meals and eat for the experience. This method has many digestive and dietary perks and is easy to implement at home in the U.S.A.
“Use food as a tool to spend more time with those you love by catching up, hanging out, and having good conversation.”
When you don’t eat out, consider your ingredients carefully. I used to complain about how I missed fresh French bread until I realized there’s a bakery five minutes from my house. Try shopping locally and buying fresh ingredients from specialty stores. After walking through adorable open air markets in Greece, I remembered that my town in Arizona has a farmers’ market every Thursday.
It’s eye-opening to discover that the way your home country does something may not be the best way.
Vegetables and fruits are generally cheaper at the farmer’s market, and interacting with the vendors is fun. The first time I talked to someone about where my food came from was at an open air market in Greece
. The vendor was a beekeeper on an Ionian Island, and he told me all about how his honey was processed.
Buying from specialized vendors is something residents in many European countries still enjoy. Having a personal relationship with the farmer who grows your food gives you more control over what you are eating, and supports the local economy. It takes a little more time to shop at the farmer’s market, but the food is seasonal, fresh, and local and the experience has a lot more charm than browsing tired vegetables under the fluorescent lights at a big chain. It’s eye-opening to discover that the way your home country does something may not be the best way. Adapting to different lifestyles can help you craft your own meaning and habits in life.
Adopting and Maintaining New Routines
When I first arrived in Greece, I found myself asking, “why are there so many hair salons and why are they always packed?” It’s true– through American eyes Greek women seem to be getting their hair done constantly–at minimum on a weekly basis. The European idea of personal grooming includes some nice indulgences like frequent manicures, pedicures, and massage. There’s nothing wrong with taking time to enjoy a simple indulgence.
“Switching up your routine feels like a vacation even if it’s only a block away from home.”
These businesses exist in America, but we view them as special treats or pass them by on an everyday basis. Switching up your routine feels like a vacation even if it’s only a block away from home. Tourists love to romanticize the steamy hammams in Istanbul but will pass on the sauna at the gym. Stop. Make impulsive moves. Walk into a hair salon and feel like a rebel for not booking an appointment.
There’s no need to revert back to your old lifestyle after traveling abroad. Incorporating lessons learne and enjoyable new habits is one of the most beautiful parts of traveling. If you liked rolling your own cigarettes in Spain, buy loose tobacco in America. Simple moments in our home countries can be beautiful, too, as long as we view them as pleasures to be enjoyed.
Enjoy outdoor space
Something else I often hear praised about Europe is the beautiful parks. Make it a goal to treat outdoor space alike the precious boon it is. Space is tight in large cities abroad, so many people savor the chance to relax over drinks at an outdoor cafe or walk through a courtyard.
If you love the smell of clothes fresh off the line, and the look of clothes hanging off balconies and from the tops of roofs, buy a clothesline and set it up in your own backyard. You’ll even save some cash on your electric bill.
“Having a space to enjoy makes it easy to incorporate spending time outside into your daily habits.”
European apartment complexes burst at the seams with potted plants, clotheslines, and people hanging out on balconies. If you have an outdoor space, make it a weekend goal to remodel it and use it. Having a space to enjoy makes it easy to incorporate spending time outside into your daily habits. Have breakfast on your balcony, sit outside on your lunch break, or take a walk through a park in the evening.
Alternate modes of transport
Opinions about European modes of transportation vary a lot among Americans I meet abroad. Roughly half say they miss their car and the other half say they love not having worry about parking, gas prices or insurance. I usually can’t wait to get home to my giant Honda minivan and six-lane highways, but for this time when I get home, I’m taking a new vow and giving up my car.
“It sounds terrifying to be without a car in America – having one is a symbol of independence, after all…”
Living in Europe has taught me that the journey’s more complicated without a car, but it’s possible, and the process can actually be fun. Riding a train or bus allows me to use the travel time for whatever I would like. I can read, look out the window, or nap without worrying about keeping my eyes on the road. It sounds terrifying to be without a car in America – having one is a symbol of independence, after all. However, using alternative transit eliminates many of the fees and maintenance a car brings, and it quite literally gets you out of traffic jams.
Americans simply don’t use alternative forms of transportation as much as Europeans do, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have them. Trains, buses, bikes, mopeds, and even our own feet can be great ways to get around.
I always come home bragging about the cool people I meet on European trains, and now I am determined to recreate that social aspect at home. Biking and walking are also great ways to explore your own town and neighborhood. Most Americans have a grocery store within walking distance of their house, yet we continue to drive. Buy a bike basket or one of those rolling European shopping carts and try walking. In the process, you may meet new neighbors or see buildings you’ve never seen before. Plus, the exercise is free. Growing up in America, I often thought that living without a car was impossible. I now know that being car-free is doable, and it even has its perks.
Be a Tourist at Home
Finally, I always return home from Europe with a new desire to explore America. Many U.S. citizens have never seen major attractions in our country or even our own state. However, once the suitcases are put back in storage it’s difficult to motivate ourselves to dig them back out.
“Resolve to be a tourist everywhere, or at least try to explore new places.”
Resolve to be a tourist everywhere, or at least try to explore new places. Traveling to other countries is an amazing experience, but the United States offers cultural diversity as well. If money is tight in between European forays, a simple day trip can break up your routine. America has many national and state parks with cheap entrance fees and endlessly beautiful views. Seeing a different part of the country is manageable for a weekend, and traveling within a region can be done in under a day thanks to trains and buses. The United States offers so many different experiences. Grab some buddies and hop on a train or load up the car and explore your homeland. Treating America like a travel destination makes it a much more interesting place to live.
When I go home, I’ve resolved to embrace the best of my experiences in Europe as things I can achieve in America. I will not slip back into my daily routine, romanticizing my walks down cobblestone streets as a thing of the past. Instead, I’ll buy a city bus pass, wake up early for the farmer’s market, and sip espresso sedately instead of ordering it to go. I won’t drive five minutes in my car to buy jars of peanut butter in bulk: I’ll walk or maybe skip buying things in bulk at massive chain stores altogether.
“Traveling to a different continent is interesting and beautiful, but that does not mean that returning home has to be dull.”