Instead of spending my last quarter at Cal Poly exhausting myself over countless interviews to land a job and jump right into the 9-5 grind, I turned my efforts towards planning a EuroTrip. This planning turned into an almost 2-month backpacking trip through Europe with some of my closest friends in an attempt to put off the real world. I must say, it was executed perfectly, as I was able to divert the question of “What are you going to do after college?” for the remainder of the school year as I got to tell everyone I was heading to Europe and would figure my life out when I returned. Thankfully, even after my travels its seems I have ended up in a work environment where travel, vacations, and outdoor activities are not only encouraged, but somewhat mandatory.
While avoiding the reality of an eventual need for a job was part of the plan when concocting this trip, the truth is this is something I have always wanted to do. Traveling after college has been something I had looked forward to for years, especially given the fact that I had never really been out of the country. This trip turned out to be one of the best things I have done thus far in my young life and instilled three realizations in me:
- It fuelled a real fire in me to travel and see the world, both globally and within the States
- It opened my eyes to my perception of “Normal”
- As a tourist, I have decided I hate tourists (more explanation later)
A quick little back context to this second point, as most of this upcoming rant will revolve around my now altered perception of normal (along with some scattered shots of my favorite photos throughout my travels). Growing up in Marin County all of my life with limited traveling, your perception of the world may not encompass how the entire world operates. This bubble of perception I have lived in had the same effect it would have on any individual— all the customs, actions, and ways of living I was used to was all that I knew, and therefore seemed to me like it was the way that it was everywhere.
First and foremost, coming from a rather environmentally conscious area, I did what any resident of Marin would do when planning for a trip. I brought my reusable water bottle with me so I could fill up along my journey. Throw that notion out the window if you have yet to visit any European countries. I was shocked upon arrival to find out just how backwards my concept was with the notion that everyone used reusable bottles. I found out quickly that water fountains would come to be the Holy Grail of the trip. Despite my reluctance, I eventually had to ditch my reusable bottle and succumb to the daily purchases of multiple plastic bottles of water to stay hydrated along the way. It was weird, I growing up where I had I thought everyone tried to eliminate plastic bottles by using reusable water bottles whenever possible. Eventually I had to accept the fact that paying for bottled water, or even water in restaurants along every stop was simply the way it would be. Then if that didn’t throw me off enough, you would occasionally come across drinkable fountains that just constantly flowed, another oddity coming from drought-ridden California.
Next come bathrooms. Yeah, those things you’re used to being able to go in and out of freely in public places— guess again. Bathrooms, or “Water Closets” as a lot of Europe refers to them are, once again, pay to play. This sucked big time. Anytime nature called, no matter where you were, a public park, waiting for a train, at a flee market, you had to dig into your pocket to try and come up with some change to be allowed into the bathroom before you wet your pants. This was a serious event, with most bathrooms having an on duty bathroom guard who would collect your money and allow your entry in. Luckily for myself and buddies traveling, being a guy we have the distinct advantage of being able to avoid paying for the bathroom as we wised up and opted for nature pees whenever we could.
A few more observations of oddities before I jump into some more meaningful areas where my perception of normal changed, and where I think Europeans do things better. Workout gear was far less common on you average individual in Europe than I was used to back home. Myself and my buddies often times found ourselves the only ones wearing basketball shorts or DryFit shirts. Sitting Fees were one of the weirdest things ever. This was an additional charge to your meal for sitting down and eating at the restaurant. This wasn’t everywhere, we found it mostly in Italy, but it wasn’t very advertised until you looked at your bill and saw that each person was charged 4+ euros each to for sitting at a restaurant that doesn’t even give the option for takeout. This seemed backwards, although with the luxury of tipping not being something Europeans do, it probably all balanced out to even in the long run. Lastly, public display of affection came as a sort of shock to me. The level of public affection I saw throughout this trip would have warranted a “Get a room” shout from someone on the streets in the U.S. But this was just the way it is there, my perception of too much public affection only stems from what my normal is back in America.
Now that I am done ripping on some of the things that came to annoy me about Europe, I get to the fun stuff. There were so many things I loved about the way Europeans lived that I will try and highlight a few of my favorites.
Language was huge in Europe. It was almost a guarantee that everyone I met over there spoke 2+ languages. Some European language, English, and often times one more. This is vastly different from our poor attempt at teaching second languages in the United States, where it is more of a rarity to come across someone who speaks another language, let alone two. It puts our school language systems to shame. Transportation was also a huge difference. The public transportation from trains allows you to go almost anywhere throughout Europe. They have a super effective transportation system that allows you to hop countries or cities with ease, limiting the burden of traffic. Additionally, cars that were on the street were so much smaller in size. The “smart car” sized cars, which many of us laugh at as they pass by because of their seemingly tiny size, are actually about the size of a standard car in Europe. The gas guzzling, heavy-duty trucks we see on a daily drive are nowhere to be seen. Their ease of transportation using public methods made traveling around easier and traffic free in comparison to the United States.
One of the biggest cultural gaps I witnessed in Europe was our difference in credit card usage. At restaurants especially, this one took me by surprise because I had never seen or thought of paying for your meal differently than what I was accustomed to in the U.S. When paying for your meal, the waitress would bring a credit card scanning device over to your table, ensuring all transactions were completed by you and one never lost site of their card. Comparatively, in the United States you hand your card to a waiter, who brings it to somewhere else in the restaurant to charge your card. That simple act takes a lot of trust in whoever is serving you to simply do their job and not do anything with your card information. The European way seemed far more secure and honestly still makes me think when I pay for a meal now that I have returned to the states. Simple things such as this took place on a daily basis while traveling and opened my eyes to different systems and ways of doing things. It was very insightful to get outside of my hometown or even countries “bubble” and familiarize with other cultural norms and every day actions.
Now on to my quick rant about my distaste for tourists. As someone from the U.S. traveling through Europe, I get it, I am a tourist also. My qualms stem from the endless amount of selfie sticks and oblivious tourists I ran into along my travels. It amazed me the amount of disrespect so many travelers have when it comes to respecting the level of noise when touring sacred places, photographing in areas where its forbidden, or seemingly going on the trip just to take pictures and say you went there. I encourage anyone traveling to get off of the beaten path. Don’t just travel from tourist point to tourist point, but go for walks on side streets, try out authentic hole in the wall food spots, and be respectful of the places and people you come across while traveling. And please, please avoid the urge to send a snapchat of every single thing you see. Document now and then with photos or gifts, but live in and enjoy the moment.
This trip really opened up my desire to see the world. I most definitely want to get back to Europe at some point, visiting some of the places I went on my first journey, and expanding to many new places as well. It also made me come to the realization of the beauty and places I need to visit within the U.S. As I write this I have begun to mark out places within the States that I want to travel. This will ideally be done through a roadtrip around the U.S. This whole trip was an amazing experience, and I encourage anyone with any interest in traveling to get out there and go for it- you won’t be disappointed.