In my world, or in my head, I believe it is our birthright to be free from constraint and stress. Modern living is lavish and luxurious as it chaotic and stressful. We are at a point in humanity where we have more resources, people in the workforce and incomes.
As an American, I’ve often cried in fear on how I could explore the world with only 10 days of vacation per year. But, cats out of the bag, I’m a freelancer at heart and I prioritize experience over income. After living abroad several times, I find it fascinating that other cultures have it better or worse than America. Many European and Australian companies have between four to six weeks off per year, which does not include public holidays. However, many Asian cultures work themselves into the grave just to make it ahead in life.
Throughout my time as fitness professional, I have coached and trained people from all walks of life. I find it fascinating that some of my clients would not take vacation for several reasons. Some would be so busy at work that could not “afford” the time off as the company is too dependent on their attendance. Others claimed that taking a vacation “looks bad” or requesting too much time off would ruin their hard-working image. Others simply could not afford a vacation so they would either not take time off work or vacation at home fixing up the lawn and house.
I never thought that Germany would affect my physical existence as much as it has after nine months. The one thing I admire most about Germans is that they live a balanced life. They take vacations, and long ones. Some people I know leave the laptop at work and travel the globe for three to six weeks at a time. In fact, I feel most Germans I know (who can afford vacation) are constantly traveling every quarter.
Now to get back to my point is that I have full adapted to the European lifestyle. Before I moved to Europe, I had one main job to support my living expenses, and earned between twenty to twenty-five thousand dollars per year. Pretty much that is a poverty level income, but I had to work a 30-hour per week job in order to write my book and pursue the world of freelancing.
Before I moved to Europe, I was deeply concerned about my income and the ability to explore Europe off my tiny savings. Europe has this perception of being overly expensive, which many cities such as London, Zurich, Stockholm and Oslo fit that description. But, thanks to Europe’s budget-friendly culture, travelers can backpack Europe without blowing their entire savings.
This made me think and appreciate the ability to see the world. Even a guesthouse I recently booked in Nice, France is 65 US dollars per night and is several blocks from the beach and Old Town. Many Europeans claim that traveling America is cheap (primarily due to the “old” Euro to dollar exchange). However, I somewhat disagree on that notion.
Living in Seattle for four years prior to moving to Germany, I watched hotel prices escalate and skyrocket. No longer can you sleep in downtown Portland or Seattle for under 100-dollars per night. On average, rooms in city center cost around 200-dollars per night. I use hotels.com due to their competitive prices and once I looked for a hotel in New York City. I decided to skip NYC as the cheapest room was a hostel for 250-dollars per night (during off-season months). My husband and I bought two Easy Jet plane tickets from Germany to Greece and a one week apartment rental for 300-dollars. In Spain and Portugal, I have stayed in really nice guesthouses and apartments for under 35-US dollars per night.
My dad is a traditional midwestern dude who likes to escape Cleveland winters. I can’t blame him. I’m 30 and dream of living on a beachfront apartment. He often scopes the rental markets and told me decent prices for a winter Florida rental are between three to five thousand per month. I told this to my German friend and she near soiled herself shocked because the rentals are more than her Euro income.
I find traveling in the states to be very expensive especially because driving or flights are the main modes of transportation. Buses and trains are either nonexistent or too inefficient for a person with only 10 days of vacation per year.
I find it sad that families who travel to Disney World have to take out a second mortgage on their home, some spending up to ten thousand dollars for a weeklong family trip. Should a family vacation really be that expensive? I could travel for three months in Europe for the same price to slap Mickey Mouse a high-five.
Another interesting observation is the increased prices due to Groupon and Living Social deals. Because many small-business hotels offer their discounted services, their regular rate “magically” increases in order to make a profit after the agency takes their cut.
We booked a weekend hotel deal from Groupon in Whidbey Island. The regular rate was 650-dollars and the deal offered a price just below 350-dollar for two nights. For a cheaper deal, you could share a bathroom and pay 299-dollars for two nights. Seriously, 300 dollars and you can’t even get a private toilet? In Europe, shared bathroom rooms cost less than 40-50 Euro per night with the exception of a really expensive city such as Zurich or the French Riviera. Sometimes it seems that the only affordable vacation left in the states is to camp at a park. And if you dislike sleeping on roots while freezing the whole night and worrying about wildlife encounters than camping is not for you.
I’m not against lavish or luxurious vacations, trust me I’d be the first one to book a five-star vacation, but I’ve worked with average people who earn a middle-class income and I am sadden that they can not travel because things are too expensive. They choose to work and skip vacation because it looks "better" to work and they can't afford trips on a middle-class income.
In short, it makes me appreciate Europe’s diversity to allow people from all walks of life experience other cultures and travel past their country's border. It is our birthright to be free, and when you travel you are free.