Since moving to Germany in December of 2015 (and as of today, April 2018), I have visited no fewer than twenty European countries–many of them, more than once. I would like to thank my sponsors, RyanAir, HostelWorld, Airbnb, and — just kidding, I don’t have sponsors (yet). In all honesty, traveling through Europe is an easy way to knock new countries off of your list. With most western and central (and some eastern) nations being connected via trains, buses, and insanely cheap flights (I’m talking single-digits here, guys) it’s easy to see why Europeans scoff when they hear Americans don’t travel to foreign lands. “How can you not have traveled abroad at ALL? Why, I went to three countries last Wednesday and was still home in time for supper!” they might say, not realizing that their entire continent wouldn’t shadow half of the U.S. Just leaving the United States on average takes a four-to-eight-hour flight, whereas in Europe the train from London to Paris is under three hours. Not to mention that the average American citizen only receives 7-14 days paid holiday, while most Europeans have anywhere from 3-7 weeks. (Imagine how much road you could cover in seven weeks in Europe! Ha! –Welcome to my life.)
There are also a plethora of companies which offer inexpensive travel packages for students, young people, elderly people, and even families. And with search engines as sophisticated as they are today, it’s easy to find the right company for you. Budget travel is made easy on this continent, enabling Europeans to explore their surroundings with very little financial investment.
The mild climate of the continent has made it a paradise for mankind (and neanderthals) for as long as 1.8 million years. This being the case, there is a high population and a rich history to explore. The Gulf Stream blows in warm air to the region, making it a temperate climate so that at all times of the year, it is slightly warmer than North American counterparts on the same latitude.
When people think of Europe, they often envision bustling cities and gorgeous architecture, of which there is plenty. However, nature here is abundant as well. From glaciers in the Swiss Alps to the tropical-looking waterfalls of Croatia and the uncountable natural wonders in Iceland, you’d be surprised at not just the flora but also the fauna here. While it may not be as wild as Canada and the U.S. concerning large animals such as bears, wolves, cougars, and moose frequently being spotted, there are still interesting animals to be seen here. For instance, I made friends with a hedgehog here in Germany. His name is Henrik. There are also foxes, squirrels, and of course many species of birds. It’s not uncommon to see wild boars and goats in the mountains (I’ve seen quite a few in the Austrian and Swiss Alps!) and bison can be found on the Poland-Belarus border. In any case, I am more of a nature than a city person and I have found this continent to be impressively diverse in its landforms.
Of course, while nature is beautiful, this region is steeped in history ready to be explored. The sheer age of Europe and its countries has borne a human utopia rich with stories and mysteries alike. Architecture throughout the myriad of culturally separate lands will surely make you wonder and stand in awe, marveling at some of the most magnificent structures such as castles, palaces, and even old houses.
Since the countries here are all so different but close together, it’s easy to experience distinct cuisines and cultures on a regular basis. Most nations can be accessed through train systems and roadways, making road trips much more interesting as signs transition from one language to another in a span of a few hundred miles. However, this only makes it more captivating and fun.
Naturally, not all times in Europe were good. Lots of blood was shed during various wars and horrible acts of atrocity were committed over history. Luckily, unlike in the States where we tend to sweep bitter accounts under a rug, Europeans insist on educating each generation thoroughly to ensure that it will not happen again. Holocaust museums are prevalent in Germany and other countries around the EU. One particularly moving memorial is called ‘Shoes Along the Danube’ in Budapest, Hungary.
Europe has so much to offer on numerous facets. Personally, I find the quality of life here much higher in many ways than back in the U.S., but that is something I have experienced in other places too (such as Australia and New Zealand.) Many governments here value education and healthcare so much that both are offered nearly free of charge to all citizens. Having moved here, I can say first-hand that it is not an easy transition. The bureaucratic headache of obtaining a long-term visa can be daunting (especially in a country with a language different from your own) but it has been more than two years and I’d say that I’ve adapted just fine.
In the end, my favorite thing about this continent hands-down is the diversity. The people of each nation are so startlingly unalike, and this offers perspective for a traveler. There is so much to learn from every culture and really, every person, so nothing ever gets old. That is truly the best aspect of this place.
…Well, that and the fact that I can drive to the Swiss Alps.