13 December 2007

Un-European Travel

Since our arrival I have suspected that GLH and I approach travel in a very un-European way.

Likely it is because we are from the Midwest, where distances are so far apart that people think nothing of driving for two hours to meet someone for dinner. And then turning around and driving back home. This was especially true in Minnesota, which has a population density of 23 people per square kilometer. Compare that with Switzerland at 183 people per square kilometer. Or Germany with 234 people per square kilometer. (Side Note: that also helps to explain why public transportation is so much harder to support in the Midwest...)

The typical European I have spoken with believes that any distance of 2 hours generally requires at least an overnight visit, if not longer. Further and it tends to be a week long trip.

Another factor may be the fact that the typical American has far less annual vacation than the typical European. Although GLH and I were fortunate enough to have 5 weeks of vacation per year while living in the US, we came from a culture where you eke out long weekends wherever you can. That way we can travel to far more places during the year as opposed to selecting only 5 places and spending a week at each.

In the past year I have had many of the Europeans I meet react with shock when they hear we went to Spain for three nights. Or London for two nights. I can only imagine how they will react after our planned trip in February -- a four day weekend trip to Cairo, Egypt.

But until our experience on the train, I really had no idea of just how foreign our travel habits are to them.

We had taken the train from Zurich to Munich and spent 2 nights. Then we traveled from Munich to Nuremberg for one night before traveling to Salzburg.

As we were sitting on the train on the way to Salzburg, a Deutsche Bahn employee worked his way down the aisle surveying travelers. He needed to know whether the trip was business or pleasure, the destination and the approximated demographics of the travelers.

When it was our turn he asked to see our tickets. He then became excessively confused and full of questions. "Where are you coming from?" "How long did you stay in Munich?" "In Nuremberg?"

Finally I handed him the travel itinerary I had printed up for us that listed dates, train schedules and hotel address. After much head scratching, he shrugged, wrote something down on his clipboard and moved on to the other, less confusing, passengers.

We are definitely un-European travelers...


Kirk said...

We did exactly the same thing--I don't think we took a single vacation longer than a week in one place, even though I had 6 weeks of vacation. I had a Dutch colleague who spent three weeks in a little town in Norway, and he couldn't understand how we could possibly squeeze Oslo, Bergen, and the fjords into a week. It's just a completely different mindset.

I also think it makes a difference that there's so much labor mobility in the U.S. that people often live far away from family. At least half of your vacation time is then spent visiting relatives, so you have to squeeze non-family travel into a much smaller window of time.

Marcy said...

lol, this is made even funnier by the fact that to most of us Americans, one of the things that's so great about Europe is how everything is so closely within reach that you CAN do weekend trips to all these European destinations and they're only a few hours away. =)

Then again Europeans tend to be much more relaxed and slower about most things they do, it would make sense for vacations to be the same way-- how dare we Americans race through these gorgeous cities and see everything in only a few days?? ; )

A Librarian said...

It may be more of a Midwestern thing. When I lived in Baltimore, there were people who had never left their neighborhood to go to DC for the day, much less a vacation lasting weeks.

Expat Traveler said...

I totally agree too. I think the funniest thing is trying to figure out where is not too far to go with my swiss friend who will visit next year. Since I can't even admit how little vacation I have, 5 wks makes me measly 10 days sound like an eternity. Yet another reason why I hate living here.