My daughter got cast to an international film and we had the pleasure of spending about a month recently in Europe. We were specifically in Belgium and many different parts of Germany.
This was our first time traveling overseas. While super excited, originally I was a bit nervous about language barriers, safety, and all of those other unknowns.
My partner and I have always agreed that we want our daughter to learn about the world, especially it's religions and live/raise her on just loving God, loving humanity and respecting everyone despite their beliefs or differences but knowing the bigger picture. It's a BIG world out there, and we can't be naive to think we have everything perfect and right in our small little corner of it.
The reason for this post was because being over there was one of the most eye-opening experiences for me, and I hope that it is for many of you.
See, in the United States, we are born and raised to pridefully think that we're the greatest country. 'Merica! We have the best of everything and the rest of the world is just trying to keep up. Perhaps that may have been the case a few decades ago, but from what I've seen for myself and heard from the locals in my latest travels, we are certainly falling short in the race, and here's why I think that...
1. Handicap Accessibility: When we walked off the plane, specifically in Germany, I had to use the restroom and the only one nearby was handicap accessible. As a child of a now-deceased mother who spent almost her (and my) entire life in a wheelchair and knowing the struggles that came along with it, and also having spent many years advocating for universal housing and accessibility, I was immediately and overwhelmingly impressed. Not only do they have railings, but they had ropes hanging down for them to use and pull themselves up with, a pull string alarm should they fall, everything was spacious and built for accessibility and besides the bathroom, you could see how much thought was put into ensuring the safety of the disabled. I almost cried; I'm not going to lie.
2. Playgrounds & Activities: Also in Germany, another thing that stuck out to me was how well they encourage children to play and stay active. Playgrounds are scattered around airports (and while I haven't been to every airport in the U.S and maybe speaking ignorantly, I personally have never seen a playground in a U.S airport.) and all over the cities and parks. There are cafes where moms can bring their kids and enjoy a cup of coffee while the children play. We went to a HUGE indoor waterpark with slides, hot tubs, pools, saunas and more. Lots of children's museums and theme parks. There were two incredible playgrounds at the zoo. Long story short...a never-ending list of ways to keep children active and entertained.
3. Health & Wellness: In addition to the playgrounds and activities, there was just a huge focus on overall health and wellness that is definitely not found in the U.S. Health foods are affordable, encouraged and easily obtained. Every breakfast we went to at all hotels had a HUGE spread of healthy eats. They had a tasty multi-vitamin juice that was readily available for drink or purchase and tap water isn't served. My daughter and I had sinus issues upon arriving in Germany, and I was surprised at how regulated medications are, even our OTC ones readily available in the states. Majority of medications needed to be dispensed by a tech, even homeopathic ones and only after you explain in detail what you're getting it for. They looked at me like I was crazy when I asked if they had melatonin for kids. (Zarbee's works great on long flights for us both) Healthcare is, of course, free, and in talking with many people in our travels, have no issues seeing doctors when having ailments. They were all completely astounded when I told them how much our healthcare premiums cost, in addition to doctor and hospital bills. They're like, "Wait...not only do you have to pay $400-800/month just to have healthcare, you have to pay thousands on TOP of that if you go to the doctor or hospital?! How can anyone afford that?!" My thoughts exactly, friends...
4. Gun Ownership: I'm sure this one will trigger some of you, but I want to share that other countries think that we are insane for being so attached to guns. They are in total disbelief that people carry them around into stores, need them for self-defense and obviously they are appalled at our recent history of gun violence and laws. And for the most part, folks just don't have the mindset to harm other people. Remember, many Europeans can drink in Europe at 16-18 and while in Cologne, those people were getting plastered, but there was never any worry about someone getting shot. A black eye, yes, but violent assaults or homicide, no. Something we should probably learn from. Maybe not the plastered part...but the lack of guns and violence.
5. Safety: I know and understand that we were only there for a short time and in the nicer areas, but I do want to say that we felt absolutely safe walking around while both in Belgium and Germany. We went off the beaten path quite a few times (and was well rewarded by some of the best food we've ever had), but even in the dark, women were completely fine and comfortable walking alone down alleyways.
6. Mental Health & Homelessness: I could have definitely separated these two, but I think the point is better received when together. Within our travels, in addition to talking with folks, we did not come across the mental health and homeless epidemics that we have in the U.S. I think we saw maybe one homeless person, and that was while in Belgium. I believe this goes back to the health and wellness that I described above...opioids and other drugs aren't given out like candy, recreational drug use isn't a huge thing (drinking is the drug of choice usually), healthcare is free and readily accessible and majority of things there are more affordable than in the U.S. These areas aren't perfect and they have their fair share of other battles I'm sure, but absolutely nothing in comparison to the United States. It gave me hope.
7. Affordability: We were amazed at how affordable most things were in our travels! Gas was...wait for it...$1.35!!! In talking with locals in Brussels, living spaces that would be $1,100+ in the U.S are $700-800 there. Mussels were on the kid's menu and we ate like queens the entire trip. I would post our three to four-course dinners (with wine for me + bottled water since they don't serve tap) and have close friends guess how much they would cost. In the States it would easily cost $150+, we would pay like $60-$80. Not to mention in Brussels they pay their staff well and don't give gratuity, so we saved an additional 10% there. (I still gave 10% each time just because they were always so awesome.) We went to the zoo (with aquarium right beside) and usually that would cost upwards of $50-$60 for the two of us to get into both...Germany was about $30. We went to Aqualand, which is a ridiculously awesome indoor waterpark with pools, restaurant, hot tubs, slides and a Saunaland as an add-on. Aqualand alone would cost $80+ in the U.S to get in...it was also around $30 there. And let's not forget education! They get free college and could not believe how much tuitions are for both private schools and college. Many folks I talked to were just appalled and confused at how people could afford the expensive healthcare and health bills, the really expensive education, the quality of life and not be in tremendous amounts of debt. I had to give them the spoiler alert that most are.
8. Water & Energy: In both Brussels and Germany, each restroom came equipped with water-conserving toilets. All of our hotels required your hotel key for the lights and electricity to work, as to not have lights on while not in the room. We also got 5 euro to use in the bar/restaurant for each day we didn't require room service. In addition, wind turbines are very popular...especially in the parts of Germany we were in and our driver said one turbine could power 1,000 homes! Solar panels were common as well. We have a LOT of catching up to do here in the States, I think.
9. Transit and Transportation: While many cities here are adapting, I was also impressed by the many modes of transportation available to us while in the more populated areas, especially Brussels. From right outside our hotel room we were within walking distance of just about everything, but could also choose from the tram, bicycle, scooter, taxi and/or electric cars for rent! The taxis in Germany had booster seats built in which were amazing.
10. Multi-lingual: I grew up unfortunately hearing selfish, ignorant statements such as, "If they're in America, they should learn OUR language!" While English may in fact be the so-called, "universal language", I can't help but applaud both Belgium and Germany for being so accommodating to other nationalities. Belgium is somewhat of a melting pot, and it didn't matter whether you spoke English, Dutch, French or German...you were able to find someone that could communicate with you...willingly and happily. Kudos to so many folks there that have learned and mastered that many languages!
There's plenty more to be said, but hopefully the highlights have provided enough motivation for us to take a look around and realize that we have a lot of work to do. And for those that have not ventured outside of the country, if you have the means to I highly encourage it...especially with children! It's a valuable lesson to be learned that we are the tiniest of pieces to a big, big world.
In love, peace and happiness,