Abroad Perspective: Going the Distance

When I moved to the Midwest several years ago, I had to quickly get used to using miles instead of kilometers and understand that there are many miles to be found in this vast land.

“Where can we go on a day trip?”

This was my question to my wife while our first weekend off together was fast approaching. I felt like being in the middle of the United States would be a great starting point for seeing the rest of the country. Then it dawned on me: I am not in Europe anymore, where another big city would be just around the corner.  As if tilting the map back and forth would decrease the distance, I was reluctant to give up that easily. St. Louis could not be that far, could it?

happy man and woman with road map driving in car

Getting From A to B

Now that an eight-hour round-trip was off the list, I started to put things in perspective:

  • The northern part of the Netherlands to the southern part could be traveled in three and a half hours. Traversing west to east would only take two hours.
  • When traffic permitted, I could get from my home in The Hague to Paris in about four and a half hours, all while crossing two country borders in the process.
  • On a grander scale and with 13.5 hours to spare, you could drive from Italy’s capital to Berlin in Germany. This translates to getting from Portland, Oregon, to Los Angeles, California. Distances would never be the same for me again.

The journey times above are based on traveling by car, which did not matter very much to me for most of my life. The simple reason is that I did not own a car until I moved to the USA. My typical daily commute consisted of taking a tram or bike to the station, hopping on a train and taking yet another tram to get to work.

With Dutch rush hour feeling like Black Friday at your local Best Buy, it’s quite surprising that as many people even want to drive their cars around. The densely populated areas and heavily traveled highways would suggest different stats, but only about 60 percent of the people own a vehicle in the Netherlands, versus 90 percent in the USA.

Bike parking. Photo credit: Michiel Jelijs/Flickr

Bike parking. Photo Credit: Michiel Jelijs/Flickr.

Speaking of arriving at the train station by bike: Have you ever seen those beautiful tulip fields and their visual impact? Think of these fields and then replace the tulips with bicycles. Somehow there must be a hint of Sherlock Holmes in all Dutch people, because finding your ride requires some serious investigative abilities.

When in Europe

When vacationing in Europe, you’ll find that in most destinations you can easily get around by public transport. The opposite seems true for many mid-sized American cities.

Getting to and from one European country to another can be done with various modes of transportation. Take a train if you want to leisurely get to your destination and want to enjoy the landscape or catch a plane when you are pressed for time and want to spend longer at your vacation spot. It seems that fear of flying could be a serious problem when you live in or visit the States, unless you have enough patience and time to take on the impressive network of highways. Nautical folklore gave us the Flying Dutchman, but somehow I know many that are of the non-flying kind.

Wherever you go in Europe, make sure that you have a basic idea of the distances you will be negotiating. You may not even have to rent a car to get around.

As a Dutch American, I am well aware of cultural differences. In my series, Abroad Perspective, I will tackle the challenges of international travel.

Have you ever been surprised by the compactness or greatness of your vacation destination? Feel free to share this or any other cultural shocks with us in the comments below and your idea could be featured in the next blog!

Ray originally hails from The Hague, Netherlands and one day showed up at Global Discovery Vacations’ doorstep. When he is not traveling or writing, you might find him engaged in playing ping pong, swimming or planting tulips.