5 health habits I learned from traveling in Europe
Every time I visit Europe, I am convinced it is time for me to sell all of my belongings and move to a small European village where I can walk everywhere and live a much slower pace of life. And then my husband reminds me of all of these simple details like we have two kids who are still in school, three dogs, and jobs in the United States. I guess I will just have to continue reading books set in quaint European villages for now.
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I just returned from a fantastic trip to Iceland and Ireland. This was my third trip to Europe (I have also been to the UK, Italy, France, and Spain) and every time I visit, I love it even more. Even though the countries I have visited are all very unique, I have noticed some similarities between the countries when it comes to the way they approach their everyday life that are very different from how we do it in the United States.
I love so many things about the European countries I have visited but the one thing that I keep coming back to is how intentional they seem to be about things. Many of their houses and cars are much smaller than what I see where I live but everything has a specific purpose so they don’t need things to be any bigger. It has made me want to further edit the things in my life that don’t have a specific purpose or more than one purpose.
I also really love the way they approach health. Their daily habits seem to be set up in a way that the healthier choice is the easier choice. On my long flight home, I thought about the systems and environments they have set up and I came up with 5 big themes that I have noticed in each place I have visited.
I have visited small villages, medium sized towns, and large cities in Europe and yet I have felt an overwhelming sense of community in each place I have visited. Each evening, the bars and restaurants are full of people eating with friends and family. We went to a pub on Friday night in Galway, Ireland and I did not notice one person looking at their phone. I can’t remember the last time I observed that in the American suburb I live in.
On my most recent trip to Ireland, I noticed that they seemed to have a festival for nearly every occasion. One of the locals told me that I just missed the book festival where they go on a historic walk around town and talk about specific books written by local authors. Walking and talking about books? That sounds like the most perfect festival. In most restaurants and cafes, there were numerous fliers for an upcoming event. When we walked into a pub for lunch, the first thing I noticed at almost every place I went to was a group of retired men sitting at the bar chatting and laughing with each other. I know America has a major loneliness problem. It makes me wonder if building stronger communities would help with this.
The weather in Iceland was freezing yet I noticed people walking everywhere. Most European towns and cities are designed so people can walk or ride bikes to school or work. During my last trip, we stayed in a cute neighborhood in Dublin. When I would go out on my morning run, I loved seeing all the kids walking or riding their bikes to school. The town center was about two blocks away from where we stayed. One of the highlights of my day was walking into town to get my morning coffee and pastry (when in Europe…)
I live in a suburb of Denver and I spend anywhere between 1 and 3 hours a day in my car driving to/from work and carpooling my kids to their sporting events. The nearest grocery store is over 3 miles away from my house. I have to be very intentional about walking or else I would barely get 5,000 steps a day. Walking is built into daily life in so many European cities and towns.
I am a big baby when it comes to weather. I live in Colorado and grew up in Northwest Montana. I have been around cold weather my whole life. Yet as soon as the sun starts setting earlier and the snow starts flying, I hibernate and whine about the weather for 6 months straight (I should really work on that, it is an annoying habit).
When I first arrived in Iceland, it was sleeting, the wind was blowing, and it was still totally dark outside at 7:30am (and it was only October). I made a little complaint to this lovely local woman and she simply replied, “Well, you are in Iceland” and she went about her day. I also noticed lots of lamps and strings of lights hung in homes and restaurants to make the long nights seem so much cozier.
It rained almost everyday while we were in Ireland yet I saw all of the local people just going about their normal outside activities: walking their dogs, going for a run, kids walking to school. At the school I teach at, kids have indoor recess if it starts to sprinkle or as soon as a snowflake falls from the sky. I am tempted to skip my daily dog walks when the weather is yucky but my dogs are way too spoiled to let that happen.
The weather did not seem to bother people in either location, they just made simple adaptations and went about their business. Seeing how people simply adjusted their clothing choices and attitudes to fit the weather inspired me to have a better attitude about it in my own life.
The first thing I noticed about food and drinks whenever I travel to Europe is the size. Most everything comes in a much smaller portion size than I am accustomed to seeing in the United States. I also rarely observed people distracting themselves with their phones while they ate. And don’t even get me started on the quality of ingredients (and what ingredients are not allowed) in the foods in Europe.
I am guilty of eating lunch at my desk while I am working or eating a quick meal standing up instead of taking the time to sit down and eat like a civilized human. When I eat a meal with others, my phone is always put away but if I eat alone I will often scroll on my phone while I eat. I am inspired to do a much better job of eliminating distractions while I eat and being much more mindful about it.
Work life balance
Thanks to technology, we are more connected than ever before. This has some amazing benefits but it is really causing people’s mental health to suffer. It makes it much easier to be working around the clock or at least thinking about work. I had the luxury of taking a week off of work (I was on fall break from my teaching job but I did not work on my health coaching business during this trip either). This time away from work helped me reevaluate my work life balance and vow to be more European in the way I am approaching it.
As I mentioned before, I loved seeing people eating lunch with their friends or meeting up with other people for happy hour and putting their phones away. It has inspired me to get much better about establishing clear work boundaries for myself.
Maybe I will see if I can be an exchange teacher (like an exchange student but a teacher) for a year…
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