Europe: It’s Closer Than We Think

I was talking to a colleague yesterday, let’s call him “Sam.” We were talking about travel destinations. He was shopping for a place to go for a week with his wife this winter, and we were talking about Europe. He had some hesitation about going to Europe for short little trip because they have longer-term plans to “do Europe” later, and didn’t want to sneak in little preliminary bits of Europe before the big event, lest they ruin the surprise (I am paraphrasing here).

Here’s the thing: get in your car right now and drive to Halifax and get on a plane that leaves there tonight. If you fly west to Vancouver, it will take you about 9 hours to get there, including a 2 hour layover in Toronto. If you fly east to London, England, it will take you about 7 hours to get there, including a brief stop in St. John’s.

Once you’re at Heathrow, you’re basically less than 3 or 4 hours from of almost anywhere else in Europe. For example, you can fly from Stansted (a quick bus ride from Heathrow) to Prague the same day, and you’ll be in Prague by 4:00 in the afternoon (and on EasyJet, you’ll only pay $120 for the flight).

And so on.

San Francisco is 9 to 11 hours away. Whitehorse is about 12 hours. Dallas is 8 or 9 hours from Halifax.

Granted, there are passports, and borders and other things to consider when going to Europe (although arguably there are more complications going to the U.S. these days).

But for some reason we still think of Vancouver as “close” and Europe as “very, very far away.” To the extent that many think of traveling to Europe as being in the “once or twice in a lifetime” category.

And this isn’t something unique to travel: the thought of picking up the phone and actually calling someone in, say, Rome or Madrid would be something that I, even with all my voice-over-IP and “man of the world” posturing, would treat as a special event. Even though calling Rome right now would cost me about 7 cents a minute, which is about half as much as it costs to call Summerside at Aliant’s regular rates.

Even the thought of mailing something “overseas” seems exotic, and something that would deserve a special trip to the post office.

This concerns me on several levels.

Personally, I’d like to be able to get over my “far far away” hang-ups about Europe because I think I would go there more often, have more fun, be a better person.

Provincially (so to speak), I’d like more of the people I work and live alongside to be able to do the same: I think the way we plan our cities, live our lives, eat our food, etc. would be dramatically changed with more European travel under our collective belts.

And I think if we all treated European (and for that matter worldwide) travel less like a 50th wedding anniversary and more like a trip to the corner store, we would get a heck of a lot more out of the travel experience.

The thing is, I’m not sure how to make this happen, personally or otherwise. Maybe it just takes more traveling, calling and mailing.


Robert  Paterson's picture
Robert Paterson on July 10, 2004 - 14:39 Permalink

What you talk about has happened in Europe itself. For the English “Abroad” was a mysterious adventure. But with EasyJet etc what has happened is that it is cheaper to go to Barcelona by air ( 1 hour) than to take the train from London to Oxford (1 hour) At first this meant that holidays were cheap.

But then, you found this little farm house near Sitges that cost 15% of what a similar property would cost near Oxford. You buy it as a holiday home. But then you start going every weekend. You get great weather plus the Catalan culture. You get all the English culture — newspapers and the internet provides the rest.

Then you stay Monday and arrive Thursday. You have in effect now accepted that Spain is your second home.

When it is cheaper to go to the UK than to Vancouver what will happen to us?

John Bell's picture
John Bell on July 10, 2004 - 17:04 Permalink

I live in Charlottetown and have always looked at “crossing the big pond”, with a slight feeling of trepidition and looked at others that had made the journey with something just short of awe. I took my first trip to England in May. It was hardly the big ordeal I anticipated. I had travelled as far south as Cuba and made the sojourn to Alberta to work many times in the past. I still had the same feeling as you described. The trip to Europe would be that great trip of all trips. I was able to take in a football match in Manchester, travelled by train to London for a few days, some basic sight seeing. Now that the mystery has been removed I have re-thought my opinion of international travel. My next trip is already in the planning stages. I and a friend of mine have decided that we would like to go to the world cup in Germany in 2006. It is a shorter trip than driving from Charlottetown to Montreal and the opportunity to be a part of an event like that makes it the next trip of all trips. I can see now that I could suggest to my wife that we take a wine tasting tour of Italy or go skiing in the alps. With air fares as cheap as they are today it is alot cheaper to fly somewhere than it is to put gas in the car. So, my thoughts on your discussion are, go. Take a weekend or week long trip to London, or Paris, or Madrid, whatever, just do it. Then, once the mystery is removed, you’ll be anticipating your next trip abroad with relish as I do.

Lisa Howard's picture
Lisa Howard on July 10, 2004 - 20:25 Permalink

It’s hard not to think of the Atlantic as an impediment to travel in Europe, but you’re right. We should stop thinking like we’re living in the 19th century. As someone who has finally made the leap across the great water, I can tell you the main obstacles were psychological and it’s been a really worthwhile adventure ever since. Now I have to learn to speak Hungarian eh? Actually because of my still crappy Hungarian I often feel like Manuel from Fawlty Towers: Que Senior? Que? Most Hungarians are just like most people everywhere, they treat you like an imbecile if you can’t speak. I might as well be a monkey. Actually, I’m exaggerating for effect. In fact, I can usually do a few rounds in Hungarian before they discover what an imbecile I am. However, life is short and even annoying things like language barriers are part of finding stuff out about yourself and the people around you. As for further adventures: I think it would be great to see China, Madagascar, the north pole, or even neighboring Pompeii but I unfortunately don’t have the time right now.
Maybe in a couple of years when the babies are bigger.