If I had a dollar for every time someone said "Traveling changed me," well...you get the idea. I'd be rich.
We always hear this, and if you're anything like me, the statement probably just blows over your head because you've heard it so many times, or you think everyone is overexaggerating. However, I came to realize that it's something you simply don't understand until you experience it yourself.
Over this past winter break, I traveled overseas to Barcelona, my first time in Europe. Of course, you prepare for how "different" things are going to be in terms of basic travel planning like currency, weather. Those sorts of things. You get lost in travel planning: booking tours, making reservations at the best restaurant spots, but what you don't realize is how amazing it is to simply get to experience and get lost in the general mood of a new place.
Getting to experience life outside of the U.S. and seeing what other parts of the world value is incredible.
While unfortunately, there's some level of poverty and inequality no matter where you go, the way many of the locals presented their outlook on life was amazing.
We went to a small bar on one of the first nights, and ended up going back two more nights (once on our last night because we had to say goodbye) because we had great conversations with the bartenders. They told us how throughout many parts of Spain, there are people who aren't as well off as others, but that everyone lives with what they have, and they make the most of it and always put happiness above all. They said part of this ability for the general population in their country to remain stable and happy, is that people who are very wealthy rarely show it.
They acknowledged that of course, there is inequality in terms of what opportunities are available to what groups of people, but that those who do live very comfortably always stay humble. They told us how, sometimes, they can tell based on how customers present themselves in terms of how they respond to the workers and carry themselves, that they're from North America and carry more materialistic items.
In many parts of Spain, they said materialistic items aren't necessarily as valued or prioritized, which also explains the happy essence that Barcelona seemed to radiate: Strangers would say hello to each other the streets, stop to give each other directions, or just to spark up a friendly conversation; something I never see in Chicago. Instead, everyone is on the go, with their heads down or headphones in.
Family comes first always, they said. Sure, jobs and money are taken seriously, but they're not always the number one priority, and neither is having expensive things. If you have a roof over your head, food on the table, and are lucky enough to spend time with your loved ones every day, then that is something they celebrate every day.
It was eye-opening to see how much the constant "on the go" lifestyle in America compared to many of the people we encountered in Spain, and how that's reflected in the cultural values of the U.S.
Seeing small businesses close every day for a few hours for people to home for their "siestas" and family time was amazing and was a true representation of everything that the wonderful bartenders explained to us.