5 Things We Miss About Living in Europe

After relocating back to the United States, we really miss some aspects from our six years living in Europe. Our recent trip back to our former home of the Netherlands and neighboring Belgium served as a reminder. After twelve days we boarded the plane back to United States not wanting to return home. Here’s 5 things we both miss about the general European lifestyle.

Fresh Food Prevalence and Cost

The USA has a wealth of delicious food. Unfortunately, too much of it is some of the junkiest and most processed food on our planet. Food produced in the United States is often processed to allow maximum shelf life for the betterment of nothing but corporate profits. European companies like money too, so processed food is unfortunately expanding on European soil. But not to the rampant extent it has in the United States.

Even Whole Foods, which is often outlandishly expensive, puts too much sugar in their bread. They also sell a large quantity of processed food. On a recent episode of HBO’s Real Time with Bill Mahr, Mahr joked that if Whole Foods food is so good for you, why do they sell so many products to help you get rid of it so quickly?

We miss Europe’s general emphasis on higher quality, natural foods, with less sodium. This is a chicken and egg relationship. It’s what the European population generally expects. So local grocers and restaurateurs that aren’t tourist traps must meet these demands if they want to stay in business. In Boston we were shocked by a local pizza chain that’s been in business for nearly 100 years. They claim they’re using the original recipe of their Italian immigrant founders. If their Italian immigrant relations over salted and over sweetened their processed tasting pizzas, then maybe.

Again, there is quality food in the USA, it’s just generally more expensive and harder to come by. Avoid chain restaurants when you can.

A casual dinner in Belgium is generally more laid back than a casual dinner in the United States, with higher quality food.
A casual dinner in Belgium is generally more laid back than a casual dinner in the United States, with higher quality ingredients.

Restaurants That Don’t Rush Customers Out the Door

When we first moved to Amsterdam, money was really tight because Bell was working on her PhD and the 2008 economic crisis had just hit, leaving Alex out of a job and work prospects hard to come by. One night we went out for 5 euro pizza, and all we ordered was 2 pizzas and tap water. When we were done, we just sat talking. After awhile we started wondering what happened to our server and where the bill was.

In Europe, you will veryΒ rarely be rushed out the door, no matter what you ordered. Sometimes in the US we’ve even had our server drop the bill off while we’re still eating! Servers usually say there is no rush to pay. But it certainly doesn’t feel like that, especially when you’re continually badgered about your main dish while still eating a huge appetizer. We have, however, found a few gems that aren’t in a rush to get you out the door…They are generally international restaurants – French, Afghan, you get the picture.

Train Travel Efficiency and Comfort

Working out how to get to a small town in America to break away from the hustle and bustle of the city without owning a car is a pain. There is only one simple way to do it… by car. In Europe, even many small towns are serviced by a train. The US does have government owned Amtrak, which is utilized most heavily in the northeast, with the best services primarily extending from Washington, D.C. to Philadelphia, New York and Boston.

We used to live in Florida and Amtrak runs between Orlando and Tampa, with a shocking one train per day. Contrast this with the Netherlands, which runs an equivalent distance and population route between Amsterdam and Rotterdam directly every 30 minutes. And sometimes trains are running every 10-15 minutes between Dutch towns!

Belgian Train
Europe Train Collage

Vacation Length and Holiday Mentality

We’ve been directly asked and also commonly overhear things like “Do you have time for a summer vacation this year?” In Europe we were never asked this question, it was always, “what are you doing for summer vacation?” This may seem like a subtle difference, but it’s not.

Virtually everyone, no matter what they do, needs a break from work. Even if that means a trip locally or even a week off to relax at home in your pajamas. The American mentality that time off over the summer is a luxury that not all can afford, financially or time wise, is counter productive. Labor laws in the United States in terms of vacation, sick leave and maternity leave are backwards.

Cheap Plane Tickets

Love them or hate them, Ryanair has some fantastic deals, like Dublin to Manchester, roundtrip, ohhh that will be 30 euros ($39 USD!). Discount American carriers like Spirit and Frontier have great deals sometimes. But they generally don’t touch European discount carriers. The difference in the average American and European wages are not so dissimilar. What’s different is that there’s less competition in the US airline market and an even greater emphasis on corporate profits.

White church, a top a green hill and dusk sky in Paris


The US government should not have allowed recent airline mergers between United and Continental, along with Delta and Northwest. But they did, and now consumers are paying a heavy price. But what’s also different is the airline business models. Europeans are more willing to fly very cheap if it means paying extra snacks, beverages and seat assignments. It’s better to pay $7 for a soda and snack if we want it, then $100 to have it *included* in the price.

Companies like Ryanair also make money by advertising on the overhead baggage compartments and even selling scratch off lottery tickets. The model isn’t for everyone, but we miss dirt cheap air travel, and we miss living in Europe. The more incredible places we visit, including traveling to all 27 EU countries and every nation in the former Yugoslavia, the more European destinations we add to our list!



  • Alex&Bell

    Alex and Bell originally met while solo traveling after finishing university in 2002, in Brugge, Belgium. Alex grew up in the USA and Bell hails from Australia. During our nearly 20 year marriage we've lived around the world, including spending six years living in the Netherlands and Ireland. We have traveled to nearly 70 countries and enjoy giving readers authentic and quality travel tips. Alex is an award winning travel journalist and travel planner, who also freelances for other outlets. Bell is an award winning PhD scientist who currently works for a non-profit lung cancer advocacy research organization called Lungevity. Happy travels and if you have any questions leave a comment or drop an email!

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14 thoughts on “5 Things We Miss About Living in Europe

  1. Great points, guys! I’m sure I would miss all of these things too if I had to leave Europe tomorrow. I would also miss walking everywhere–even though at first it seemed like a pain, I have really come to embrace it.

    Being so close to Belgium, do you miss the chocolate and beer as well?

    1. Hey Cassandra, thanks for commenting! Yes, the walking! I lost so much weight in the first couple months of moving to Amsterdam from Tampa by walking home with bags of groceries. In Tampa we drove everywhere and the pounds on the Alex half really added up. We live in the city in Boston so we try and also walk a fair bit here- we don’t own a car and manage well between public transport, walking and zipcar. But yes, most places in the USA are not very pedestrian or bicycle friendly.

      And yes, we got so into Belgian beer while living in Amsterdam! It was so cheap and sadly after 3 and 1/2 years we got a little sick of it. But then we moved to Ireland, and were able to appreciate it again because we drank it less frequently. We also really enjoyed the beer on our recent trip back! And the Belgian chocolate, waffles and fries…Wow. Luckily the chocolates are easy to transport and we brought a lot of CΓ΄te d’Or chocolate bars in our luggage which we’ve been enjoying pretty much every night since returning, lol.

      1. Uff, lugging liquids is the WORST. I definitely wish I had a car for supermarket trips!

        Ha, how funny that you two were all beer-ed out after 3.5 years! Although, Ireland has its fair share of beer, for sure.

        Hope you guys are (re)adjusting well in Boston!

        1. Thanks Cassandra! We’re getting there in terms of Boston, it certainly has been a re-adjustment, but it’s a cool city and summers here are really nice. It’s also been great travelling to some beautiful new places in New England.

          Haha, yes if you’re lugging some milk and juice that really adds up! Have you thought about zipcar in Madrid? http://www.zipcar.com/madrid/compare-plans If you sign up via the banner on our website you get $25 credit to your account (shameless plug ;)). It’s been so handy for us in Boston in terms of running errands for a couple hours or taking a half day trip somewhere. They’re expanding in Europe- they’re also in Barcelona, Paris, Austria and the UK.

          Indeed, lots of beer in Ireland, but the taxes are super high! Did you know Jameson is actually more expensive in Ireland that most places outside Ireland? πŸ™‚

          Enjoy lovely Madrid! Have you been to El Tigre yet? πŸ™‚ http://www.yelp.com/biz/el-tigre-madrid I know, not the best tapas in Madrid, but fun and so much food!

          1. Jameson is more expensive in Ireland?! I must go myself to see if this is true… πŸ˜‰

            Hahaha, ohhh El Tigre. Yes, I’ve been a few times to this mythical tapas joint. It’s a fun place to take visitors–their eyes pop out when they see all of the food that comes with the drinks. Typically tapas aren’t very abundant in Madrid but after a few years here I know of a handful of places that give either quality or quantity tapas–although, usually it’s not both like it is in other places in Spain.

            I’ll check out zipcar, thanks for the heads-up!

          2. Cassandra- Yes, you should definitely go to Ireland! (And take a bottle of Jameson duty free with you! ;)). As of 6 months ago it was 43 euro for a litter of Jameson in Ireland. It’s basically half price in the US! Now is cheap booze a good thing? The Scandinavians don’t seem to think so either, the Spanish on the other hand… πŸ˜‰

            Spain is such a wonderful country, with hospitable people that embrace life. That’s so awesome you’ve spent a few years there. So glad we discovered your site and look forward to reading more of your work!

            Hope zipcar works out for you too! πŸ™‚

  2. As a European living in the US, I agree with all your points. Especially number 5, oh I miss Ryanair! It would make it so easy to see all states if Ryanair was operating in the US. Also, I’m still waiting for them to do transatlantic flights, because Americans and Europeans could really enjoy the best of both worlds. Gee, we need a petition, crowd funding project or FB page or something! If that potato salad guy can do it… haha.

    1. Hey Kate! Oh we wish Ryanair could enter the US market. You know they’re dying to, but the powers that be are going to make it very difficult. They’re so profitable in Europe despite flying people so cheaply. We dig things that make the world more egalitarian and Ryanair’s CEO might be a jerk, but he’s fattened his wallet while also helping people to see their families easier.

      The US government doesn’t want people to travel more outside America- look how expensive it is to fly to Canada and how we’ve made it more difficult to travel there needing a passport or enhanced ID? American businesses want the average person’s money staying here, but they’re happy to ship jobs and money overseas when they see fit.

      Great idea on the petition. If you start one, we’ll definitely sign it! πŸ™‚

  3. Great insights from someone that has seen both sides. More Americans need to read this post! I definitely agree with the differences you point out concerning fresh/local/unprocessed food ingredients being more common in Europe. In the U.S. there is often a never-ending push towards lower costs = higher profits to the detriment of consumer health. Eating a pop-tart (yes they are so tempting) is not the same as a fresh piece of bread with locally-made jam πŸ˜‰

    I like your quote “Labor laws in the United States in terms of vacation, sick leave and maternity leave are in the 3rd world realm.” People I speak with in Europe are ALWAYS surprised that there is no minimum required paid time off for employees in the USA. Zero, zip, nada… That is why I blog about work-life-vacation balance, because vacation time off from both work and life is an essential part of the mix.

    -Scott, VacationCounts – Take More Vacation Time Off

    1. Thanks so much for the compliment, Scott! We’d certainly love it if many more Americans read this post! But more importantly, that more Americans bought into what we’re both saying here in terms of quality of life in the realms of health and work/life balance.

      Washington has been almost completely bought out to avoid regulations on behalf of average American consumers and American workers. It’s a very tough climb for this country at this point because both the government and media are not on the side of improving American lives. The Supreme Court’s ruling that corporations are people makes this even more challenging as billions in extra funds now flood Washington.

      Funny what you said about pop tarts, on a side note, we actually just recently came across a cool 20’s themed restaurant that does home made pop tarts in Washington DC of all places- it’s called Ted’s Bulletin. We recommend Ted’s, but yes, not the Kellogg’s variety! The mass marketing of often useless supplements in this country is also a waste of people’s money and a detriment. There’s no substituting real fruit, vegetables and a sensible diet with a bit of exercise. No fads or gimmicks, just educated common sense.

      We really enjoy what you write about as well. Keep up the great work, Scott!

  4. What an excellent post. I have never lived in Europe or America but just by visiting both, I can totally agree with you. The junkfood in the US is just insane. I just recently read in the news that some noodle shop in Hong Kong is in trouble because the owner spikes his food with opium to keep people coming back for more. I reckon American junk food has something of the same effect! I have to admit that I do like the taste of them and whenever we are in the US we tend to gorge on junkfood that we don’t get in normal life. But also due to us not being used to that amount of junkfood, the last food trip we had led me to a really painful medical episode.
    And yes, the amount of leave workers get in the US is horrific. I guess they make up for it with the conveniences and luxuries in life– such as numerous drive thrus (even pharmacies), and one-stop shopping places, and convenient services like netflix etc. In Europe and Australia, life is simpler wherein you still have to walk and go to separate stores if you want food vs. medicine (in the US you can pretty much get everything in one shop). But there’s more life-work balance. Going back to foods and giant corporations, I was reading a book called SALT FAT SUGAR – (no it’s not a diet book), and its unbelievable how these food giants (GM, WholeFoods, etc) are controlling America (and some parts of the world) knowingly marketing out poisonous and unhealthy food for their profit. They hire scientists to put addictive ingredients to keep the product irresistable, yet not enough to instantaneously poison someone. Scary.
    Anyway, hope you and Bell make the most out of Boston, I’m sure you guys will πŸ™‚

    1. Hey Jean, thanks so much for the compliment and great comment! So you got pretty sick from eating the food visiting the States from Australia, eh? That’s not at all surprising. When Bell first got to the US from Australia I decided to take her on a little Tour d’ American crappy fast food chains. I grew up eating a lot of fast food as a kid because my Dad was in sales and we were on the road a lot with him. But back then, the beef at say Burger King and Arby’s tasted like real beef. Anyways, I grew up to give little thought to the consequences of chain and processed food. When I took Bell to Taco Bell she took one bite of my burrito and 100% true story, she wound up vomiting it on the door of the restroom bathroom because they were both occupied and she couldn’t hold it down! I ate the whole thing and was fine because I grew up with the anti-bodies to deal with the toxins you’re speaking about. Incredible.

      There’s still things in this country Bell can’t eat and one of them is non-organic eggs. She can feel pretty sick eating just a small amount of American eggs. This obviously has to do with whatever toxins are in the food they’re feeding the chickens. It’s all very sad, especially many lower income urban people who live in “food deserts,” with very little access to nearby fresh food, just processed food in mini markets. And with American foods addictive properties, it’s all no wonder we have an obesity epidemic in this country. Then you have American hospitals defrauding medicaid and medicare with unnecessary tests and the greed of the American Medical Association has made quality health care in this country insanely expensive.

      That’s crazy about the Hong Hong noodle proprietor and putting opium in his noodles!! haha. Just a microcosm of Big Food in American. I’ll have to check out ‘Salt Fat Sugar’, sounds like an interesting read. Thanks so much again for sharing this! πŸ˜€

  5. My husband and I moved back to the U.S. To Texas! I’m American he’s Dutch we lived in ‘s-Hertogenbosch in The Netherlands, I miss everything you mentioned! Especially my bike! But we have met a ton of Dutch and Europeans that live here in Austin! The only thing I don’t miss is the cold dark rainy beaus there!

    1. Hi Steph! β€˜s-Hertogenbosch is a beautiful town and there’s a lot of great nearby Dutch and Belgian towns! The one time we visited β€˜s-Hertogenbosch we were fortunate to catch a carnival which really added to the appeal of the town in a different way. European carnivals in towns squares are such a fun contrast. We’ve never been to Austin but we hear great things. We haven’t tapped into the European community in Boston yet- we’d really like to! Thanks for commenting!

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