Travel

Living in America: Feels good?!!

James Brown, the infamous ‘godfather of soul’ crooned about Livin’ in America.  “I feel good, eye to eye, hand in hand while living in the promised land” touted Brown in his 1986 hit song.  But does it really “feel good” to live in America in the 21st century?  For the past week, upon return from my recent travels to Denmark, Iceland, and Norway I have been contemplating this very thought in my mind.

I am an American, born and raised here my entire life.  I am however, no economic major, nor have I ever really paid attention to politics or the state of the American union.  I like to think of myself as a ‘typical’ American who goes about my day thinking only of myself and my immediate family, how hard we will have to work, how much money we will make, and how much money will be left after paying all the bills to spend on personal luxuries.  As a ‘typical’ middle class individual, I rarely spend time thinking about those less fortunate than I, nor do I think about what I could be doing to help make the world a better place.  I don’t have to, after all I am American and live in a capitalistic country where each citizen is clearly out for their own personal gain – including that of our government.  We are raised to be a hard-working, money-making society, and those who have more money are in a higher class in society than those who do not.  Money drives our daily lives and brings us happiness to those who have, and unhappiness to those who do not have.  True Capitalism at it’s best!

Each year, the Wider Opportunities for Women compiles a report on the basic economic security tables in the United States..  This report “measures basic needs and assets for workers required for economic security in American households” (www.wowonline.org).  In 2014, it was reported that 44% of Americans lacked basic economic security.  It went on to report that those households with greater education levels scored somewhat higher on meeting basic economic security than someone without an education.  This struck me as ironic since our country does not support paying for our children’s education, hence only those who can afford a college education can attend and those who don’t are obviously stuck without any means to gain economic security.

Personally, I think these capitalistic attitudes are draining, not only mentally, but economically in my pocket as well.  I may fall into that ‘middle class’ society according to my tax returns, however it seems more and more as if I am left with less in my pocket, and more stress and worry than ever.  With stress and worry comes a decrease in the happiness quotient, and an increase in dissatisfaction with my life as an American.

I have expenses, huge expenses that I feel would be taken care of in some fashion or another if I lived in an egalitarian country.  Out of our monthly income comes  expenses such as: food, gasoline for the cars (3 of them), household living expenses (such as electricity, water, sewer, etc), education (currently paying $2400 for tuition and $3000 for dorm fees, plus food per semester, approximately 4 months, for my son in college), insurance (car insurance for 3 vehicles is $6000 per year, health insurance is $14,400 in annual premiums plus $7,500 out-of-pocket before the health insurance pays a penny, homeowners insurance $2000 per year, disability insurance, flood insurance, etc). and if anything is left at the end we are advised to invest money into a retirement account.

Speaking of retirement account, “they” say social security benefits which I have been paying into throughout my adult life may or may not be available when I retire in the future.  Americans are told we should not count on it as our only means of retirement income.  Thus, 401-K came into being and now we must take what little disposable income we may have and invest it ourselves (and sometimes with the aid of an employer) with the hope that when we retire we can afford it.  Based on the figures I demonstrated earlier you can see that I have little to any disposable income left, thus I worry about what will happen when I eventually retire. Worry and stress, stress and worry, it takes up a great deal of my life and leaves me with less and less quality of life and time to spend with family and friends as I am always worried about having enough money.

After returning home from Norway I began to look at and wonder how different my life would be if I were to live in an ‘egalitarian’ system such as in Scandinavia.  From what I gather, egalitarianism focuses on low social inequality.   There are no divisions between low class, middle class and upper class. One is not looked down upon for making less money than another.  All citizens are treated same and/or similar in respect to what they have or don’t have.  In egalitarian countries one works for the good of all.  With this type of system, those individuals who work are taxed heavily and the government is responsible for giving out funds to help those in need.  With this system comes health care and an education at no expense to any citizen.  Norway in fact has a great deal of highly educated people for this very reason.

Because all medical expenses are paid for, as well as a full education, no one has to stop and think where this money will come from.  Hence, the people who live in an egalitarian system have less stress, less worry, and have a higher happiness quotient.  In fact, in Denmark I spoke to a gentleman in a coffee shop who said to me “I gladly give my money to the government because I don’t have to worry about anything.”  With little to no stress or worry, Scandinavians work a moderate amount of hours per week, have something like up to 6 weeks paid vacation per year, have one year of maternity leave paid for, and have time left over to enjoy spending time with friends and family.  I was amazed to see a great deal of people having a leisurely lunch with friends and I watched intensely at how much enjoyment they had on their faces.  This would never be the case in the States as we are lucky to have a one hour break where we scarf down our food, pay the bill, and race back to work!

In my opinion, the United States capitalistic mind-set has created a huge disparity among its citizens whereby the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.  Self-satisfaction and personal gain are prominent features in our country.  The leaders of our country abide by these principles and make decisions on our behalf with the underlying premise being what is politically best at the time these principles go into effect.  I have never heard a political leader premise his/her actions by doing what is best for the citizens of our country, rather they act based upon once again – personal gain and how much influence their political power ensues.

On the other side, Egalitarianism means that all of one’s basic needs are met without question of who you are or where you fall in society.  This type of government does not base their decisions upon who deserves what over another, rather it treats its citizens with respect and believes in honoring the basic needs of all individuals and not just the chosen few.  If I lived in such a place, I would no longer have to pay out of my pocket for health expenses, nor would I have to worry about my retirement.  My kids would have an excellent education and future.  I would be living ‘the high life’ with an abundance of happiness and increased quality of life.

I am ashamed at my country for treating me and all other citizens with such disdain for human life and sustenance.  I feel there is a better way for us all to live and it does not include the American way.  I want my children to grow up in a land where all are treated the same – as human beings with basic needs.  I do not wish my children to look down upon another simply because they have less than we do.  It’s time our country steps up and takes care of the basic needs of its citizens!  And I think it should begin with free education for all!

If only the United States would see to the betterment of its citizens, then and only then would James Brown’s song ring true!  “Eye to eye, hand in hand, promised land!”

Safe journeys,

Debbie

P.S. I would like to say that this was written from my personal perspective only and not necessarily the views of all Americans or of the United States.  I am simply stating my thoughts and have no intention of offending anyone.

Categories: America, American, capitalism, economic security, egalitarian, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Planes, trains, and cars,oh my! Oslo to Voss Norway

Early settlers may have considered themselves lucky to get from one location to another by horse and buggy or other means of transport.  What might have taken days or even weeks in the past takes only hours in the present.  For many, myself included, transportation is a necessity as well as a nuisance that is often taken for granted.

I have traveled many  milesimage this week to get to my present destination in Norway.  Four days ago I flew from Tampa to Washington Dulles airport, followed by a flight through Iceland to end in Oslo.  That’s a total of 10.5 hours of flying to travel thousands of miles!!!

imageAfter a good nights sleep in Oslo, I boarded the morning train for  4.5 hour ride from Oslo to Myrdal. I was amazed by the beauty of Norway from her pristine greens to her whitest whites of the countryside. One minute it was grey skies followed by blue, then blizzard like conditions s the elevation climbed and the temperatures dropped.

In Myrdal I climbed aboard the Flam railway for a short 30 minute ride to Flam where the boat was waiting to sail through the Fjords.  This voyage was surreal. It felt as if time stood still as we cruised to Gudvangen in 2 hours. Along the way I saw quaint homes on hilltops in the middle of nowhere. Further along, the captain spotted a few reindeer staring at us as we stared at them.  I was mesmerized by the bigger than life fjords. I kept repeating “wow” like a child who sees something for the first time. My senses were on overwhelm as I took it all in.

From Gudvangen I caught a bus for the one hour ride to Voss. In Voss I grabbed a taxi for a 30 minute drive to Myrkdalen. The snow was piled nearly six feet! Coming from Florida this was quite exciting to see such a sight. Finally, my travels were over for the night as I took a room at the beautiful Myrkdalen hotel. My balcony opened over the ski hill and I could barely contain myself at the sight of the cabins up and down the hill with snow piled half way to the roof!

The next day I boarded the ski bus back to Voss for another 1.5 hour train to Bergen.  I walked along the streets with the young skiers as they returned home. I felt as if I were accompanying future Olympic skiers!

Tomorrow I have my final train back to Oslo in 6.5 hours. I cannot even imagine the miles I have covered on this trip. I have learned that transportation is not only a means for getting from one place to another, but it is also a unique way to see the world.  I still have many more miles to go to return back to the states. With the aid of transportation I was able to explore the beauty of this great country and appreciate the journey.

Safe journeys, Debbie

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What I learned in Denmark and Iceland

True to my blog’s name, travel really does enrich your life and make you a better person or in some cases, a more aware person.

I had a great deal of personal enrichments on my last trip that I will share with you today.

My pre-trip goal was to have fun, learn about the Danish culture, find my own “hygge,” and to step outside my comfort zone.  I have not only accomplished what I set out to do, but much more!

First, I found my true “hygge.”  Hygge for me was experiencing the entire Danish lifestyle and embracing what was in front of me daily.  That goes for everything from the local coffee shops, the conversations with locals, and even to the slip and fall in the middle of the street in Copenhagen (I definitely learned I need to look more where I am walking and not assume the curbs are all even as they are in the states!).

When you travel, it is best to expect the unexpected.  By expecting things to not go perfectly one is better equipped to go with the flow.  I had never expected the Danish ground crew to go on strike and delay my plane.  I also did not expect the gate the change and be on the other side of the airport!  By not being upset, and calmly dealing with these travel snafus, I was less stressed and a much better traveler than I would have been had I taken everything so seriously.  Let’s face it, things happen.  Accept it and move on!

I also learned that the Danes are well taken care of by their government and have little to worry about.  This gives them a sense of security that we Americans do not have.  I understand why they live the way they do and how less pressure they live under.  This affords them the opportunity to enjoy family and friends as well as leisure time.  As Americans, I do not think we will ever have this.  At best, all I can learn from this is to want less, and to appreciate what I have and not to yearn for more and more.  If I have less, it follows that I would be able to work less if I am spending less.  It would all even out.  I know this sounds kind of far-fetched, however, I think some of this is possible in our country (America) of excess and materialism.  As I have been saying, less is more.  I intend to make changes in my life such that I am less and less of a materialistic girl and more of a  connoisseur of what I already have.

This trip also taught me that it is ok not to straighten my hair to perfection daily – my hair straightener would not fit in the adapter plug so I had to do without!  I learned that I can survive and go out in public with my hair just the way it is!  Further, it is ok, not to have to put on makeup to go out.  I am who I am and those who pass judgment or do not approve can take a hike!

In addition, I learned what it is like to truly be myself, not caring what others think.  By being myself I experienced spontaneity and freedom.  I played in the snow like a 12-year-old, and I had so much fun!  True, we don’t have snow here in Florida to play with, however, it felt darn good to run in it, throw snow, and make a snow fairy just like I did up north as a child!!  I intend to work on this aspect of being myself while at home so others too can experience the “real” me!

Finally, I have all the experiences and memories in my head that will be with me forever.  I will never forget waking up in my Danish apartment (thanks to airbnb!), or tasting Swedish meatballs in Malmo.  I will always have a sense of peace and rejuvenation every time I re-visit the Blue Lagoon in my mind and in my pictures.  And I will always savor that first bite of Icelandic cod I had in Reykjavik.  These moments will never be forgotten and I will cherish them always.

I am as always thankful for being able to experience my journeys and to come home safely.

What have you learned from your latest travels?

Safe journey,

Debbie

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How much “stuff” is too much?

In America, we gauge success and happiness in life according to what possessions one has, and how much money one makes.  The more money, the higher one’s socio-economic status, and the more privilege one has earned in society.  On the flip side, those who lack money and the ability to make significant proportions of money consequently have less in life, as well as fewer opportunities afforded.

While staying in Copenhagen, I was afforded the opportunity to gain first-hand knowledge of what it was like to live as a Dane in a relatively small apartment (according to American standards).  From this short-lived opportunity, I experienced just how much “stuff” can be crammed into such a small space so efficiently!  Clothes were hung from a rack on the ceiling in the master bedroom, shelving was full of folded clothes, and a baby crib stood on the side of the space close to the bed.  In the bathroom, a small shower took up the corner of the room complete with a squeegee to shush the water on the floor back down the drain.  A small-clothes washer took up the opposite corner as well as a couple of carts with drawers for storage.

Each nook and cranny of this apartment were utilized to its fullest with no space left vacant. I did not experience the feeling of being closed in or of having too much ‘stuff.’  Rather, I felt completely at home.  What surprised me the most was the thought of just how much “stuff” I have in my ordinary home in Florida that would probably shock the standard Dane!

In my opinion, Americans have way too much “stuff.”  And what we do have, we take for granted.  Americans are wasteful and not very attune to the environment and being “green” as the Danes are.  Americans live with the expectation that we are ‘entitled’ to our possessions and live for getting bigger and better things.   After all, how many people in your own neighborhood have more than 1 television in their home?  Or how many have a cell phone for each family member?  How many Americans do you know that have more than one vehicle?  What is even more despicable is that some parents at my children’s school purchase their teenagers a new BMW or other expensive car when they turn 16!  What happened to the days of simplicity and having a kid earn his own car by working?

I am just as guilty as the next American.  Each one of my children has their own cell phones.  I find it out of necessity more than convenience.  My children have a different life than I did.  I could always be found in my own neighborhood with other peers my age.  Today, our children are just as busy as adults are trying to make it in this crazy world.  Technology has sped up the process and made our children more attuned to what is out there in life.  With this added knowledge comes a sense of entitlement to these “millennials” as they are referred.  They ‘expect’ to have all the luxuries of home, at school, in their car and elsewhere.  It seems to be a given that parents will give their children what they want.  I do not find I am “that” parent all the time.  I do feel my children “should have” some of the “stuff” others their age have, however, I do not think they are better off being given everything I have.

I am also guilty of having all the ‘comforts of home.’  I have a medium-sized house with a swimming pool and a ginormous refrigerator!  I also have a vehicle for almost every member of this household.  I have been guilty also of acquiring the American state of mind of ‘bigger is better’ and ‘more stuff’ means I am “a better person.”

With knowledge comes a liberty to change what I know.  I now know that just because I have been brought up the American way does not mean I have to conform.  I know that I can change my mind-set gradually to incorporate the good elements I learned of the Danish simplistic ways and eliminate the negative mindset of the American ways.  I can also begin to appreciate what I do have and not feel that it is an expectation to have what I have.  I can also begin to let go of the “stuff” I do not necessarily need just to give myself a false perception of happiness by acquiring said “stuff.”

I would like to end by saying that what I have written is only MY opinion.  It is not fact, nor is it fiction.  It is simply my thoughts in black and white.  Finally, I do not intend in any way to offend anyone with my opinions.

What “stuff” do you have that you would be willing to get rid of?

Safe Journeys,

Debbie

 

 

Categories: materialistic, Travel | 1 Comment

Thanks for the pat down TSA!

Traveling can be very stressful.  But I often ask myself what is more stressful than going through security at the airport?

If you are observant as I am, I find that there are no standards in each airport in each country.  Some say remove your shoes, some don’t.  Some say take our your laptop, but not your i-pad, while others want both the i-pad and laptop removed.

Some, make you go through the machine where you “put your hands up” like a police would ask if you are in trouble with the law.  And at other times, you simply walk through and look at the TSA rep in a manner such as to say, “did I pass?”

Some TSA representatives are serious as heck, while others are light-hearted and jovial.  In Iceland, I had a TSA agent ask me quite seriously if I had security clearance for my bags (prior to going through the line)?  I was alarmed!  I panicked!  I had no clue what he was referring to when it finally clicked – he was joking with me and no such thing existed!  Grrr – don’t play with me TSA agent as I am already stressed enough going through security!

On my way home from this last trip, I was stopped by TSA and asked to stand aside.  What?  I already removed my shoes, my belt, emptied my pockets, and taken off everything I could think of (except my clothes).  I was chosen for the lucky pat-down.  Stick your arms out, separate your legs and let the agent do her thing.  When she was done I actually heard myself thank her!  I thanked a lady for patting me down – how ridiculous that sounded!!!

This is the world we now live in.  Pat downs, liquids in a baggie, and enhanced security.  I miss the old days when getting there was half the fun.  Now I simply put up with the annoyances of travel to get to my destination safely.

Safe journey,

Debbie

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