As I opened yet another hotel door, dragged in the suitcases and started to rummage through them trying to find what we needed for the night AGAIN, and to eventually lay my head on a pillow in a hotel in a town I couldn’t remember the name of, I thought, “There has to be a better way”.
And there is. It’s called Slow Travel.
What I was describing was me on a trip years ago that we took to the States for a month with two children in tow. We had been invited to a wedding in Washington DC and figured we would embark on what I thought then, would be the Trip of a Lifetime.
Don’t get me wrong I loved it, and it was the trip that reignited my passion for travel, but I knew there had to be a better way. I had some input on the planning of the trip but didn’t organise it.
And that my friends, is when I decided that I could do a better job than the professional who put it together.
Of course, we chose the destinations, but there was a lot to be desired about the planning aspect of it all. But that’s for another post.
In one month, we visited – LA including Universal Studios and Disneyland, Washington DC, Lancaster County in Pennsylvania, New York City, Boston, Niagara Falls, Chicago, Rhinelander in northern Wisconsin, Las Vegas, Yosemite National Park and San Francisco. It was a whirlwind trip with little time for rest, and quite frankly I was exhausted most of the time.
There were tears and tantrums, and don’t even get me started on the kids. They probably handled it better than the adults.
So, after that epic trip, exhaustion and a renewed spark for travel, it took five years to plan the next trip. By then I developed a bit more of my Travel Style and realised that it didn’t need to be a Trip of a Lifetime, that if you have enough passion and drive, travel could be a part of life.
And the next trip became a slow one. And I become an ardent advocate of Slow Travel.
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What is Slow Travel?
Slow Travel is an evolution of the Slow Movement. The Slow Movement, and in part Slow Food, was started in 1986 in Italy in protest to the first McDonald’s Restaurant opening in Rome.
Slow Food was established to promote traditional cooking methods and local cuisine. It is about maintaining a traditional way of life and nurturing the local environment, slowing down the frantic pace of life.
And over time that has come to include other areas like travel.
Slow Travel allows you to explore a destination
For me Slow Travel is to stay in one place for a longer period, getting to know it, not just its sites, but the people, way of life and stories. To dig deeper, wider, further.
With Slow Travel, you choose a location and use it as your base to explore the surrounding area. There is no packing and unpacking and losing days to travel.
Travel is exhausting, and I find that Slow Travel is a much more pleasurable way of travelling. After having experienced travel the frantic way, cramming in everything you could see and emerging with no more knowledge about a place than when I arrived, I decided this wasn’t what I wanted.
I get that others want to see everything they can, particularly if time is limited. I’m not here to say you are wrong. Everyone is different. Some people relish a frantic pace. I was truly amazed by the energy of some of those in our group who saw so much. But I can’t do it. My health and mood suffer and I prefer to dive a little deeper into the places I chose to visit.
I like to take it a step further. If I love the location, I will come back another time if I can. The first time is a taster, the second I can relax into the destination. It’s not so much about sightseeing, although now you have the opportunity of doing different day trips, it’s about really experiencing a place. A bit more like a local. And taking your time. It’s more about the experience than about checking off sites to see.
I have developed an itinerary planning formula to ensure I include everything that is important to me in my itinerary. It includes day trips, sightseeing and more. I can use if for as many days as I like, but a good starting point is four days.
Slow travel allows time and space
I don’t thrive on go, go, go. I am an introvert and as such need time, and space, to re-energise. If I don’t slow down, I fall into a big heap, get sick and miss out.
On that first trip to the States, I regret not having more time. More time to get to know the way of the Amish, more time strolling the streets of Boston instead of a vague memory of a Trolley Tour. I want to go back and have a picnic in Boston Common, to hear the stories of the witch trials, to taste my way around the city’s eateries.
I might go back one day or I might not. But the important thing was to learn the lesson of taking time. I have no interest in creating a massive list of places to tick off. I want my travel to be full of stories, experiences, and personal connections.
The other factor that I like about Slow Travel is that I can be creative, I can catch up on work, and I can just hang out without feeling like I am missing something. Our last group trip was a Painting Trip, but I also like to take photos and write. That takes time. I don’t want to be rushed. Slow Travel lends itself to creative people. It allows us the time to nurture our soul, indulging in our passions.
While others painted the stunning view over the valley from Cortona, I sat on a stone wall and wrote. My thoughts, feelings, emotions. It became my next blog post. Never had I felt more creative than sitting there. No rush, no constraints, just time.
Slow Travel makes a difference
I learnt the lesson well, and it helped me to plan our next trip. Two and a half months to the States and Europe. There still could have been more time (there can always be more time), but this time I planned out longer stays, included cabins and apartments so I could shop locally and cook. Comfortable places where I would be happy to spend a day “hanging around”, recharging the batteries.
I had a lot of things noted down that we could do in each place, but I looked at that once we arrived and decided from there. You cannot know what the weather will be like, how tired you might be or how the others in your group are feeling.
On that trip, we had five days in Orvieto, Italy. We had an apartment with a balcony. It was also September and still HOT! So, we did the things in Orvieto that were on our list, and thoroughly enjoyed them, but didn’t do the day trips I thought we might do.
Instead, I spent mornings shopping for the evening meal at local stores, talking to the shop owners. We spent afternoons relaxing. We had time at the Café Bar down the road enjoying a wine or two in the evening before dinner just watching the world go by. It was heaven. And it fuelled the batteries for the next leg.
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Spend a week here, another week somewhere else
We spent a week in Lake Bled in Slovenia camping. It was awesome. We did day trips as we felt like it and spent time in the evenings with our Belgium neighbours.
A cabin was our home for a week in Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland where we spent cosy days tucked away from the rain, and others out exploring and walking and going to the “Top of Europe”.
There was an apartment in Rome for five days, five nights in a Castle/Hostel in Germany on the Rhine and time spent getting to know my family in Holland. And of course, the ten days I spent in Greece. It was wonderful.
It was such a different holiday. And one that changed me forever.
Time means I can sleep in if jet lag is killing me and not feel like I am missing out.
And it means I can have that afternoon siesta in Italy and feel refreshed for evening drinks and a meal. If it’s good enough for the locals, it’s good enough for me!
What Others Think of Slow Travel
The group I took to Italy last year had a slow itinerary that I created. One of the resounding things we heard from our group was that they loved being in one place for so long. Our itinerary included six nights in Cortona and six in Venice.
Here is what Denise wrote:
“The best thing I liked about the Painting in Italy trip was staying in a place for six days or more to fully experience that area.”
It meant we could comfortably do a day trip to Arezzo. And a full day wine tour to Montepulciano, Montalcino, and Pienza. And we still got time to explore Cortona, to visit the Monastery one afternoon and not be rushed, to paint every day (it was after all a painting trip).
It also gave us time to get to know people. By the end of our stay, local shopkeepers were greeting us like old friends. We were invited to an Art Exhibition opening. We were warmly greeted by Enzo our taxi driver each time he arrived to take us somewhere and Luana, and the ladies at the reception at the Villa Marsili became like friends.
It’s worth finding the time for a slower pace
Time is a luxury, but I think it is one you should take when it comes to travel. To have the mindset to slow things down, instead of ticking items off a list.
On that first trip I don’t remember much about the places we visited, what I do remember is longing to stay. To scrape the surface of what I had glimpsed. To have another conversation, taste another meal.
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Road Trips and Slow Travel
Road Trips and being flexible with your time can be Slow Travel’s best friends. Take a list of what you might like to see but be flexible. Don’t travel in peak season, so you have more options for accommodation.
With the freedom of a car, the concept is simple. If you love a place, stay. If not, move on. Some places will take longer for you to explore, others not so much, depending on your interests.
I am currently planning a Road Trip through Scotland with my partner Dan. It will be our first road trip overseas, and I am excited about where our travels will take us.
Let Slow Travel Work its Magic
In a time when over-tourism is a massive issue, slow down. Take a path less beaten. Even if you stay in the most popular tourist destinations, Slow Travel can make a difference.
Staying in one place longer gives you more, like early mornings and late nights without the crowds. You have the option of booking tickets for opening times for popular museums and galleries. Experience an evening walking tour instead of one in the middle of the day when you have to fight the masses.
And slow travel gives you a familiar place to lay your head each night instead of packing and unpacking in an unfamiliar place every few nights. It’s nice to have a home away from home, and people that recognise your face.
Travel can be life-changing, but it needs time to work its magic. And slow travel can give you that time.
I walk a lot when I travel. My world slows down. Early morning walks are my favourite, meeting locals starting their days like the old lady we met one morning in Cortona and her cat who come running out to nudge her up the path, hurrying her home for his breakfast.
To see shop owners setting up for the day and ordering a morning espresso alongside locals on their way to work.
It becomes about the quality of your travel experiences instead of the quantity.
Yes, I am a total Slow Travel convert.