At the heart of this blog, what I am most passionate about and what drives me to write, is the joy of travel. I believe traveling is, hands down, one of the most rewarding and important things a person can do. I wish everyone had the opportunity and means to do it as much as their hearts' desired.
The brilliant thing about travel is that it's also education. It is education about yourself. Education about others. Boundary pushing, soul opening, life changing, enlightening education.
Education wrapped in vacation. How great is that? That's like saying your favorite guilt pleasure foods are good for you.
But that's the catch. Not everyone loves the same guilty pleasure food, right?
I've come to realize that not everyone likes to or should travel the same way, either. One man's poison is another's pleasure and all that.
Some people are backpackers. Some cruise. Some have cottages. Others take tours. There are also those who are adventurous and flexible. They're up for just about anything as long as it gets them out there experiencing world. The list goes on and on.
Me? I'm a slow traveler.
What's Slow Travel?
It all started in 2004 when my family was planning a vacation to Italy. I stumbled upon a website called Slow Travel, which has a great forum full of incredibly knowledgeable, passionate people who, well, like to travel slowly.
Instead of going from point to point every few days or taking a pre-planned tour or cruise, they often rent houses/apartments in one spot for a longer period of time.
My family had already started to go that direction for our vacations, but it wasn't until 2007 that we rented our first place for a week at the foot of Cortona in Italy. It was amazing. During that trip I realized how much you miss when you hop from site to site.
Slow travel allows you to immerse yourself in a place, to go beyond the tourist attractions and discover the soul of a town, city, slice of countryside (not that it's the only way to do that, of course).
I think the industry sometimes pushes people to cram all of these "must-sees" into a vacation. You know, the myriad wonders and pieces of art to check from lists of 1001 places to see before you kick the bucket.
Don't get me wrong, the big sites are great, but there's more to travel than that.
How and Why to Travel Slow
It's simple, really. Pick a place or two and spend your vacation there. None of this "If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium" stuff. No running around a city trying to see all the major sites in a day or two only to hop to a new place and do the same thing. This is quality over quantity travel and there are lots of ways to do it. I like flying into a major city and staying there for 2 or 3 days. After that, I go to a smaller town for 1 week to 10 days (or more if you're lucky). At the end of the trip, I like to head back to the city for a couple of days before flying out.
A house/apartment and, often, a car. Our first rental was part of a gorgeous hotel near Cortona, called Borgo Il Melone. This was a perfect way for us to ease into renting because all the amenities of a hotel were right there if we needed them, like friendly staff, a pool, a restaurant, and optional breakfast. It seems like Italy (especially Tuscany) has a lot of these options. There are a lot of great rental websites out there. I've used Vacation Rentals by Owner (VRBO) a couple of times with great success. I'm planning on doing a post just on renting with more sites and tips.
I promise you can do this if you don't already. Get a rental with a washer (sometimes they have driers, but they don't usually work well). Use OneBag for help. Take clothes that are easy to wash and dry fairly quickly. The great thing about renting is that you can buy some toiletries there since you will be in one spot for a longer period. After years of practice, I'm pretty good at this. I will also do a more in-depth post on what I've learned later.
Don't pack your trip full of one site or activity after another. Pick a few of the things you really want to see and space them out. Take some time to wander through villages and shops. Lazily stroll through early morning markets and pick up some local food for a picnic. Sit down and take in the life going on around you. Start up conversations with locals. If you find a café you love, go back there in the mornings or evenings. It's amazing how the soul and personality of a place and its people will start to unfold around you if you give it the chance to (and sometimes you might even be privy to some of the drama). I can almost guarantee that you will get as much, if not more, out of your trip by slowing down as you would by rushing from city to city or site to site.
Taste local foods. Become a temporary regular at the bakery or butcher or market or wine shop or, ideally, all the above. Cook a meal at your rental every once and awhile. Eat at the local restaurants. Sit at a café lazily drinking something satisfying while taking in your surroundings. Savoring doesn't even have to be related to food. Take a day trip. Go to a local concert. Take a dip in the pool or the sea. Take a drive. Pull over and take millions of pictures of sunflowers or hay bales or whatever makes you smile.
Slow travel allows you to tailor your trip to your likes and dislikes in ways that tours and cruises aren't usually able to do. You don't like museums? Guess what? You don't have to go to any. Want to go white water rafting everyday? Ok. Pick a place that interests you and go there. My only caution is to also be open to new things. Be flexible. You never know what opportunities may arise.
Slow travel is a great way to share a travel experience with friends and family. You can rent small apartments or huge villas. This allows for fairly significant cost reductions and gives you the ability to be as independent or group-oriented as you want. I think this makes it easier for everyone to have a relaxing and fulfilling vacation.
These are just some things to think about and get you started. I know it's a little scary and seem like a lot of work, but planning can be fun. I think the payoffs and the experiences make the extra work completely worth it!