I hadn’t been to Europe in many years, so I spontaneously decided to ‘dash’ across the pond with my carry-on and explore some new cities and countries. It would be just like the days of my youth: me, a carry-on, hopping on and off trains and trams, feeling light and free.
The experience wasn’t what I thought it would be! I got tired more quickly than I would have imagined. What had once been fun and easy was now challenging. Maybe I wasn’t up to it.
The stairs, the cobblestones. ‘Hopping’ on and off trains and trams was more like negotiating trains and trams as I took a deep breath and hoisted my carry-on up on board, wincing for the knees.
Being 66 at home was one thing and being 66 on the road was another. Suddenly, my knees hurt, my feet were tired, I was weary, and I couldn’t enjoy things in the way I wanted to. I got a wee bit depressed. So, I took myself out to a cafe and had a good think.
The day-in day-out pace of being a tourist, out in public, was relentless. What I really wanted was to stay in the room, watch the French Open on the telly and chill. But I didn’t spend all that money to fly across the Atlantic to sit in a hotel room in Amsterdam, did I?
I decided to plan nothing for the next day. I got up late. I went to a chic little sandwich shop for lunch, sat at the window counter sipping a cappuccino and people-watched. I chatted with the owner about what it was really like to live in Amsterdam.
Afterwards, I ‘just’ wandered.
I sat by a canal and watched the barges pass by. I learned how someone moves in a flat on a canal, an elaborate rig of a truck ladder hoisting furnishings high up into the air through the windows. I watched a photographer take pictures of a tutu clad ballerina, balancing on pointe on the canal bridge.
The next day, I took a knitting workshop in a famous little yarn place. I sat at a table with 11 Dutch women, enjoyed pastries and coffee as we knit together and learned a new technique from a Russian knit designer who lived in Virginia.
This felt like the kind of travel I wanted to do. Doing less, feeling more. Living the local life. This is slow travel!
Slow travel is the opposite of fast travel, just like slow food is the opposite of fast food. Slow travel means traveling better, deeper, richer. It’s more nourishing. It’s every bit as fabulous.
Slow travel means slowing down. There’s no need to rush anymore, to cram everything into a two-week vacation. I am retired, I don’t have the usual time constraints that previously defined my work life.
You can slow the pace in two ways: The first is to do less in a short period of time. The second is to take a longer vacation and do ‘everything’ in a longer period.
Slow travel means traveling in the way Dame Maggie Smith and Helena Bonham Carter did in A Room with a View.
In those days, people traveled at a glacial pace, taking months, even years for travel. When they went to a museum they could really concentrate on the expositions because they weren’t exhausted. They could go back to the museum another day and take it all in again, enjoying.
Crowds are tiring and unpleasant. Try walking the Nine Streets in July. No, thank you. Off season means different things depending on where you live and where you travel.
For me, this means Europe in February or March. It means Glacier National Park in September when families are all back home and kids are back in school. Off season travel is less expensive too, as the rates drop.
My new mantra is “Do one good thing a day.” If I can have one good, slow, thoughtful, pleasurable visit in a museum in a day, that’s fine. I don’t have to cram in a museum, a canal ride, shopping and a fine dining experience.
Slow travel for me means setting up ‘camp’ in a country or a city, most probably in a rented flat as a home base.
Now, I will discover the city I’m in, and live like a local. I’ll shop at the market, become a regular in a cafe, go out to sit and watch the sunset. It’s about feeling the pace and quality of life, instead of doing things all the time. I can take excursions and then have a rest day, or a few.
If I want to switch cities or countries, the distances in Europe are smaller. After a week or two in one place, I can travel on to the next destination. Renting flats and cooking my own meals makes this slower travel more affordable.
On a transit day, do nothing but travel. When you arrive in your new place, don’t throw down your suitcase and dash out the door. Rest. Relax. After a while, discover your new neighborhood, buy some groceries, sit in a cafe and get the feel of the place.
Spend the money on the taxi or Uber when you’re tired. When you travel less, you have more money to spend on things that can affect the exhaustion of your travel.
What are the things that most overwhelm you about travel? Do you have any tips you can share about your travel experiences? How do you feel about “slow travel?” Please share in the comments below.
Elizabeth Dunkel is a writer and novelist who has lived in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico for 25 years. She is the Creative Director of Camp Liza www.campliza.com, a personal blog about stylish and creative living. “A thoughtful life is a luxe life.” Elizabeth is the proud founder of the Merida English Library. She discovered a second career as a CELTA certified teacher of ESL and is Merida’s first, only and best college coach www.superenglishmerida.com.