Traveling Slow

Although it never occurred to me at the time, all of the different places we lived in during Brett’s time in the navy were in a sense a form of slow travel. We knew we weren’t going to live in any of these places permanently, but for a couple of years we had the time to make deeper connections to our location, staying long enough to engage with the community, eat and learn to prepare local foods, support local businesses, and learn about the local culture and history of a place, whether that was in in the U.S. or overseas.

Instead of having to rush to see all the famous sites in a short period of time, we were able to use our time to engage in neighborhood and community activities, attend and/or volunteer at festivals, learn to cook regional dishes, and find out what local residents liked to do. All the time spent at our different duty stations were intense cultural experiences, and even if we didn’t know it then, changed the way we viewed the world.

Slow travel is not about money or privilege, other than the privilege of time, but of making a temporary home in another place, even if that’s only for a week or so. It’s not about checking off a list of sites to see or activities to try, or seeing how much can be done, but about allowing oneself to do a slow exploration of what exists wherever one is.

Almost everyone, I believe, can agree on what “fast travel” is: a limited amount of time to get from Point A to Point B, squeezing in as much as possible along the way, whether that’s hitting the famous sites and then moving on, or squeezing in as many vacation activities as possible. That’s the only kind of travel many of us know or can do because our vacation and travel time has been or is limited by school or work schedules, or a lack of funds to do otherwise. I think we’ve all gone on vacation at one time or another and tried to “do it all,” and instead of returning home feeling relaxed,, and with experiences to ponder, we’ve instead felt exhausted and ready to go back to our regular routine to recover from the vacation.

Traveling slowly means changing beliefts of what travel means. Rather than focusing on the destination, with slow travel it’s the journey, from planning to saving to the actual trip and being there, that  becomes the central point of travel. The anticipation of visiting a new place and what you’ll see doesn’t get in the way – it’s just one piece of the whole. Slow travel is about taking the time to stop and soak in the environment versus trying to see and do everything, or check things off a list. It’s about being open up to learning and experiencing new things as well as different ways of looking at the world. It’s about giving back to your location rather than only taking from it.

Slow travel means being there. It’s about deceleration, making conscious choices and realizing that even if you are only going to be in a place for a week, you in fact have an abundance of time versus a scarcity of it.

My mother was an energetic traveler, but she always went somewhere with a list of famous places she wanted to visit, or ‘must-do’ activities, and checked them off as she saw or did them. That style of travel worked for her, and made her happy, but she also for the most part kept herself detached from her surroundings, and instead only felt secure in tour groups or with family, which was probably pretty normal for someone from her generation. I acquired my love of traveling from my mom, but I couldn’t be more different in how I like to travel. For some reason I am by nature a slow traveler, and prefer to stay away from tours and groups if at all possible. I still enjoy seeing famous sites, but I’m happiest staying in one place, living like a local as much as possible, and discovering new ways of seeing the world or approaching problems.

There is no right way to take a journey. Everyone should travel the way they feel is best for them based on their time, budget and what they want to see and experience. But once in a while, even if all you have is a week, maybe think about giving yourself the time to contemplate something different, something slower, and change your expectations of what travel has to be. What’s the rush?

6 thoughts on “Traveling Slow

  1. Laurel says:

    What a wonderful way to look at travel. And you’re lucky to have ‘slow traveled’ to so many locations.

    As I read this, I thought of my 4-1/2 years in N. California. We were able to really absorb the culture during the dot com rush, we did amazing weekend (and week long) trips all over the state, to Yosemite, etc., and now when I watch things happening there on the news, I feel a sense of knowing the area. You must feel that with many places.

    I’m torn on which way I like to vacation. The slower pace is appealing and I, too, dislike tours and group travel. But I always want to see all the sights, as I’m always sure I’ll never be back. Ha! This is my dilemma re: Italy, but I am narrowing my sites down after talking to my daughter who has been there twice recently. She knows me well and we like a lot of the same things, so when she says “you have to see this”, I believe her. Some of the other things may fall to the side in the interest of not killing myself.

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    • Laura says:

      There really is no “right” way to vacation. Sometimes doing it fast, and trying to see as much as possible is the way to go. We really weren’t slow traveling on our last trip to Japan – we had punch list of things we wanted to see and do in the middle of visiting with our son and family. It helped that he took vacation while we were there, and that our grandson was on spring break, so they were able to go with us on several outings. I’m really looking forward to the longer stays we have planned beginning in 2019, where we can just be there.

      I’ve never felt bad about not seeing everything. We lived in Key West for two years, a tiny place, and only saw Hemingway’s House the day before we left, but there were other places we never got to. Same for other places we lived. Right after we would leave we would ask ourselves why we never went someplace, but looking back now we never feel like we missed anything, and that we probably saw and did some things that others never get to experience.

      Like you, I’m not interested in killing myself on a trip just to “see it all.”

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  2. Jan Bo says:

    We had the deposit ready for a bucket list trip- Israel and Jordan. We lived so close, but never went. We have talked about it for five years. We have the money saved.
    And yet,
    the idea of 20 days away, traveling from city to city to see it all.
    We decided we could do without.
    We have slow traveled most of our married life. Many memories of enjoying a Bedouin camp in the desert or watching ships coming to rest from the South China Sea from PokFuLom apartments. My sister could never get why we would go to Rome and stay a week in one pension. To wander in and out of the Vatican was amazing.
    Now, we enjoy the grands nearby and the wonderful stream in our back yard. Life is good.
    Bon Voyage, enjoy it all for us. The pictures are a journey in and of themselves.

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    • Laura says:

      My mother could never understand why we would go to one place and stay there – she thought we should be out everyday, traveling far and wide. But, our best memories come from slow traveling – all I remember otherwise is that I saw a certain something, but nothing much beyond that.

      A friend and her husband used to take an annual 30-day vacation and go one place. They had no children so it was doable (we have always been constrained by school schedules). I envied them so much! Your travels and experiences are enviable as well.

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  3. Greg says:

    Absolutely agree with your comments, and I’m with you on “going local”. Love to get to know the local baker, grocer, etc.! To me, that’s how you really get a sense of the people, place, pace of life, etc.

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    • Laura says:

      It’s really special when you walk into a place, no matter where you are in the world, and you’re recognized and greeted. Living like a local gives you the time and opportunity to not only interact, but observe what’s going on, and start fitting the pieces together.

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