If there’s one skill I have mastered to perfection in my travels it is the art of slowing down.
Sure, I’ve done trips covering multiple cities in the space of a week. Like many young travellers, I’ve sped my way across Europe barely stopping to catch my breath. Those trips were all amazing in their own way, but when I look back on my travels over the last few years the trips that leave me with the most fond memories are the ones where I’ve stopped long enough to really enjoy what was around me.
It’s a phenomenon too often ignored in our busy, fast paced world. It is the art of slow travel.
What is slow travel?
Daydream with me for a moment, won’t you?
Picture this: you wake up on a Saturday morning in your Parisian apartment, the sound of market vendors setting up their fresh produce on the street below. You lazily wander to your wardrobe, picking out an outfit from the selection of clothes you have hanging neatly, not crumpled in the bottom of your suitcase.
You emerge from your apartment and head to your favourite café, picking up a coffee and chatting with the lovely shop owner before heading to the market to pick up delicious fresh fruits and cheese. You have the whole afternoon to laze around people watching, walking along the Seine and feeling like a local. You might check out a few of the touristy spots on occasion, but only if you feel like it. There’s no rush, no pressure. Just time to sit back, relax and imagine you’re a real Parisian for a few weeks.
Here’s the great thing about slow travel: it’s whatever you want it to be. If you want to spend a month in a cottage in the English countryside reading or painting or working on that novel you have burning within you, do it.
If you want to spend a few weeks learning Spanish in Madrid or Seville, do it.
If you want to base yourself in a city long enough to make new friends, experience a new culture and try new things… DO. IT.
Ironically, slow travel isn’t actually concerned with a snail’s pace method of getting from point A to point B (although spending a week or two travelling across Europe on a sleeper train is certainly an option).
It’s actually about the absence of travel: basing yourself in one place and not setting foot in an airport until you’re ready to go home. It’s about exploring every corner of the city or town you’ve chosen to spend time in on foot, hire car, by bicycle or however else you fancy.
When you’ve mastered slow travel you will never feel the pressure of making your connecting flight, or transferring trains three times with a heavy suitcase. You won’t need to rush anywhere, or carry a dozen flight numbers and booking references with you. It’s called bliss, folks. And it’s fabulous.
Hiring an apartment is one of the best ways to completely embrace the slow travel movement. Airbnb and similar sites are filled with apartments, cottages, houseboats and even tree houses all over the world.
Unlike hotel rooms that aren’t typically designed for long-term travel, apartments and other short-term rentals have the added benefit of feeling like a real home. There are kitchens with fridges big enough to store more than a can of soft drink, laundries to wash your things and wardrobes big enough to actually unpack. Most supply linen and anything else you might need. All you have to bring is you!
Where can I slow travel?
You can slow travel in any country in the world. It all comes down to personal preference. I have slow travelled in New York City, London, Oxford and Paris (with many more on my dream list).
If you’re unsure about a place, consider visiting for a few days before deciding to spend a month there. It’s also completely fine to keep going back to your favourite destination every year. I went back to NYC within a year of returning home for my second slow travel experience, and I am sure I will go back again. If a place really leaves an impression on you, you will always find a reason to go back.
Is slow travel right for me?
Here’s the truth: slow travel isn’t always going to work for everyone. You may not have enough vacation days, you may feel like you’re not making the most of your time away if you stay in one place, you may have commitments that mean you need to be in different places over a certain time frame… and that’s fine!
But remember, slow travel doesn’t have to mean spending six months in Costa Rica trekking through a rainforest. It can be spending a week in a city one hour away. It’s whatever you want it to be!
I knew slow travel was right for me the first time I tried it.
I loved being able to take my time with everything I wanted to see, rather than cramming in attraction after attraction into a few short days.
I loved finding my “regular” cafes, bakeries and pubs (with regular orders at each).
I loved being able to revisit museums and galleries I wanted to spend more time in.
I loved not feeling exhausted at the end of my trip, just satisfied that I’d seen more than I could have imagined.
Slow travel really allows you to get under the surface of a place. It enables you to see how people live in different areas and to take the time to appreciate what’s around you.
I’ll never stop slowing down.