My first major trip was the standard college tour around Europe, weighed down with my backpack. At the time, I thought that would be my only opportunity to see all of Europe, so I did just that. I didn’t even bother unpacking, because I’d move from a city within a couple of days. It was exhausting.
Since then, travel has taken a precedent in my life (obviously. You’re reading my travel blog!). I now don’t view any trip as my only opportunity to explore a place, and so my philosophy about travel has changed.
In 2010, we took a family trip to Paris for 5 weeks. It was a completely different experience. We rented an apartment, not a hotel room, and spent a lot of time in our neighborhood in the 18th Arrondissement near Montmartre. We bought groceries at the market a few blocks away. We got to know Abdel, the owner of the kebab shop. We felt, maybe only a little, like locals.
Then, years later, I stumbled across the term Slow Travel. There’s a philosophy that, much like the Slow Food Movement, supports savoring time spent. In this case, it’s time spent traveling. So rather than trying to compete for the most stamps in your passport, you spend more time in a single place and get a sense of it. It’s hard to do that when you stay in a hotel and eat at crap restaurant that only tourists frequent.
Last year in Provence, I was more attuned to the concept of Slow Travel, and was ready to commit to it. It’s a challenge at times, because there are so many places around you, and it’s tempting to pack everything up and explore another destination. We nearly took a side trip to Morocco just because it was closer than ever, and really affordable. But we committed to Provence, with day trips and a four-day side trip to Italy, and I’m glad we did.
People tend to not see you when you’re traveling as a tourist. You’re an annoyance, really. You don’t speak the language or don’t know how to decipher a menu. We definitely had that prejudice working against us when we arrived in Pignans, but after a few weeks, people got used to seeing our faces, and they warmed up to us.
I’ve also noticed that as much Internet research as I do on a place, I can never really grasp the layout until I visit. For example, I assumed Pignans was a place we could easily walk to other towns from or take trains from, but the busy highways and lack of solid train system in the area made that unrealistic. So even with the best planning, sometimes you’ve got to modify your plans. Spending enough time in a place allows you to do that.
What about you? Do you come home from a vacation more exhausted than you were before simply because you tried to do too much? Or are you enamored with Slow Travel like I am?