For some, travel is about putting as many miles on their rent-a-car as possible and making sure they get to every tourist spot in the guidebook. I get it. You might never return to Berlin. But what memories and emotions do you want to remember from your travels? The frustration of standing in long lines with crowds of people? The stress of rushing from one place to the next?
Slow travel is just what it sounds like, slowing down to experience each moment of your adventure. You’re not only traveling slower, you’re traveling more mindfully. To be mindful is to have greater awareness of the present moment. When you put your full attention on the present moment, you see so much more — not only with your eyes, but with ALL your senses.
Slow travel is a way to experience your true travel intentions
My mantra when I travel is “I may not see it all, but I’ll thoroughly enjoy what I see.” When I’m planning my next trip, it’s easy to forget my mantra. I’m going all the way to Europe, I might as well pack in as many destinations as I can, right? At that point I step back and remind myself of the intentions I’ve set for my trip.
To be relaxed
To experience local culture
To meet people
To try my best to speak the local language — at least some simple greetings
To have an adventure
And most importantly: To enjoy myself and feel good
You’ll have your own travel intentions, but isn’t that last bullet point what travel is really about? Nobody goes on vacation to feel lousy. Yet, for some reason, because we’ve chosen to go to Europe instead of lounging on a tropical beach, so many of us get it in our heads that our goal is to see as much as humanly possible in the time we have. Why not approach Europe like a day at the beach?
Slow travel means not being in a rush
You wouldn’t be rushed at a tropical getaway. Why rush Paris? If you only have a day to see the city, start your morning with a café au lait and a croissant at a local boulangerie and discover the true Paris with some people watching. Then go to the Louvre early (hopefully with a Paris Pass or Paris Museum Pass so you can circumvent the long lines) and spend the afternoon enjoying nature as your stroll through the Jardin des Tuileries. Be a tourist too, of course. Ride the Big Bus Tour where you can hop on and off to see the top city attractions at your own pace.
Slow travel lets you live like a local
If you have a week to explore Paris, rent an Airbnb apartment in a neighborhood and live like a Parisian. Ride the metro, go to a mass (even if you’re not religious), shop at the local stores. Buy fresh cheese, meat, bread and fruit at an outdoor market and enjoy a picnic in one of the city’s magnificent parks. When you spend more time in one place, after a day or two you start the transformation from tourist to feeling like a local.
Slow travel gets you off the tourist track
I run into Americans who say, “Don’t go to Venice. It’s just a mob of tourists.” Yes, Venice is a popular city, but when I ask them if they ventured away from Piazza San Marco, the answer is usually “no.”
As a slow traveler, you can do the touristy stuff and then you can get off the beaten path. Explore the back streets to experience the heart of a city. In Paris, Discover Tours are a great way to do this. The free tours are conducted by locals (and well worth a 10 Euro tip). When I visited Montmartre on a recent trip it was noisy and swarming with tourists. Later in the week I joined a Discover Tour conducted by a Montmartre resident and discovered a real neighborhood: the quiet back streets, the history and even a winery and vineyard!
Slow travel lets you choose the places and attraction that mean the most to you
Going at a slower pace means you won’t see everything — no human could! So prioritize and choose the areas, museums and attractions that mean the most to you. These are the ones you’ll truly enjoy.
Slow travel creates richer experiences
Rushing to see as much as you can in a day or two verses slow traveling through a city, is the difference between a grabbing a hotdog on the go and sitting down for a gourmet meal. When you slow down you are more present, more in the moment. Your mind isn’t racing and worrying about making it across town before the museum closes. You’re enjoying a conversation with a shop owner, savoring the region’s gourmet specialty, discovering a secret garden or participating in a local festival. It’s those memorable moments that make travel so much sweeter.
I understand the desire to see it all, but I urge you to keep your itinerary simple. Even if you have only a week, travel to one location and immerse yourself. Live like a local. Give yourself a more memorable, more relaxing and richer experience. And you can always come back.