The Joys of Slow Travel

Sitting outside a cafe on a mountain top in Austria sipping espresso while your kids are jumping on the trampoline ... Watching the parade of cows walk past your apartment as they head to the high pastures for the summer in a small Swiss village .... Arriving in glamorous and beautiful Portofino (Italy) on foot .....Hiking up to King Ludwig's little known (and very eccentric) hunting lodge in Bavaria.... Bicycling to a revolutionary war fort in Vermont.  These are just a few of the endless ways of experiencing what has now been given an official label and seal of approval as the Slow Travel movement.  Similar to the Slow Food movement, the Slow Travel is all about really tasting your travel experiences.

When we take the time to smell the roses (or look at the icicles, depending upon the season) and do less, we get so much more from travel.  More authentic experiences, more memories, more relaxation.  Henry David Thoreau, one of the original slow travelers, talked about the benefits of walking for creative thought when he said "Me think that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow."

Vacations should not be like hitting your head against the wall.  It should simply not feel so good when it stops.  Are we having fun yet?  We don't think so, if it means that you are rushing from site to site, shoving your bag out the door in the morning, and returning home after your trip having zoomed by a blur of must-see's that you didn't really see.  We remember one "if this is Tuesday it must be Belgium" family vacation when we were 14.  Both our sister and brother had days when they forgot to pull out essential items of clothing before shoving their suitcases out the door of their rooms pre-dawn.  While it was fun figuring how how to buy underwear in Italian (we'll let your imaginations fill in the blanks on the body language employed in a small clothing shop on the Italian Riviera), this story points up the frenzy associated with traveling quickly.  We Americans are a nation of overachievers, but we don't need to get an A in going on vacation. It is ok to give yourself permission to savor and slow down your vacation.  Other than giving generic advice to resist the urge to travel the fast lane on vacation, here are a few things that you can do to experience a rich, relaxing and fun trip:

  • Hoof it:  take the slowest mode of transportation possible.  Walking, bicycling, snowshoeing or boating are great ways to experience nature and the history of a place.  Get off the bus and go for a walk. An historic Vermont cellar hole is truly worth a thousand words but you won't see if from the bus or car.
  • Incorporate relaxation into your trip:  if you can afford to stay at a hotel that has a sauna or other spa facilities, then book it now, do not pass go.  Turn your hostel into a spa if you are not staying in a place without spa facilities. Take a bubble bath in the evening --- which means allowing yourself the time to relax and enjoy yourself.
  • Develop your itinerary and then cut it in half -- so you can take that bubble bath. :)
  • Really get to know a place by staying there at least a few days and ideally a week. This runs counter to the "getting something for my money" philosophy where people feel they need to change hotels daily or every other day.  Give yourself permission to unpack and relax.
  • Do your homework.  Find a base for the week that provides you with lots of interesting day trips and a friendly place to come home to in the evening.  Find a town that has great public transportation so that you can take a broad range of day trips.
  • Cathedrals are great, but try to sniff out more off-the-beaten track experiences that only the locals know about. For example, visit your guide's grandmother's farm for lunch.

At Bredeson Outdoor Adventures we have always believed that the joy of travel comes from lingering a while in a place.  Many of our trips are each based in one incredible location for a week, or in just a few locations.  Others, such as our Vermont trips and Tour du Mont Blanc employ feet, bikes, skiis or snowshoes to get to the next location. For a more information on Slow Travel, we recommend In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed, a book by Carl Honore that explores various "slow" trends.

Slow Travel, contrary to what it sounds like, is a very swift idea.  We hope to see you in the slow lane soon!