One reads so much these days about sustained travel – why it’s great and what’s so wonderful about living out of a backpack. Well, we have a story to tell – and a few points for budding travellers out there to consider. What if it’s possible to travel differently? That’s what we’re doing with slow travel. Yes the movement seems more akin to the slow food movement – sustainability, eco-friendly lodges and walking through the Yorkshire Dales with nothing but a pair of Hunter wellies and a map, but what we do is a little different.
I’ve talked before about moving around slowly and that’s at the heart of what we do. To recap – we left London over a year ago and travelled via train all the way to the beautiful town of Annecy in France, where we spent 7 months, all the time exploring the wilderness, eating in everything from luxurious fondue restaurants to local burger haunts and generally living like one would as a local. From there we’ve explored small towns, lakes and mountains – eaten all kinds of cuisine, crossed the border into Switzerland and got to grips with what it’s like to live in the Haute Savoie region of France. This year we moved on and now lurk around a slightly different locale – Tuscany and the gorgeous city of Florence. To say the two are different is a vast understatement. Here we drink cocktails in hotel bars and chic (ish) cocktail bars, eat a plethora of cuisines from Japanese to Roman, and visit beautiful countryside locales and exquisite cities like Venice and Rome. In between all of this, as we did in London before, we take other trips too – later this year we’ll be going to Austria and Hungary – we’re planning trips to Japan and China – all from our base in Italy. We move around Europe slowly but we plan on seeing the whole world.
THAT is what this is all about for us. A connection to local places, seeking out things that one would never find on a two week trip, finding hidden treasures in local bars and smaller attractions and hearing travellers tales and local folklore. We love slow travel because that’s what it offers us – a glimpse into other walks of life, a chance to live in cities not just visit them and see what makes each place tick.
After over a year of sustained travel, we’ve come to realise that there are more benefits of slow travel than what we initially realised….I’ve tried to add some initial impressions here – mostly things that I think will appeal to a broad range of people…and hopefully give you a little something to think about.
The Benefits Of Slow Travel
Slow travel opens the door to all kinds of experiences. People often talk about the cultural differences of countries - and as a tourist or traveller you get exposed to that, but as a slow traveller you are thoroughly immersed in it. From renting a flat in Italy (an interesting experience) to navigating the French language and forcing yourself to learn a little more than Je ne parle pas français, while in France, as well as getting to that pivotal moment where when ordering a coffee, buying a whole bagful of cheese or accepting a parcel - a language spills out of your mouth terribly, but apparently coherently for the first time.
We spent 7 months in Annecy and during our last week decided to cycle once more around the lake. We took several detours as usual and this time stumbled across a beautiful grotto hidden in the mountainside, covered in religious relics and spiders - bereft of people entirely. To clarify there were hundreds of people just 10 minutes away and not one of them thought of going down the street with local shops and a pretty church as it wasn't in the guidebook. We say - make your own guidebook! Slow travel opens up your eyes - you see the same thing a few times and it starts to look a little different - your discovery of those little worlds within worlds begins.
Watching The Changing Seasons
One of my most favourite things in life is watching as seasons change from summer to autumn and winter to spring. The scents of autumn are so evocative as the last heat of summer turns to cold breezes and the skies begin to darken earlier. Then, as spring flowers start to fight through winter frost and the signs of a new summer start to flourish. It's nature at its most captivating. Now imagine travelling slowly and seeing all of that in a whole new place. Last year we were in awe as autumn turned to winter in the mountains - it was magical as the peaks all around us began to reach into the clouds and then reappeared snow-capped for the first time. There was a day last year in Annecy when the snow cleared and we thought Spring was coming - the sun was hot and the sky was blue - but then in less than 24 hours, the same pristine blue lake from the day before, became once more a snowed in block of uninhabitable icy water.
Eating & Drinking
When slow travelling you no longer need to check listing sites or guidebooks for reference for the best bars and restaurants. Have you ever compared the Tripadvisor ratings with your favourite restaurant in your city? No more relying on tourists who suddenly lower their expectations because they only had 30 minutes before their train and found an accommodating restaurant. No Sir. Explore the very boundaries of taste in whichever restaurant you please. Find a favourite? Great - go back next time too. No rush, no giving up your unparalleled taste for chain restaurants whose menu is printed on a flyer. NO. Even better? A local bar. Yes we found a local bar and we love it - though it's not so great according to Tripadvisor.
Indulge in life
So you've backpacked for the last 5 years and realise that you miss a few things from back home? You no longer play an instrument because there's no room on your back and there's no more time for painting, collecting things, exploring your creative side - whatever. Not so with slow travel. I still write music, admittedly with less equipment - but I carry a midi-keyboard and a drum machine with me as well as a graphic tablet and a small collection of books. My kitchen is full of ingredients - from Hungarian Paprika to Thai fish sauce - and I practise cooking constantly. I have a few games on my laptop but we also travel with a console as I still love to game as much as possible. Slow travel can help one continue at least in part, in doing the things they loved to do at home - and sometimes we just need those things. You just have to be prepared to ship a box or two every few months.
Wine & Cheese
Fine, this one is incredibly personal. I love wine and cheese. So far we've lived in two regions that are popular for wine and cheese. Yes, there is an element of choice in slow travel - like everything else. But imagine living and working for a few months in your favourtie wine regions, your favourite cities for nightlife or the country whose language you're desperately trying to learn. Whatever the motivation - slow travel can help immerse you into whatever it is that you love.
Generally Slowing Down
Modern life is a tangle of cliches but lets explore some anyway. From my perspective in London: caught on the tube for hours, squashed into the corner of a tube car listening to arguments, treading on toes, rush to work, hating work, crossing bridges with more than a thousand people on them, squashed against glass, skipping lunch, sleeping 5 hours if you're lucky, and listening to a thousand people everyday whine about these very same things. Okay - that's more of an argument for freelance home working - which is possibly what started all of this. But equally, all of these things can be found on the tourist trail too - albeit in slightly different guises . Slowing down, untangling your life and your travel experiences - is not just a benefit - it's a life changer that has so many positive effects.
Meeting an eclectic collection of people
So far the collection of people has been staggering. From builders to erotic masseurs in Annecy to designers and students in Florence - we meet all types - mainly because we frequent all kinds of different places. We find out about bars outside of the main town, we goto all kinds of clubs (so many stories - too many), we visit cafes and local eateries and sometimes my accent just gives me away to travellers in need of directions.
Who needs an excuse to do nothing? Too many people it would seem. While slow travelling, it's wonderful sometimes to just sit back and watch the world go by. I love to indulge in a little of my favourite French sport - Flânerie.
Saying No To Queues
Finally a subject very close to my heart. No more queues. No really. I never go anywhere when I know I have to queue. I'm English - I've spent more than enough time queuing. When going slow, spending time to find the quietest time, less queues, day when all the American tour groups have left to find themselves in a temple in Thailand etc., becomes VERY simple. To illustrate the time you're wasting waiting in line, the good people at Get Your Guide have given me permission to use their wonderful little infographic - which illustrates perfectly just how slowing down, planning ahead or indeed spending more time to get to know a place can... well... speed you up.
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