Here's how we incorporate slow travel during our fast around the world trip.
By now, you know that we've cashed in every frequent flyer point we've ever earned - 80,000 each - to fly around the world. In economy! That's 9 flights, 9 countries, in just 3.5 weeks. Recently, someone remarked that I should make sure to take the time to enjoy it. Of course I will! Quick, compact trips don't have to feel rushed. I believe you can experience some "slow travel" on a fast schedule.
What Is Slow Travel?
Slow travel is a lifestyle for many, and a trend for some. While it's often associated with value and budget travel (you can save so much more by staying in put in one place, avoiding planes etc), the movement is more of a philosophical one.
Proponents advocate taking the time to really know a location, forming connections with residents, and appreciate the history and culture. Their money stays the communities they visit and rarely goes to corporate entities. Their environmental impact is lessened and they can make meaningful volunteer contributions.
Great in Theory, But...
I like this philosophy, but it's not going to be the best fit for us on this trip. Our time is limited and we each have full time jobs, financial commitments, and Example Residents (Isn't he cute?) in our house to care for.
We also have diverse interests and we want to see as much as we can in the limited vacation time we have. We love unique experiences, cultures, histories, stories, food, drink, environments and we want to experience it all.
We are also "on the go" folks. We aren't the type to linger. Everyone comments on my "mission walk" - I am always on the move! We are visiting some new locations - going to Asia and Australia for the first time - and we want to get a taste for several regions as a base for planning of future trips.
Can you experience slow travel on a fast schedule? I think so. But any traveler can fall into a trap of trying to cram too much into a day. We want to enjoy ourselves, not be cranky and tired as we try to rush from A to B.
So I'm developing some strategies to help us stop and smell the roses as we dash around the world.
The Pros and Cons of Overnight Flights.
We're doing several overnight flights. This will be interesting! I don't usually sleep well on planes, so I plan on being drugged up a bit! I'm hoping to multitask a bit of transportation with sleep, rationalizing that it's better to have a slow and low-key day once we arrive after an overnight instead of losing 100% of that day in a plane.
Planning and Preparation.
Preparation can take more time than you think. Try prepping and organizing on your usual downtime (for me, this would be in the hotel room the night before departure). You would just be puttering around anyway - make it productive and don't waste your peak travel and sightseeing hours on routine organization.
Making Jet Lag Work For You.
I'm also thinking of ways to turn our jet lag misery into time well spent, not time wasted in a hotel room, dead to the world. We managed to do this in Maui, planning on what do to when wide awake, so I'm confident that we can make this work the other way for when we're tired. Lounging in a cafe, a bookstore, a gallery garden, or a little pub, or sitting at the waterfront with a drink are all very low energy ways to recover from jet lag with little cost and little effort.
You'll be forced to stay awake, which is usually a good thing with jet lag, and the fresh air and fresh environment will be healthy. While you may not physically be doing much, you'll still be enjoying pretty sites or cityscapes, enjoying architecture or nature, and appreciating, well, stuff to drink!
Learn From The Past.
We are often tired on day 3, with all the travel catching up with us. It will be a relaxed day for us and we'll take advantage of our "travel high" by doing more and seeing more on days 1 and 2. We've already tried to incorporate our Day 3/4 plans for this trip based on it.
We feel we get the most out of a day by travelling early in the morning. We've tried doing half a day in one location, travelling in the early afternoon, and then having the late afternoon and evening in a second location. Sounds good in theory, but doesn't work for us. "Half a day" becomes just an hour or two by the time you pack, organize, account for delays.
Embracing Different Schedules
I've learned that I'm often more tired in the evening, whereas my husband can tire in the afternoon and gets a second wind late at night. Rather than arguing or forcing yourself into sightseeing when you won't enjoy it, I turn otherwise wasted time into downtime, balancing a busy day. I'll go book shopping when he rests in the afternoon. If he wants to go for a walk or visit a pub at night, and I am tired, I can enjoy my books, catch up on my writing, indulge in baked treats.
Odd Hours and Opportunity
When you have no choice to travel mid-day, come up with a strategy before you leave home. Is this the day to splurge on a private tour guide? Or maybe a spa treatment, opera tickets, or wine tasting? Can you securely leave your bags at the hotel after checkout so you can enjoy a few hours at a gallery before you leave for the train station?
Do you know the bus schedule well enough so you can relax and enjoy your morning without worry? Is there something unique or special to see at the airport -while you're waiting around? Will venues and attractions be open late afternoon and evening?
Think outside the box. Will a house of worship have an evening service you can attend, even though the daily tours are done? Many museums offer one late night a week - take a chance and visit a quirky one that fits your schedule.
We're going to be spending an unusual amount of time in Istanbul - mid afternoon to late evening. This is a good example when we can't travel at our "best" hours, so we're brainstorming ideas to make the most of our time. Maybe that will be the one night we splurge and just have a grand meal in a posh hotel, before catching the airport shuttle back to base.
Time Well Wasted!
It's not very relaxing to force yourself out of bed early to be the first in line for an art gallery. But this is what I always do. I feel like I get incredible value for my time to wake up early, grab some delicious pastries from an opening bakery, and quietly watch the city wake up as I wait for the doors to open. It may seem counter-intuitive, but sometimes getting yourself up early allows you the chance experience slow travel on a condensed amount of time. I once had the Musée d'Orsay - one of the most famous and renowned art galleries in the world - completely to myself for 20 minutes one morning.
It is one of my fondest travel memories. Years later, when travelling with a friend, we waited nearly 3 hours to get in, starting at 1pm. The crowds were horrendous, and we were left with just 30 minutes to "enjoy" ourselves before she had to leave for her train. What an waste of time and money! Cut back on sleeping in, see everything you want in a leisurely, enjoyable manner, then delight in an afternoon nap.
Take a Walk!
I'm already planning to take some walking tours in different cities. I've loved walking tours ever since my university days as a broke, solo traveler. They offer great value, and combine exercise, socializing, and travel in one great excursion.
As a woman travelling alone, they were a great way to explore safely and confidently after dark and I felt a bit braver as a result. And, as an obsessive independent, list making traveler, it was a refreshing break to turn thing over to a guide.
Tour guides can get a bad rap, but they can also show you neighbourhoods you would never discovered on your own, especially if you're only in town for a short time. And they can also show you things that aren't always your peak interest and you can broaden your horizons.
Find a Theme!
I think the idea of a theme makes sense for a short visit. Food in Bangkok - wine in Australia - literature in Paris - buildings in London. If you focus on a theme, you can see and do a lot in a short amount of time and create solid memories. We always think, dream, breath coffee when we remember our trip to Hawaii and it's been a central interest which unites our trips there. I'm looking forward to doing the same on this trip.
Take a class. Even a short, afternoon class can be an escape from the tourist trail and a chance to indulge a passion. I've been reading up on afternoon culinary schools in Bangkok. We're only there for 2 days, and there is so much running around we could do, so many things to see. Or we could chase down what we're really looking forward to -food! - and make it memorable.
Finally, focus on what makes you happy. It's nice to challenge yourself, but it's your trip and your happiness on the line. As long as you're being respectful to local residents and the environment, I say anything goes. Go against the grain of conventional travel wisdom if it works for you.
For example, every guidebook I read said to plan for a full day at Pearl Harbor. We were interested in seeing the memorial and we enjoy history, but we felt that our visit was full and satisfactory after just a few short hours. We found it a very informative and moving experience and we took a lot away from our visit. It was the best fit and best choice for us.
I love mornings reading on bed when I'm on vacation - I also love making a list of 10 things to see in a morning and breezing through all of them. I could spend hours writing in a cafe. And I rarely spend more than a few hours in any museum -even the most famous in the world. I'm a history and art lover, but I feel I get the best enjoyment from a quick walk through in the quiet early morning, then joining a guided tour when things get congested.
What works for us may not work for you. We love a lot of planning, but allowing ourselves flexibility when we're on the road. No matter your style or your schedule, you can get the most out of your vacation and spend the entire time smelling the roses no matter what you are doing!
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