Alex Leviton and her three traveling companions were whisked away by handsome men in tuxedos in a small town in Umbria. The ladies had asked for directions to a local restaurant, that night’s destination, and ended up in a Fiat. Alex was unsure, really, if these men were going to drop them off at the eatery or take them somewhere less savory.
As luck would have it, these men were waiters at the Camesena restaurant and every member of the car had the same destination. It was the serendipitous start to a beautiful and perfect Italian evening. The Umbrian restaurant was on a hill overlooking the countryside. The sun was setting and the food bountiful; it was a postcard perfect evening. Over stuffed zucchini flowers, ricotta-filled canneloni, and chickpea fritters and in the company of an Italian Count, Alex and her friends experienced the best that Umbria, save Italy, had to offer.
This evening, among many others, that Alex Leviton, former Lonely Planet author, travel app writer, and digital editor of Gogobot, showed the essence of Slow Travel. Slow travel is not travel by a to do list or “Should Sees”, it’s about quality time in a destination versus quantity of sites.
“Slow travel is not having an agenda to see what you think you should see.
It’s traveling with an open mind and heart to take in what the culture wants to show you.”
Amen to that. Alex has studied slow travel since she found out about the slow food movement on a trip to Italy. Thinking that it could apply to travel, she made slow travel the ethos of her trips. Here are her tips and resources for taking the time to allow a place and culture to reveal its wonders.
Get Rid of the To Do List
In 60 hours in Rome, I checked off a traveler’s to do list and felt exhausted at the end. My race to the Sistine Chapel to beat the crowds meant a shallow glimpse at the Vatican works of art. Overall, I was on a scavenger hunt to see the ancient wonders, just checking off tick boxes instead of feeling their history or finding out what made Rome, Rome.
After eight months of traveling in Europe, Alex went to Paris, a city where she’d never been. Instead of visiting the Louvre or the Eiffel Tower, she parked herself on a bench in the Luxembourg Gardens and watched families float sailboats in the ponds. Nothing out of guidebooks there…except witnessing the family dynamics of a foreign culture. There are no “shoulds” or “to do lists” in slow travel. It’s the perfect time to be self-indulgent and follow your own itinerary, one that comes from within and not a guidebook.
Photo credit: ktylerconk on Flickr
Slow travel, Alex admits (and I concur) is easier to do by yourself. If there’s no guidebook to set an agenda, there doesn’t need to be another person to either. I’ve found on my own travels alone, the solo part works wonderfully with a slow pace.
Traveling solo, I can a miss a train or leave early. I can sit at a Barcelona café in silence and observe the Las Ramblas parade for hours. I can ponder any deeper meaning of a bad romance novel while looking out past my very tan toes at the Red Sea without worrying if someone else is having a good time. Traveling solo also opens you up to meeting locals, which is a whole other way a culture reveals itself. Alex ended up waitressing on a Turkish sailboat by joining up with new found Turkish friends from a chance encounter, one that may not have happened if she’d been traveling with a partner.
Take a Walking Tour
Photo by Infomatique on Flickr
Walking by nature is slow. We walk at a pace where we can stare at the details of a city and view the layers of time. In Fez, Morocco, I received a much needed walking tour of the ancient Medina. The two-donkey width passageways were slow going as it is, but I know I never would have felt the Arabian Nights vibe of the city if I had done the walk by myself (partially because I would have been hopelessly lost). Fatima, the tour guide, took me through the olive and meat markets, led me up a narrow passage way for a view of the tanneries, wheeled and dealed with the sellers at a carpet shop in a grand riad, and found just the perfect hole-in-the-wall restaurant, which was run by a family for what seemed centuries.
Photo by El Mostrito on Flickr
Challenge Yourself to See Something Different
At a slower pace and without a to do list, you have time to try something a little different. I don’t like opera, but when I visit Italy again, I will take the time to see an opera. Why? Because it’s Italian culture and may reveal to me something about that I had never known nor felt. Or I might be bored in a very beautiful setting surrounded by cultured Italians.
Photo by Italian Embassy on Flickr
With slow travel, it’s OK to not like something because we have the time for trial and error. On a tighter schedule, perfectionism and “safe choices” may take over because we are afraid that if we do something different, it may not be perfect. And that’s OK. The beauty of travel is found in surprises and serendipity and when we slow down, we allow that beauty to find us.
Read Before You Go
Photo by Florin Gorgon on Flickr
Slow travel is deeper travel and one of the best ways to get deeper into a culture is to read books before you go. No, not the stack of Lonely Planets, Moon Guides, Time Outs, or Frommer’s tomes, you’ll be spending plenty of time in those on the road. We’re talking historical novels, narrative non-fiction, murder mysteries, and classics that illuminate the culture and a time in the place’s history. Right now, Alex is reading the History of Rome. I’ve just finished City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi about the history of Delhi, India. We both agree – reading the books before you go not only adds to the excitement, but gives a peak of what the culture will reveal. Lonely Planet guidebooks have a list of books to read before visiting the city.
Slow travel can happen even on the restricted American’s vacation diet. Even with a week away, pick one place and stay there. Find a less touristy neighborhood, park yourself there and get to know the neighbors and markets. It’s really about the quality time.
How do you slow travel?
- You can find Alex’s app Umbria Slow: Food, Culture and Travel in the iTunes and App store.
- A book that needs to go on your pre-travel reading list: Stories from Around the Globe by the Bay Area Travel Writers. I slow traveled over India and one of those beautiful experiences is on page 91.