When I was living abroad, it was natural and easy to travel slow. With a home base in another country, I had virtually all the time in the world to venture to neighboring cities and discover the nuances of my temporary home. Now that I’m based in Toronto, however, and traveling in one or two week spurts, I’ve been finding I have to work harder to bring my style to travel slow to these short trips. Here’s how I’m doing it.
Do Your Research
In the past, I’ve been guilty of researching which places are important to see but not why they’re important. For most people, slow travel is synonymous with more meaningful travel, and knowing something about the history or cultural context of a place goes a long way towards traveling deeper.
I love reading narrative essays or memoirs about a country before visiting because it helps me to develop a more personal relationship with that place. For example, before I moved to Japan I read Hitching Rides with Buddha, a memoir about a man who hitchhiked across the country (it’s still one of my all-time favorite books!) The author wrote about Japanese culture in such an intimate, affectionate way that I arrived in the country feeling like I was coming back to a place I already knew and loved. Of course, I still had to develop my own first-hand impressions of Japan but I like to think my perspectives were more insightful because they were well-informed.
Scale Down Your Itinerary
I feel a disproportionate amount of shame if I’m talking about a particular destination with someone, and I have to admit that I didn’t see or do some major thing they mention. I suffer from FOMO as much as the next person, so I’m the first to admit that cutting down on activities and attractions can be difficult especially when you are trying to travel slow on a short trip.
I like to pick one or two things to do each day. This allows me to take my time, compose thoughtful photos, and reflect on how it feels to be in this particular place. You don’t necessarily have to make your itinerary quite as minimalist as I tend to, but even cutting out just a few extra museums, monuments, or markets can make a huge difference in improving the quality of your experiences.
Ask for Recommendations From Everyone
I constantly seek out recommendations from as many different sources as I can: Travel forums, other blogs, Twitter followers, local taxi drivers, and anyone else patient enough to answer me. Sometimes, the same restaurants or attractions keep getting suggested and I feel confident that they’re definitely worth my time. In other cases, I connect with one particular person who seems to share my travel values and so I focus on their recommendations. As a result, I feel like the itineraries I create for myself are more personalized and thorough than they might be if I simply made my plans based on tourism websites and travel guides. And in turn, I have an easier time keeping my itinerary small when I feel like I’ve narrowed the absolute best things to see and do.
Tying into my earlier point about research, taking the time to learn a few words of the local language helps with asking for these recommendations. Almost all of my most interesting conversations with locals happen because I learned simple phrases like “How are you?” or how to explain where I’m from. Making this small effort often motivates people to work through the language barrier with me, teach me a few more words, or warm up to me enough to share some recommendations.
Minimize Your Technology Use
I travel with plenty of gear because my career basically depends on working on my laptop and taking photos while I’m on the road. That said, I make an effort to put it all away as often as I can during the trip (sometimes I’m better at this than others).
I try to spend some time looking at a beautiful place first, before immediately scrambling to take photos of it. I bring a notebook and a pen to dinner and take notes about the experience by hand, rather than scrolling through Instagram on my phone the whole time. These are things I try to do in general when I’m traveling, but particularly when I’m on a short trip and want to travel slow, I make an extra effort to really “be” in that place consciously as much as I can.
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