Road trips bring out the inner child in me, and not in a good way. "Ugh, are we there yet? We should’ve just flown. How much further? Can we listen to something else?" No, these are not ruminations of a 9-year-old in the back seat of the car. They are the actual running dialogue, both inside my head and coming out of my mouth, when I embark on a road trip.
Let's face it. Unless you're independently wealthy or a pathological workaholic, you don't have more vacation days than you know what to do with. Time spent on the road is time I'm not getting to spend in the place I'm trying to get to. Add an old back injury and carsickness, and I max out at about four hours of sitting in the car in the same position.
So, if you hate road trips, what options do you have if you still want to slow travel? Many. At its heart, slow travel fosters richer, more authentic experiences. It's a state of mind that emphasizes the journey, not the experience, and for me that journey begins when I arrive in my destination. The fact that I like to get where I'm going fast, and preferably by air, doesn't exclude me from slow travel. It just means I want to spend the time that I have savoring that destination, rather than spending it getting there.
The trips I love the most take me far away to places that take me out of my comfort zone to experience new cultures, food, music, sights and people. Looking back, my husband and I have been slow traveling for the past few years now without even knowing it.
There are of course the bucket list items that we know we'll want to see in each city we've visited, but we discovered some of the best food, most interesting places and beautiful scenery when we stepped out on the street from our hotel and just started walking. We don't have any particular destination in mind, we're just taking it all in, enjoying the experience and each other.
Much of our food while traveling is slow food. To this day, the best gyro I've ever had was in an Athens open air market. It was a little corner stand with two barstools and a counter. We sat there in no particular hurry, eating and watching vendors sell their goods to locals and tourists.
The next day, a pretty white and blue building caught our eye, and next thing you know we're eating lunch on the roof, trying Greek delicacies with a view of much of the city.
In Rome, we wandered down a quiet street and found an adorable gelato shop run by a sweet Italian couple.
I've also realized in hindsight that I have interests and hobbies that are perfectly suited to slow travel. As someone with a deep love for history, I take time to appreciate the path I'm walking.
What monumental world event occurred in the very place I'm standing? How was the course of world history forever changed? I also love to take photos of my travels, capturing moments in time to remember how I felt, in places I may never get to see again.
Photography has led me down streets and pathways I probably would never have gone down, revealing unique places that I'll never forget. Like taking the long way to an aquarium in Barcelona so we could walk along the beach, hiking up hills and walkways to see Toledo from the perfect vantage point, stopping into souvenir and candy shops along the way. Or finding parks with quaint covered walkways that aren't part of any must-see list, but that adds to our personal experience and unique journey through the city.
As counterintuitive as it seems, slowing down allows you to ultimately experience more, and that's the beauty of it. After a slow, windy bus ride from Barcelona, we took a train up a mountain 12,000 feet to see a 12th century monastery in the sky. Breathtaking doesn't even begin to describe it. It was a paradigm shift, opening our eyes to different ways of life and environments.
Meaningful, authentic travel can come from an activity as simple as people-watching in a plaza at night, watching kids play hacky sack, tourists from all over the world, and couples on their first date, surrounded by an 18th century mosque, a 10th century church and the ancient Parthenon atop the Acropolis.
Slow travel isn't about how many days you have or how many places you see. It's a state of mind that allows you to actually have a vacation on your vacation. In every city I've traveled to, there is something I didn't get to see. The line was too long, it was raining, it was too hot, there wasn't enough time, and that's okay because we traveled the way we wanted to and experienced each city in a way that's uniquely ours.
Whether you're ready to jump into the slow travel movement head first or just dip your toes in the water, there are small ways that you can make your next vacation more authentic, restful and inspiring.
Leave Gaps in Your Itinerary
Pencil in the must-see places that you couldn't leave the city without seeing, but don't predetermine every minute of every day. Allow time for exploring, spontaneity and a more leisurely pace.
Stay Longer in One Place
Instead of traveling to five different cities in a 10-day trip, narrow it down to two or three. When we travel to Europe, my husband and I each pick a city that we'll spend four of five days in during a 10-day trip.
Limit Your Time at Tourist Attractions
Some places are so iconic that you'll hate yourself if you don't see it—think the Eiffel Tower, Mayan ruins at Tulum, Acropolis in Athens—but with a little research or spontaneity, you'll see that filling your days with tourist trap after tourist trap isn't an enjoyable experience.
Buy Locally Made Souvenirs
One thing I always buy whenever we travel abroad is locally made cooking ingredients. Whether it's pure vanilla from Mexico, custom salt and spice blends from Athens or olive oil from Rome, I feel better about buying local products to support local economies and each time I use them at home, the smells trigger fond memories.
It's not the end of the world if plans change last minute because plan B might just be the experience of a lifetime.
Talk to Locals
When in doubt, ask locals for recommendations, because when in Rome, do as the Romans do isn't just a saying, it's a guaranteed way to enjoy your yourself while gaining a deeper understanding of the surroundings, community and culture.