Why fulfilling my dream of traveling more turned me into a slow travel kind of person.
That’s it, I though, running my hand through my hair in an exasperated move. I was about to cry. My hands were shaking. I was tired, I was at my limit. I needed to go away from going away. I needed to slow down… To slow travel.
Watching the sunset from the Castelo de São Jorge, in Lisbon. What that peaceful image does not show is how I was freezing for 2 hours waiting for the perfect light to have this shots…
I know I’m lucky. Some would consider me privileged. I had just came back from my second week-long trip over the last 2 months. I had been to beautiful places, lived some unique experiences, met wonderful people, seen things only a few people got to see. I had a lot to say… But still could not write a thing. I had a thousand of beautiful photos to share… but I didn’t even feel like looking at them. I was exhausted. I was irritated. I was frustrated. What the hell was happening to me?!?
In the last 3 months, I had spent 1 out of every 3 weeks traveling. None of those trips were really planned in advance, some of them were for work – a great work, travel photography – and all of them were great. Intense. Busy. But also tiring. I was doing what I love most, traveling. And still I felt like I was about to have a burnout. I know this may sound completely superficial, even entitled. I know how lucky I am and believe me, I don`t take that for granted. But something was not working for me, and that`s when I decided that, for my real vacation, to Umbria, Italy, I would change the way I travel: I would join the slow travel movement.
And it changed my life.
Looking happy and relaxed, calmly exploring the medieval city of Assisi, in Italy.
As a photographer and travel blogger (and even before my blog), I was always the kind of person who wants to do everything, see everything. I suffer from the “curious traveler anxiety”: I don`t want to miss a thing while I`m exploring a new place! I want to see the museums but also wander around the streets; I want to sit down and have a nice local meal but I don`t want to loose 2 hours on that because, you know, there`s too much to see! I want to do the mandatory touristic points just because, you know, they are famous for a reason, but I also want to discover little off-the-beaten-path treasures; and I still have to organize all this according to sunrise and sunset hours because of the photos I wanted to take.
You can imagine that with this kind of planning, my days would be so full and intense that when I would go back to my room at night I was too tired even to go out to eat, let alone actually have the energy to go for a drink or something. When I travel alone, ok, I usually don’t go to bars on my own, but when traveling with friends…
Some things in life are made to be appreciated with time… Like a meal in a house in the mountains!
My trips were so busy that I would come back home feeling like a needed a vacation from my vacations, did you ever get this feeling? I would come home even more exhausted than before I left. If my holidays were supposed to be a break in my busy life, to clean my mind and make me come back all rested and happy and looking good and relaxed…
Damn, I must be messing it up badly!
I wanted to be as peaceful as this scene… But this is not how I would end up! (Umbrian countryside at sunset)
The Slow Travel Movement
I’d heard about the “slow movements”: Slow food is becoming pretty famous in the world, specially in the Mediterranean countries. Slow travel, I remember vaguely reading something about it, but it didn`t really get my attention. It wasn`t until I came back from my second trip over a little more than a month (when I went to Lisbon after a very intense and busy I-only-slept-4-hours-a-night work trip to Sevilla, Andalucia and the Penedès) that I found myself at the point of having a travel burnout.
I was stressed, tired, with zero patience with people; I felt drained, both physically and mentally. I needed a break. A real break. All I could dream of was spending a couple of days somewhere where I could do… Nothing. Just spend my days by a swimming pool with a book, not even having to talk to anyone if I didn`t feel like it. Not having to walk, explore, or photograph (and if I don`t feel like photographing, you can believe that the thing is serious, since my camera is almost a natural extension of my hand, that`s how much I love photography!).
Being able to actually stop and notice my surroundings was a luxury I wasn’t getting…
And that’s when it hit me: I needed to join the Slow Travel movement.
For you who are not familiar with the term, Slow Travel is more a state of mind than a way of traveling. It`s a choice: Choosing quality over quantity; choosing to get a deeper understanding and vision of a place instead of just running from one tourist attraction to the other; choosing not only to see, but also to feel the place. Also trying to create more meaningful connections with the local community, either by staying at a local`s house, talking to the people who live in the place you are, looking for small, local restaurants instead of popular touristic ones, spending more time in one place instead of (superficially) seeing a lot of them…
There are many ways to slow travel, and if you wanna know more about it, I recommend checking this page here. But I`m not here to talk about what is slow travel. I`m here to talk about why you should try it, and why I decided to join the movement.
When 4 days change your life
Earlier this week I wrote a post about my stay in Umbria, in this beautiful – and peaceful – B&B called Genius Loci (you can read all about it here).
Far from a simple hotel review, that post was also about an experience. And about feelings. Getting back in touch with my feelings, some that had been locked in so deep they got suffocated inside me, buried under everyday pressures and worries and rational thoughts. I`m a pretty rational woman, but I`m also a very sensitive one, except that over the years and because of personal life circumstances, that side of me, well… Not many people know of. Even I was starting to forget about it. But I`m an artist: I photograph, I write, I love to draw… I have a need to express my feelings somehow, at least creatively. And when I got to the point that I was loosing the pleasure even to photograph or write because I was only doing it for work, I knew that I needed a break.
When were you happiest in life? What are your best memories? Where is that place that you would love to revisit, over and over again, if you had the chance?
Just lounging by the swimming pool, not a worry on my mind, no rush, no appointments…
The best years of my life were actually the simpler ones. When I was a child/teenager, growing up in the south of Brazil. I lived in the city, but we had a farm not far from it, and we would go there every weekend, plus the holidays. Being surrounded by nature, listening to the crickets singing in the summer, reading a book in the shadow of a tree, playing with my dogs, lounging by the pool feeling the warmth of the sun in my skin… Those, until today, are my favourite life memories.
If I think of travel memories, I also have a lot of great ones, but the ones that touched me the most were always the ones that had to do with nature, and some peaceful moments: Either with my eyes closed, listening to the sound of the waves in a beach somewhere; snorkelling, surrounded by fishes, totally unaware of the world above surface; or in a train crossing Scotland on my way to the Highlands, that impressive landscape passing by my window, taking my mind far away with it.
Small, unknown tropical beaches are a great place to practice slow travel… Like this one in the north of Brazil!
Embracing slow travel
Slow travel does not necessarily have to do with nature. You can slow travel in a big city, although doing that in the middle of the summer season in Barcelona can be a little harder, but the idea is: Enjoy the moment. No rush, no schedule, no plans. Let the day lead you as it develops. Sure you can plan to visit this place or that, or eat at that restaurant, but instead of trying to accomplish everything and just end up running from one place to another, take your time, enjoy your meal, stop to look around, sit in a cafe and watch the people around you. Write something if you feel like it; take a photo, why not. But make sure that that text and that photo actually mean something; they are not only registers of a trip, they are a representation of feelings; of a special moment.
Did you know that dogs also make great slow travel partners? Me and Chilli exploring the beaches of Valencia, Spain.
To me, though, total relaxation = being in contact with nature. I love to live in a big city where everything happens, but I also feel the need to disconnect far away from the madness and the noise of the big urban centres… And all that people! And yes, I could just go to one of the many mountains around here to spend the day, but I needed a total change of air. Of costumes. Of place. Of pace.
That’s why I chose to go to Umbria, a wine region in central Italy, just like its famous neighbour Toscana, but way less touristic. And I chose to go alone. I travel alone a lot, but still I had more than a couple of friends asking me why did I chose to spend my holidays alone in the “middle of nowhere”: “What will you do there? Won`t you get bored? Won’t you feel lonely?”
My answers were: I’m going to rest and relax and get some peace of mind; no, I won’t get bored, being able to do nothing is exactly what I need. And nope, I won`t feel lonely, I actually really appreciate my own company and being alone with my thoughts and feelings. (Plus, I needed some time to think about my life).
It was good to have some time for myself, and let me say, with this surroundings… It was also a pleasure!
And so I had four amazing, relaxing, peaceful days with no worries on my mind, no schedule, no obligations. I would get up, put my bikini on, grab a yogurt, and sit by the porch to calmly eat it while staring at the vineyards. Then I would grab my book and go to the pool, where I would have a swim (better than a shower to wake up) and then just chill in one of the sun chairs, listening to the crickets sing, the same ones I would hear as a child back in my farm.
It had been so long since last time I actually managed to keep my mind blank, to actually not think about anything, just feel… Feel the sun in my body, feel the smell of the pine trees close by, feel the fresh water embrace my body and make me weightless, feel the soft breeze touch my wet skin and give me a chill, feel in total and complete harmony with the universe. Four whole days of feeling wonderful. Four whole days of a perfect slow travel way of life.
Barefoot wine tasting… Can anything be any more relaxing than this?
But turns out that old habits die hard and I decided to end my trip with a long weekend in Florence. I always wanted to see that city and I was going to be close anyway so, why not, right? It seemed like a great idea.
I could not have been more wrong…
Florence was hot as hell, completely taken by tourists, and I ended up almost hating the city, a city that I dreamt of visiting and I was sure I was going to love. Why? Because it was a bad decision to go there now. Because I let my traveler anxiety get the best of me, and it ruined my experience. Because it was not the right moment. Because I didn’t follow my heart and my real needs to just take-a-break-for-once, Vick!
One of the few real peaceful moments I had in Florence: Watching the sunset over the Ponte Vecchio from Piazzale Michelangelo.
Why should you join the slow travel movement
For many, myself included, slow travel can actually be a challenge. I get to travel a lot and you would think that, because of that, I would be used to just taking things easy and going slow but the truth is, not always. When I`m somewhere new, somewhere with a lot of interesting, nice things to do and see, I tend to get into maniac-traveler-photographer-writer mode and I try to squeeze everything I can in the little time I have. Which is not always a bad idea, but being able to just stop now and then and enjoy the moment is also important, and I’ve learnt this now.
A pause to enjoy the view from the border of one of the craters of the Etna volcano, in Sicily.
I guess many of you can relate to what I wrote here, am I right? So why and how can you be a part of the slow travel lifestyle?
- Instead of visiting a lot of cities in a few days, visit less cities, but actually explore them, not just pass by them.
- Stay in little B&B instead of big chain hotels. They offer a closer local experience. And that does not mean giving up on luxury, there are options for all the budgets and styles.
- Talk to the locals, ask for advices on where to eat, what to eat… And take your time doing so. Taste that wine. Order that dessert.
- Go for a walk in the local supermarket. See what they sell, buy some local products. You will want the whole sensorial experience, tastes included!
- Take a train instead of an airplane. Or even better, if possible, rent a car. That way you can not only see the landscape, you can stop whenever you want, in the middle of the way to your destiny, and maybe discover some local jewels that you would never find out otherwise;
- One of my favourite slow travel moves when traveling (special in France!): Have a picnic!!! Buy some food at a local grocery store, a bottle of wine, grab a blanket and find a beautiful place to eat. It`s a delicious, fun and memorable experience!
The french picnic we had at the gardens of the Monaco Palace: All products bought at the local market. And it was one of the best meals I had on that trip!
- Also, the most important one (and the hardest one to achieve): Don’t feel guilty about missing out on seeing some things! The experiences you`ll gain otherwise, the memories you’ll have, I can assure you, they will compensate. And if you really liked a city, you can always come back another time!
Now that you’ve read that, are you ready to be part of the slow travel movement? And if you already are a part of this, which are your favourite places to go? Let me know in the comments!