Location plays a big part of travel. “Umm.. yeah of course it does, I am traveling to see other locations, right? Right!?” Yes, of course, but that aspect of location is not what I mean at the moment. One of the things we learned on our Summer of Beyond Vacation was that the specific location within a place plays a big role as well.
Some places and locations seem to support our slow travel goals better than others. As we look back at the summer and look forward to planning for other Beyond Vacation trips, I wanted to look at a few aspects of places that seem to make it better for slow travelers.
Stuff to do, but not necessarily stuff to see
This is an interesting distinction. “Stuff to See” are the guidebook sites and things you see on an itinerary of a tour. These are the Must-See lists. “Stuff to Do” involves thinks like markets, movie theaters and parks. They two groups certainly do overlap and sometimes a lot.
“Stuff to See” usually brings up the mental image of enormous crowds of tourists snapping self-portraits in front of some famous place. “Stuff to Do” for me brings up an image of an active community of people “doing” things and living in a place. Too much stuff to see draws tourists and drives away locals.
We do not have a car. I don’t even have a license anymore. Especially as we travel we have no need to rent a car (yet, though it may come). But this means we are reliant on public transport in the place we stay.
For a place to be good for the slow traveler (and probably tourist as well) the transport network has to be well connected, frequent and decently cheap. It is a balance of these things of course, but still a bit of each.
If the things we want to do/places to eat are a pain to get to, then it isn’t much use to be there long term. This point will vary by person what your pain threshhold for transport is.
If we are going to be in a place more than a few nights (which in itself is part of the definition of slow travel) we really want an apartment. A place to spread out, cook occasionally, have a fridge for drinks and a couch to sit on. For a place to be useful for the slow traveler, there needs to be apartments available. We tend to look at AirBnB, but have had luck with HouseTrip and 9flats as well. As we look forward to more travel, we will likely need to expand were we look, using more local resources in the more exotic locales.
The location and price of the apartments play a big role as well. They have to be affordable and near the right things, including food and transportation.
Good, Cheap food
Everybody needs to eat. This has been one of the bigger challenges as we traveled this summer. To find an area with a number of places to eat that were reasonably priced with decent food we wanted to eat. We had really good luck in some places and quite awful luck elsewhere.
Seeing a market makes me smile as it usually means good cheap food. Grocery stores too are good to see. A sandwich shop with a line out the door is a good sign, but a man hovering around his restaurant’s menu is a poor one. This is the aspect that seems to be the hardest to judge ahead of time, and unfortunately one of the most critical.
This is a hard one to quantify. This is the idea that the people in the place need to be ok with travelers in their midst. There are a lot of things that play into it and again difficult to judge before you get into a place.
Some willingness to speak English is a part of it. Or atleast a willingness to communicate with the wild-waving hungry foreigner in grunts and waving hand. Some of it is a bus driver that knows their route and can help with stop names. It also has to do with a place that is not SO reliant on tourism that every foreigner is treated like a money source instead of a real person.
Like most things a smile goes a long way here.
Where is number 6? You promised 6 things!
This is a bit of a mix of the other 5 for me. When I see a town that has a big university or a neighborhood in a city that centers around one, I am interested from a travel point of view. Universities just seem to foster the qualities of life that make a place good for slow travel. Maybe i just a student at heart still, but I like the environments that are around universities. Bologna and Ghent both are great university cities on our trip and I loved them.
Students need cheap good food and not Michelin Star Restaurants. They are often moving in and out of apartments, so the rental market can be good (it can also be shit if there are more students than rooms, but meh can’t have everything.) Students don’t usually have cars and so will only thrive in a place small enough for walking or biking and with public transport.
We have certainly found good places that don’t have a university, but they do seem to have a similar feel of community.
– – –
As I was writing this, I realize how close this list mirrors the basic human needs. The need for shelter, food, companionship and activity. Slow travel seems to be more the idea of merging travel and life. The things that are important for life become the important thing for travel.