Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Slow Travel: The next trend?

A few years ago I spent a week in Paris with 2 girlfriends in very tiny studio apartment on a quaint street near The Louvre.  We shopped for breakfast foods at a local grocery store.  We made daily visits for fresh croissants and macaroons to the lovely bakery outside of doorstep.  We greeted the neighbors each day with a polite bonjour and bonsoir.  In a nutshell, we got to experience Paris like a Parisian (or close to it).   

Honestly, we were trying to save some cash.  And since we didn't plan on spending much time in a hotel room, we decided to take a more economical route and opted for a rental.  Apparently this type of travel now has a name.

I've heard of slow food, but slow travel?  I came across the movement in a tweet and did a little research.  

Slow travel is about connecting with a place, its people, its culture and (this makes me so happy!) its food.  No tour buses, no check list of must-see tourist spots, no hopping from place to place.  Most often, slow travelers stay in weekly rentals, shop at local markets and grocery stores and prepare meals at home.  They may chat up and make personal connections with the locals.  And they sometimes limit themselves to exploring an area within a given radius in which they are staying, moving outward with each day.  It's about immersing yourself in a place and getting to live in it,  rather than stay in it.  

I personally enjoy this type of travel and have repeated the experience on several other trips since.  But, it's not for everyone.  Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Of course there are high-end rentals, but for the most part rentals are no frills.  If you like 800 thread count sheets and a 24-hour concierge, renting is not for you.  And in my experience, you kind of need to be OK with local decor and scratchy towels.  When in doubt, ask for specifics on the accommodations.
  • Read the listing thoroughly so you know the amenities each rental has.  Kitchenette, TV, A/C?  Is the bed a mattress or a futon and what size?  Towels, iron and hair dryer included?  While the Paris rental was fine, I probably would have made a different choice if I had known the bathroom was the size of a thimble and my 5' 11" friend would have to hunch over to wash her hair in the shower every day.  (Amusing, but not so fun for her.)
  • Understand payment terms before you arrive at your destination.  I didn't read the fine print on the Paris rental and was incredibly embarrassed when the agent expected the remaining $800 rental fee in cash upon arrival.  (I then couldn't pay him for 2 days because of ATM issues and maximum withdrawal amounts.)
  • Shopping local markets is a great way to immerse yourself in a culture.   Plus you'll probably eat better and save money.  When shopping at grocery stores outside of the U.S. don't expect the big, fancy American kind or American brands.  And yes, eggs don't have to be refrigerated so don't freak out when you see them next to the cash register.  
  • Locals are your best resource for recommendations on food, music and sights.  You won't have a concierge so you might as well make friends and ask someone in your neighborhood about their favorite places.  And if there is a language barrier, cab drivers usually have a decent enough understanding of English.  I have gotten some great recommendations from many local cabbies.
Looking for a rental?  The best place to start is by Googling 'vacation rental + city'.  You can also narrow your search to apartments at Hostel World.

For more information on slow travel visit Slow Travel and Slow Movement.

1 comment:

  1. Didn't know there was a term for this, either, but here in NYC, I know a lot of people go on Craigslist, and find people to swap apts. with in the the city they want to visit. Both parties get a vacation with a free place to stay, and as long as you're careful, and don't get conned, everyone makes out well.