“He who does not travel does not know the value of men.” – Moorish proverb
“Ok, we have 15 minutes at the Pyramids and then we have to be back here,” said an American-sounding tourist at the prime historical site of Egypt.
I could not believe my ears for two reasons.
One, I could not believe a guide would only give their guests 15 minutes to visit one of the marvels of the world. And two, because the guests were OK with it.
Me? I took a taxi from the centre of Cairo and, though I had to ignore more than enough camel salesmen, I also had all the time I wanted to enjoy the Pyramids.
What has this got to do with this week’s Rock Fever column? Well, actually, this is a column that has been waiting in the wings for some time, but also reared its head on my recent trip to the Netherlands and Belgium: traveling slow.
Perhaps you are more aware of the slow-food movement, which proposes actually taking the time to enjoy your food?
Well, I say it is time to start actually enjoying our travel and I think one of the best ways to do that is to: take it slow!
Which brings me to my first tip this week on traveling slow: slow does not mean long! What do I mean? Taking your time while traveling does not mean you need a year-off to see the places you want, but rather it require quality traveling. If you have a week holiday then take that time in one city rather than trying to stuff four cities in one week.
Because reason two is: traveling is not a contest. Sure I went to 23 countries on my trip around the world, but there’s no need to compete! I’m kidding. The point is, I was lucky to find a year to do that and even then I probably rushed through too many places. I think the best thing to do is to spend more time in one place and try to immerse yourself in the culture. It’s something I tried to do in Bali, where I spent almost three weeks (but really I needed years).
And that brings me to three and if you want to travel particularly slowly than mix business with pleasure: teach. Any teacher or someone with a strong background in a subject can find a job in private, English-speaking schools around the globe. I found a job teaching Biology (that’s another column) in Rome, Italy for a year directly out of college. Failing that and if you want to go the more traditional route then, you can also take the Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) course too. I completed this in Prague (after Rome) and then went to work in Istanbul, Turkey. The beauty is you make money while also experiencing another culture.
Which brings me to four and you never really start to know a country until you live in it (ask any expat living in Bermuda). I can tell you from my own experience that I would never have understood some of the intricacies of Turkish life if I didn’t live for five months in Istanbul (and again those five months only, really scratched the surface).
Tip five for keeping things slow on trips is not to bother signing-up for tours. These tours try to be helpful, but they also cram as much as possible into every waking hour. With that kind of schedule you will never meet any locals (any that aren’t trying to sell you anything anyway), you will get 15 minutes at the Pyramids, you will have to eat at “tourist spots” and you will never truly find time to enjoy the country you’re in!
So skip the packaged tours and listen to my tip six: travel independently and do your own research. Traveling independently is not as scary as you may think, even if you are in a country where English is a second language. And planning your travel really does not require much more work than booking a tour. In order to book a tour, you have to know what you want to see. Why not just go see these things on your own schedule? The bonus of going tour-free is that only you really know what kind of hotels you want to stay in, the places you want to eat and the sights you actually want to see. Need advice on what to see? Ask me at www.robynswanderings.com or post something on Facebook. Someone will be able to give you tips!
But if you do plan your own trip and if you have very little time i.e. a weekend, tip seven is plan three attractions you want to see and organize your weekend around them. A minimal amount of planned visits will give you leeway to “get lost” in a city while also ensuring that you also experience the places a city/country/town is known for.
And when should you plan your trip? Well, I will let you in on a secret….I rarely planned more than a day in advance, the entire year on the road. Why? Because there was no point and it was more important to be “Present” for tip eight. If our lives require us to juggle work, Facebook, emails, Blackberries, computers, kids, homes, etc… why not take your vacation time to actually focus on what you’re doing rather than what you will be doing next? Hotels do not need to be booked months in advance anywhere in the world (well, unless you’re going to Octoberfest) so chill-out and enjoy Amsterdam when you’re there.
Lack of forward planning also helps if sickness, late planes, broken trains or general travel mishaps occur! My tip nine is: rather than get stressed on your HOLIDAY, leave “carved-in-stone” plans aside. Example? I got sick in the Hague and because I had not booked any further plans, I could rest in a hotel for three nights and recover! I did not lose any money, nor did I worry I was missing anything.
Which brings me to the last tip for traveling slow: you can always come back! I remember when I managed to fool my parents into sending me away for the summer on a French exchange trip and worrying that would be the last time I would see Paris. I’ve been back at least twice. The point is, be an optimist and rather than feeling like you have to cram everything into two days, take your time and actually enjoy your holiday. Just don’t go home more tired than you arrived. What would be the point?