This blog post was updated on May 15, 2020.
“Let’s just sit here for a while,” I said.
I was tired. In my haste to see as much of Bangkok as possible, I was racing through the city and its humidity, hitting the Grand Palace, exploring the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, and quickly crossing the Chao Phraya river to climb the steep steps of the Wat Arun temple.
But now in the sweltering mid-afternoon heat of the Thai capital, I was exhausted.
Later that evening, while we were rushing (yet again) to get to a dinner cruise, I saw tons of locals crowding the sidewalk, sitting on plastic chairs at plastic tables. They had bowls of soupy noodles and other assorted vegetables and meats on their tables, as well as numerous bottles of beer. There was laughter in the air. This was how real Thais spend their evenings.
I wanted a part of that, but I missed it in the rush.
That trip to Thailand wasn’t the best journey I’ve been on. I was in such a mad dash to see as much as possible that I missed out on the real essence of Bangkok.
I wish I had known then what I know now about the art of slow travel.
Slow travel began as an offshoot idea from the International Slow Food Movement, started by Carlo Petrini’s protest against a fast-food chain opening in his neighborhood of Rome.
Wikipedia explains that slow travel is “about immersing oneself in a destination. It consists in staying in the same place for a while to develop a deep connection with it. Frequenting local places, spending time with locals and discovering their habits and customs can turn a regular trip into a slow travel experience. The key is to take one’s time and to let oneself be carried along.”
Most millennials have already embraced the art of slow travel, where they take time to take on new experiences, making plans to marinate in a location, and not worrying if they tick off all the touristy things to see. Some may take anywhere from a few months to a year off to do this, or maybe even after college or between jobs. And some do this in the form of volunteering or teaching in a specific location.
But the problem for older millennials, as is for Gen Xers like me who have to balance out vacation time with family and work commitments, is TIME. There’s just so much time that you can take off to truly soak up a new place and its unique culture. As idyllic as it may seem, who actually has a week or two to spend in a French village, shopping at local markets, and cycling through cobblestone streets, and sipping coffee and eating delicious pastries at every stop?
So, who does have time for slow travel?
Well if you’re a retired senior, then you’re just perfect for it!
You’ve got the time, the financial safety net, and you still want new and enriching experiences. So where do you start? Here are a few ideas that can kick-start a whole new chapter of travel in your life.
For example, how would you like to…
…take a train ride across America?
In the age of flying, you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you hop aboard one of the many long-distance train rides that crisscross the United States. You’ll have comforts such as bedrooms and a dining carriage with great observation points during your 2- or 3-day trip. You can ride the California Zephyr, which whisks you from Chicago to San Francisco via (most notably) Denver, helping you relive the very same route that took prospectors out West looking to find gold. Take the popular Coast Starlight that goes from Seattle to San Francisco, presenting amazing views of the snow-capped Cascade Mountains and the enchanting Pacific coastline. Feel like hopping off at a stop to spend a few days? Go for it! Life will seem just right when you’re chugging along at this pace…
…take a road trip along the Amalfi Coast in Italy?
There are no words to describe the Amalfi Coast. Winding roads, turquoise waters, and quaint and colorful villages perched like nests in the mountains, all make it a road trip made for a travel brochure. Make sure to take your time at the many towns you’ll be passing through. Stop for a picnic at the amazing Roman ruins at Ostia Antica, walk around and admire the art and history of beautiful Naples, talk to the friendly fishermen of Sorrento and ask them for the best places to taste their catch, and admire the enchanting villas of Tivoli. Through your trip, don’t hesitate to take a detour. After all, time is on your side, isn’t it?
…live in a villa and explore the real Bali, Indonesia?
While mention of the word “Bali” might evoke images of Aussie surfers and wild parties, you’ll be pleasantly surprised how much more there is to explore. So go ahead and rent a villa for a week or two, and use it as your base to explore some of its more hidden treasures. Start your days off with yoga in a picturesque setting. Pick up an offering of flowers and fruit and leave it at the feet of deities at the Tanah Lot, Ulun Danu, or Taman Ayun Temples. Visit the village of Tenganan and watch and learn about the art of weaving double ikat fabrics. And, of course, you’ll have plenty of time to stretch out with a good book on a beach with the ocean waves as your soundtrack.
…spend a week or so in an Irish village?
Rent a little cottage in any number of scenic villages and towns, like Inistioge in County Kilkenny, which charms visitors with its iconic arched stone bridge and lush hills and woodlands; or Kinsale in County Cork, where you can watch the boats go in and out the blue waters of the picture-perfect harbor. Wherever you choose to plant yourself, you’ll have the chance to experience life at the Irish pace. Stop by the local market for your meats and vegetables, make friends with locals at the pub over a few pints of Guinness, and learn about the local arts and crafts scene from boutiques that have each been owned by one family for a century or more.
…cruise in a houseboat in the backwaters of Kerala, India?
While overnight cruises are popular, you can still plan a package for a couple of days that lets you cruise and watch the world go by on the gorgeous backwaters of Kerala. You’ll taste delicious seafood curries prepared by your onboard chef, while you can watch people going to work, fishing, or just relaxing on the palm-fringed shores. The sunset and sunrise can be heavenly on the water. A stop for supplies might even put you in the middle of a small village, where you can spend time interacting with locals and supporting them by purchasing some of their native handicrafts, and you might even befriend a cute stray dog along the way.
…enjoy the wine and wildlife in South Africa?
There is no shortage of great experiences that will welcome you to diverse South Africa. From the beautiful Table Mountain in Cape Town to the lively nightlife of Johannesburg, you’ll always find great ways to mingle with some very friendly locals. The country’s European, African, and Indian roots come together to create a unique South African identity that’s so interesting to learn about. If you’re not off diving with the sharks in Gansbaai or following the tracks of lions in Kruger National Park, you can always sit back and enjoy some fine wines in the Eastern Cape. All the while, you’ll have plenty of time to brush up on your Zulu and Afrikaans with your new-found friends.
So wherever your travels may take you, don’t be afraid to stop and smell the roses…after all, if we don’t take time to really understand the places we visit and the people who call them home, then we’re missing out on one of the most important aspects of travel.