This is Why I Travel Slow

by gigigriffis

On my first day in Modena, I nearly cried.

I had arrived early because my Airbnb host had changed my check-in time from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the last minute. I was scheduled to arrive at Osteria Francescana for a luxurious multi-course meal at 12:30. And the idea of showing up sweaty and disheveled with my small hiking backpack and Luna and her carrier in tow was wildly embarrassing to me. So I asked my host if there was somewhere in Modena to rent a locker. And he sent me to a museum.

Unluckily for me, after walking 20 minutes to the museum, I discovered that any lockers they had were only for guests actually visiting the museum. You couldn’t leave your things for a few hours while you had a long lunch in Italy’s best restaurant.

Tired and incredibly hot and discouraged, I headed back to the train station. While I didn’t relish the thought of leaving my things in a train station locker (read: not secure), I was more put off by the idea of lugging them to my fancy lunch.

Again unluckily, I discovered that the train station no longer has lockers. A man at the newsstand explained: “Italy doesn’t have money anymore and we were always having to replace the lockers because they were always being broken into.”

Inspires some epic confidence in those lockers of old, right?

By this time, having carried my pack back and forth for an hour in the 90-something degree weather, I knew I needed to take a moment and calm down (otherwise, this story would have ended with me blotchy-faced and crying in a heap on a street corner). I stepped into the bathroom, splashed some water on my face, adjusted my hair a little, and then stepped outside to hail a taxi and go to lunch. Embarrassed though I may be, I would just have to have lunch with my luggage because there was no way in hell that I was going to miss out on the very experience that had brought me down from Switzerland.

Of course, Osteria Francescana was classy and accommodating as you might imagine. Luna snuggled up in a corner to sleep through the entire three-hour meal. And they shuffled my giant bag off into a back room so that I didn’t have to deal with it.

So, as travel stories tend to do, it worked out in the end…

Except that this isn’t quite the end of the story.

After 2:00 had come and gone, I realized that I was late for my new check-in time at my rental. I gathered my things, paid my bill, and headed onto the streets with my hand-written directions.

Then, I proceeded to get very, very lost.

The street names weren’t what I expected. I stopped into shop after shop and no one seemed to know the street I was asking about. When I asked to use shop phones, people stared at me blankly. And since I’d been running to and fro all morning and hadn’t settled in yet, I didn’t have a proper map.

So, when I finally enlisted the help of not one, not two, but three different locals to help me find my way and showed up at my spacious two-bedroom place, I was nearly two hours late.

Being type A and having some anxiety issues, by the time I arrived, all the benefits of my luxurious long lunch had worn off and I was a wreck of guilt and stress.

My host’s mother (who met me at the house) was gracious about it, but I felt horrible. And on top of it all, I was again exhausted, hot, sweaty, and had carried my bag around town far longer than I intended.

While I still look back on my lunch with fond memories, I chalk the day itself up as a pretty epic travel fail and, even more importantly, as a reminder of why I travel the way that I do.

Because when I travel fast, I have so many more of these moments. I’m lost, confused, hot, and tired. I am frustrated with the little mishaps. I want to sit down on the curb and have a good, mascara-running-down-my-face kind of cry.

But when I travel slowly, my experience is so very different.

I’m not trying to find a new apartment in a new city every single day.

I don’t have to plan my luxurious long lunches on the same day that I arrive.

I’m not constantly watching my schedule, trying to squeeze everything in.

Instead, I’m able to take things in stride. My only agenda on the day I arrive is to check into my new place, wander the neighborhood, and enjoy the newness of it all. I give myself huge chunks of time between activities and appointments. I can stroll for an hour from one side of town to the other and still not miss my cooking class. I can lose myself in a maze of streets and not worry about getting back at a certain time. I can take a day to just read and relax without feeling like I’m missing out.

For me, this is one of the biggest secrets to a life of constant travel:

If you’re always moving, it gets tiring. You get lost. You carry your things from one end of town to the other (even a minimalist packing job isn’t fun to carry for miles in the 98-degree weather) and call your mom bawling.

But if you’re slowly making your way through the world, getting lost in a new city can be an adventure (not a hassle). Mapping the neighborhood on foot is beautiful and fun. You have plenty of time for long naps, good books, hot baths, deep thoughts, and relaxing days spent doing precisely nothing, as well as all the sight-seeing and paragliding and exploring.

And so this is why I travel slow.

To map the city with my feet until I truly know where I’m going.

To meet locals and get to know them a little along the way.

To try every kind of pesto at the local grocer.

To leave space for naps and books and resting in between adventures.

To leave space for creativity and writing.

To see everything I want to see in that city; to leave feeling as if I have left nothing undone.

To rarely risk the anxiety of being lost and late (lost is fine; late is not), of being caught in the doors of the Paris metro, or of missing a train.

To avoid feeling rushed.

To enjoy the simple pleasures of a place, as well as the big and obvious ones.

Do you travel slow or fast? Why do you love the way you travel?

Like my philosophy? Here it is as an image. Feel free to nab it:


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13 comments

Maria July 10, 2014 - 4:38 am

Even when you are not traveling filling up to much space in your day with time sensitive activities is such a stresser. When I travel I try to do no more than 2 things per day. I may not see everything but what I do see I can really savor.
I am so glad you took a bad situation and turned it into an opportunity to learn.

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gigigriffis July 10, 2014 - 4:41 am

What an excellent point. Even at home, trying to do too much in a day is exhausting and frustrating and very anti-living in the moment. So true!

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Lynne July 10, 2014 - 6:03 am

Love this story, Gigi! Puts into perspective why we really should all travel slowly – to really take it all in and connect to where we are. As an American I always feel rushed here so when I do travel (even here in the US) I love to travel – very slowly. Thanks for this!

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gigigriffis July 10, 2014 - 7:58 am

Thanks, Lynne!

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Soltera July 10, 2014 - 8:47 am

How lovely to hear from the heart of one wandering so wisely. I studied for a year at the University of Seville, and had many opportunities for weekend and holiday trips to small towns around Andalucía by “whistle stop” trains, and larger cities by frighteningly fast trains, such as to Valencia, Granada, Toledo, etc. It seems planning for more than one activity in a day was never on my agenda simply because I didn’t have that much skill in foresight and planning! One activity a day was all I had imagination for! How funny! It was 30yrs ago, and I was just in my early 20’s. Better travelling, it would seem, through lack of knowledge and ambition!! NOW finally reading how to lean back and smell the roses is a true pleasure. If I ever get to go back to Europe, I’ll remember your essay, Gigi!

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gigigriffis July 11, 2014 - 4:19 am

I love that! Hilarious – “better traveling through lack of knowledge and ambition” (that has often been me as well)

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Rhonda July 10, 2014 - 1:29 pm

Oh you are SO right Gigi! What we learned on our 14-month backpacking trip around the world was that, even though we had all this time to travel, we still felt the typical American traveler inclination to see as much as possible to “fit it all in”. Although I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world, a big part of the reason we decided to self-drive the PanAm highway, was specifically to be able to go at our own pace. If we want to stay somewhere for a month fine. If we want to rent an apartment and spend the winter, also fine. If we don’t feel a place, we’ll just move on.
I will say, although I am sorry for your rather dreadful day, it’s always a bit heartening to hear that other travelers also have moments where they simply want to sit on the corner and cry… it’s not just me!
The Black Dogs say hi to Luna :)

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gigigriffis July 11, 2014 - 4:20 am

Definitely not just you! (Keep an eye out on Monday – I’m publishing a whole post of people’s horrifying travel mishaps and tearful breakdowns; apparently, it’s all of us).

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Stephanie - The Travel Chica July 15, 2014 - 11:05 pm

As slow as possible :-)

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Alexis July 27, 2014 - 10:37 am

Hey!

Just stumbled across your site and we wanted to let you know that we really like it. Super inspirational and very interesting posts. Looking forward to keeping up with your travels :).

Alexis & Kathy

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gigigriffis July 27, 2014 - 10:50 am

Thank you!

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