Sitting at home, thinking of all the places I wish I could travel to, I amuse myself by making lists of the places I would like to visit, as soon as it is possible again. I entertain the members of my group We live purposeful, meaningful and fulfilling Lives by asking them to name three places they would like to travel to.
I think about traveling rather a lot (no doubt because I desperately yearn to escape the lockdown.) My dearest wish is to go to the beach, only 90 minutes from here, and watch the sun go down over the sea.
Whenever I get the chance to go to the beach again, I intend to make the most of the experience by travelling slow, a subject that I find myself blogging about frequently since the pandemic started.
How I am going to make the most of my first chance to travel again:
1) I will plan my trip carefully – I have nothing against leaving for unexplored shore at the drop of a hat, but since I have loads of time, I will research my destination in detail, to find out more about the people who live there and to get a feeling for the geography of the place so that I will lose less time getting my bearings. A quick Google search will reveal the destination’s top attractions and its must-sees. From these I will choose one or two, to visit in-depth, and I will research these in detail.
2) To get a feeling for the place I want to travel to, I will read some books and blog posts, watch a couple of documentaries and even, if I have time, a few films set in the region which will strengthen my connection with the people living there, and give me a deeper appreciation of their culture. A few words of the local language will come in handy too.
3) To make the most of the experience, I will decide beforehand what I want to get from my trip. I know myself. Going to all the big tourist attractions just for a photo opportunity is not my thing. I love sitting at a café with a coffee in front of me and watching the world go by. I love talking to people about what is important to them, whether they are locals or fellow travellers. I love exploring vintage markets and shops. I love running, early in the morning, through a sleeping city, or on a deserted beach. So I will plan my trip to ensure that I can do as many of these things as possible.
4) I will make the trip there part of my travel experience. I will choose travel options less damaging to the environment when possible, by taking the train instead of a plane, for example, and use local communal transport once I get there. Whenever I can, I’ll walk – it’s good exercise and gives me time to take in the sights. I will aim to stay off the beaten path so that I will experience the emotions that travel is meant to be about: discovering, exploring and navigating unknown territory. I would like to visit less famous sites and support those communities that need it more.
5) If at all possible, I choose to travel in the off-season when there are fewer people about because the other thing I love is to wander aimlessly, on foot, and explore the place I am visiting in my own time. What greater travel luxury is there than that? Staying in an impersonal hotel occasionally appeals to me when I am looking for anonymity, but I by far prefer to stay in a local guesthouse, where I can talk to the owners about their region and maybe even make a new friend or two. They will also be able to direct me to interesting (to me) local events, festivals and concerts. Getting involved in local activities will enable me to connect with the local community, learn from its people and make my trip unique and unforgettable.
6) I rarely buy souvenirs. I prefer to buy something that I will use once I get home. If I do buy something, it will be from a local producer or artist. Instead of buying several small things, I will often buy one item, even if it is a bit more expensive, and if possible, chat to the person who made/produced it. If it is a vintage item, I will want to know its origin. I want to support the local producers and artisans and they can only survive if we put our money where our values are.
7) I will keep a travel journal. This is something I so far have not been able to do. I might start a travel journal with good intentions, but I get so involved in my experiences that I have soon forgotten this noble intention of mine. It’s difficult enough for me to remember to take a couple of pictures. Travelling, while being fully present has got a lot going for it, but now, on the other side of 50, I feel the need to commemorate my travel experiences so that I can fondly look back on them during any future lockdowns. Making a few notes each day also allows me to process the experience, so I think putting aside 30 minutes every morning to remember and reflect on the previous day’s events would be of great benefit and might even give me a few surprising insights about myself.
8) As I mentioned, remembering to take pictures does not come naturally to me, but I do tend to waste time on my phone. Won’t be doing that next time I travel. I might take a couple of pictures, less so of the places I visit than of the people I meet, but otherwise, my phone will rest undisturbed in my rucksack until I get back to my lodgings in the evenings. I am going to aim for a digital detox, on my next holiday. Texts and e-mails will have to wait till the next morning when I usually answer them at home because I tend to stick to certain of my routines while travelling. Having said that, sharing my travelling experiences with the people I care about greatly enriches travelling for me, so I will get up a bit earlier every day to connect to friends and family. And to Facebook. And Pinterest, probably, for last-minute research. And I’ll post a couple of photos on Instagram. But that will be all. So if you need me urgently while I’m travelling, phone me and leave a message if I don’t answer.
9) While traveling back, I will make time to reflect on what I have learned about the places I visited and the people I met, as well as what I discovered about myself. I will adjust the way I do things accordingly. Maybe I took a watercolour painting class and discovered a hidden talent, so I’ll look around for lessons where I live. Maybe I discovered I like a dish that I never thought I would like, or I made a friend that I want to stay in contact with or I made a travelling mistake that I never intend to make again. All these valuable lessons I will consciously incorporate into my life once back home.
These will be my guidelines, whenever I get the opportunity to (slow) travel again. I call them guidelines, not rules because I want to remain flexible while traveling so that I can focus on the experience, rather than the objectives I have created for myself.
Choosing to come to one of my retreats here in the south of France would be a great idea if you would like to put your own guidelines of making the most of your next travel opportunity into practice.
My retreats: Introduction to Intermittent Fasting Retreat, Write Your Story Writers’ Retreat, Connect and Communicate with Horses Retreat, reinvent yourself with the virtual/residential Your Magical Future Retreat.
If you liked this blog post, you can escape to the south of France for a virtual visit by subscribing to my mailing list HERE.
As the third wave of the pandemic starts to flatten here in France, I come across more and more articles about Solo Slow Travel. One website that has several articles about this trend is Journeywoman.com.
I have been subscribed to this website for many years. Since its founding in 1994, JourneyWoman has advocated for the representation of women in the travel industry so that their voices can be heard, their needs acknowledged and met by the industry, and their achievements celebrated.
If you are a woman and prefer to travel on your own, this website will be a tremendous resource for you.
I have been asking myself what Solo Slow travel would mean for people who come to the south of France on a residential retreat. As I understand it, Slow Travel is the opposite of the Monday-Amsterdam, Tuesday-Paris, Wednesday-Lisbon trips that were so popular in the past. The idea is that less is more and that quality is better than quantity. A Slow Travel trip is meant to educate and have an emotional impact, in the present moment and for the future, while remaining sustainable for local communities and the environment.
Slow travel allows us to relax and reflect, to connect with and integrate our experiences.
It seems to me that Slow Travel to a retreat here in the southwest of France has to begin with the trip here, by making the trip part of the retreat experience by traveling slower, maybe by taking the train instead of taking the plane, by stopping on the way to investigate a famous city, like Bordeaux or Toulouse, by using travel time to educate oneself about this region and by talking to other travelers, etc.
At the moment, my Walking and Wine Tasting retreats are the most popular, possibly because they represent the slow travel idea so perfectly:
- walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostella always has an emotional impact, no one who walks the Camino comes away unchanged.
- Gascony, the region in France where the retreats are held is the perfect host for slow travel. To discover why, Click Here.
- during the walk, there is ample time for interaction with other pilgrims and for supporting small local businesses on the way.
- staying in one place during the whole retreat, you’ll get more of an opportunity to interact with local people in a meaningful way.
- it’s not only healthier for the environment (my take on sustainable tourism,) it’s also healthier for you.
- the wine tasting part features the local vignerons’ best produce and participants have the opportunity to talk to the winegrowers about their art.
- mealtimes feature locally produces food and wine, with loads of time to do the lovingly prepared meals justice.
Slow travel is less stressful, which is the whole objective of going on a retreat, so taking your time to travel here and making the most of each moment you are here, even if it is just relaxing in a deckchair while watching the sun go down with a glass of local Rosé, is not only of benefit to you but also to the local community.
As for myself, I have always preferred Slow Travel to rushing around seeing as many different places in as short a time as possible. I am still, after 11 years of living in this part of France, slow traveling through my glorious region. When I drive here, I stop frequently to admire the majestic Pyrennées mountain range, or to explore a small farmer’s market, or to check on a friend who lives in the middle of nowhere, on the way to a favourite restaurant. Here you’ll find me discussing the menu for 15 minutes or longer with the chef, asking about his family and his business, and then indulging in a lunch that takes…as long as it takes. After the meal, I linger to watch the world go by…
Solo Slow Travel – I highly recommend it.
If you would like to read more about Slow Travel, here is the Slow Travel Guide Book
Other Retreats: Introduction to Intermittent Fasting Retreat, Write Your Story Writers’ Retreat, Connect and Communicate with Horses Retreat, reinvent yourself with the virtual/residential Your Magical Future Retreat.
If you like this vignette of my life here in Gascony, you can escape to the south of France for a virtual visit by subscribing to my mailing list HERE.