This morning, I walked to my dance community event. As is the custom in my neighborhood, we greet each other as we pass. I know many of my neighbors by name. In the afternoon, I went to the market to buy fresh bread, cheese and produce. In the evening, I relaxed outside on the patio swing, drinking a cup of tea. A pleasant breeze stirred the leaves. I watched the sun set and listened to the birds.
I need connection. Living out of a suitcase in a cramped hotel room is alienating. The frantic pace of tourists who rush from one destination to another is not for me.
I believe in slow travel. In the past few years, I have spent six weeks in London, several months each in Spain. Kenya, and Vietnam, nearly a year in Thailand and a year and a half in Mexico.
Slow travel has a lot in common with the slow food movement that began in Italy in the 1980´s with the aim to preserve local food traditions from farm to table. Slow travel is about making a connections with the places we visit rather than rushing from site to site snapping pictures.
Slow travel is a mindset. Places are to be experienced rather than checked off a bucket list. It´s about staying in one place long enough to know your neighbor´s names, to have a favorite coffee shop, to linger over fresh flowers at the market.
Slow travel is thrifty travel. Instead of blowing through a wad of money for a two-week trip, renting an apartment and cooking at least some of your meals is much kinder to your budget. Staying lowers transportation costs. You walk more. Your body gets stronger.
Instead of site seeing, the slow traveler takes classes, learns new skills, meets people and joins groups. It is an embedded experience, as compared to being on the outside looking in. Slow travelers learn at least some of the language, and if they stay long enough they become fluent.
I travel by my senses. Walking a glorious way to slow down and experience the world around me. Sometimes I focus on looking, really looking. Other times I focus on sounds. There are layers and layers of sound around us, yet most of the time we are oblivious to them. Other times, I use my nose, sniffing the air like a puppy. In my neighborhood, my nose tells me where all the good cooks live.
Becoming familiar with the local food markets and taking cooking classes is pure pleasure. Learning popular dances of a region is a great way to make friends. In San Miguel, Mexico, where I live now, I could go dancing every night. Salsa, Merengue, Bachata, Cumbia and Tango are popular here.
My mantra is Joy. Dance joy. Cook joy. Speak joy. Paint joy. Sing joy. Slow travel is playing in three dimensions, staying long enough to enjoy the place and connect with its people. Each new place brings new challenges and new opportunities to make connections by joining in local events, volunteering and making friends.
By nature, I am an introvert. When I first started slow traveling, making connections was something that I had to force myself to do. Now, I do it naturally in each new place I live.
Slow travel has shown me how to embed in a new place, to learn the culture and to build relationships. It is the single most valuable gift I have received during these years on the road. Like a Bedouin pitching a tent, I can make a home anywhere.
Slow travel opens the world to me and lays it shimmering at my feet. It offers an intimate experience of place and people. It demands authentic engagement.
All it takes is time.