My compulsion to fit as much as possible into every trip (and every hour, actually - my husband is regularly frustrated by my being late because I just had to squeeze one more thing into my day) is legendary. It's a running joke among friends who have joined me on various trips; just the other day one friend, who we'll be visiting in London in August, said she was thrilled the "Webster juggernaut" would be pausing in her honour for a whole week.
What can I say? I'm acutely aware of just how big the world is and how little of it I can ever hope to see.
That said, in recent years, I have taken the foot off the pedal just a little bit - and I've really enjoyed it. Travelling with kids makes it necessary to make it enjoyable, so now I have a minimum three night rule (although I will say that rules are made to be broken - but it's good to have goals). And the side effect, apart from enhanced family harmony, has been a greater appreciation of the nuances of each small corner of the world (and definitely less post-trip exhaustion). And while I wouldn't presume to say that a week enables me to become a San Sebastian cafe regular (sorry Ben), I will concur that it gives a much better glimpse into the lives and experiences of the people who are.
I'm heading to Europe for four weeks next month. I'm aiming to make the most of each day - by savouring it.
WORDS: Ben Groundwater
There's a temptation to view the world like a breakfast buffet. Or at least, the way I view a breakfast buffet.
It's easy to feel that the only way to do this earth justice is to travel to as much of it as possible in the short amount of time you've been allotted, to feed your travelling face with as many sweet and savoury delicacies as you can fit on your plate. A small portion of south-east Asia. A dollop of Europe. A drizzling of the United States.
So you plan journeys that take in 15 countries in a couple of weeks. You go on tours that call through every single European highlight there is. You settle for a day here, a day there, a few hours at this museum, a few hours at that gallery. And before long, like the breakfast buffet, you've overdone things and you need to go lie down for a while to let things settle.
(Or is that just the way I do it?)
That's certainly the way I used to travel. As far as I was concerned, you only get a finite amount of time to see the world in this lifetime, and I wanted to see as much of it as possible.
If that meant having an eight-hour stopover in Abu Dhabi and cramming in four or five attractions, then so be it. If it required two overnight bus journeys in order to spend about six hours in Cappadocia in central Turkey, then that was fine.
You're here for a good time, not a long time, right? It's better to see four hours' worth of Vaduz and know you've been to Liechtenstein than to not go at all. It's worth spending just one day in Mexico City so that you can at least tick the box.
But recently, things have changed. I've decided to take things at a more moderate pace. If we're going to torture this food metaphor just a little bit further, then I've gone from stuffing my face at a buffet to sitting down to a long, leisurely brunch.
It's slow travel. Like slow food, the idea is to take time to enjoy just a few good things rather than hurry through as much as possible.
Here's the idea. I've got a month-long trip to Europe coming up. Back in the day, I would have used this fairly substantial amount of time to go on a touristic blitz. I would have booked a rail pass and tried to see all of the little towns and big cities that I haven't seen before. It would have been a tour de force, a whirlwind of "if it's Monday, I must be in Hamburg" moments.
But not this time. This time, in four weeks I'm going to five cities. I've got six days in San Sebastian. I've got an entire week in Rome.
The objective is not to see as much as possible, but to enjoy as much as possible. I want to become a regular at a local café in San Seb. I want to spend an entire day walking around the Villa Borghese. I want to sit and watch the world go by and not be worried about the flight I have to catch that afternoon, or the train I should be on to the next destination.
For me, now, this is the way travel should be done. The idea isn't to see a lot of places, but to really get to know a few. When you've got a whole week at your disposal you can start to move with the rhythm of local life; you can stumble across hidden gems; you can ditch the guidebook and embrace the notion of wandering with no set plan and no ideas.
Slow travel leaves time for the unexpected. It means you can have a chance meeting and end up in a place you never would have previously discovered. It means you can pick up snippets of local language and find the nuances of the culture.
You can still do the touristy things. But you can also spend entire days doing pretty much nothing. That's something people often reserve for sun-lounges at beach resorts, but it's just as valuable to do it at a café in Rome, or Barcelona. Whole new worlds reveal themselves when you've got nothing to do. New places, new people, new foods.
The hustle of the 15-countries-in-two-weeks itineraries will feel laughable once you've mastered the art of just chilling out. Slow travel is about seeking out the small things, and enjoying them. It's about the fun of foreign normality.
It's not about overnight bus trips. And it's not about four-hour stopovers. It's about a long brunch. And no buffets.