TRAVEL is big business, as quick Google search of destinations and activities will demonstrate. You’ll find cruises and tours for age groups (18-35s, seniors etc), luxury, economy and budget. You can go to Mongolia, New York or the Australian Outback. But one way or another these experiences are packaged, time-limited and expensive. Unless you are one of those lucky people for whom money is no obstacle, they are simply not an option if you are looking for an extended travel experience. That’s where slow travel comes in.
The alternative to slow travel
I’ve been to Russia, China, Mongolia, Indonesia, Canada, the US, Hungary, the UK, Scotland, the Pacific Islands, New Zealand, Austria, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland … the list goes on. I’ve seen the cathedrals, castles, temples, shopping streets, palaces and other major sites in each of my destinations. Most of those trips were two to eight weeks — three weeks to check out Western Europe, two days in London, three days in Paris. Seriously, I’m exhausted just thinking about it
Slow travel and walking
And then we discovered slow travel. We began with walking tours. We’ve tramped around the Ring of Kerry in Ireland, the mountains of Croatia, mountains on Tenerife in the Canary Islands and the Lake District in England. We’ve walked independently around the Cotswolds and various other national parks in England, numerous European cities and the Parc Naturel Regional d’Armorique in Brittany, France. Walking is one of the best ways to slow travel. It costs nothing, it keeps you fit and you can visit the most exquisite places unreachable by car.
And some of my most vivid memories are of the people we met, however briefly. Lawrie and I laugh when we think of a boy about 12 years old who rode past us on his bicycle in Montenegro. “I have musc-kles … I am strong,” he shouted in heavily accented English, an enormous grin on his face. He certainly impressed us.
Slow travel and housesitting
In June, 2018, we started house sitting, which brings a whole new dimension to the notion of slow travel. It is probably the ideal way to slow travel. Let’s face it, one of the reasons we fast travel is because we want to get as much bang for our buck as possibly. When the most expensive part of travelling — accommodation — is reduced or eliminated it can change our perspective totally. We can do more of the things we want to do and we can do them for longer because we can afford to stay longer.
When you’re caring for pets, saying hi to the locals and their pets on your walks is pretty much required. We’ve had conversations about our dogs in Swiss-German, French, English, Dutch and Slovakian. The locals often recognise our dogs and want to say hello. There’s lots of smiling and patting. And, frequently, mutual adoration and sniffing between the dogs.
We also learn about the best places to eat and walk in the course of the exchange. It’s amazing what you can convey with only the barest smattering of language. Pet talk is universal! This is slow travel for house sitters. You can’t get that when you’re sitting at an airport focussed on getting to the next destination on your list.
So here are my six top tips for slow travel as a house sitter.
1. There's more to travel than bucket lists
This doesn’t mean don’t go places you’ve always wanted to visit. Just don’t limit yourself to what you think you know about your destinations before you get there. We’ve had plenty of “wow” experiences we weren’t expecting simply because we were willing to try something different. One example is the awesome Seven Sisters National Park on the Sussex Coast in England, with its breathtaking views and fantastic chalk cliffs. We cared for two adorable cats in Brighton and were looking for nearby places to go. We love walking so we picked manageable day hikes in places we thought we’d love. And the Seven Sisters fit the bill so we went back … twice.
2. It's not a race -- it's ok to get lost
Slow travel is all about taking the time to enjoy wherever you are. It’s not about rushing from point A to point B in record time. The National Parks of the UK are some of our favourite places. National Parks are usually well signposted but not always. We plot out bus and train routes and walking paths and always have a “getting lost” back-up plan. Getting lost is part of the fun so we usually allow ourselves time to walk a few extra kilometres, make sure the mobile phone has plenty of charge and, in case the worst comes to the worst, carry money for a taxi! We love finding something different, off the beaten track and we have a saying about walking in England: No matter where you are, you’re not far from somewhere.
How often have you seen people so busy to catch a selfie at a world famous view that they forget to actually take it all in before they get back on the bus? Perhaps try to find a local guide who can assist you with then language, local customs such as tipping, and help you avoid queues. In the Netherlands we found the Greeters Network and had a wonderful walk around the Hague with a local.
Slow travel is also about doing things at your pace. Your itinerary is up to you. If you don’t want to get out of bed one day, you don’t have to. You are living in that community for weeks or even months. You might even return one day … so there’s no need to feel any pressure about what you see or do from day to day. Sometimes it’s good just to put your feet up at “home” and spend time with the pets in your care.
4. It's about the journey AND the destination
I have found travel is as much about how you get there as actually getting there. For example, getting from city to city or country to country can be so much more interesting by rail than air. Flying from one city to another might get you from A to B quickly, but what about everything you miss in between. We took trains throughout Switzerland because they are totally reliable and the scenery is jaw- dropping. We took a ferry from Bratislava, Slovakia, to Devin castle instead of a car or bus because it was a fabulous way to see at least a part of the famed Blue Danube.
5. Be travel smart
We don’t go to countries or areas on which the Australian Government has placed severe travel warnings. It would invalidate our travel insurance, for starters, and obviously we don’t want to end up injured, or worse. For example, we agreed to a sit in Cairo, Egypt, early in 2019, but would avoid other parts of the Middle East and Africa. Travelling can be dangerous and if you’re not on a packaged tour you must check out the destination and your travel plans yourself.
6. Know your limitations
I like to challenge myself but hate getting over-tired or too stressed. Just because I love the idea of skindiving in Hawaii doesn’t necessarily mean it’s for me. But maybe I can find a fabulous sit in Hawaii and take a glass-bottom boat excursion. And, since I’m not travelling to anyone else’s schedule, I can do whatever I want. That’s slow travel!
Is slow travel for you? Let us know in the comments below.