Until yesterday, I didn’t know that the kind of travelling we do has a name: slow travel.
I often get people asking me how it was possible to bring a kid to some of the places we went to, which sometimes means being in the middle of nowhere. The truth is we never believe the idea that travelling as a family means hopping endlessly from one family attractions to another or that we need a schedule full of educational activities for the Kid. That being said, we’re not the intrepid types who bravely uproot ourselves and go around the world as nomads. We’re also too introverted and impulsively curious for super-size, all-inclusive resorts.
What we do, we travel slow.
What does it mean?
Like slow food, the focus of slow travelling is in the savouring of the experience. It’s not about ticking off a bucket list, it’s not about being able to brag where you’ve been, and it’s definitely not about following itineraries and tirelessly being on the go. It’s about trying to sneak yourself as organically as possible into a place, instead of being a spectator waiting to be awed.
It starts with where we’re staying. An accommodation shouldn’t just be a place to crash at the end of the night. We pick the place to stay which gives us the sense of having our own space, the autonomy to set our own schedules (no limit on breakfast time!), and the feeling of being home, even if it’s half a world away. Once we put down our temporary roots, we will then proceed to explore the area with no rush and get used to the idea that it’s our adopted home for the time being. We don’t veto tourist attractions right away, but we only go and visit if we feel that we will get something personal out of the visit.
We like the feeling that we have a home, but that doesn’t mean we are trying to keep everything as closely as possible as it was at home (otherwise, why not just stay home?). We settle in our temporary homes and do our best to get along with the quirks and personality of the world they come with.
Keeping the pace down with the Kid
What I learned from the Kid on what she enjoys the most by travelling with the family, it’s because it allows her some quality time with the parents, and not because of the promises of endless excitement.
The kid is a bundle of energy, she loves nothing more than being on a noisy thrill ride, but she knows travelling with us means there are days we don’t do much at all. It also involves doing mundane things like picking up the groceries or making our own breakfast in the morning. Like us, she sees our little vacations as surrogate lives, with the bonus that nobody needs to go to school or work. After a while, she gets to know the neighbourhood where we stay at, the local playground to play with, and picks a favourite cafe to have lunch at. She knows the way to the beach, sometimes she speaks to other children, she gets attached to the holiday house or even the whole town. I always ask her if she could imagine living in the places we visited (and received various answers to this).
We do fun and exciting things with her too; most of the time we simply involve her in the things we enjoy to do ourselves. From swimming, snorkeling, cycling, climbing, sailing, skating, to sampling local cuisines and stargazing. We always try to instill a sense of wonder in nature in her. Hubby being the more sensitive type who sees beauty and I’m the geekier type, who sees science everywhere; she enjoys looking at things from both perspectives. Together with her love of things athletic, there’s always something we can do together anywhere (big city trips are trickier). We also go to special attractions if we happen to be in the vicinity and she is interested in it. But it is never a must-have, and the business of having fun shouldn’t be a chore.
There’s not always time to do everything, but that’s okay
One downside of travelling slow, is that sometimes you simply don’t have the time to do all the interesting things you wanted to do. We do all of our trips in 1-2 weeks time period, because of school and work schedules (we prefer not to travel abroad on summer holiday to avoid high-season prices). Some places we’ve been to were chock-full of possibilities and wonderful things to see and do, and we did realise that there was no way we could cram everything in during our stay. Instead of trying to pack as many things as possible into the schedule, we prioritised on what we really want to do, and if it’s the best thing to do under the weather/season we’re in, and if we could fit it in efficiently together with something else we also had in plan. Some times, we really wanted to do something, but it’s just not meant to be, like the time we’re in Cape Town, and we really wanted to go up the Table Mountain, but it was covered in clouds for the whole time we were there. We have it chalked down as something to do when we’re back (and yes, we will be back!).
No matter where we are, I also need some days when I don’t need to go anywhere and have the possibility to roam freely, unstructured, or even to do nothing at all. Travelling can be exhausting to your senses, and going from one sight to another for several days in a row can leave one to feel overstimulated (at least I feel this way). This is when I have to step back, curl up into an imaginary cocoon, and find the time to properly digest what I had experienced in the last couple of days. The Kid is usually happy as well when we told her we’re going to spend the whole day relaxing, or do whatever she wants around the house.
Doesn’t it get boring?
I guess, in the end, it depends on your personality. Some people feel energised with being busy all the time, some people feel overwhelmed with a list of activities. Some people are expert at entertaining themselves, while others need external stimulation to feel alive. But with children who have shorter attention span anyway, I think it’s important to let them feel the soul of the places they’re visiting by letting them absorbing it organically, rather than by instruction. I believe it’s better to introduce the world to a child by showing her the possibility to fit into another society rather than being the typical tourist who grabs only the impression of a different culture and then go home.