In favor of the slow lane
Pat Savu, a research chemist at 3M in Maplewood, Minn., says between family obligations and work, her life in the Twin Cities is “frantic.”
So when she travels, she’s looking for a different pace.
For the past four years, she and her daughters have gone to Europe on spring break in determined pursuit of slowness – no checklists of attractions, no timelines, no trying to do all of Europe in 10 days.
This year, she and her oldest daughter rented an apartment in the Trastevere neighborhood of Rome for 13 days.
“I didn’t want to waste all that time and money running around,” Savu says. “This approach helps you see things that you wouldn’t find on somebody else’s top 10 list.”
Savu is a convert to the slow travel movement, an offshoot of the general slowness movement, which is a reaction to the accelerated pace of daily life.
By most accounts, slowness took off as a concept in 1989 in Italy with the advent of the slow food movement. What started as a local revolt against fast-food has evolved into a philosophy with followers worldwide.
The idea that fast isn’t best has now crept into other arenas: Slow design, slow sex and slow cities have their own movements.
“Slow travel refers to traveling at a pace that allows the traveler to fully appreciate the place he or she has traveled to,” says Geir Berthelsen, a Norwegian activist who started the World Institute of Slowness in 1999.
The idea is “to relax more and not return after a vacation feeling like we need another.”
To that end, slow travelers prefer rental housing to hotels, walking or biking to cars, and cars or trains over airplanes. They try to immerse themselves in one place rather than pursuing multiple stamps for their passports.
“For 150 years, we’ve been in an acceleration of our culture,” says Carl Honore, author of “In Praise of Slowness,” a 2005 book that has been translated into 30 languages.
“Now we’ve reached a phase of diminishing returns. The slowness movement is about quality over quantity.”
Honore, a Canadian living in London, had his slowness epiphany when he realized he was cutting several dwarves out of “Snow White” while reading at his son’s bedtime to save a few minutes.
Since then, he’s made adjustments so that he can live an unhurried life; one of them involved changing the way he travels. For vacations, his family rents a house in the English countryside for a week or two, allowing them to get intimate with one area and with one another.
“One thing I’ve noticed is that I really remember my vacations now,” he said. “Before, the places just became backdrops; I’d be skimming the surface of places as I rushed around.”
The slow movement is broad-based and popular in Europe; in the United States, its biggest impact has been on the coasts.
Rod and Sharon Johnson, owners of Midwest Mountaineering in Minneapolis, said they’ve long practiced slow travel, though they didn’t know it was a movement until recently.
“We like the concept because we walk or bicycle on our vacations,” Sharon Johnson said. “You feel more a part of the landscape when you’re moving slowly enough to see it.”
The Johnsons recently returned from a three-week trip to Patagonia, the mountainous region at the tip of South America, where they backpacked in Torres del Paine National Park.
Rod Johnson says slowness can include how you pack your luggage; he and his wife each carried a 20-pound backpack for the duration of the trip, sharing a third, 15-pound pack of dried food.
“Going light or ultralight is another way to simplify life,” he says. “Less time packing, less time looking for things, less weight on your back.”
Denise Edelstein of Crystal, Minn., stumbled onto the idea of slow travel when she was looking for advice on travel to Italy.
At slowtrav.com, a California-based site with more than 8,000 registered users, she found adherents of the slowness movement who share advice on rental houses and apartments, public transport and public markets.
Edelstein, 49, went to Rome and Florence in February and spent four days in each town.
“I saved one day for the Vatican Museum, one for the Coliseum,” she says. “I’m not going to rush around.”
Savu, who writes about her travels at the slowtrav.com site, said she’s been to Rome several times, but there’s always more to discover.
“Trastevere is so different from the rest of Rome; there are trees, a warren of narrow streets and a lot of beautiful little churches,” she says.
She and her daughter ate in trattorias, shopped in the markets and walked or took public transport to get around, just like the Romans they lived among.
At one church, the janitor let them into the basement, where archaeologists were uncovering the remains of an early Christian church, more than 1,000 years old.
“We never would have gotten that on the bus tour,” Savu says.