Slow travel: 8 tips for soaking up the soul of a city
June 22nd 2017
As a newcomer it’s hard to get under the skin of a city, especially if you’re only there for a few days. Follow these slow travel tips for an extra-immersive experience on your next city break.
1. Don’t rush
Let go of the thought of seeing everything. It’s not possible during one trip anyway (or maybe even two, three, or four), but it also won’t help you to dig up the essence of a city. Think quality, not quantity. Think strolling, not speeding. Think taking the time to pay attention to the little things as opposed to ticking off the big hitters.
Relax and enjoy it. Take your time discovering the city’s streets and make a conscious effort to just slow down. This is supposed to be a holiday after all, a break from the hectic ways of everyday life and the chance to experience something new. Don’t let it all whip by you in a flash.
2. Stay with a local (and talk to them)
There’s nothing more valuable than meeting a local person in a city and seeing it from their perspective. The easiest way to meet a local is to stay with one, and with websites like AirBnB it’s never been easier to make friends with a home-grown resident of the city you’re visiting.
During your time at their place, make the most of your connection and ask them for recommendations. What would they do on an average weekend? Where would they hang out and grab a drink or meal? Interacting with your host will help you find authentic tips, instead of the run-of-the-mill advice from someone who may have only spent a few days in that city.
3. Avoid the tourist hotspots
This seems like an obvious one, but it’s simple – if you don’t want to be in the company of travellers, don’t visit the places they’re guaranteed to be. In some cities tourists are unavoidable, of course, but you can always make an effort to swerve the biggest sights in town – the Eiffel Towers, the 5th Avenues, the Angkor Wats.
Opt instead to discover the suburbs, or little-known neighbourhoods that perhaps don’t hold as much appeal for your average tourist. Lay out a map and put a pin in all the places travellers typically go – what’s in between? Or far away from those clusters of attractions? In these places you’re more like to strike gold.
4. Notice people’s interactions
We’ve always said the key to slow travel is paying attention. It’s an art form, really – and one that’s straightforward to perfect. Once you stop concerning yourself with rushing around and seeing every single sight, you open up that time and space to simply sit and absorb.
People watching is something many of us enjoy on a city break, but be intentional by purposefully working time into your schedule for it. Pull up a pew outside a cafe and watch the gestures and way of life around you. How do most people enjoy their morning coffee here? What sounds can you hear and what smells float by? Be fully present in these moments and sit back in them, feeling yourself become an anonymous observer to let the city carry on as usual around you.
5. Look for local meet-ups and events
Search for a group to meet up with one day or evening to experience a specific side to the city. It could be anything from a poetry night or a hiking meet-up – these events are really fun ways to create what you might be doing in your spare time if you lived there.
Many events like this are usually weekly or monthly, so if you’re not around for long it might be hard to get the timing right, but they’re worth keeping an ear to the ground for. Larger cities will always have something going on, any given night of the week, so push yourself until you find something that suits.
6. Get creative with your photos
Instead of taking average photos of skylines and famous buildings, look to the more specific moments in a city. This is the birthplace of great street or city photography – noticing the minute details that are worth taking a picture of, conveying a moment or feeling you wouldn’t notice if you were too preoccupied elsewhere.
This again comes down to paying attention. Stay still in one place for a while, camera in-hand, and let the scene change and move on in front of you. The best photographers wait around for magic to unfold – sometimes for hours – so be patient and once again, present.
7. Dive into food culture
Food is something that binds us together as humans, and so many stories are told through it all over the world every day. The way that people prepare and eat food is very telling when it comes to culture, so make it your focus to observe food practices in the city you’re visiting and think about what narrative that tells about the local way of life.
Go to markets to see what produce is sourced in the local area, and chat to the farmers about the region. Visit street food stalls and restaurants with open kitchens so that you can watch food being prepared in traditional ways. And, of course, eat. Eat until your hearts content because flavours tell a thousand stories.
8. Walk, walk, walk
Ditch public transport as much as possible during your trip. Use your own two feet to roam around, walking between subway and bus stops, making sure you keep your eyes right ahead or up above you, and not down to the ground. This will help you to stumble on those quiet corners that tell you something fresh about the city. Plus, walking saves you money and it will keep you fit so it’s a total win-win situation.
What’s your favourite of these slow travel tips?
How do you absorb more of a city?