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The Monday Rave: In Praise of Slow Travel

Scott Vogel

Does anyone still remember the 1969 comedy "If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium"? It's a mildly entertaining film whose best joke is its title and whose protagonists are cartoonish tourists who try to visit nine European countries in 18 days. This was not an unexpected plotline, especially when you consider that the movie's winning title was inspired by the caption of a New Yorker cartoon.

But even as you laugh -- or rather chuckle weakly -- at the exploits of a passel of misbegotten travelers, it's a laughter of recognition. After all, one of the paradoxes of the modern American vacation is that what's intended as a relaxing respite from the daily grind can quite easily morph into something so hectic that you end up longing for a return to the grind.

It was out of this self-defeating vacation mentality, one imagines, that the Slow Traveler movement was born. It targets the Tuesday/Belgium mindset in much the same way that the Slow Food movement has targeted fast food America, and is part of a general Slow Movement whose enemies are as various as something called time poverty and "The Puffin Book of Five-Minute Stories."

In practical terms, the Slow Traveler movement, especially as championed by the Web site SlowTravel.com, advocates staying in apartments and rental homes while on vacation, and limiting your activities to the sorts of things you'd do if you actually lived in, say, Paris. Operating on what it calls the "concentric circles theory," the SlowTravel folks discourage day trips far from your home base, preferring instead that you start in your adopted neighborhood -- e.g., shopping in the local markets -- and work your way outward.

This approach has its limits, but I'm really intrigued by it, particularly during the present bleak period, when travelers have to be more money-conscious than ever. What do you think? Does the Slow Travel movement deserve to go the way of other cornball fads, or is there something potentially important happening here?

By Scott Vogel |  May 12, 2008; 6:37 AM ET  | Category:  Monday Raves , Scott Vogel
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While I get the concept - and indeed, already espouse a certain amount of their vacation guidelines - it just seems kinda silly.

Some people have their checklists, and mark their vacations by checking off each item, taking pictures, and buying a memento appropriately. It's not a vacation if they didn't keep to their schedule.

Some people make a loose list of things to do, get to some (if not all) of them, but then spend a fair amount of time just looking around. They don't necessarily buy anything or take a huge amount of pictures - they just sort of float from place to place and do what takes their fancy. (I'm one of these - my father is one of the former, which is why I think I'm one of these ; ) )

Having a "Slow Travel Movement" isn't going to change that.

Posted by: Chasmosaur | May 12, 2008 8:54 AM

I think it depends alot on where you go, and with whom you go. I travel by myself most of the time. If I go someplace like Orlando, I am going to plan out the week. If I go to Augusta GA, for a couple of days, I probably wont plan a thing.

I was thinking of making my first trip to Europe this December and renting an apartment for 2 weeks in Brussels ( changed my plans though) and just exploring the culture. But the more I read, the more I wanted to see.

Posted by: rja112 | May 13, 2008 1:05 AM

I think, like all things, that there's a happy medium. Travel should be about experiencing a place, and if you're going from point A to point B so you can see momument C and take a picture, you're not really doing that. However, if you limit yourself to "doing only what the locals do", you might miss out on some interesting sights and fun times.

Posted by: Liz | May 13, 2008 9:18 AM

Some people will be drawn to it simply because it's the new thing to do. Some of us prefer that far and away over hitting everything and everywhere.

There are a few good web sites out there that connect you to folks who rent their apartments and homes out on the side, often it's their second/vacation home. I've found some great places in small towns that way.

Posted by: Pompous Magnus | May 13, 2008 10:36 AM

RJA112, as someone who goes to Augusta, GA quite frequently, I find your comment amusing and ironic. Other than dinner at my favorite restaurant (La Maison on Telfair), the only thing I plan for a visit to Augusta is a trip to the grocery store!

As far as the original topic, I think that an ideal vacation is somewhere between the Slow Travel and the If It's Tuesday versions - part of the joy of visiting a new place is to experience what makes the place a nice place to live, but it's also good to see things the locals take for granted, like their museums.

Posted by: Mike | May 13, 2008 1:52 PM

The reason for trying to "do the whole country" when you're abroad is that most of us can't afford to do it very often. We want to fit in as much as possible while we're there.

I'm trying to do less of that, but I still tend to schedule a lot of stuff, just because I don't want to miss anything after I've spent a mint getting someplace I may never get to again.

Posted by: Greenbelt, MD | May 14, 2008 11:40 AM

It's a great idea to explore at home. I bet more Americans have visited Paris than have visited Idaho. I'm guilty of that, but I'm changing my ways and am really enjoying visiting out of the way places in California.

Posted by: Carson | May 14, 2008 12:52 PM

Oh, dear. I did a "If it's Tuesday" 16-day tour of Italy & Sicily last summer and came home vowing with my husband that we'd never ever go anywhere ever again. But we went places and saw things (however superficially and briefly) that we'd not do on our own. Usually, however, our holidays have been in Paris, in summer, sitting in the same gardens and parks, walking along the same streets, buying cheese, sausage, fruit, etc. from the same vendors, going back to the same museums for familiar artworks, and finding one special thing - the 60th anniversary of the Liberation of Paris from the Nazis, or the Paris Plage (man-made "beach" along the Seine). Are we in a rut? maybe. Are we relaxed and happy when the holiday is over? definitely!

Posted by: Rachel Stewart | May 14, 2008 2:51 PM

If you have the time, renting an apartment can be a great way to live like a local (sort of) while having a base for exploring further. Whether your relaxations and explorations must follow a rigorous schedule is more about personality than any trend.

I was interested in this article because I was curious about travel by train or ship rather than plane. Any thoughts?

Posted by: Jeremy | May 14, 2008 3:40 PM

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