Former Associate editor Margret Aldrich on the hunt for happiness, community, and how humans thrive
“Don’t take too many pictures,” my father advised before my first trip to Europe, encouraging me to get out from behind the camera and engage with what was in front of it. The truth is, I had a ten-mile list of things to see and pictures to take on the three-week five-country trip that would exhaust my savings and me—Paris: Eiffel Tower; London: Tower Bridge; Venice: St. Mark’s. Check, check, check.
This kind of breakneck travel is an unfortunate trend, says BootsnAll, a site that bills itself as the one-stop indie travel guide. “So much of modern culture pushes us at a frenetic pace,” they write, and continue:
Americans seem to be the worst of the bunch, with 30% of people not taking their allotted vacation time and 37% not taking more than a week a year. For the rest, a sad 33%, we tend to vacation the same way we live: at warp speed with emphasis on performance and “box checking.” Hence, the proliferation of tours that cram three countries and five cities into two weeks and keep travelers moving on an itinerary that feels like anything but vacation. Sure, they get home with a lot of nice pictures, but have they accumulated much else in terms of experience, depth or personal growth?
BootsnAll—and a blooming slow travel movement—reminds us that traveling is not a contest and gives us several points to consider when embarking on mindful travel: Be present. Realize that true understanding takes time. And go deep instead of wide—rather than filling your vacation with three different cities, pick one and get to know the people and culture as well as the sites, whether they’re a country away or two towns over.
Several years after my first jam-packed venture overseas, I went back to Venice with my partner. It was a misty November and the floating city was mostly devoid of tourists, with tides that flooded the streets until 11 in the morning. We stayed in bed late, frequented the same osteria until the owners knew us, and sunk into the magic of the place.
One night, on a late walk, we stumbled upon a soup supper outside a church and were invited to join in. Chords from a guitar drifted across the cobblestone streets, and an old woman hiked her skirt above her ankles to dance an impromptu solo. While we clapped along with the small crowd, all of us huddling closer to beat the chill, the man tending the pot of soup motioned me over to refill my bowl. That simple, unexpected night remains one of my favorite travel memories. And a picture wouldn’t do it justice.