Brilliant Minds, Healthy Body: Slow Travel
Updated: Apr 14
The low-cost airline revolution had an huge impact on the life of us Europeans. A long time ago - come to think of it, it's not that long ago, actually. I'm talking about the '90's and the beginning of the 21st century, if one of our friends told us they are going to London or Paris we could have been surprised, in awe even. Not everyone could afford to travel and, at the time, only privileged classes used to.
Fast-foward to today. Ryanair and Easyjet held the monopoly over low-cost trips around Europe, introducing us to the new and wondrous concepts, such as ''weekend city breaks'' or ''mini holidays''. They even brought Italy and Portugal closer. For us in Portugal, travelling to Rome or Milan was as luxurious as it could get: something we admired from afar. However, Italians had never even heard of Portugal, when we're but a stone's throw away (2.500km, to be precise). I remember some time ago (and by that, i mean 2006) when I was living in Milan and used to tell people I was Portuguese. Their immediate reaction was to praise the beauty of my country out loud (as Italians do): ''Barcelona, your country is beautiful!''. Yeah, believe me, that's what they said. And I experienced this too many times for it to be a coincidence or a one-off ignorant remark.
Those of you with some spare cash and beset by Wanderlust will probably already have had the opportunity to travel to 5 or 10 of the best European cities. But let me tell you what happened to me (and somewhat embarrassing, I confess). What I noticed on my many trips was how cities were all becoming one and the same. This feeling only grew the more I travelled, to such an extent where everything blended into one indistinguishable city. I had fun, of course I did. I ended up going various times to same cities (London, Nice, Naples, Rome, Paris, Barcelona) and every time I went back I saw new and different aspects of the city. Let's be honest though: travelling did not awake the same transcendental emotions in me as it did before, something I awaited and dreamed of for one whole year. I will daydream the whole week about next Sunday and my nan's kalulu fish dish. I do, however, not daydream about a MacDonald's hamburger. What we Europeans have come to experience is fast travel. What I am doing with my Home is where I am project is called slow-travel.
Travellers or tourists who decide to embark on the whole slow travel concept do so for the leisurely alternative it offers. There's no bucket list to cross of every three hours (or else), nobody is obsessed with Lonely Planet guides and you don't go back home feeling even more drained than when you left. Slow travellers spend more time in their city of choice (careful now, this could simply mean one or two weeks) which results in a bond of sorts being born between them and the city. They establish proper routines. They remain so long that they start recognising the face of the neighbour opposite their rented accommodation; they might have chosen their favourite café and will visit it every day. Our slow traveller probably even goes as far as a cooking or language course; he forms a real bond with the locals and doesn't remain in the same old area where most of us would go on one of our weekend trips. Traveling is good, regardless of how it takes place, but it's even better to start feeling we belong in a place which, up to that moment had felt strange.
I lived in Rio for six months. I didn't do everything Lonely Planet told me I had to. I didn't get to see all the museums I wanted to see, I didn't see a football game in Maracaña Stadium, I didn't spend a weekend in Paraty, I didn't see a samba school procession. What did I do? Well, I swam countless times in the choppy Ipanema sea, I whizzed by on my bike on the sidewalk and brand beer and water-melon juice every day. I made new friends, I recorded a song, I got to meet Brazilian singer Djavan, I spent my afternoons in the Travessa Bookshop writing away. I saw a Jorge Ben concert (one of the best concerts of my life), I got to see the World Cup up close, I danced samba with the locals, the cariocas, I ate a local bean dish, feijão preto, every day. When I travelled to other cities in Brazil, I always used to proudly proclaim: '' I'm no tourist: I live in Rio de Janeiro''.
I've been back in Lisbon for three weeks now. I still feel I haven't fully returned from Rio. It's a though, any minute now, I'll just pack my bags and go back. Was Lisbon my holiday, after all? That's why slow travel is so nice: we have the certainty that the places we elect around the world to be our homes will be ours forever. And it's beautiful when we are given the opportunity of making this world just that bit smaller.