The Art of Slow Travel for AOC

For the first 10 years of our relationship we were very focused on our careers, so the idea of leaving work for more than a few days seemed like a challenge. Most of our vacations were long weekends staying with family, and they were not frequent enough or long enough. Our standard outing was to drive four hours north and then hop on a ferry to Galiano Island to visit Alison’s aunt and the friends we had made there in British Columbia. Almost every year we also flew to California to visit my sister and family, or to Arizona to visit Alison’s parents. Our big splurge vacations at that point were four trips to Hawaii between 2006 and 2017. As I write this I think – we should have done more!

We weren’t considering bigger vacations at that point because we wanted to be frugal, and because I was traveling for work so often we weren’t thinking more travel sounded fun. And since I was traveling for work almost weekly, the trips that we did take always involved use of my travel miles and points to pay for our flights, hotels, and rental cars.

In 2012 we decided we were ready to take our first “big vacation” and travel somewhere new, away from the States and the North American continent. We decided to really go for it this time and spend 4 weeks in Europe. We immediately opened a new savings account so we could save the entire amount needed for our vacation and take our time planning. I was able to get time off work by just putting the dates I wanted on my team’s calendar. Easy. But it was really hard for Alison to take that much time away from the small company she worked for. It was stressful for her team to operate without her, and it was stressful for her to be away knowing that meant extra work for her team. Alison had to give them a full year of notice in order to make it work for everyone.

We set the date for our big vacation to take place in October of 2014. And in our typical mode as managers, planners, and team coordinators at work we immediately started working on some very detailed research plans and spreadsheets. Nerd alert!

While planning our first big vacation to Europe we collected maps and had a great time planning long in advance of our trip!

We weren’t looking for anything over the top in terms of luxury for our vacation. Our focus was on seeing as many of the top sights as possible. And we planned to used airline and hotel points whenever we could.

During that first trip in 2014 we stayed in two cities in England, two cities in Italy, and 4 cities in Scotland. That trip also included a 510-mile driving tour of Scotland done in only 5 days. I enjoyed the ride since I was the passenger and navigator, or “nagrivator” as I like to say. That’s a term I first heard from Lynne Martin in her book Home Sweet Anywhere. Check out Lynne and Tim Martin’s website for more info on their home-free travels.

That 2014 road trip through Scotland was Alison’s first time driving on the left side of the road, and all of that driving definitely wore Alison out. But we sure did enjoy the dram of Scotch whisky we had at the end of each day! We had an amazing time being explorers on that trip. It was also fun as a genealogy experience for us since we both have a lot of Scottish and English blood in our veins. We dashed around from place to place and fell in love with every city we stayed in. We felt like different people when we got home.

That’s us enjoying the views from the top of St Rule’s Tower in Scotland.
A really fun stop on our drive since Alison’s middle name is Rule!

We got home after that trip with a serious case of the travel bug. We immediately started planning our next big trip. That was the era of “work, save, travel, repeat.” Again we planned ahead by two years and set the date for October of 2016. Alison reserved three weeks off for the 2016 trip and hoped 3 weeks would be easier for her company to be without her instead of leaving for 4 weeks again. The hard part was having to wait 2 whole years until we could take another big trip. But it certainly left a lot of time for us to plan and dream, and we loved the planning almost as much as we loved the actual trip.

Since our first trip through 3 countries was such a fast-paced whirlwind we decided to see if staying in one country would slow us down and simplify things. We picked France, and decided we should see a few different regions. By the time our plans were set, we had arranged to visit 6 cities with a 1,050-mile driving tour. Again all driving was done by Alison with me as the nagrivator. We actually had a little fender bender about halfway through the trip, which we blame on the stress of driving for seven hours that day and getting lost twice. But no matter, we had an amazing time and fell in love with France!

One of our favorite experiences in 2016 was spending a night on
Le Mont Saint Michel in France!

We continued that routine one more time, planning 24 days in Europe in 2018. Again we had funning planning and booked everything way in advance. Again we wanted to see if we could figure out how to slow down, since we completely missed the mark on that during our first 2 trips. By that time it was obvious we would need to stay put in one city long enough to have a chance to slow down. So we planned to start this trip with 10 days in Paris. We spent most of our days in Paris reading and picnicking in various parks. We only went out for dinner once. We stayed in an Airbnb in a neighborhood away from the tourist sites, shopped at our neighborhood markets, and enjoyed cooking our own meals. It was awesome!

The last 2 weeks of our 2018 vacation were spent on a Rick Steves tour through Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. The tour had a driver to do the hard part for us, driving our group through 3 countries in 2 weeks. It was truly a fast and furious adventure seeing as many of the top sites as quickly as possible. We loved that experience because it was so well organized, had the most amazing guide we could ever ask for, and we made a ton of good friends within our group!

Those 3 big vacations taught us to love life as travelers. But we knew we wanted to unlearn a lot of the fast-paced travel behaviors we had adopted in order to enjoy a slower life as nomads. To quote Akaisha Kaderli of Retire Early Lifestyle, “Since travel is our lifestyle, we don’t exactly ‘vacation’ anymore.” Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are people we have learned a lot from. We scoured Billy and Akaisha’s website, books, and Facebook page for ideas and absorbed a wealth of information from them.

Now that we are full-time travelers ourselves, we are very committed to “slow travel.” We are not rushing around cities like tourists. We appreciate the opportunity to see some of the important sites in the cities we live in because they are valuable to their residents and cultures. But we don’t want to recreate the frantic pace we had before now. Our slow travel goals are focused on living like locals as much as possible. We want to make homes for ourselves while traveling. Today we are basically “playing house” in different areas so we can find places we want to return to and stay in for longer periods of time.

As slow travelers, some of our days are spent taking long walks and not much else. Other days are spent mostly reading, writing, and relaxing. In 2018 while in Paris we connected with the Senior Nomads, Debbie and Michael Campbell, by email. We were tickled when they called us “New Nomads” and grateful to get their advice by email and Skype. Their appreciation for slow travel is one of many things that caught our eye. In their post from Singapore they wrote, “We’ve always loved puzzles and we’ll do one if we are staying someplace for a while and have a big table. It is part of “living our daily lives” in other peoples homes and reminds us we are not in a hurry.” We really enjoy the entertaining and insightful travel stories they share on the Senior Nomads’ website.

As New Nomads, we are interested in getting to know the people, food, neighborhoods, art, and history of each place we visit. Just like we did when we lived in Seattle. We are cooking for ourselves most of the time, socializing with locals and fellow travelers as much as possible, and exploring the same areas the locals recommend and explore themselves.

We met these local guys hiking on Penang Hill and enjoyed learning about their lives in Penang and their jobs at Intel here in the tech capital of SE Asia, “the Silicon Island.”

Slow travel allows us to prioritize our health and happiness no matter where we are. It also allows us to create routines that we enjoy. Slow traveling means every day is one where we have time to focus on our own hobbies, to develop new interests, and to be our creative selves.

One of our other goals with slow travel, is simply to avoid moving to a new city or country too frequently. This is a way we can save money by stretching out what are usually bigger travel costs for transportation from one location to another. We don’t want the long flights, train rides, and drives to be too close together, because travel days are often challenging and tiring for us. And just as importantly, we really don’t want them to hit our budget too frequently.

We lived stressful, fast-paced lives while we were career-focused people. There are entire years from my life that seem like a blur of just rushing from one meeting to another, one city to another, anxiously trying to finish a long day of work by 10pm so I could squeeze in a quick chat with Alison before she fell asleep since she was getting up by 5am to start her early workday. We are determined to leave all of that behind us now. 

This new slow travel lifestyle we have adopted does come at a cost to us. The choice we made to live this way meant selling our beautiful condo and our car, letting go of our closet full of fun shoes, my excessive collection of comfy sweaters, an assortment of way too many jackets, a variety of fabulous kitchen appliances that we loved using on weekends, and our truly beloved Scotch Whisky collection (*sigh). We have decided we don’t need any of those things anymore. We’d rather experience the world than hang onto our cherished stuff.

As slow traveling nomads, we don’t need a permanent home, or more things than we can carry, or vacations. We don’t need luxurious five-star escapades, or perfect travel experiences, or perfect photos. All we really need to be happy, is each other. As we like to say, it’s just us! We are perfectly imperfect and incredibly happy together.

When we wake up in the morning Alison is ready to go but Ali looks like Jimmy Neutron and needs time to catch up. All we can say is… It’s Just Us!

Our new life as slow travelers definitely seems to agree with us! Over the last 114 days since leaving our condo we feel more rich, relaxed, joyful, playful, and balanced than we used to. We have the freedom to go anywhere, flexibility to visit family and friends for more than a 2-day weekend, curiosity to learn anything we are interested in, quiet time to spend in parks and gardens, energy for long hikes and leisurely strolls, and interest in making new friendships with our fellow travelers on the road. We live in a constant state of change with a routine built by us and for us. Our lives are just the way we want them!

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