Travel slowly, staying in vacation rentals (villas, farms, cottages, apartments)
Who are Slow Travelers?
Slow Travel works well for many different types of travelers. Some examples:
Couples. Couples like me and Steve, who have done the "tour" of the major sights and now like to focus on the experience of living in a foreign country for a short time.
Larger groups (six or more). Many people travel to Europe in a large group. For example, a couple may rent a villa for a week or two and invite all their children and grandchildren to join them. Or two or three couples will do a trip together. For larger groups it is economical and more fun to stay in a vacation rental. Even if group members spend their days apart, touring at their own pace, everyone can meet together in the evenings in your private villa.
Families with children. It is easier for people with children to stay in a vacation rental than a hotel. There is room to spread out, you can cook simple meals for the children, and you can spend easy days at "home" if the children are tired of touring.
People with disabilities. A vacation rental can help you match your pace of travel to your physical capabilities. You can spend days relaxing at the vacation rental, setting your own pace for touring. If you have special dietary needs, it is reassuring to know you can cook some of your own meals.
Budget travelers. Vacation rentals can help you travel on a budget. They are cheaper per night than moderate hotels, you can cook some of your own meals to save the expense of eating every meal in a restaurant, and you can do your own laundry.
Luxury travelers. Villas are available with many luxuries: daily maid service, cooks to make the evening meal, a private swimming pool. Some large groups may hire a van and driver or private tour guides.
Foodies. People who love to shop in the local markets, extend their knowledge (and collection) of regional wines, and cook regional dishes using locally produced ingredients.
Anyone who enjoys independent travel can be a Slow Traveler.
One Couple's Personal Slow Travel History
Steve and I discovered Slow Travel in Europe on a six month trip we did in 1988. Our first vacation rentals were in Switzerland. We traveled the more usual way in France, Italy, Germany, and Scandinavia, but spent a month in vacation rentals in Switzerland and then five months in vacation rentals in the United Kingdom.
About Our Travel to Europe
In 1987 we left our home in Vancouver, Canada and traveled for three years before eventually settling in Santa Fe, New Mexico at the end of 1990. One year we spent traveling in Europe, the other two years traveling in the US. It was the one trip to Europe that started our love affair with European travel.
When we started the big trip to Europe, we had some vague idea that we wanted to find an apartment in a Swiss village and live there for a year. This was June 1988. I had found a book about hiking in Switzerland called Walking Switzerland - The Swiss Way (Marcia and Philip Lieberman, Walking Switzerland - The Swiss Way - From Vacation Apartments, Hotels, Mountains Inns and Huts, The Mountaineers, 1986. Second edition 1997). This book talked about vacation rental apartments that can be found all over Switzerland in the mountain towns and villages. This book changed my life.
We took the train into Switzerland, stayed in hotels but booked two weeks in an apartment in Grindelwald and two weeks in an apartment in Zermatt for the summer. Then we went to Florence. In Florence, an Italian travel agent, working in an American Express office, told us about a seaside hotel with small apartments, Torre di Cala Piccola on Monte Argentario. She booked a week for us. We took the train out there. We did not rent a car; we thought we would not be able to cope with driving. We stayed at the hotel for a week, walking the 5 miles into Porto Santo Stefano for groceries and taking a taxi back. We rested and swam every day.
It was paradise for us having an apartment because we had been traveling for weeks already and could not face more restaurant meals. We both eat vegetarian diets (Pauline completely, Steve mostly) and cannot eat restaurant meals every day for longer than a few days at a time. On that trip we hunted out vegetarian restaurants and Chinese restaurants all over Europe. We used Frommer's Europe on $50/day, where vegetarian restaurants were always listed because they are inexpensive.
After the summer in Switzerland (in lovely apartments), then a month in Scandinavia, we went to England where I found a book with vacation rental listings all over England. Over the next two months, we spent one week at a time in cottages all over England. Then we settled in a cottage outside of London for the winter. Then we came back to the US.
It was because of this trip and the two books we found, that I learned about vacation rentals. Back in the '80s, Americans did not really know about this type of travel. Back then, it was easier for us to travel in the US than Europe because we found cabins in the rural areas - you know those hotel/motel kind of complexes with a bunch of rough cabins in the countryside. This is how we traveled around the US. Now it is easier for us to find vacation rentals in Europe than in the US.
I started searching out ways of booking European vacation rentals - ads in the New Yorker, or in the back of travel magazines. I sent away for every catalog I could find - The Parker Company, Suzanne Cohen (Invitation to Tuscany), Vacanza in Italia, Cuendet, Tuscany Now, Vacanza Bella. I kept a file of catalogs and agencies. I did not know anyone else who traveled this way. All our friends, if they traveled to Europe at all, stayed in small hotels. No one was interested in spending a week in one place.
We didn't travel much in the early '90s, but I looked at those catalogs. In 1996, we booked a trip through an agency. I wanted nice places and I made that clear to them. The agent was very friendly and helpful, but they booked us into places that were not great. One was a perfect location, but was such a dirty and rundown cottage that we almost left after a couple of days. The other was a luxury resort - the cottage was beautiful - but in such a remote area (I felt) that we would have had to drive an hour or two every day to get to interesting towns. We also went to Switzerland on this trip and had an incredible time because we knew just how to find good vacation rentals there. We also had a great time in Italy, but it was difficult for us because everything seemed different from what we were used to - the driving, the restaurants, the food markets, the shops, the coffee bars - we felt we were just beginning to understand how things work at the end of a month there.
Because of this we immediately booked another two month trip for Spring 1997 (six months later). This time we used a different agency. Again the agent was very friendly and helpful, and this time one place was good, another was okay (but rundown and not comfortable) and a third was expensive and not great. But the trip was easier for us because we had learned so much on the previous trip.
Then came the World Wide Web boom and I was able to find rentals and more agencies on the web. We were no longer tied to one of the few big US agencies, and new agencies started up. From this point on, we found great vacation rentals for every trip. I started the web site to collect my reviews and other people's reviews. Now I book my trips based on the reviews we have. I have a list of some great sounding rental candidates for future trips and you can too, by reading through our web site, reading the vacation rental reviews and asking questions on the Slow Travel Message Board!
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