I’m evolving as a traveler. My 7-10 day whirlwind trips of the past have been replaced by more enriching journeys of a month or more. So-called slow travel. During 2022, we took three different month-long trips to Europe – Spain, Malta, and Greece. When originally envisioning what this post-retirement life of slow travel would look like, I didn’t fully know what to expect. And Mrs. TT and I are still very much figuring it all out. How long can we stay away before needing to address realities back home? What is realistic from a budget standpoint? How do we work around her job? How can we be present enough for our extended family?
So as we prepare to leave tomorrow on our longest travel experience yet – two months in Lisbon Portugal, let me share some of what I’ve learned so far while traveling slower.
Tripping on the Fly
I am The Thorough Tripper. And that name originally comes from my OCD need to research and plan out most of our trip details prior to departure.
However, I’m finding that with slow travel, I don’t need so much pre-trip obsession. I have plenty of time to figure things out after arrival.
Now, my pre-trip planning consists of researching neighborhoods and districts, so that we’ll know where to stay. Getting a general idea of the public transportation system, so I’ll understand how to get around. Learning some basics of the language so that I can at least make an attempt to communicate a little in the local tongue. Researching and downloading any country-specific apps I need to make life easier in our temporary home. And researching any potential tours, day trips, or events – just in case a reservation is needed ahead of time.
But beyond that, I do my day-to-day tripping after arrival. As we leave for Lisbon, I can’t name more than a couple major sites. Next week though, we will have visited several.
Laid Back Site-Seeing
But not all of them. Because when you have longer to explore a place, there is no mad rush to see everything in just a matter of days.
In Seville Spain, for example, we didn’t tour its top two sites – The Alcazar or The Cathedral – until the end of our first week. Instead, we wandered around, figured out the lay of the land, took a cooking class, and “explored” a lot of tapas menus.
In Athens, we spent our full first week slowly discovering all of central Athen’s amazing history – just a few major sites each day. I felt bad for the cruise ship passengers who sat next to us for lunch in a restaurant once. They had only one single day to try and see it all. Impossible…
The Full Cuisine Experience
Eating is a big reason that I love traveling. I want to experience all the wonderful and vastly different cuisine that this world has to offer.
But it’s hard to completely appreciate the food of a place during a short visit. We were in Greece for a month, and I still didn’t have the chance to try a couple of the Greek dining classics. I don’t even want to imagine everything I would have missed had we only been there a week.
Plus with slow travel, if I discover a dish I really love, I have the chance to eat it over and over again. Or if I find a restaurant I love, I have the chance to return a few more times.
And we don’t exclusively eat out when we slow travel. We buy a lot of groceries too. And I enjoy exploring the grocery food culture of each place we visit too. The small corner grocer across the street from our apartment in Malta is the perfect example. There, we not only learned about everyday Maltese food, but we made a friend in Kenneth the grocer as well.
Which leads me to another great thing about slow travel. It gives us more of a chance to experience every day life in the places we visit.
We generally choose apartment rentals over hotels, and those are usually located slightly off the tourist track. This allows us to get a better idea of what life is like as a local. We establish our favorite bakery, our favorite convenience store, our favorite supermarket, our favorite local restaurant. All giving us a chance to interact on a regular basis with area residents.
Plus we love observing normal everyday life in a new place as much as we enjoy seeing all the usual tourist sites. I can contently wander backstreets for hours. Or hang out in a town square. You never know what you are going to see.
As regular readers know, Mrs TT works when we travel. And that was one of the big questions before our first extended trip to Spain. How easy or difficult would it be for her to work remotely? We had faith it would all be OK. After all, the digital nomad lifestyle is pretty common now – especially post COVID. However, we couldn’t be certain about all the logistics for her particular job until we tried it.
But it worked out great! Most of her clients had no idea she was speaking to them from Spain… and then Malta…and then Greece. And she was able to complete all her necessary tasks on her strict schedule from afar.
And it’s not only work issues that require digital attention while traveling slow. Stuff needs to be addressed at home too – bills, taxes, etc. No problem with any of that either.
Optimal connection with the US is made possible by a few important tools though.
First, a good VPN for internet safety and ideal connectivity with US-based systems. We use NordVPN.
Second, a reliable cell phone carrier, with a reasonable priced international plan. We use T-Mobile. And our phones work on the road exactly as they do at home. Plus our T-Mobile hotspot serves as backup internet access in situations when we temporarily lose internet connectivity in our apartments (happened in both Spain and Greece).
The Budget – Can We Afford This?
One of the big unknowns before embarking on slow travel…..Can we even afford to travel as much as we want.
And so far so good! 82 days on the road in 2022, and it ended up costing a little less than I had hoped.
I’ve always been frugal and I’ve always been a saver. Mrs. TT too. And we do carry over that philosophy to our travels as well. This is how we are doing it…
We travel slightly off season to avoid higher prices. Southern Spain in March, Malta in May, Greece in the Fall, Lisbon in the Winter. All outside of each location’s peak tourist season, but still during a time with reasonable weather.
We use credit card reward points and frequent flier miles to purchase airfare as much as possible. Traveling off season also helps keep airfare costs down.
We are careful with our lodging budget. We stay mostly in vacation rentals and I prefer Airbnb for it’s vast selection of properties, the large number of property reviews, and overall price. Plus their nightly rates usually drop (sometimes significantly) with longer stays. We don’t stay in dives- we won’t skimp on quality or space. But we do avoid breaking the bank on lodging, and spend a lot of time looking for that perfect place. Our sweet spot is $75-$100 a night (including fees) for a 1-2 bedroom apartment.
We mostly use public transportation – a more authentic travel experience anyway. Plus we walk…a lot.
We spend less money on food at home when we are not traveling, so that we can spend more money on food when we are traveling. But even then, food has generally been less expensive in our European destinations than at home (so far).
Plus, travel is my only hobby. I really don’t spend money on anything else.
A longer time away requires more thought about keeping things working properly at home while gone. We are grateful to have kids and neighbors that help keep an eye on things for us.
Here are a few of the things we’ve had to consider…
Security – We upgraded our home security system with outside cameras and remote locks. We can monitor and control everything from wherever we are.
Auto Maintenance – Vehicles shouldn’t sit unused for too long without some preventative love. I now have a battery maintainer for each of our cars (this is the one I chose). We make sure the tires are filled with the correct air pressure. And we leave the gas tanks full and add this fuel stabilizer.
Water Leak Sensors – Frozen pipes are a concern during winter travel, and though we keep our heating system on and cupboards open, I want the extra layer of security that a leak sensing system gives us. I’ve just finished setting up this system from Yosmart that will immediately notify our phones if any problems occur in the indoor locations I’ve designated.
I would also love to use this device from Flume. It would help monitor for outdoor sprinkler system leaks at other times of year. Unfortunately, my municipal water district won’t allow us to attach it to our water meter.
Snow Removal – We can get pounded by snow at our house. Just recently, we accumulated two feet during one storm over New Year’s Day. I’ve hired someone to take care of the snow removal while we are gone. And I won’t miss it – not even a little!
We will unquestionably continue to learn more as we spend more and more time slow traveling. New lessons will undoubtedly be learned during our Portugal trip. This time we are staying in one apartment in one city for a full two months – a completely different slow travel experience for us. Will we get bored in the same city for so long? What if the apartment isn’t as expected? What if we love Lisbon so much we never want to leave?
I don’t know….
But part of the addiction of travel is the joy that comes with discovery.
So stay tuned. More from Portugal to come.
And if you want to read a little more detail about some of our slow travel experiences so far, then check out these posts: