Traveling isn’t vacationing.
One involves transportation, loaded itineraries, action. The other is fundamentally the opposite. Inaction. Travel, a positive overall experience, can also be difficult, uncomfortable and exhausting. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has thought, “I need a vacation,” after a whirlwind trip. Sometimes it’s too much.
Sometimes there are simply too many churches, too many museums and markets and beggars and though you might have even planned that trip for months, you arrive suddenly exhausted. Like I wrote about during my recent trip to Budapest or during my parents’ visit this past August.
In the seven days since they arrived in Milan to visit me we had already been into the mountains, around lake Lecco and Como, to Milan, Bergamo and Monza where I live. Then we stopped in Florence for a half day and kept the fast pace as we made our way from Florence to Rome. I had been hosting, cooking, navigating and translating and I was, we were all, tired.
But we had all of Rome to see!!
I know that hard-core travelers would scoff, “Ugh, get it together you baby. If you can’t handle it stay at home.” I probably felt the same when I had more urgency and less patience. But lately, it seems I’ve been practicing a “slower travel” idea, combatting the feeling of obligation that comes (at least for me) from the money you spent for the trip. The feeling that you have to SEE ALL THE THINGS! DO ALL THE THINGS!
The first day in Rome we pushed through, walking kilometers and kilometers to see all the major sites. We made a loop from our hotel in the Vatican City, to Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps. We stayed up late for our night tour of the Coliseum, getting to our hotel well after midnight and well past exhausted. Each day, however, we seemed to drop more and more, freeing up our itinerary for longer mornings, more breaks, less things, and we were thankful for it.
Budapest was perhaps the first time since I started traveling that I couldn’t handle the travel during a trip. Once again, Marco and I pushed through – until we didn’t. The city’s famous spas gave us an excuse – “It’s an experience! It’s a part of the culture!” – to just stop. We spent over four hours in the thermal spas, hopping from pool to pool, doing nothing but marveling at the minerals that kept our arms floating and feeling our muscles unraveling in the heat of the water. We spent an evening finding a secret crepe restaurant and skipped a scheduled boat tour to simply sit on the steps of the Castle and look at the lights across the river.
Did we see everything there was to see in Budapest? Absolutely not. Are we happy about our trip? Absolutely.
Full itineraries will likely always exist, but now I know the beauty of zero itinerary. The freedom of not feeling obligated to go go go because of the fear that you’ll never return and instead remembering when you sat in a park to kill time before dinner, eavesdropping on conversations in German. Or when you watched hours of Project Runway in Korean in a Korean hotel room to recuperate the morning after a late night.
They aren’t the things that you plan in advance and they’re not necessarily the things you can tick-mark off a list, yet in my experience they often turn out to be the moments you remember the most.