Quality Travel: How? Part 1

This is the second post in an on-going series about quality travel: mindful, responsible travel that results in a more quality travel experience for the traveler and a more sustainable solution for destinations. Click here for my first post, which explores the question of why we should care about quality travel.

Often when people plan their trips, they make a check-list of the must-sees and figure out how to cram as much in their limited time off from daily life as possible. I get that; we want to make the most of our precious time and the most of our money that we spend to travel to a destination. However, with some different perspectives on planning and a little more research, all travelers can have a more quality travel experience. It’s worth the additional effort, not just for travelers, but also for the good of helping travel destinations be sustainable.

Here are my tips for quality travel, including links to resources that might help or inspire you as you think about travel and plan your trips. Stay tuned for Part 2 for more tips and resources for making travel more meaningful and sustainable!

Go slowly

Pacific Grove walk

One of my favorite slow travel experiences: renting a house on the Monterey Peninsula three times in the last 1.5 years

We all know that doing things slowly, with care and attention, produces more meaningful results than multi-tasking or doing things in a rush. The same definitely holds true for travel. When we slow down and spend plenty of time in a place, the connection we have with the place is completely different.

I have always preferred slow travel even when I didn’t think of it as that. For example, as a young traveler, I planned a 3-month trip to Europe with long stretches spent in most of the destinations, including 3 weeks in Florence, 3 weeks in the Czech Republic, and 4 weeks in London. I wouldn’t have thought of doing it differently.

Take all the people I’ve heard say that they didn’t care for Florence or that Prague was too crowded; when I asked how long they had been there, the common answer was 2 or 3 days. Ugh…complaining about a historic city like Prague after barely 3 days? No wonder they couldn’t get beyond the crowds–they didn’t even scratch the surface of the glory of this former capital of the Holy Roman Empire, this city that has been through so, so much through the centuries. (Hey, I know we all rush sometimes. I didn’t care much for Vienna based on the ONE day that I spent there!)

Two slow travel gurus are Emiel of Act of Traveling, who inspired me by traveling slowly through Asia with his wife and two children last year, and Simon and Erin of Never Ending Voyage, who are so committed to traveling slowly that they have their own Slow Travel Manifesto. Also, follow the Slow Travel board on Pinterest for more slow travel stories.

Travel in the Off-Season

Napa Valley off season

Napa Valley in the winter when it’s less crowded but just as beautiful

Off-season travel is rewarding for so many reasons. I was recently reminded of that while visiting Napa Valley in winter. Traveling in the off season is less crowded. There are discounts to take advantage of. You often get better service. You get a better idea of what life is really like in the destination.

I fell in love with Florence in the off-season, going there three times in the winter, only to find that when I went again one summer, it was a completely different city filled with crowds of tourists and little sign of authentic Florentine life.

My friend and fellow Florens2012 social media reporter, Nathalie Salas of Perfect Boutique Hotel, examines the benefits of traveling in the off-season, including the using local resources to heighten the travel experience.

Splurge a little!

Florence cafe

There have been way too many times that I didn’t do things while traveling because I was afraid that they were too expensive. I regret that. While I do not promote blowing a bunch of money, I would suggest finding a few experiences that mean something to you and splurging on those. Whether it’s a decadent afternoon in a beautiful old café like the one above or horse-back riding on the beach, do what will make you happy and don’t look back. Making memories is one of the best parts of traveling.

Take slow transportation

I’m not a fan of long bus rides, but I do love to travel by train, even long train rides. I think something is being lost in the super-cheap flights being offered in Europe and other places where travel can be such a beautiful experience but can get watered down by flying. Train travel allows you to stay in the historic center since most major train stations are not located outside of town, to meet local people on the train, to see the country out the train window, and to slow down while sitting on the train for a few hours (a chance to sit and do nothing? Sounds great!). Besides, airplane travel is bad for the environment.

One blogger who represents the old-fashioned love for train travel is Michael Hodson of Go, See, Write, who travels the world without getting on an airplane.

bikes in the Netherlands

Besides opting for the train instead of the plane when going from one place to another, think about how you get around the city itself. Try sustainable options like taking the metro, exploring the center on foot, and renting bikes. My experience of renting a bike in Amsterdam was proof that doing so allows you to see so much more of the city than just on foot or (dare I mention) taking a cab.

More tips and resources coming in Part 2, but for now, what are your thoughts and suggestions for making more quality travel experiences? 

28 Comments

  • Agree with every one of your points. Love the offseason travel. I try and do it as much as I can. Honestly, I don’t do many big vacations during the summer. I do splurge but have my limits. I don’t care about hotels, food, or fancy travel but will splurge on sporting events. As for trains, I wish we had more of them here in the US. Great way to travel!
    Jeremy Branham recently posted..I hate cruises (and other vacations I won’t take)My Profile

    • Jenna says:

      I think splurging on a sporting event is a great example. Watching a soccer game or other type of sporting event in another country would be a great experience and memory.

      • I went to a baseball game in Japan. It was an interesting experience.

        I agree with going slow in places, in principle. However, that can be difficult to do when working full-time. I get 4 weeks of vacation per year (admittedly, that’s more than a lot of other Americans get), and it’s hard for me to use more than 2 weeks of them at a time. And so the benefits of traveling more deliberately come into tension with my desire to see as many new places as I can in the limited time available to me. Last September I took a 2-week trip during which I only saw Egypt, and it was great being able to see one country in that kind of depth (although even there, I would have liked at least another week to get to some additional Egyptian locations.) But more common is the type of trip I have coming up in May, where I’m spending 16 days split between Moscow, St, Petersburg, Kiev, and Chisinau. Given the opportunity, I could easily spend weeks just exploring Russia . . . . But I don’t have that opportunity at this point in my life.

        As a New Yorker, you don’t need to sell me on the virtues of public transport. 🙂 And I do try to take local mass transit wherever I go, where feasible. For example, in Istanbul a couple of months ago I enjoyed riding the tram to get around the city.

        Being in Istanbul over New Year’s was also an example of me traveling during the off-season. 🙂
        Harvey (H-Bomb’s Worldwide Karaoke) recently posted..It happened. I met another H-Bomb.My Profile

        • Jenna says:

          I completely agree about the time. When you have limited time to travel (like most people do), you have to decide if you will go to just one place or see more places. My husband prefers the latter, and I also like that sometimes, but I am getting more and more in the mood for just going to one place and parking myself there. The baseball game in Japan must have been fun. I enjoyed my short stay in Japan and hope to go back soon.

  • Great tips…I’m a big fan of off-season travel. It’s not as crowded and cheaper…a great combination:)
    D.J. – The World of Deej recently posted..Surfing Under the Golden Gate Bridge – Pic of the WeekMy Profile

  • Emiel says:

    Again a great post Jenna! Yes, I love slow travel. Some find it strange, but I always love to just sit down on a bench and watch local life happening. Just be there…
    Last year in Asia, as you mentioned, we decided to stay in a place as long as we wanted…..taking it slow which is also a better way to travel with our kids. Calling me a slow travel guru…..nice! 🙂
    What I also love in your post is to make memories. Sometimes you just have to go for it and the new memories will last for a life time!
    Next Summer we will be in Cambodia….we have no itinerary yet…we will see what happens when we are there.
    Emiel recently posted..The Hitchhiker’s Guide to traveling the worldMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      I love your approach of not planning and just seeing how you feel when you are there. Your children are so fortunate to be able to take this type of vacation to such interesting countries! And just sitting and watching local life…sounds wonderful! I love to do that no matter where I am.

  • i am a fan of staying put. i would rather settle in and see “less” by staying in one place than by seeing “more” of a place running around and site hopping. i don’t work like that.

    for instance, while traveling in thailand we spent a week in the islands, 10 days in chiang mai, and a week in luang prabang. we settled in, returned to a few favorite places and had time to read in cafes with the locals.

    we stayed for 2 weeks in a tiny village in the south of france. mostly we swam in the pool, ate local cheese and drank local wine while cooking up a storm from daily markets. seriously one of the best trips of my life.

    i live slowly as a rule, so that doesn’t change while i’m traveling.
    Tami – Teacher Goes Back To School recently posted..Saturday SensesMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      I completely agree. I also love to stay put and settle into some kind of routine in the place. Your trips sound wonderful, and the time in France sounds like heaven.

  • Definitely agree with all your points… Although, I probably take the “Splurge a little” tip a little too far at times 🙂

    We are huge fans of slow travel; It cheaper; you make more friends (which then show you hidden treasures tourists don’t know about) and you can immerse yourself into the culture and/or customs. We house sit a lot and this also helps with all of this too.

    Im really enjoying your writing Jenna.. Im a fairly new follower but you are one of my bookmarked sites now 🙂
    Suitcase Stories – Nicole recently posted..How we saved to become permanent travelersMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      Thanks, Nicole! So glad you’ve been enjoying the posts. I love your approach to traveling by housesitting. I would love to do that someday.

  • I love this subject and couldnt agree more Jenna! One of my favorite memories of travel is a very long train ride that hugged the italian coast when I was younger. Just like our everyday wherever we live, focusing on the moment – and not so much in the past or future – is a good reminder. and might you share your monterey rental 🙂 or source for rentals> Im looking for something in spring!
    monique at bringingtravelhome recently posted..lagomMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      True about focusing on the moment. And I can relate about the train travel memories. I have some of those that I will always cherish.
      We rented 3 different houses through Sanctuary Vacation Rentals. They are a bit expensive but worth it I think because most of them are close to the water and are very comfortable. For us traveling with small children, we need a kitchen.

  • Erin says:

    Thanks for linking to our slow travel manifesto Jenna! I agree with everything you say here, especially about not judging a place when you haven’t spent very long there. Many people dislike Florence because of the crowds but after spending a month there studying Italian I found it easy to escape them, even recently when we just visited on a day trip in the summer.
    Erin recently posted..Photo of the Week: Mexican Skeleton in a Golf CartMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      I agree about Florence. MOst of the crowds are so concentrated in a fairly small area of the city, but there is plenty to see beyond that.

  • Jenna, my husband and I travel by many of these principles too. Right now, we’re appreciating #2 (traveling in the off-season) in Trogir, Croatia. Initially, we were quite surprised to find most businesses here shuttered for the winter, but we’re now delighted to mostly have the town to ourselves. We’ve hardly brushed shoulders with any other visitors. 🙂
    Tricia Mitchell recently posted..Getting Acquainted with Trogir, CroatiaMy Profile

  • Cassie says:

    Great post, Jenna! I’m glad you’re writing about this as these are all things that have been on my mind lately. Taking public transport and traveling off season are my favorites 🙂

  • jill says:

    Word on the ocassional splurges when traveling. I think as we’ve gotten older, we’ve realised that certain things are worth spending money on like good quality local food, tours that support the community, and locally made souvenirs. There’s no price for good memories.
    jill recently posted..Belitung, A Paradise Island You’d Never Heard OfMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      I couldn’t agree more. When I was younger, I was always trying to economize because I traveled on tiny budgets. That started a habit that I have had to try to break because it’s a terrible feeling when I regret not spending a little money on special experiences.

  • Andrew says:

    Slow travel and quality experiences through it is part of our travel philosophy too. So great to see more being written about it.

    The splurging is what I often get wrong. I get so into being slow and local and cheap that I forget (or forgo) some things due to cost. I need to practice that. To remember that traveling slower is actually cheaper overall, giving a little more wiggle room in the budget for this sorts of things.
    Andrew recently posted..Daytrips and Slow TravelMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      Good point about slow travel being cheaper overall (less transportation, for one thing), so there should be a little wiggle room for splurges. I need to work on splurging, too.

  • I completely agree, Jenna! I think it’s do easy to get caught up in the numbers game, with lots of people comparing how many countries they’ve been to in x amount of time. I studied in NZ for a year and then ended up as an expat for another 3+, and while I still travelled occasionally, it was an awesome chance to really get to know the culture and become a part of it. I’m collecting memories and experiences, not passport stamps.

    Looking forward to the next!
    Kate – Canuckiwikate recently posted..Tofino is easy to loveMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      Definitely. If someone mentions how many countries they’ve been to, I would wonder if they really had the time to get to know those places. I wish I could visit more countries, but I hope to do so with enough time to really get a feeling for the places.

  • Renuka says:

    That’s great advice on quality travel! I also believe that it’s better to see a couple of places and soak in its traits rather than covering all the touristy places and tiring oneself out. Looking forward to more!
    Renuka recently posted..Jodhpur – From The RooftopMy Profile

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