Is Slow Travel in Europe Safe?
If you’re itching to return to Europe, but concerned about Covid-19, slow travel can be a safer way to go. By staying in only one or two locations versus hopping around to multiple destinations, you’ll not only experience a richer and more rewarding travel experience but lower your risk of catching the dreaded virus.
Like any good trip, slow travel starts with planning. And the most important factor is to not over schedule your itinerary. Focus on what you’ll enjoy the most. Instead of attempting to see every tourist attraction, select the sights and experiences most important to you and which will bring you the greatest joy. To learn more about this style of travel, read The Art of Slow Travel.
Here’s why slow travel is not only more enjoyable, but a whole lot safer during a pandemic.
You’ll be staying in fewer accommodations
If you are constantly moving from hotel to hotel, you are exposing yourself to more people and to germs and viruses left by the previous occupants. The fewer accommodations you book, the lower your risk of exposure. Try to limit your stay to one or two locations with a possible stopover in between. Spending more time in one city, town or village, you’ll have an opportunity to immerse yourself in the lifestyle and culture of that country or region.
You’ll be eating out less often
If you’re going to be in a location for a couple weeks or a month, it makes sense to rent a house or an apartment through a short-term rental company, like Airbnb or VRBO where you can have your own, fully equipped kitchen. Enjoy shopping at the weekly market, specialty shops and the supermarket, and whipping up meals from fresh seasonal foods. Maybe even try your hand at preparing the special cuisine of the area. Or enjoy a simple picnic with goodies purchased at the weekly farmer’s market. By cutting down on the number of times you eat out, you’ll not only save money, you’ll reduce your risk of Covid and foodborne illnesses.
You’ll have a place to quarantine if you catch Covid-19
Being in one location for a while will be a true advantage if you or your travel companion catch the virus. Depending on the local regulations, you may be required to shelter in place for several days, for a week or longer. Since you’ve only booked the one place, you won’t have to worry about extending your stay or changing all your future reservations. That’s the last thing you want to deal with while you recover.
Secondly, you’ll already be familiar with your surroundings and with the location of the hospital, the pharmacy and the grocery store. In fact, you’ll probably have provisions on hand and be able to heat up your own chicken soup. When you’re sick it’s always better to be in a home-like atmosphere rather than in a generic hotel room.
You’ll use less public transportation
Ideally, you’ll want to cut down on the number of planes, trains and busses. Staying in one or two locations will reduce the amount of time spent on public transportation. Renting a car for your entire trip would be the safest option. Thankfully, there are French buyback lease programs like Auto France, that offer reasonable rates for rentals over three weeks. The price includes full insurance and roadside assistance. Plus, you have the pleasure of driving a brand-new car. This is a good option if you are staying in a rural location. Rural accommodations are much less expensive than stays in the city, which can offset the price of a rent a car.
Eurorail passes allow you the freedom to visit multiple cities and countries within a certain time frame. They are a great way to travel, but perhaps not the safest during a lingering pandemic. France lifted the mask mandate on public transportation. The US did this a while ago and I think the decision of both countries is wrong as there is little air circulation on a packed bus or train, and it puts a greater burden on folks who depend on public transportation for their daily commute. When you fly, and if you need to take other public transportation, I urge you to wear a highly effective mask by which I mean an N95, KN95 or the European FFP2.
If you want to travel to different locations, the safest option is what’s called hub and spoke travel. Stay in one central location and take day trips to various places in the area. Even if you need to take a bus or train to your daytrip location, you’re still returning and spending the majority of your time at the same base.
You won’t see it all, but you’ll love what you see
Slow travel is about the experience, not about checking off every tourist attraction from your bucket list. Let’s face it, during a pandemic, it’s probably not the best time for standing in line for hours to get into a crowded museum or for visiting an amusement park. Now is the perfect time to break away from the tourist track and explore the road less traveled.
Visit the smaller villages, parks and gardens. Throughout Europe in late spring, summer and early fall, you’ll find a variety of outdoor festivals, markets and cultural activities outside of major cities. Activities like the La Gacilly Photo Festival in Brittany, France provide a cultural and aesthetic experience in a safe, outdoor, socially distanced setting. Even if you're traveling in December you can shop the outdoor Christmas markets. Just don’t be so remote that you’re not within an hour of medical care.
You’ll have more opportunity to be in nature
As you’re exploring places off the beaten path, aim for more outdoor activities like walking, biking, kayaking, picnicking and shopping at outdoor markets. Use this opportunity to connect with nature.
I love this quote by Rick Steeves where he is talking about how he wants to travel post covid, “I want to be close to nature. I want to get away from the crowds. I want to take some moments and just sit on a rock and enjoy a commanding view and be thankful that I’m healthy and alive and able to get out and get to our world.”
What better time to experience the healing and relaxing properties of being in nature. There are so many majestic national parks and gardens throughout the world. Walk on the beach. Take a bike ride by a river. Hike through a forest.
Wherever your travels take you this year, even if it’s a staycation, enjoy the journey and stay safe.
P.S. I’d love to hear about your travel plans for the summer and beyond. Please comment below.