My best travel experiences were when I decided to stay in one place for a long time. I have traveled and lived in Iran, Nicaragua, Mexico, France, Italy, England, Spain and Portugal. Each of these experiences consisted of staying in a city or town for more than 2 weeks, and in Iran for 3 months.
Staying locally offers plenty of opportunities to engage with the local culture and connect with the people who reside there, instead of rushing from one tourist destination to another in a frantic whirlwind. A speed-driven travel experience is not only tiring, but you miss out on the richness of immersion in the culture, history, and landscape of your new surroundings.
A few years ago, while staying a week in Paris and visiting the Louvre, I was amazed to see people running from gallery to gallery filming the work with their video cameras. What can a person possibly absorb during a race as if they were in a car?
Staying in one place lets you learn more about the people who live there, including their food, traditions, music, heritage, and the daily rhythms of their lives. It’s time to relax, people watch and wander around, taking in the sounds, smells and sights around you. The longer you stay, the more you start to feel a part of where you are.
Here are my five favorite reasons to hang out in one place.
1. It’s more relaxing
When we stayed 3 weeks in Spello, a village in Umbria, Italy, we had plenty of free time to explore the surroundings. Most mornings we went to a favorite cafe for a delicious pastry and strong Italian coffee and sat watching the morning activity around us. Sometimes we chatted with the waiters or a couple sitting next to us. We watched people go about their daily business, a shopkeeper sweeping her porch, a man with a cane strolling down to the river, a girl carrying flowers on a bicycle. If it was a weekday, we might see kids carrying backpacks on their way to school.
When we traveled to Portugal we stayed in the medieval town of Obidos. Some days we walked for miles on dirt roads outside the castle walls, admiring the wildflowers and surrounding vineyards. Staying in Obidos for 8 days gave us plenty of time to explore the town and wander the narrow cobbled streets and take day trips to historical monuments or important places, such as Sintra, Nazare and Tomar. Instead of rushing from hotel to hotel, trying to squeeze in all the sights, pick a few to check out. You can always tell yourself “there will be a next time”.
2. There is more time to learn the language
When my husband and I were in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and Granada, Nicaragua, I signed up for Spanish lessons. It gave a little structure to my days. I enjoyed walking to class every morning, and the more I practiced the language, the more I could interact with the local people.
In Granada, I took private lessons with a charming young woman. We would study together in a classroom and then she would take me to different parts of town to shop or just explore. She only spoke to me in Spanish. It was a great incentive to use the language. In the open market, I would point to things and ask him to identify them in Spanish. It was a perfect practical way to learn the language. One day while exploring, we came across a parade of children. The students were dressed in colorful skirts and blouses, and the musicians played a lively tune.
During the 3 months that I lived in Iran, I studied Farsi. Learning a language where the writing and sounds were so different from mine was incredibly difficult, but it was so satisfying to go to the bread or yogurt store, ask for what I needed, and be understood.
3. You can find hidden gems
Near the town of Barga in Tuscany, where we stayed on a farm for a month, we discovered a monument that most tourists don’t know about. One morning we climbed a nearby hill to get a better view of the countryside. There we found a monument dedicated to 1st Lt. John R. Fox, an African-American soldier who sacrificed himself along with eight other soldiers during World War II to save Italian villagers and his comrades.
Later, it was learned that on December 2, 1944, his division had clashed with the Austrians surrounding the small village of Sommocolonia and burning buildings that housed wounded American soldiers. Lt. Fox was a forward observer on the second floor of a house, and at some point in the continuing battle he was surrounded by Austrian forces. He then ordered a mortar and artillery barrage on his own position. His friend was stunned when Fox asked via walkie-talkie to continue with the fire. In the end, he died with 100 enemy soldiers and was not recognized for his valiant efforts until 1982.
I don’t believe we would have found this place if we were just on a day trip to see the city. During the month-long stay we found other places of interest and beauty, such as the picturesque train station nearby and the spectacular Grotta del Vento where atmospheric agents worked on limestone rocks giving rise to majestic sculptures. natural.
Hidden gems don’t have to be diamond quality. They can be as simple as peering into a hidden garden while walking along a castle wall or finding a local restaurant offering regional dishes. When we hiked through the Garfagnana region of Italy, the restaurant served the same great meal that the Italian family running the place had for lunch.
4. It’s a better way to connect with locals and their daily lives
When you decide to unpack your suitcase and hang your clothes in a closet, you begin to make that place your home. This can happen when you stay in a Vrbo or an Airbnb. Unlike a hotel, you will most likely have a kitchen and living room. This means you will be able to do your shopping which I think is another benefit of staying in one place. Also, it allows you to view your surroundings at different times of the day.
When we stayed in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, a Provencal town in France, we bought produce at a weekly farmer’s market and got to know some of the vendors bringing in their local fruit, cheese and produce. We enjoyed walking back along the Sorgue, where we would often say ‘hello’ to residents walking their dogs or a couple sitting on a bench overlooking the old wooden water wheels.
In Granada, Nicaragua, we met a few expats who helped us find a local person willing to do our laundry for a small fee. In Lisbon, the local pharmacist, Catarina, was very familiar with the Portuguese healthcare system when I needed a doctor.
When you stay in a city, instead of passing through it, you do what you do at home and therefore create more connections. You do your shopping, maybe you need postage stamps, and you can get a haircut. It’s a great way to blend in with the locals.
5. There’s less hassle with transportation and schedules
While we were living in Barga, we decided to take the train to Lucca. Later during our stay, we took the train to Florence. This meant getting information about train times, buying tickets, knowing what to expect once on board, getting to the station and finding the right track. This can be stressful and requires patience, especially in a foreign language.
If you’re in a big city with a metro system, like Paris or Lisbon, you need to learn how the system works – how much a ticket costs, how to use it, and where to get on and off to reach your destination.
When we were in Lisbon and tried to use the metro, it took us about 20 minutes to figure out where to put our euros and what screens to touch for one-way and return tickets.
Renting a car also has its learning curve. In Portugal, for example, rental cars are mostly manual transmission and that requires some tweaking if you normally drive an automatic. Next, familiarize yourself with the rules of the road for the country – speed limits, traffic signs, how to use roundabouts, managing tolls, and exiting and entering highways . For example, entry and exit ramps in Portugal are rare.
All of these transport issues take time, but deciding to slow down the journey and maybe choose one or two means of transport can reduce the hassle. When you stay put, you’ll likely walk more, and in doing so, absorb more detail about where you are.
I am a retired person who loves adventures and loves travel. however, these days I prefer my new experiences to be closer to a place I temporarily call home.