I’m going to sound like a cliché right now but here it goes: I first learned about the concept of “dolce far niente” from Eat, Pray, Love. Don’t worry, I won’t tell you that Eat, Pray, Love changed my life or anything (it didn’t), but “dolce far niente” certainly stuck with me.
While the dictionary defines this Italian concept as “pleasant relaxation in carefree idleness,” its meaning stretches even further: it’s the pleasure of doing nothing.
Sound foreign to you? Don’t worry, it did to me too. What do you mean, “do nothing?” We’re busy people. We have things to do, places to be and people to see. How dare those Italians suggest we do nothing?
I’m going to be frank. This concept is a serious struggle for me. Not from lack of trying. But my to-do list is always long and the deadlines are always ASAP. Perhaps it’s my type-A-but-trying-and-failing-to-be-type-B personality. Perhaps it’s growing up in the U.S., where nearly half of Americans don’t take annual vacations. It’s probably both. Sadly, this same desperation to get things done often seeps into my travels. But I’m done(ish) with it.
I alluded to my guidebook attachment in this post about London. I don’t go so far as to plan out my daily schedule on trips, but I certainly do enough research to consider how many days I’ll spend in each city. The idea of haphazardly arriving in a new city without accommodation booked absolutely terrifies me. Before this year, I’d never visited a new city without at least having a little idea of what there is to do there.
Last year, for the first time in over ten years of travel, I applied the concept of dolce far niente during my travels. It was a bit forced as I had seemingly run out of things to “do” in Cordoba, and so I had no choice but to simply be. And it was fantastic.
There’s this concept of slow travel – the idea that you should spend an extended amount of time in each place you visit in order to explore it thoroughly and deeply. I understand that slow travel is not for everyone. Sometimes people can only get a few days off of work and want to make use of those days by actually seeing and doing things. However, for those of you that have a bit more time off and have a tendency to rush into a jam-packed itinerary, I ask you this: what if you didn’t plan your vacation? What if you had a few landmarks in mind you really wanted to see and spent the rest of the time actually seeing the city? Is it so bad to just wander, people watch, and enjoy doing nothing?
Some people already travel this way by way of beach vacations and all-inclusive resorts. More power to them. I’ve never really liked beach vacations because I’m from a city with a lot of beaches…and I like to do things. I know that’s a very type A statement. Finding the right balance can be a challenge!
A few months ago, I took a trip to Puerto Rico. Instead of sticking to the tourist itineraries, my mom and I rented a car and drove around the island, stopping at little beach towns along the way. Our vacation was more or less one big road trip. We stopped where we wanted (but booked accommodation ahead) and did what we wanted. We had a few things planned out but ultimately, we weren’t doing much outside of driving and relaxing. Are there certain things we missed out on in Puerto Rico? Absolutely. Does it bother me? Not really. Maybe I’ll revisit one day. Maybe I won’t. But at the end of the day, I’ve realized it’s more important to enjoy my trip than to see every “must-see” thing. As much as I love to wake up and traipse around cities from dawn until dusk, I’ve realized the concept of enjoying a new place can simply be doing nothing. Just people watching. Taking a stroll. Having a coffee at an outdoor café.
The more I travel, the more I’ve realized that I don’t want (all) my trips to be a whirlwind of sites anymore. I still want to see new places and sites of course. But allowing myself at least a day to just wander reminds me that the beauty of travel doesn’t come from just seeing the sites. Rather, it comes from the enjoyment of feeling connection – to yourself, to a place, and to a culture.
So to my fellow type A planners: next time you take a trip, try planning a day to do nothing, as contradictory as that sounds. Ditch your map and schedule and just wander. You might be surprised by what you discover.
Tell me: What’s your travel style? Have you ever considered slow(er) travel? Share in the comments below!
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