I bet you’re wondering how a kid’s story about a turtle and a rabbit are related to Slow Travel. Strangely enough they are, so stay with me as I weave it all together.
So once upon a time, two friends of ours Jim and Carolyn took a trip to beautiful Florence. Jim a self-professed tortoise guy, noticed tortoise symbolism throughout the city. Which if you haven’t been to Italy, I highly recommend Florence because it’s the perfect Slow Travel town. And once you learn of its slow world connections you’ll definitely want to go. Although I must say Rome has some cool Slow Travel treasures too, which you can read about here.
Anyway, Jim decided to do some Google hunting and found the tortoise with a sail is actually the symbolism of Duke Cosimo de Medici’s maxim, “Festina Lente”. Cosimo, like most rulers of the Renaissance era, had some kind of maxim or a motto to represent the family.
The young Duke chose “Festina Lente” for his motto, which loosely translates to make haste slowly. It actually didn’t originate with Cosimo it has been around for centuries.
There are many interpretations of Festina Lente but the basic theme is… you should do things only at the speed that makes it safe or right. Are you starting to see where this is going?
Over 80 of Cosimo’s tortoise and sails symbols are scattered throughout the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. It blows me away that I never noticed one tortoise when we were there considering I probably took over 200 pictures a day. Alright, now I really want to go back and do a Festina Lente treasure hunt.
So Jim knowing that we were the ‘Slow Travel’ Gurus sent us the info thinking maybe it was related to our travel lifestyle.
Turns out it was but in a six degrees of separation type of way. Which basically means all people are somehow related in six or fewer steps.
Let’s start with Aesop. Have you heard of Aesop and his Fables? Of course, you have. I am sure at least one of his famous tales has crossed your path sometime in your life.
Anyway, Aesop was an ancient Greek fabulist or storyteller who used mostly animals in his stories to teach lessons. No written accounts have survived, and whether he was even real is still disputed today. Regardless, his stories are timeless adventures that have survived for centuries with new and slightly different iterations over the years.
Centuries after Aesop, a French fabulist Jean la Fontaine wrote a newer and very similar version of Aesop’s tale “The Tortoise and The Hare”. In La Fontaine’s 1668 version, there is a passage that eludes to Festina Lente.
“She starts; she moils on, modestly and lowly,
And with a prudent wisdom hastens slowly;…”
There you go, all connected. Was that a stretch?…maybe.
“The Tortoise And The Hare”
If you don’t know the story then here’s a quick recap for you. It’s an old children’s fable about a cocky Hare that is constantly nagging a Tortoise for moving so slow. One day the Tortoise decides he’s had enough of the very irritating Hare and challenges him to a race.
The race begins and the Hare immediately speeds past the Tortoise. With a big laugh, the Hare looks back and shouts, “You will never win the race at that pace Tortoise!” The Tortoise doesn’t care and keeps moving along slowly and steadily.
In the middle of the race, the Hare realizes that he is far far ahead and decides to take a quick nap. When the Hare finally wakes he jumps up and continues his sprint to the finish line, only to find the Tortoise has already won the race.
Since all of Aesop’s Fables have a moral or a lesson, here’s the moral for “The Tortoise and The Hare” it’s simply, “Slow and steady wins the race“.
And what can the slow traveler learn from this simple little tale? Well as it turns out plenty.
Lesson 1: Racing To Anywhere Can Get Very Tiring
If you travel like the Hare and sprint from start to finish your entire trip you’ll probably burn out from fatigue. Not only that, you most likely won’t enjoy the experience either.
Being a slow traveler is like being a tortoise, you leave the starting gate at a leisurely pace. You are not sprinting off the plane in Florence and rushing to climb the Duomo, then off to get a selfie with Michelangelo’s David, all before your 3 pm check-in at the hotel.
Taking it slow means going to your hotel first, relaxing a bit, enjoying a good meal, getting a good night’s sleep and starting your travels the next day.
The goal of slow travel is to get to the finish line (home) feeling as good or better than when you left. The goal should never be to collapse in complete and utter exhaustion on your living room couch.
“You can sleep when you’re dead” is a dangerous way to travel, a better saying is “You’ll be dead if you don’t sleep”.
Lesson 2: Moving Slow Doesn’t Mean You Won’t Get To Your Destination
It’s important to remember that both the Tortoise and the Hare made it to the finish line, they just chose to do it differently. One raced to the end and the other took their time and strolled to the end—either way they both got there.
In slow travel, there are no long checklists. You see what you want, and do what you feel like. You plan one or two things a day and no more. Stopping for a cappuccino at a cute outdoor cafe, in between seeing the only two things you scheduled for the day– takes the pressure off. It allows you to enjoy your activities without feeling rushed.
The slow traveler knows that taking it slow and spending time fully immersed in their experiences vs sprinting off to ‘tap and snap’ 5 tourist sites, is a much more fulfilling and memorable adventure.
Lesson 3: There really is no competition.
Even if the Hare had won the race, I don’t think the Tortoise would have cared. Let’s be real here if the Hare hadn’t fallen asleep the Tortoise would have lost because we all know a Tortoise can’t beat a Hare.
In fact, I don’t think it was really a race at all, Tortoise just wanted to prove she wasn’t afraid to go up against the Hare no matter what the outcome was. It was more about the journey and less about the finish line.
It’s the same for Slow Travel it’s not a competition. There are no winners or losers, your goal is not to see 7 countries in 30 days, instead, you see 1 or 2 countries mindfully and purposefully in the same amount of time.
When you are finally able to lift that huge weight off your shoulder and let go of country counts and bucket lists, you will have achieved Slow Travel nirvana. It opens you up to a whole new way of seeing the world, one where you are free to relax, enjoy, and feel stress-free.
Lesson 4: You don’t need to prove anything to anyone
The tortoise didn’t care what anyone else thought of her, she just kept creeping along at her own pace, she didn’t even look up when the hare went whizzing by.
“You just do you” as the saying goes and that’s what she did.
In slow travel, your experience is your experience, it’s nobody’s business how that looks to you. If you want to go to Italy and take a cooking class for an entire week or sit by the ocean in Bali for 8 hours with a fruity cocktail, then by all means do it.
You have to stop worrying about your Instagram posts and social media accounts and do what makes you happy, even if that means going against the norm and slowing it way down. It’s your trip you paid for it. Travel the way you want to.
If I have said it once, I have said a million times, whether you trek fifteen miles a day in Paris or one mile a day in Paris, you still saw Paris. One just causes more fatigue than the other.
Lesson 5: Travel Like a Tortoise and Not a Hare
The final and most important lesson a slow traveler can learn from this fable is to “Travel like a Tortoise and not a Hare”. Stop hopping around from destination to destination and tourist site to tourist site. Stop worrying about the finish line, country counts and checklists. Stop trying to fit too much in a day. Stop running yourself ragged and sacrificing your health.
Instead, travel like a Tortoise. Take your time and explore the world slowly. Don’t worry about what anyone else is doing or what other people think, it’s all about you and your journey. A slow traveler never feels guilty or stressed over keeping the days easy and carefree.
When you travel slowly like a Tortoise you take the time to savor your experience and live in the moment. You only pick the things that are important to you, not the ones that will be liked most on Instagram.
And like I said in my “You Can Slow Travel In A Day” post the only other requirements are that you be fully immersed, blissfully happy, not rushed, and stress-free.