Can one vacation change your life?

My first trip to Italy was with a tour group. We started in Venice at the Piazza San Marco, took in all the sights you’d find on ‘must see’ lists in all the tourist guides, and left a few hours later to do the same in Florence and Rome.

I later decided that I didn’t really like Italy. Can you blame me?

All I remember from that trip is the anxious guide, the long itinerary of church after church, filled with masterpiece after masterpiece. But I thought, as a good European, that I had to check off all those sights if I wanted to be well travelled.

I returned to Italy a decade later – but I decided to do everything very differently.

I spent four days in Venice and didn’t go anywhere else.

I wandered down quiet back streets, watched neighbors chatting across balconies, read graffiti protesting huge tourist yachts coming into the city. I got drenched in the rain during high tide, and watched a man carve a wooden Pinocchio doll in a tiny shop window.

After days of aimless wandering and exploring, I was convinced Venice is one of the world’s most beautiful cities. How did I miss it on my first trip?

Those few days of wandering Venice completely changed the way I look at travel, and my vacations haven’t been the same since.

I’ve learned about slow travel, about really getting to know a destination, and giving myself time to wander. About getting a taste of local, everyday life.

And I want to inspire you to get more out of your own travels.

I have been travelling, and often living, in different cultures my entire life. Currently based in Cairo, I was born in Poland, grew up in the US, worked in London for a year, and travelled widely to countries like Taiwan and South Africa. I’ve written about my journeys for online and print magazines, and worked for awhile as a travel editor.

There’s nothing like the thrill of discovering new places, and that sense of connection when you realize how much we all have in common. I live to explore.

But it’s not always perfect. Sometimes, when I only have a weekend to visit a city, I take the principles of slow travel and apply them to my real, actual life.

Now I want to empower you to make your own vacations richer, and more memorable.

Because it isn’t about skipping the major attractions and spending days in quiet sidestreets. It’s about being more mindful, and rethinking the reasons why you travel in the first place – and that’s an approach you can use whether you’re touring the world or exploring your home city.

Slow travel means quality over quantity. It means following your gut, forgetting the notions of what you ‘must see,’ and following your passions. It’s about making even the huge tourist destinations feel immediate and personal.

And it’s about keeping that spirit of discovery alive when you come home.

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I’d love to hear from you! Reach me at vanillapapersdee@gmail.com, or via the contact form here.

Let’s slow down and get the most out of travel.