Over the course of the past 3-years we Ramblers have discovered that slow travel has become our preferred method of travel. When you mix slow travel with housesitting you get an almost unbeatable combination. The blend of nearly free accommodations and having plenty of time to really take in a destination are both really great benefits. However, we’ve recently discovered another reason that’s even better. Over the last couple of years, we’ve had the ability to live the lives of completely different people while staying in these individual homes. The funny thing is, it took an old friend of ours coming over for a visit to point this out to us. We never really realized how much each house sit has impacted and changed our perspectives on life and the way it is lived by each individual person. We became very introspective on how geography, culture, and even gender can influence a person’s home and ultimately a person’s life.
For the uninitiated, slow travel is a newish movement of traveling that is quickly gaining in popularity. This is where you rent a place or house swap/housesit for a significantly longer period of time than a regular vacation. Different travelers have different meanings for slow travel, but to us it’s where we get to shack up in an area for a few months and really take the time delve into the culture and community of that area. We’re currently enjoying our Summer in New Hampshire and are staying in a 200 year old farmhouse with sprawling acres of lush land surrounding us. This so happens to be where our epiphany occurred. This is when & where we realized that house sitting and slow travel has given us more than an opportunity to enjoy an area, but rather really live life in someone else’s shoes.
It all happened when our friends decided to pay us a visit from NYC and take advantage of our digs. Now these aren’t your ordinary friends (not that any of our friends are ordinary), as one of them has a PHD in Anthropology and together they’re the minds behind Cool Anthropology. We invited them over for a fondue dinner inspired by the owner of this home who happens to be Swiss. While sitting around enjoying bread, veggies, and meats dipped in delectable cheeses our friends asked us what inspired fondue. Off the cuff, I mentioned that the homeowner had all the necessary equipment for fondue, so why not? It’s then that she pointed out how Kenin and I seem to assimilate into the home and lifestyle that surrounds us in whatever house we are currently staying in. Once she said that we thought back to all of our other house sits and realized just how true that statement was.
We love housesitting when we slow travel. Living in someone’s home is like living in their shoes and gives you a tremendous opportunity to see life through someone else’s eyes. The woman that owns the home in NH suggested that I plant a garden since I am here for a few months. This is something that I would never do on my own since I have very brown thumbs. I have not ever been able to even keep a houseplant alive.
After some coaxing from the homeowner and the help of our extremely friendly next door neighbors, I decided to get out of my comfort zone… practice what you preach, right!?! We took an old boat, filled it with dirt, compost, and manure and planted some cabbages and marigolds, along with some leaf lettuce.
Seems they are growing fine just fine and this makes me extremely happy. This is a hugely valuable skill and an experience that I would have never had if I were only here for a week or two or if I spent all my time in a hotel or resort.
Another prime example of this was when we spent our last two winters in Calgary. Kenin and I went out almost every single day despite the brutal winter weather. We visited farmers markets and local museums and ate at local restaurants. We shoveled snow (so so much snow) and even took skiing and snowboarding lessons. After completely falling in love with the city we decided we wanted to give back to the community that showed us so much. We sought out ways to help and began volunteering through a chapter of the Kiwanis Club. Even though we are nomadic, they invited us in with warm hearts and gave us the opportunity to do good in a community we grew quote attached to while housesitting.
Sometimes our best experiences come about purely out of need or by accident. We spent a few months in West Virginia last fall after canceling many travel plans when Zoe fell ill. West Virginia was unexpectedly lots more fun than we ever imagined. Kenin and I went out to listen to the local fiddlers play at the Pocahontas County Opera House which was absolutely amazing. We shopped with the local farmers and enjoyed markets and festivals in the few short months that we were there. We immersed ourselves in the culture and life of the surrounding area. We made life-long friends that we still keep in touch with. Seeing the state this way (slowly and intimately) left a lasting impression on us and West Virginia turned out to be one of the most surprising places we have visited to date and it’s a place we hope to return to soon.
We also learned about the deep history of the people who settled the area and first called West Virginia home. Not through the internet or through museums but rather directly from the mouths of 5th and 6th generation West Virginians. It was through these stories and shared experiences that we learned what it really means to be West Virginian and why in their minds Mountaineers are Always Free. Campfire stories or tales over a cold pint are second to none and cannot be beat.
Slow travel has really helped us understand the way of life in different places. It gave us a chance to understand why certain places have certain types of architecture and terrain. We have a better understanding of the local cultures and attitudes. We gained insight into a regions economy, politics, and environment. We now also have friends all over the world that we care about a great deal. We’ve even picked up local accents and phrases. Most of all though, we’ve gained something incredibly powerful: Perspective. Living the life of a local not only teaches you about a local region, but it helps you understand the hows and whys behind so many little things if you are open to it.
Vacationing is a great way to destress, but if you want to really and truly get to know a place and the people of an area, I highly recommend settling in for a few weeks and really dig into the local scene. Education through travel is so enriching and helps you grow intellectually and culturally. Even if you can’t take months or weeks off of work, get creative. Try a house swap for a weekend with a friend in a nearby city. Sign up for a house sitting site and find a home nearby that you can take care of and live in while someone else is away. Get out there and see the world through the eyes of a local and learn what life is like in their shoes. I promise you, if you do so, you’ll be a much stronger and more well-rounded person because of it.