Slow Travel on a Time Budget + Where to Stay in Osaka
In case it wasn't dreadfully obvious from previous posts, I'm a really lazy traveler. I'm all about taking it easy, not rushing, minimal planning, and just generally going with the flow. I find that it leaves more room for spontaneity and gives you the opportunity to see a destination from ground level with clearer eyes. Instead of being horse-blinded into simply shuttling from place to place because you need to check things off a list or fit everything into your schedule, you have the freedom to take time to smell the metaphorical (or literal!) roses. Not to mention it's a lot less stressful!
And apparently more and more people are getting into this type of travel as well. There's been a ton of buzz lately about "slow travel" (which sounds a whole lot better than lazy travel, so let's go with that) and so-called "digital nomads," who work online, moving from country to country, spending weeks or even months at a time in one place.
But I get it, not everyone has a few weeks or months to spare, and when you don't have a whole lot of time, slow travel can seem rather hard to do. Especially if it's your first time in a particular destination, there's going to be a lot of things that you'll want to see, do, and experience, and it might seem like trying to travel slowly would be too limiting. But I promise you, with proper planning, you can still reap the benefits of slow travel even when you don't have time to actully go slow.
This past winter break, I found myself in four different cities around Japan over the span of two weeks. And while I'm not a Japan novice, I was in charge of showing one around, making sure we went to all of the must see places, ate all of the good food, and did everything you're supposed to do on a trip to Japan. And if you asked me, I'd say we hit everything we needed to while still traveling relatively slowly.
And here's how you can do it too.
Stay in guesthouses or Airbnbs
When you're short on time and still want the benefits of slow travel, the most important factor is where you stay. Hotels are built to a similar standard and are basically the same everywhere, which is exactly the opposite of what you want. Look for a place that's tucked into a local neighborhood, a bit away from the main tourist area. This will require a little bit of prior research, but generally, you'll want to find a place that's maybe one or two transit stops away from the center. Look for a place that has, if not a full kitchen, at least a microwave for you to use (see the point below).
Staying somewhere that isn't a hotel and isn't in the center of what you're doing during the day will help you to feel like you're coming home at the end of the day. And it's super interesting to see how homes are set up differently in different places! For example, in Japan no matter how small the apartment, you'll always have a tub for soaking in the bathroom. And in Korea, the shower often isn't separated from the rest of the bathroom at all - not even by a curtain.
Plus, being in a neighborhood where locals actually live, work, go out will expose you to what daily life is like and give you more insight than anything you could get from a museum. Save the touristing for the daytime. Let your home away from home feel like it.
Make breakfast every morning
Even if you're not normally a breakfast person, even if it's only a cup of coffee or tea, make breakfast every morning. On the first day you're in a new place, set aside some time to go to a local grocery store. Wander up and down the aisles, keep an eye out for things that look familiar, and stop to contemplate things that are definitely not familiar. I suggest even making it a point to try to cook a breakfast that you'd normally eat at home, and search for local versions of your regular products or find subsitutions that you might not be able to get back where you're from.
There are two main reasons here: first, it'll give you a sense of routine and make the place you're staying feel like home, if only for a couple days. Second, food and cooking is arguably the most important part of life anywhere, and going into a grocery store, buying products, and making your own food will give you insight into things like food prices, availibility of certain products, and perhaps even preparation styles - essentially, daily life.
If you're worried about reading package labels, I recommend downloading the Google Translate app onto your phone. It has a feature that uses your phone's camera to translate text in real time. It's not perfect, but it's good enough to figure out what's in that box!
Schedule in spontaneity
It sounds like an oxymoron, but when you don't have a lot of time, or when there's a lot that you need to do, it's hard to be truly spontaneous. So, instead, give yourself some time to add little bursts of it in here and there. And I don't necessarily mean leaving the time completely open with no direction.
Rather, do things like leave a few of your meal times unplanned and go into any restaurant that looks good without looking it up online first or making sure it's a local specialty. Or if a couple of your destinations are in the same area, try to make enough time in your schedule to walk the distance between them and allow yourself to get distracted by interesting things in shop windows. If you ever find yourself in a taxi or uber, ask your driver where would be the first place they'd go to eat at after coming back from a trip, then go there.
Small things like that really add up to help you feel like you know a place underneath the tourist facade.
Prioritze + Plan
In the end, in order to travel slowly in a short amount of time and still feel like you did everything you wanted (or felt you were supposed) to do, the key is to prioritize. In taking things a bit slower, you're going to have to cut some things from your schedule. It's inevitable. So think about which places you want to see the most. How many temples do you really need to see? Do you actually need to try every single food this city is known for?
From there, after figuring out if there are things that you're going to want to book in advance or if any of your destinations fall in the same area, make a rough itinerary. And by rough, I mean rough. Don't include times and, if you can help it, dates. Figure out what things you'll want to do on the same days (these will be your destinations. I aim for no more than two per day), and have a list of things that you can fit in anywhere you have time or happen to be in the area (foods, experiences, etc that aren't quite so location/time-dependent). Here's what my whole itinerary for my two week winter break in Japan looked like:
Pretty bare bones, right? This leaves plenty of room to improvise, move things around, reschedule, and most importantly, take things slow.
Where to Stay in Osaka
This winter's Japan tour started in Osaka. It's a loud, vivacious, delicious city, and if you miss the last train and want to stay out until service starts up again, you'll find no shortage of bars, clubs, and restaurants to keep you occupied. But if you're staying for more than the party and food scene, I recommend finding a place in this area:
It's a young, trendy neighborhood speckled with little shops and restaurants. It's close enough to everything so that you can easily walk to Dotombori or Namba Station, but it's far enough out of the center that it feels residential and you don't get the noise and mess that tends to permeate Osaka's streets during the night.
This time around, I stayed in a cute little guesthouse called Relastay, on the north side of this area. It's brand new, just opened in September, and is located right around the corner from a 7-11 (priorities, people).
The guesthouse has two private rooms - a smaller one for one or two people, and a larger one that can accommodate up to six - and a dormitory with six beds. I was in the dorm room, and unlike some hostel dorms that I've stayed in, where it just seems like they're trying to cram as many people into as small of a space as possible, Relastay's dorm was refreshingly spacious and clean - there's even a toilet and a sink connected to it, which my tiny bladder was so grateful for.
My favorite thing about this place, though, was the little details that made it feel really homey. Someone obviously put a lot of thought into the aesthetics, and everything from the cute house slippers to the neatly arranged coffee station definitely added to the ~slow travel feels~