Venice, minimalism and travel
Slow Travel,  Travel

What Venice Taught Me About Minimalism And Travel

Cutting back on my itinerary during my Italian vacation showed me that doing less is better. But it didn’t stop there: Venice taught me the importance of abandoning old roles and just being myself.

It’s ironic that a city synonymous with overtourism and excess gave me a fresh understanding of minimalism and travel.

But sometimes you’ve got to experience such excess to realize you’ve had enough. And that no sweeping views of the Canal Grande are worth pushing through the selfie stick crowds and stalls of plastic Venetian masks.

Somewhere on a rain-drenched railway station, after I’d run to a nearby shop to get change for the ticket machine and missed my train into Venice anyways, I realize I don’t want the whirlwind Italian vacation to impress friends back home.

I just want a break. Maybe I’m getting old? I’ve already seen Florence and Rome, and I mostly remember many cold churches and one very persistent male harasser.

Though Venice isn’t an obvious choice for a quiet getaway. But I arrive on a business trip and decide to extend my stay for a few days. And I decide to stay put.

Minimalism and travel

Inescapable crowds fill the city even in the gloomy days of November, when heavy rainfall at night blurs the line between solid ground and the dark waters of the Adriatic.

Venice, Italy

The crowds set out in the early mornings pumping tirelessly into Piazza San Marco, past pizzarias and ominous cruise ships that loom stories high.

I join them on my first day. But claustrophobia soon has me looking for a side street to catch my breath. I sit in a small courtyard and have some soda, spotting some local graffiti saying “No Grandi Navi” and a man coming home with groceries.

Once recovered, I re-join the crowds with renewed enthusiasm. But my breaks on the side streets grow more frequent. Eventually I decide to stay off the main streets entirely.

Because even a block away from the Canal Grande, the city is so quiet it feels like you’re trespassing.

I see a woman having a conversation with her neighbor from across their balconies as they hang laundry. I see two couples walking together pushing two strollers. All of this against a backdrop of terracotta plant pots spilling from tiny balconies, and streets where the sidewalk cuts off abruptly at a line of sea water.

I begin to think I’ve discovered a secret. And I wonder why so few tourists are around while the majority keep heaving towards the piazza.

But sometimes crowds aren’t a good indication of anything besides more crowds – or a good marketing strategy.

This rings true whether you’re exploring a major Italian tourist attraction, buying your next smart phone or questioning your ultimate purpose in life.

Minimalism and Travel

Travelling light

It must be human instinct to be drawn to that warm humanity of crowds – and they are hard to resist. Walk through an old market in Cairo and you can’t help wandering over to the stall with the longest line. Surely that spice vendor must have something worth the hype.

But if you take a few steps off that main road, you’ll be dumbfounded at how beautiful it is to carve out your own itinerary.

When I return from Venice back home to Cairo, I begin to question what else I don’t need – and I begin to draw links between minimalism and travel.

I decide to clean my room, as I often do after returning home from a long trip. It’s when things fall into perspective and I can view my surroundings more objectively.

I donate a pile of cardigans I’d never worn, and a few books I had no intention of reading.

I gain some extra storage space. But my biggest gain is freedom.

Minimalism and Travel

I no longer play the role of a stylish dresser. I no longer play the role of an eclectic reader of thick non-fiction books.

I’m making peace with who I am – no longer defined by what I own or where I’ve been.

One night over cocktails, a friend asks why I’d spent my entire vacation in Venice without going into Rome (but the pizza!) or Florence. I’d been looking forward to sharing my trip but instead she changes the subject, disappointed in my lack of a good yarn.

But I’m no longer playing that role, either.

Read my 29 Practical Tips for Slow Travel for ideas and inspiration for simpler and more meaningful travels.

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41 Comments

  • Ana McCrory

    As always, this is a wonderful read. Love the images, empty of crowds. Everyone I know should read this. It even relaxed me while reading and inspired some decluttering as well. Love to travel like this myself. Thank you for doing such a great job in putting it into words!

  • Kirana Bhat

    I enjoy reading your posts because it has the ability to create peace and quiet as I read them and I too am a big fan of minimalism and decluttering. So your posts have a general feel-good effect on me! So thank you for your lovely writing!

  • thewonderer86

    Amazing that Venice bought you to this realisation – but then Venice is a very inspiring place. It always makes me laugh when people ask – did you go to A and visit B and C – like you never wanted to go to A in the first place!

    • Dee

      It’s such an inspiring city.. I think I could write an entire post about all the writing and novels it has sparked throughout history πŸ™‚

  • jennasworldview

    I have not read your blog in a while and I must say this was a great post to come back to. Minimalism is something that I am eager to get my teeth into. I have a big and bright personality but when I am by myself the little and simple things reign. I guess I need to start being a bit more intentional with minimalism…So may beautiful gems and food for thought.

    I felt like you had a revelation in Venice and I am so glad you did or you would have never given us this post.

    Bless you..I look forward to reading more!
    My fave line from this – I’m making peace with who I am – no longer defined by what I own or where I’ve been

    Jenna|xoxo

    • Dee

      Thank you, Jenna! For me minimalism is mostly anti-consumerism and simplicity, but I don’t think we have to lose any personality or tone anything down to embrace it.. It doesn’t have to be all beige interiors and capsule wardrobes, if that makes sense πŸ™‚

      Venice definitely inspired a lot of reflection. I was getting tired of the typical tour trips for awhile, but seeing the sheer crowds and overtourism in Venice really pushed me towards slow travel πŸ˜€

  • Theresa

    I think it’s great you found a way to enjoy Venice. I’ve really only heard about negative experiences there and how it’s not worth it. I’ll never understand why people see a crowd and assume they should follow it. I’m the opposite – I try to avoid crowds at all costs! I love also how you compare this to minimalism, and how doing less when traveling gives you the freedom to have your own individual experience, and not the one the public expects to hear. I wish everyone would travel this way.

    • Dee

      Thank you, Theresa! I visited Venice in November, but even in the rainy off-season it was so crowded that I can’t really imagine how it must be in the summertime. I’m not surprised there are so many negative experiences in the city. It really takes some time – and some planning – to be able to enjoy it and get to know Venice.

  • nottaholiday

    Oh yes, yes yes. How wonderfully said – breathing the air, observing the life, speaking with the people, these are the takeaways. But sadly so many ARE defined by what they own or where they have a photo of themselves.

    • Dee

      Thank you! And yes, it’s amazing how social media has changed travel. There are more tourists than ever now on the road, yet somehow a lot of it hasn’t really improved the local communities.

  • Alice

    As an Italian, I can only appreciate your approach to this trip. πŸ™‚ Italy is not just Florence and Rome (or Milan), just like the UK is not only about London. It’s sad that tourists visit only those 2 or 3 cities saying “Italy is amazing” without even know how the actual, non touristic Italy is. The quiet scene you described in Venice is a good example of that. πŸ™‚

    • Dee

      Thank you, Alice! I was so grateful to be able to spend a bit more time in Venice.. And since I’ve been back, I’ve been reading more about the history and architecture of the city – and wanting to return and explore it more in depth πŸ™‚

  • SouloLivingandTravel

    Hi Dee! Loved this post about Venice and traveling light! I’ve been to Italy once, a long time ago (Milano, Napoli and the island of Stromboli), but never got to see the big tourist spots that you mentioned (I’m not big on crowds either and try to avoid them). I am about to set out on many journeys (solo), myself, with Ireland being the first stop (I live in New York). I’ve been trying to figure out how to pack light with just a carry on bag, and it is doable! I did a few practice packs and have everything I need! If really need something abroad, I can always buy it. I’m looking forward to reading more of your blogs πŸ™‚

    Tanja

    • Dee

      Thanks so much, Tanja! I would love to explore more of Southern Italy but unfortunately I only had a few days there and decided to stay in one spot πŸ™‚

      I’ve yet to figure out how to pack really light.. congrats on managing that, and wishing you a great trip to Ireland!

    • Dee

      Thanks so much! I think it’s always been crowded, but nothing like these days with overtourism and those huge cruise boats.

  • adguru101

    Beautifully observed! I am also a great proponent of going where the crowds aren’t. Restaurants, as well. Venice is a lovely city if one follows your example.

  • Not4wood

    Oh my.. You pegged Venice by your great writing. Trying to get away from the crowds is a major priority in this cramped Tourist Attraction. I found myself walking the streets in the early morning just after Sunrise to try to capture the Beauty without all the Throngs of people.
    I also agree that those side Streets in Venice is a must. To try to loose oneself within the flavor of the City itself.
    Thank you very much for sharing. Your writing made me revisit Venice and was able to immerse myself in your thoughts.
    Mark

    • Dee

      I’m glad you enjoyed it, Mark! It’s a beautiful city to get lost in, isn’t it? No matter what corner or sidestreet you wander into, you can be sure it won’t disappoint and you’ll find something of beauty or interest there.

    • Cindy Gelpi

      When you can find calm in such a heavily trafficked destination, it’s like a piece of heaven. I loved reading this remembering my own experience there late in the evening having a drink with my husband on quiet little canal off the main streets.

      I have similar feelings as an American living here in Croatia when I see people rush with crowds of people to see the city of Dubrovnik when there are so many beautiful cities in the country that don’t have all of the crowds. Love your writing style!

      • Dee

        Thanks so much, Cindy! It’s amazing how quiet Venice is even a few paces away from the busy tourist routes.

        And Dubrovnik has really soared in popularity lately, though I imagine there must be plenty of far less crowded alternatives. It’s interesting how certain places become tourist hot spots while others (often more worthwhile) spots get passed over.

  • Life In Camelot

    Oh my, I loved this post. I visited Venice in 2010 and it was the end of October, early November, and it was magical. We had 6 days there before boarding our cruise (that’s another whole topic in itself…)
    There were not hordes of tourists that others seem to experience and the weather was crisp but still sunny and we walked from early morning until we couldn’t stay awake any longer (that old jet lag).
    There was space to see the buildings and the ground and the sky as well as the water.
    I’m not sure we’d ever be able to recreate that either so I’d have to go back expecting it to be very different.

    And as to minimalism and not playing the role anymore, you are spot on Dee. I am trying to do both at the moment and whilst it may take a while, it feels like a better, more worthy journey than the alternative.
    (and thanks for liking one of my recent posts too.)

    • Dee

      I was also there in November.. It rained for awhile, and later the sunshine felt like such a reward for patience. Though there’s something so magical about Venice in the rain when you can’t quite tell where the puddles end and the canal begins.

      It wasn’t very crowded on the sidestreets when I was there, but the piazza and the Canal Grande areas were indeed very crowded.. I think it must have gotten worse in the past few years as social media has fuelled so much travel and given certain places a lot more attention.

  • Marie Leon

    Playing a role is a burden on your spirit. Minimalism, whether mental or physical, gives you the freedom to enjoy the moment. Great article. Venice is beautiful. I always enjoy reading your stories.

  • christine

    Hi Dee,
    I stumbled upon your website and it has made my day. I am so inspired right now that I grabbed my own journal to document my thoughts after reading a few of your articles.. and it’s making me emotional!
    Thank you for sharing such great posts. So powerful, to live life slower off the beaten path, and so powerful, to not feel obligated to play roles of who others want us to be or who we think we should be.
    I look forward to continue reading more posts.

    I also have to say that your website is SO much more organized and easy to navigate than many others I have seen!

    Best,
    Christine

    • Dee

      Thank you so much, Christine, for your kind words about my work! It really means a lot and I’m so happy to hear that you’re journaling and taking my writing to heart.. That’s really what it’s all about – being ourselves and doing what we love πŸ™‚ I wish more of that for you and for all of us.

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