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Slow Immersion Travel and Living in Palma de Mallorca

Le Seu Cathedral, Palma de Mallorca
A view of the stunning Le Seu Cathedral in Palma de Mallorca, Spain.

Slow immersion travel and living globally are part of what motivates this traveler. I will here pen my approach "Slow Immersion Travel."

Slowly absorbing five senses worth of impressions en route to a destination; learning what’s beneath the surface of a destination; observing local rituals, picking up mannerisms, and learning language(s); becoming a part of the local landscape and community instead of merely passing through. Traveling in this immersive way, you realize that the pleasure of travel lies in the experiences lived and observed along a journey that ends only when you wish it to.

Origins of the Slow Movement

"Slow immersion travel" you ask? Briefly, it’s part of a larger "slow movement" (largely inspired by the Italian Slow Food Movement of the 1980’s), consisting of a few essential principles or philosophies (exquisitely described in a piece titled A Manifesto for Slow Travel). The fundamental gist is the following:

  • “Getting there is half the fun.” Travel slowly and multiply the depth of your experience.
  • “By land or by sea.” Reduce flying if possible to better observe the details of the journey while keeping your carbon footprint smaller where possible.
  • “When in Rome.” Immersion in a culture and learning the local language(s) by living like a local and contributing to a community,  rather than consumption travel involving a mad rush from one tourist attraction to the next.
  • “He that has time has life.” Whatever the length of your trip, try to get to know one place or region on a deeper level rather than cramming travel into snapshots.

Heading South to Palma de Mallorca

I put these ideas to the test by practicing slow immersion travel, making my way to the Spanish Mediterranean island of Mallorca, with its fascinating capital Palma de Mallorca.

After three exciting years in Berlin, I finally decided to leave the icy German winter in search of warmer climes and a very different cultural experience—so I was off to Mallorca!

In the spirit of slow immersion travel, I sought to go south beneath the clouds, where the view is clearer. While I find the light jostling and clickety-clack of train travel most relaxing and preferable, this journey called for a touch of the practical. Practical because a train trip of this distance would mean juggling time-tables and incurring higher costs—fine for a grand European tour, but not so much for getting from point A to point B.

Note: If you do opt to travel by train across the continent, give Rail Europe’s Interactive Travel Planner a look.

The Rideshare Economy

Here is where the rideshare or carpooling form of transportation comes in handy. I have used the rideshare for years in Europe, and while its still lesser known, millions of Europeans use the option regularly. Few online ridesharing service providers existed previously, but in recent years, two big ones have emerged and are vying for European domination. German based Carpooling and French BlaBlaCar are stepping up their campaigns to hook you up with a ride throughout the continent.

The ridesearch system is both simple and safe; it hosted by their websites, though the organization and payment is generally arranged and paid from the rider to the driver. Ridesharing, or “hitching” with others not only works out cheaper than trains and even many flights, it is green and supports the Sharing Economy concept.

Leaving Berlin, my new travel companions and I sit back and enjoy the experience of a genuine European road trip. Elke, our German driver, Alejandro of Barcelona, and I made our way south through Germany, Switzerland, and along the coast of France towards Barcelona. Spirits were high; there was conversation, storytelling, and tip-trading interspersed with periods of silence and contemplation as we watched the countryside go by. We were an especially compatible rideshare match. In fact, I’ve never had a “bad” such experience—if that were ever to occur there’s always the window or a book to remedy any potential awkwardness.

Rideshare in Europe: RoadSharing.and BlaBlaCar (in German)

Overlooking Palma Bay
Overlooking Palma Bay from Bellver Castle.

Bienvenido en Palma

Greeting Mallorca in the sea breeze from the top deck of the ferry we had taken from Barcelona, feeling a gentle soothing motion of buoyancy, we see the dazzling glint of the sun off the azure waves of the Bay of Palma. The iconic Gothic cathedral “La Seu” rises from the “Casco Antigua” old city center and dominates the panorama. As the ferry docks, the view—over moored, luxury yachts—reveals a city expanding out from the old to the new, with a backdrop of mountains. Disembarking, my new companions and I reflect on the journey, exchange information, and say farewell in hopes of future meetings.

The Flatshare Formula

Now, where would I be staying? Naturally, much creative planning and research goes into any slow immersion travel journey—that’s part of the allure. Nevertheless, being spontaneous can often open up interesting options as well. Either way, I prefer to plan my initial living situation beforehand as much as possible. Over the years, I have developed a sort of personal travel planning formula, and it has always worked quite well.

The formula starts with the Sharing Economy idea again. Temporary, private apartments or room rentals—the likes of Airbnb, where a host offers a room or apartment to travelers or holiday goers—have become more popular and therefore more plentiful online day-by-day. A great little flatshare/room rental site from Germany called WG-gesucht is ideal for Mallorca (an island very popular with Germans) to arrange an initial stay online before arriving. With the first few days arranged at my host’s beachfront apartment, I am free to explore Palma and look around for something more permanent, while following up on some leads that I’ve found online in person.

Note: If traveling for a month or less, you may consider just staying at the beachfront flat example, though expect to pay considerably more to do so than the local monthly rates.

Temporary flat/room—international sites: roomorama, WIMDU, 9flats.

Finding a flat in Palma de Mallorca
Finding a flat in Palma de Mallorca.

A typical market in Palma de Mallorca
A typical market in Palma de Mallorca where provisions for a meal may be found for a healthy and tasty meal light on the budget.

Living with the Locals

Sauntering through the streets, plazas, and neighborhoods serves to begin your orientation as well as developing a sense of place. Ideally, you will likely aim to live in an area that feels good or is interesting to you, and make any necessary compromises depending upon your budget. Se Alquila ("For Rent") signs appear on many facades if you prefer your own place, most of which are furnished. Be prepared however to jump through some hoops, expect a lease, and plan on higher deposits and possibly fees.

There are a few reasons why living with locals in a flatshare is the way to go.

  • Rentals in a flatshare are considerably less expensive, as are deposits, if any at all are required.
  • You have a home where you can cook, host guests, or merely relax and stay in, which lightens the load on any budget.
  • Living with locals, one gets an inside view of the area and generally can make new friends in the process.
  • Learning the language! Basic Spanish can be practiced with roommates, with shared feedback, before venturing out in the streets to speak with locals. You only have to make the effort to resist the urge to speak in a common non-Spanish language.

The web is clearly the best source for finding a more permanent room these days. Several Spanish websites make searching a breeze. That’s part two of my formula: use country specific sites. Studying up on apartment terms is a nice little Spanish lesson for browsing the offers for a flatshare or “piso compartido” before conducting the search process. I found an interesting prospect and sent an email to arrange a viewing. However, in Mallorca at least, calling direct (or using the mobile messenger WhatsApp) is more effective than email for meet-ups. In no time, I had moved in and was ready to explore and acquaint myself with the new location, roommates, and experience my continuing journey at the pace I have set.

In eight months, I lived in two places, just to experience some variety.

First, was a country finca (ranch house) named “Son Verger,” on Palma’s outskirts. Maria—my very “Mallorquin” landlady, who loved to talk about olden times (from what I could understand from her Catalan dialect), lived in the main house and I shared a flat/wing with a veteran Mallorca expat, Matthias from Germany. We had our own vegetable garden, surrounded by olive and almond groves, and the “Serra Tramuntana” mountains backdrop. Living in such a bucolic bliss was great for a while.

Later, I moved to Palma center, where the action is (along with the nearby beach). My barrio (neighborhood) was incredibly ethnically diverse. Chinese, African, Indian, Arab and South American people and shops were seen as frequently as Spanish. My roommates: Thomas, an Argentine expat, David, originally from Spanish Andalucía, Alba, a hippie artist from Italy, and I enjoyed many conversations (mixed English-Spanish-Italian), and dinner parties galore!

A typical finca in Palma de Mallorca
A typical finca in Palma de Mallorca.

Spanish flatshare sites: PisoCompartido, Idealista, MilAnuncios

A panorama of a quiet street scene in a Palma de Mallorca
A panorama of a quiet street scene in a Palma de Mallorca.

Reflections on Mallorca

While relaxing on one of my many preferred beach spots, I reflect on these past months in Palma and Mallorca in general. Those mornings I sat at a café on the neighborhood plaza ordering a “cortado” coffee with milk. I attempt to learn to make more and more sense from a newspaper. I have learned to observe patiently the goings on of the local “Mercat Municipal” market as I chose fruit, vegetables, fish, or even a live chicken—fresh, inexpensive, and from the source.

My cooking has become more Spanish Mediterranean due to what’s available here—with an Argentine dish here, an Italian “intermezzo” there, and once in awhile a spicy Andalusian paella—for home meals. I simply cannot resist occasionally the low-cost, ample meals at a neighborhood “cafetería,” which offers the full spectrum of Spanish cuisine and a lively local atmosphere. For a quick snack, dropping into a tapas bar, which offers a variety of Spanish appetizers, will be what I miss most when I move on—especially “Bar Dia” in the narrow Carrer dels Apuntadors lane of the old city center.

I walk around differently now, greeting shopkeepers—like old Señor Llompart whose still thriving, yet anachronistic knife-sharpening shop next door I pass to hear “hello inglés,” and perhaps get a sharpening—or a passing neighbor on familiar routes through the city. I’ve gotten to know the place on a deeper level, with all five senses, while making new friends, improving my Spanish, and traveling all over the island. Slowly, through immersion, I suppose I have become part of the local scene. I’d love to tell you more, but we’re having a barbeque on our roof terrace tonight… hasta luego!

Paul Graham France is a British-American nomad voyager, traveling his way slowly across the planet thus far, including living in Germany, Spain, Costa Rica, and Brazil. He has been publishing articles, mostly on travel, since 2011, and dabbles in fiction. Current coordinates: Spain.

Related Topics
Cultural Immersion Travel
Independent Travel
Spain: Articles and Essential Resources
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