What is Slow Travel? And How to Do It

27. Oct. 2021

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Is it just us, or is travel, and the desire to travel, everywhere? Travel has become a ubiquitous part of life for so many people, particularly now that technology has made it seem much more accessible. Take a look online. Instagram is full of travel-focused accounts showcasing the world’s most beautiful places. YouTube gives adrenaline-junkies a perfect platform to share their adventures. Airbnb provides stunning, photo-ready accommodations accessible at every price point. One study even showed that people were more likely to travel somewhere if they thought it would result in an increase in their social media following and engagement.

Seeing travel as a way to keep up with trends and become more popular online can actually stop you from experiencing the true benefits of getting out of your own bubble. The people who are leaving behind slow travel in favor of quick trips to stunning and inspiring places rack up more “likes”, so it can feel like we’re missing out if our own experiences don’t stack up against theirs.

Talk about FOMO.

If you find yourself making an extensive list of the places around the world that you want to check off of your bucket list, it may be time to take a step back and think about the reason behind your desire to travel. What do you want out of your travels? A fast and furious tour seeing ‘everything there is to see’, changing locations every 2-3 days? Or do you want to feel like a local, spending leisurely days strolling off the beaten path? If you’re craving a more authentic experience, one that leaves you with a feeling that you truly got to know the places, people and cultures that you’ve encountered on your travels it could be time to s l o w down. Learn more about this lifestyle by reading our guide on how to become a digital nomad.

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What is Slow Travel?

Slow travel is an approach to travel that emphasizes connection: to local people, cultures, food and music. It relies on the idea that a trip is meant to educate and have an emotional impact, in the present moment and for the future, while remaining sustainable for local communities and the environment.

Heard of the slow food movement? It originated in Italy in 1986 and aimed to preserve regional cuisine, local farming and traditional cooking methods through education of tourists and local residents. People were realizing that increased tourism was changing the way that people were eating, bringing larger, chain-based restaurants to major cities and taking away profits from family-owned establishments. The slow food movement worked to draw business back to traditional restaurants by touting the benefits of using regionally-sourced ingredients and stimulating local economies.

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Different industry, same concept. Where travel is considered, a “slow” mindset urges tourists to take a step back from their to-do lists and Instagram-worthy photo ops and simply embrace what the local community has to offer. Instead of making sure you hit the “hot spots” outlined in a travel guide, focus on things that locals do everyday, things that excite them and give them joy. The impact that these connections have on you will last a lot longer than the memories that you have of racing from tourist attraction to tourist attraction.

This is not just a way to travel, it’s a mindset. It’s the outlook that the quality of your experience is more important than the quantity of your experiences when you travel.

You can wake up without plans for the day, unsure of the adventures that await you, but with the knowledge that what you’ll experience will mean so much more than a post to social media could convey.

Many travelers like to use the phrase “there’s always another trip” to convey that it’s impossible to see or do everything within a city in a short amount of time. It’s okay to save some of the sights for another visit. Instead of racing to do it all, indulge in experience-based activities.

When you visit a museum, give yourself enough time to fully immerse yourself in its artworks. Ponder the meaning behind a painting, or imagine the artist’s thoughts as he or she sculpted an object from clay or stone. Lose yourself in the meaning behind the duality of identity in Frida Kahlo’s self-portraits. Absorb and analyze the cultural impact of Salvador Dalí’s surrealist works. Remember: you don’t need to visit every wing or exhibit - you can always come back.

What other impactful local activities could you only experience if you were traveling slowly? Imagine learning how to create handmade beads from a local artisan, heading out with a resident fishing crew to reel in the day’s catch or getting to know the proper intricacies of drinking mate from a born-and-raised Argentinian.

You want to find something on this trip that leaves a fingerprint on your soul. Whether it be an evening spent wandering through a local park, a day pondering artistic intention in a museum or an afternoon white water rafting in the mountains, Whether it be an evening spent wandering through a local park, a day pondering artistic intention in a museum in Paris, an afternoon white water rafting in the mountains or going on a day trip from Mexico City, you’ll search for an adventure that will make you feel something.

Benefits of Slow Travel

Slow travel has many benefits for the traveler and the community that they’re visiting. In a way, it’s a return to the reasons that people had traveled in the past, for a cultural experience or a chance to lose themselves in a new place without the need to document every moment. Here are a few  reasons you should consider travelling slowly:

Prevent “tourist burnout”

Have you ever left a trip more tired than when you arrived? That’s a little thing that travelers call “tourist burnout”. Trying to see or experience as many things as possible within a short period of time can be exhausting, and actually leave you with a negative view of your time on the road as a whole.

Ditch your typical frenetic mentality and slip into the pace of the local culture. Instead of thinking of your trip as a list of as a checklist, reframe it as an opportunity for growth, education and development. That to-do list that you created doesn’t need to be fully completed in order for your travels to have been successful. You can always head back to that destination later to see what you missed!

Save money

Traveling slowly can be a more inexpensive option than a typical tourist jaunt. Chain hotels and big-name restaurants tend to be  pricier, and they don’t offer the type of charm or experience that a local spot would. Beyond the places that you’ll visit during the day, you can save money on the space where you’ll lay your head at night. Seeking out local Airbnb options or even homestay opportunities could be the key to a connected, life-changing experience on your next trip. If you have a kitchen in your accommodations, bonus! You won’t have to eat out quite so often (though you may be tempted to with all of that amazing cuisine), and you can find regional ingredients with which to make a culturally-relevant meal with your own two hands.

Make connections

We’re going to let you in on a secret: you won’t meet anyone who has the ability to change your life if your head is stuck inside of a tourist guide. Look up and look around. Learn a bit of the local language before you arrive so that you can engage in brief conversation with shop owners. A short conversation with a man working at a bakery could turn into an opportunity to learn how to make your own bread and, later, a traditional meal with his family where you can make even more connections. You never know what could happen when you take the time to slow down and get to know the people in the city that you’re traveling in.

Break out of your comfort zone

This way of travelling isn’t always simple, planned or easy. It requires a certain level of confidence that things will work out, or that you will be able to figure them out along the way. There will be moments during your experience that scare you, but these are the moments that can teach you a lesson that you could carry with you for the rest of your life. You may need to overcome language barriers and differences in cultural customs. These experiences will make you a more knowledgeable traveler and give you global perspective. Unlike a tourist experience, where translated tours abound and Yelp  directs you to a place where you’d most likely enjoy the food, a more authentic experience could end up with you tasting a scorpion for the first time in China. You’ll also leave little to no negative impact on the local community because you won’t be working with exploitative tour operators. That’s what will make it one of your best trips ever.

How to Slow Travel

All it takes is a shift in perspective and mindset to get started. Here are a few tips for turning your next trip into a more authentic experience:

Live like a local

Talk to the people that you meet when you arrive at your destination and find out their favorite places to eat, relax, and learn. They know this city better than you do, so take their advice and run with it. That little hole-in-the-wall cantina might have the best guacamole that you’ve ever had.

Don’t try to see everything on your list or, better yet, don’t make a list at all

Leave a few things up to chance  for once. When every minute is planned to a tee, you don’t leave room for surprise or happenstance. When you wake up on the first day of your travels, surrender to whatever the world has in store for you and live without fear of missing out.

Get ready to grow

Traveling is not the time to seek out the ordinary. Embrace the feelings of discomfort and use your trip  as a chance to grow and learn more about how people around the world. Haggle in a local market. Say ‘yes’ to an opportunity that you never would in your normal life. Arrange a homestay where you’ll have to socialize with locals around the kitchen table on a daily basis. Whatever you do, don’t hold yourself back because of worry or discomfort.

Bring it on home

Finally, the idea of slow travel doesn’t have to just apply to ‘other’ places. Once you have  grasped this mentality, implement it in a place that you are familiar with, perhaps even your hometown. Have you been too caught up in everyday tasks and responsibilities to notice the little things? Do you frequent new, hip restaurants or do you try out places that have been around for generations? Is it a priority for you to make new connections within this city, or are you content with the relationships that you already have?

Think of yourself as a tourist within your own city. This could be your chance to make your hometown feel new again, and create an emotional connection to this place that has felt too stagnant or comfortable for so long.

It may not be for everyone or all types of trips (we don’t  blame you if you want to climb Machu Picchu or take a photo in front of the Eiffel Tower), but it is achievable. It doesn’t take any extra effort or resources to do, just a change of mindset and an openness to its possibilities.

With that subtle switch, travel again takes on a meaning. It can create memories that are more lasting than fleeting in an instantaneous world absorbed with the FOMO-inducing landscape of social media. As you consider your next travel experience, think about what you could take away from it if you implemented a slow travel mindset and remember, “there’s always another trip”.