Slow Travel: What Is It and Why You Should Do It

27 June 2018

You know how sometimes you feel like you need a vacation from your vacation? We’ve all been there: visiting a foreign land and wanting to see and do as much as possible in the shortest amount of time.

Sure, you get to check off plenty of things on your itinerary, but the truth is that it can be incredibly tiring and hectic. If you’re interested in doing the exact opposite, take a big step back and consider the concept of slow travel.

What is slow travel?

Slow travel isn’t just about the physical speed of travel, of getting from Point A to Point B without rushing. In fact, the name comes from the slow movement, which advocates a cultural and lifestyle shift toward slowing down the pace of life.

The slow movement took off in 1986 when a man named Carlo Petrini, a professional gourmet, protested against the opening of a McDonald’s outlet in Rome’s Piazza di Spagna. His aim was to protect and preserve the jobs of local farmers, regional cuisine, and traditional cooking methods. From his actions, the slow food movement was born, and his beliefs (together with those of many like-minded individuals and organisations) spread to other areas and industries, including fashion and travel.

Slow travel is about taking the time to really familiarise yourself with a destination through meaningful experiences. It’s very much like hitting the pause button every so often while you’re on the road. When you do that you tend to soak in the views for longer, get to know the locals better, and feel more energised since you’re moving at a relaxed pace. Slow travel also usually means that you focus on a small area (or a few small areas) rather than hop from city to city quickly without exploring places thoroughly.

Why be a slow traveller?

There are many benefits of slow travel, but the most obvious one is a significant reduction in stress. When you’re not trying to beat the clock on vacation, you don’t have to worry about setting alarms, confirming schedules and planning everything to the last second.

This has the added bonus of saving yourself a lot of trouble during the pre-holiday period because there’s no need to do days – or even weeks – of research before you leave.

an aerial view of a man looking at a world map that is placed on the table.
Say goodbye to the hassle of planning trips down to the last minute with slow travel. Photo by Simon Migaj

Another good thing about slow travel is that it’s kinder to your wallet. When you stay put and don’t jump from spot to spot, you’ll definitely find yourself saving quite a bit of cash on accommodation and transportation.

If you’re trying to limit your carbon footprint, slow travel is also often a winner. Airplanes are a major contributor to global warming, but with slow travel, you’re instead encouraged to take trains, ride bicycles and even walk to find your way around a destination.

But arguably the most important argument for slow travel is that you’ll likely form a strong connection with the destination and its people. You’ll have the chance to know a place like the back of your hand, including routes, shops, and sights. You’ll also have the opportunity to build relationships with the locals and really immerse yourself in new cultures. Learning can be fun and rewarding, and slow travel creates the best classrooms for you to do just that.

That said, it’s important to note that slow travel is not for everyone. If you’re someone who thrives on change and constantly needs something new, slow travel might actually wear you out, making you bored and restless.

If that’s the case, then there is little point in changing the way you travel, so stick to what you do (and know) best.

How does one go slow?

Now that you know what slow travel is all about, you might want to give it a go on your next trip. Keep in mind that certain countries and destinations are better for slow travel than others. For example, getting around Southeast Asia or the Pacific can be difficult without taking a flight.

For the intrepid traveller though there’s often an alternative, whether it’s a ferry, motorbike or bouncy local bus.

A lady with long hair strolling on a beach.
Like it: Places like the Gili Islands in Indonesia are perfect for slow travel with their car-free roads. Photo by Tamara Bellis

A region like Europe, where public transportation is reliable and highly accessible, and attractions are within relatively close proximity to one another, is perfect for slow travel. In areas where connectivity is more of an issue, you could also zoom in on manageable, small-scale adventures. Take the Gili Islands in Indonesia, for example: There are no roads so you’ll have no choice but to walk, cycle, or take day boats whenever you need to head out.

Once you’ve decided on a place, consider the different aspects of your visit, including accommodation, meals and transport. For accommodation, you’re better off booking an Airbnb or homestay in a village or small town compared to a luxurious hotel or fancy resort.

Another option is couchsurfing, where you set up your base in someone’s home. You probably will need to clean up after yourself and make your own bed and meals, but it’s all part of the experience.

Speaking of meals – if you want to do things the real “slow travel” way, you could try and cook for yourself. Pick up local ingredients and carry out experiments in the kitchen of your Airbnb or hosts’ home (with their permission, of course). If you do eat out, patronise locally owned establishments and support communities.

As for transport, it’s just one rule to follow: Do your best to avoid planes. Take the train or bus, or walk and cycle to find your way around. If the area has its own distinctive mode of transportation, like jeepneys in the Philippines or ojeks in Indonesia, by all means, go for it!

Remember: with slow travel, the point is to make every moment count and be as chilled out as you possibly can.

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