What is slow travel – and should you try it?
Credit: Laura Lefurgey-Smith
When was the last time you went out for brunch without an exact plan? These days, it’s tough to avoid committing to a restaurant in advance — let alone board a plane, train or boat without a jam-packed itinerary of places to go, things to see and dishes to eat. Partly for that reason, it’s not uncommon to return home from a vacation and feel like you need time to recover.
The temptation to do too much on a trip affects us all – but is it the best way to travel? Possibly not for everyone. Instead, many would argue that “slow travel” is the antidote to our busy, modern lives.
So, what exactly is slow travel? And is it right for you? Let’s find out…
Slow travel is the art of truly connecting to your surroundings
Picture the scene: you’re standing in the center of a bustling food market in the south of France. The colors, the smells, the fresh baguettes tucked under the arms of passersby – it’s exactly what you’d always expected small-town Provence to be like. But you’re not really paying attention.
Because you’ve spent the last five minutes trying to get the perfect snap for Instagram – and, worse, you’ve been tasked with capturing the best angle of your travel partner, who wants a hundred different shots to choose from.
Too often we end up living experiences through the lens of a camera. Sure, it’s great to capture a memory. But there definitely comes a time to put the camera down and really pay attention to what you’re seeing.
Cutting down your itinerary is one of the best ways to do this. When you have a full sightseeing bucket list, it’s difficult not to feel compelled to snap a quick photo and rush off to the next attraction.
So, that’s where slow travel comes in.
Slow travel is related to the Slow Movement philosophy, which is all about celebrating our connection to food, family, and – when on vacation – the places we visit.
Slow travel says “no” to extrinsic rewards, like Insta likes and a full SD card in your DSLR – and instead focuses on the intrinsic happiness that comes from exploration, and deep-diving into a new experience.
Credit: Kevin Benkenstein
What does it mean to “slow travel”?
The good news is that slow travel isn’t any one thing – it’s a mindset, rather than a particular destination, or means of getting there (though there are definitely destinations that are particularly good for slow travel!)
Because of this, slow travel may look different from one person to the next. For you, slow travel may mean wandering off to a remote South Asian island – spending your days snorkeling and lying on the sand drinking coconuts. Or it may mean renting a bike and packing your backpack for a week on the road — coasting along cycle tracks with “no provision but an open face”, in the immortal words of Robert Plant.
Your slow trip doesn’t need to be in a different country — or even city. As Alain de Botton explains in his book ‘The Art of Travel’, there’s much we fail to notice about the surroundings we inhabit day after day. There’s nothing quite like discovering an amazing coffee shop or bar just down the road – the place you’ve never had time to appreciate because you’ve always been too busy rushing to work each day.
If you like solo travel, that can lend itself especially well to slow travel since it gives you full control over how you spend your time. To quote de Botton: “It seemed an advantage to be traveling alone. Our responses to the world are crucially moulded by the company we keep, for we temper our curiosity to fit in with the expectations of others.”
But wherever you go, and whoever you go with: remember to relax into each moment. The aim of slow travel isn’t to see as much as possible, it’s to experience your trip as deeply as possible.
How to prepare for slow travel
While over-planning can be the enemy of slow travel, there are some small things you can do to prepare for a slow trip before you set off.
First: get a hold of a map and put your cell phone away. This will help you to avoid the temptation of scrolling through the digital world, preventing you from losing focus on the real one right in front of you.
Second: research two or three absolute must-dos for your trip. This might be local food you want to try, or an amazing site you want to visit. Slow travel doesn’t mean relying entirely on spontaneity, but it’s about being selective with your priorities.
Third: buy yourself a journal! Capturing your thoughts in written form will help you connect with your new surroundings, and process your experiences more deeply. You don’t need to fill your journal with life-changing philosophical musings – even one or two sentences each day will act as a fantastic memento when you return home. Often, journal-keeping can help you solidify a memory in your mind. (Conversely, taking photos has been shown to interfere with memory retention.)
Finally: you may find it useful to learn some mindfulness techniques to make the most from your slow travel. Busy lives leads to busy minds, so having the ability to hush your thoughts will enable you to focus more – before, during and after your trip.
So – is slow travel for you?
In case you’re still on the fence, here are three of the biggest benefits of slowing down:
1) People generally return from slow travel feeling relaxed, rejuvenated and ready to get back to their daily lives. And, who knows: you may have even picked up some inspiration for your life back at home
2) Slow travel tends to be a more environmentally friendly way to travel, with fewer taxi rides or short-haul flights, and more time spent exploring on foot or bike. Slow travel = a smaller carbon footprint.
3) By the same token, slow travel can actually be kinder to your bank balance, too. Removing yourself from the fast-paced tourist life gives you space to breathe, and a chance to spend your money more wisely.
So, do you think you’re up to the challenge? If so – let us know how you get on!