What is slow travel and what are the benefits? Why is slow travel beneficial for the local community and the environment? And how to be a slow traveler? In this article, I’ll explain everything you need to know about the hype of slow travel.
What is slow travel?
Slow travel (like slow food) seems to be a popular word these days. Slow travel is not about the speed of the transportation you use during your trip, but about slowing yourself down. Slow travel means traveling longer and slower, and really immersing yourself in a country without rushing. Slow travel is the opposite of traveling to ‘tick as many boxes’ as possible in a short time. I’ve tried both forms of travel and slow travel definitely leaves me feeling much more content about my experience. Fast travel not only makes you feel exhausted, it also clutters your mind with too many things to do.
What are the benefits of slow travel?
For me, traveling is about really getting to know a place, not just the highlights. This also means the local food, the local people, and the local traditions. If you are traveling just to see the highlights, you are missing out on possibly your best memories!
• Slow travel is more responsible
If you take your time during your trip, it’s better for the environment and the local community. You use less transport and therefore fewer emissions. You have more time to stay with a local host and get to know the local people. If you travel slowly, you’re more likely to connect with the surroundings, because you have more time to go out in nature. You might even have time to help with beach clean-ups or with volunteering. Also, if you sleep longer in one stay there will be less washing and cleaning, which is also better for the environment.
• Traveling slowly is cheaper
If you skip the highlights and get off the beaten track, you’ll end up saving quite some money. You don’t have to pay hefty entrance fees and don’t pay the highest price for accommodation in popular destinations. You save money if you choose local, slow transport or by biking or walking. If you travel further, prices are likely to decrease because fewer tourists will be there to jack up the prices. Traveling slowly also means less flying, because you have more time to take local transport which is often much cheaper. Hotels and stays often offer discounts for longer stays too.
• The slower you travel, the more authentic experiences you’ll have
Staying longer in one place gives you more room to have memorable experiences. You will have more time to chat with the locals and to meet other travelers. You can stay in local homestays that are a bit harder to reach if you take your time. The further you go and immerse yourself in a country, the more authentic experiences you will have. Locals are often much more welcoming in less touristy locations, so if you travel slower you are more likely to reach those places. You have time to sidetrack and go in a different direction than you planned, often giving you more unique experiences.
• A slow travel trip is more mindful
Do you know the feeling of coming home more tired after your trip than you were before you left? Yep, me too! You most likely packed too many things in too little time. Traveling to complete your bucket list is not from this time anymore. Instead, we want to feel recharged and energized after our vacation. Slow travel gives you space to live in the present moment, really enjoying all the little things around you. You will spend less time being hauled in tourist vans from highlight to highlight. And more time to connect with nature and local traditions. Our whole lives are more focused on mindfulness, let travel also be one of them!
How to travel slowly?
The popular saying ‘It’s about the journey, not the destination’ is more true than ever for slow travel. When I travel, I never plan anything ahead. It gives me much more room to have authentic experiences because I often get invited by locals or other travelers to join them.
1. Stay longer in one place
Slow travel means long travel. Stay longer in one place and you’re automatically a slow traveler.
2. Don’t create FOMO-lists
FOMO stands for Fear Of Missing Out, and travel bucket lists are often based on this. Skip the highlight list and let your curiosity and open agenda bring you to where you need to go.
3. Travel further
If you travel further into a country, you have to travel slower as well. The deeper you get into the heart of a destination, the more you need to take local transport and take it slow.
4. Do as the locals do
Go to local markets and have local (slow) food experiences. Try to live like a local and you’ll see that it will slow you down automatically, giving you more authentic memories.
5. Be flexible
Being flexible is key to slow travel. Don’t plan all your days ahead and leave some room for improvisation. You might be invited to the hometown of your neighbor that you meet during your train ride! If you plan your days back-to-back, you will have no time to be open to spontaneous encounters.
6. Choose local transport
Local transport like busses or trains is much slower than planes. But besides the slow speed, it also means slow travel, because it gives you more time to immerse yourself in the local culture. The chances are higher that you meet interesting people on local transport, which will give you a more complete view of a country. If you walk or cycle more often it is also a way to travel more slowly.
7. Avoid tourist traps
Tourist traps and highlights cause over-tourism; places that bend under the weight of tourism. If you want to take slow travel seriously, avoid these tourist traps and take your time to find similar places. They will most likely cost more time to reach, but you’ll have a much better experience and a bigger chance to meet local people.
Slow travel is sustainable travel
Slow travel is trending post-pandemic. It is more sustainable, more mindful, and cheaper. The pandemic made us slow down a lot this year, and travel will be slower too. Slow travel also leads to less tourism leakage, which is crucial if you want to be a responsible traveler.
In the beginning, it was hard for me to skip the highlights because I thought I needed that ‘Instagram picture’ to prove I had been somewhere. But almost always there are better, similar places than those highlights which give you a much more authentic experience (and better Instagram pictures too!)
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About the author
Yvette van den Brand
Yvette is the founder of Sustaying. She has lived abroad for seven years of her life, while travelling and working in 45 different countries. Originally from The Netherlands but now residing in Mexico, where she manages Sustaying and enjoys a kiteboarding lifestyle.