The Importance of Slow Travel

How many times have you come back from a trip more tired and drained than when you left? You put all that time into carefully crafted travel itinerary, down to each hour of each day, but what can you really tell me about the local culture and community? You’re fatigued and it’s all a blur.

This is no way to live, let alone travel. Travel has become more accessible in recent years, but here’s the problem: we’re doing it all wrong. That’s where a concept called “slow travel” comes in. Not only is slow travel better for our own well being, it’s better for the environment and local communities.

So, what exactly is slow travel?

slow-travel
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Here’s the core of slow travel: slowing down, and often doing less, in order to gain a deeper understanding of the surroundings, community, and authentic culture. As Independent Traveler states, “it is the opposite of ‘manic sightseeing.’”

Slow travel is rooted in the “slow movement”, focusing on slowing down in order to gain a more holistic perspective on culture and food. The “slow movement” began in the 1980s when “slow food” rose in opposition to the growth of fast food throughout Italy. Slow travel takes on this mindset. It is a counter movement to our fast-paced, digitally distracted society, which craves instant gratification in every sense.

The intention of slow travel is to take in your surroundings at a leisurely pace. This can mean different things to different people, however it is a completely revolutionary concept in the world of travel. It’s not about saying, “Yeah, I’ve seen that,” but rather “I’ve experienced that.” The mindset of slow travel is that by doing less, you’re gaining more.

What does this mindset look like in practice?

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Exploring the surrounding Dubrovnik area this summer. Cavtat, Croatia.

First, it’s necessary to get into the slow travel mindset. This can mean staying in one place for longer, instead of taking several short trips. With fast traveling, you’re scratching the surface of several locations, while counting every country or place you’ve ever been like Girl Scout badges. Slow travel is about getting to know one area at a time in depth, and relaxing more along the way.

Transportation

Slow travelers often taken into account transportation. Is it possible to get to your destination by bus or train? Slow travel may mean taking a train. From Germany to France, instead of flying. Though this may take longer, it allows you to truly connect and observe the country at large.

Slow travel also emphasizes biking and walking as much as possible while at your destination. This allows you to form a present connection with your location, instead of observing it outside of a taxi window.

Sightseeing

How many of those places that you’ve seen in a day can you actually tell me something meaningful about? What can you tell me about the people, the intimate culture, and the struggles?

In contrast, slow travel emphasizes building meaningful connections to people and culture instead of focusing on “seeing” everything. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with being excited to see the Trevi Fountain and the Vatican while in Rome. However, when overemphasizing “seeing all the sights”, you really aren’t absorbing authentic culture.

The problem with strict travel itineraries is that you’re seeing a place how you want to see it, instead of for what it truly is. Reserving time for spontaneity allows you to see the things you maybe wouldn’t have planned for. Take time to absorb the mundane and simple moments. Skip the McDonalds and eat at the mom-and-pop restaurants. Make an effort to understand the culture and the current struggles they face.

Why slow travel matters in the big picture dsc04902

There are a number of benefits to Slow Travel but here are the most significant:

  • Building stronger connections with the local community

When moving too fast, you’re forgetting the most important part of travel: the people. Staying in a place longer enables you to build a stronger relationship with locals, and get to know their story.

  •  Better for the environment

Traveling to fewer places, walking, and biking all lower your carbon footprint, which is thus better for the planet

  • Better for your wallet

It makes sense that you would save money while traveling and doing less.

  • Authentic cultural experience

After all, isn’t travel about experiencing a culture different from your own? Slowing down allows you to experience the culture as it is, aside from the tourist experience provided. What you learn may surprise you.

Why I’ll never travel any other way dsc04957

From personal experience, I’ve experienced both extremes of slow and fast travel. I previously studied abroad twice (in Nice, France and Dubrovnik, Croatia), and I took more weekend trips than I can count. Though I have incredible and fond memories of these quick trips, I can’t tell you much about the places themselves, other than the sites I saw. It was like speed dating a bunch of beautiful places and people that really deserved more time than I gave them.

In contrast, for the past few months I’ve been living with my boyfriend in Dubrovnik, living the authentic village life. I’ve now experienced a very different Dubrovnik than when I studied abroad in this exact same place. Instead of traveling every weekend with my American friends, I’ve done my best to immerse myself in authentic Croatian culture, which has been challenging for me at times.

However, it’s important to remember that travel is a privilege that some can only dream of. For those of this that do have this opportunity, we ought to do so mindfully. Travel has the ability to open our minds and connect us to different cultures. Perhaps the slow travel mentality can teach us a thing or two about our overall lifestyle.

13 thoughts on “The Importance of Slow Travel

  • We agree, we also live abroad and it makes a huge different. People tell you ohh this or that city is great, isn’t it? And although you might see its greatness you also see how the city evolves through the day and seasons. We have to admit we also do some fast travelling too, but we always have non-schedule time in our trips and even on schedule if there is something we are enjoying we don’t rush to the next thing, it is pointless. Thanks for sharing!

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  • Thanks for this post. It is a really useful and interesting guide to slow travel. Your definition of slow travel is great – spending longer doing less, but experiencing somewhere in more depth – sounds perfect to me! I really believe that slowing our travel down is the key to more sustainable tourism so thanks for highlighting this.

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  • Such a great post – I’ve read many posts on slow travel but not many on exactly HOW to do it, and WHY you should adopt this method of traveling. So wonderful that you now have the opportunity to live in Dubrovnik and experience it with a new set of eyes.

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  • I LOVED this post. I’m a slow traveler from WAY back. In the late 90s I spent 3 months in Israel. I’ve also wandered Paris for 10 days and spent more than a month in New York City. Most recently, I’ve spent 12 YEARS in Uganda. Hahahaha! There is no better way to get to know an area, a culture, a view, than to just sit still and enjoy it for awhile. Your carbon footprint will thank you for it!

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  • I totally agree, slow travel is the way forward for so many reasons. I feel like it is the best way to really get to see, feel and somewhat understand somewhere new. It is also far more relaxing (usually) than a rushed, jam packed itinerary! It is also far better for the world than us hopping all over it on planes 🙂 Thanks for putting this post together, it’s a great reminder of the slow travel mindset

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  • OMG, this is so me. Or was so me. I used to be a “manic traveler” before my son was born. So you can imagine our daily itineraries jam-packed within the day – no time to breathe! But now that we are sort of re-starting our travel with our toddler, it forced us to become slow travelers in a way. We don’t list a ton of things to visit in one day and just let the day pass idly by. We were still tired (well, traveling with a toddler is tiring!) but we don’t feel as stressed if we missed visiting a place anymore 🙂

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  • Many people, including me, are so used to packing our itinerary so full that we sometimes forget to slow down and enjoy our travels in s different way. Thank you for the reminder!

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  • I really wish our schedules allowed for more slow travel. It does seem like the best way to get to know a culture. We try and input some slow travel into our travels when we can (e.g., traveling by train instead of flying between cities). But, with time I hope we are able to stay at one place for a longer period of time so that we can learn more about a place and the people.

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