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?
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?
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.
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.
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
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
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.