What Is Slow Travel?

I’m having a dirty martini at 1897 bar, a darkened lounge in New Cairo filled with leather couches and rugs, when a friend asks about my trip to Italy. I’ve just returned to Egypt after four days in Venice and my memories of the floating city are fresh enough to light up my face.

“It was fantastic,” I say.

I remember waking up every morning at a woody campsite just outside Venice, then taking a bus into the city and wandering for hours. Meandering down side streets where locals walk their dogs and chat from balconies, having no idea where I was on the map.

Streets end in sprawling piazzas or watery dead ends. One leads to the edge of the city where the houses are poorer and less ornate, and where I get sprawling views of the Adriatic.

The wandering feels like a waltz with the city as my partner. I whirled in circles taking pleasure in a dance that’s ultimately directionless.

“You went to Venice, right?” my friend asks. “Where else did you go?”

“Just Venice,” I say. “I stayed there the whole time.”

“You didn’t go to Florence or Rome?” she asks. “I love Rome. And the food is the best!”

I feel a tinge of regret and wonder if I’d done the right thing. The trip into Venice on my first day had been exhausting. I missed my train, ran out of change to buy another ticket, and got soaked in the rain. Had I just been too tired at that point for a jaunt across Italy? Was I getting old?

But Venice was so gorgeous! I wandered its side streets until it was time to catch the last bus back to the campsite, and vowed I’d return and stay longer.

slowtravel1

And I had been to Florence and Rome. After graduation, in a rush to grow up and be cosmopolitan, I’d taken a few whirlwind guided tours and checked Italy and Paris off my bucket list. I’d raced from one attraction to another, getting on and off our bus, in a haze I now remember only from photos.

And what had been the point? I’ve technically seen Paris and Rome, but had the experience changed me? Did I get anything out of it, besides bragging rights and a few photos?

In a culture where a good education means a well-paying job, and where money means comfort and security, travel can become just another commodity that’s held up as a status symbol. The Apple icon on the back of a golden phone, or the snapshot on Instagram from the trendiest summer vacation spot, are meant to tell others we’re living our best lives. Happy, fulfilled and successful.

Slow travel, as I’ve come to love it, is as much a backlash against this kind of materialism as it is a slower pace and less hectic itinerary.

The term “slow travel” may conjure up images of quiet alleys in rural France, with long lunches of organic cheeses, or months spent living in Bangkok steeped in the local culture. And it’s definitely about those kinds of immersive experiences.

But for me slow travel is a state of mind and an approach you take – whether you’re spending a single weekend in Paris or an entire summer in Provence.

Here’s how I see it:

Slow travel means knowing where you’re going.

The more you know about a country’s history, culture and customs, the more meaningful your trip will be. This can mean learning a few phrases of the language to communicate with locals, and reading up on the sites and local life you’re likely to encounter. Preparing and doing research also dulls culture shock and lets you integrate easier into your surroundings.

Before you arrive, reading novels by local authors or watching local films can get you excited for the trip, and make the places more significant when you arrive.

slowtravel2

Slow travel means quality over quantity.

To really get to know a destination, you have to give yourself time to wander and explore. Leave room for the spontaneous and keep your itinerary flexible. Get to know a city beyond its tourist attractions.

Walking is often the best way to discover a new place. The surprises along the way can turn vacations into adventures and meaningful journeys, while the slower pace allows you to be more mindful of your surroundings and notice things you’d miss from a speeding bus window.

It’s about knowing yourself and following your bliss.

Slow travel isn’t about skipping the major tourist attractions and spending your days wandering down quiet side streets. The iconic landmarks are famous for a reason and are often worth visiting. A bit of research can reveal which spots are overrated, however, and which are hidden gems.

Slow travel means being more selective and maximizing your time. It’s about following your gut and forgetting other people’s “must see” lists – and writing your own.

It’s knowing yourself and being honest about what you love. If you’re a big Oscar Wilde fan, and there’s an exhibit of his works in Paris, then it means heading there and skipping the Louvre if you’re not that excited about it.

Author Joshua Becker once said: “Minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of anything that distracts us from it.”

Likewise, slow travel isn’t about missing out on anything because you’re going at a slower pace. It’s about focusing on the things you’re excited about and skipping anything that feels like an obligation.

slowtravel3

It means getting a taste of local, everyday life.

Immersing yourself in the local life is the best way to understand a new culture. This can mean staying at an Airbnb on a residential street, eating at a restaurant that doesn’t cater to tourists, or taking a walk through a local park.

Asking locals for recommendations is a great way to discover authentic food and hidden gems that are off the beaten tourist path.

Getting involved in the local communities you’re visiting can be a great way to quickly integrate yourself in a foreign city. Sign up for a cooking class, volunteer, take a walking tour or spend an evening at a local concert or theater.

Being responsible, and protecting the environment.

Slow travel is as an offshoot of the slow food movement, which began in Italy in 1986 to resist the opening of a McDonald’s near the Spanish Steps in Rome. The slow food movement emphasizes local food and traditional cooking over mass-produced, homogeneous fast food.

And in the same way, slow travel emphasizes a visitor’s connection to local communities over mass tourism and one-size-fits-all itineraries.

For me, this also means supporting local artisans and traditional handcrafts, as well as supporting local businesses whenever possible. Cheap, mass-produced mementos that are made in China have put too many skilled craftsman out of business.

It means staying at eco-friendly hotels, not littering, buying fair trade whenever possible, and not taking part in any activities that exploit people, animals or the environment.

slowtravel4

Enjoying the ride.

The process of getting from point A to point B can be just as enjoyable as the destination. Slow travel can mean (but doesn’t have to) travel by boat, bike or train, or anything that lets you take in your surroundings.

Road trips are perfect examples of slow travel because they’re all about the experiences along the way.

And while slow travel isn’t for everyone, for me it’s the best way to understand a culture, relax, enjoy a place and explore deeper.

slowtravel5

Pin it!

slowtravel-pin1

Advertisements

188 thoughts on “What Is Slow Travel?

  1. Shamin

    “To really get to know a destination, you have to give yourself time to wander and explore. Leave room for the spontaneous and keep your itinerary flexible.”

    Couldn’t have said it better. Tourist traps, running from one place to another just so you can tick a box is like binge-watching TV. Bet to just sit quietly and observe everything around you.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Love reading your article! I can relate to the idea of “slow travel” and I have myself trying to enjoy the real taste of it. Its more important the feel the vibe of the city, to actually enjoy it and maybe even discover new off beat places, and not just counting the no. of countries or simply touching the places. 🙂
    I have been to Rome and Milan, still have to see Venice! but next time I visit Italy, I am chasing more offbeat destinations this time!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh, you’ve saved the best for last! Venice is my absolute favourite Italian city. The way the city blends into the water is just magical, and completely unlike anything else.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for this….I’m leaving in November for another trip to europe and I usually have anxiety about all of the things I want to do combined with minimal amount of time. I need to slow down and enjoy…thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I know that feeling! Sometimes you just want to pack everything in – especially when you’re not sure if you’ll ever get to return for a second time.. But Europe is a great place for slow travel. Lots of winding streets and history to explore. I hope you have a great trip!

      Like

  4. I completely agree! For a lot of my travels I’ve been on working visas as apposed to tourist visas just so I can stay in a desired place while making income and really living like a local as apposed to a tourist. It’s been much more rewarding this way, I’ve made wonderful friends, beautiful memories and a soft spots for the places I’ve now lived in abroad!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ve done the same, and totally agree that it’s so much more rewarding! Once you get over the newness and the exotic factor of a place, your mind frees up to take it in on a deeper level, if that makes sense.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I couldn’t agree more. Taking your time to really be there and see the place during different times of the day and week can make a huge difference in how you feel about this trip at the end. Ans Venice are so beautiful they deserve to be seen and get lost there. It is surely a place where returning is a must. Can’t wait to go back this year.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I was privileged enough to return to Venice a couple of times and to spend around a month all together. It’s fantastic how sun or rain, spring or winter, it remains magical no matter what.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I’m happy you enjoyed it. I don’t think slow travel is always about having lots and lots of time in one destination, though that definitely helps.

      Like

    1. Thanks for reading! It can get expensive, but in this case I actually saved money because I stayed in Venice the entire time (so no transportation costs) and my campsite was much less than hotels in the city.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve done epic sightseeing and slow travel. Whenever I mention I’m going to stay just in one place I hear the usual oh but why, you should go see this sight and this sight etc. As you said so well, sights give you photo opportunities and good memories, but it is the beating heart of a place, its day to day life and its people that I really enjoy.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Exactly! I think everyone has their own style of travel – and that’s how it should be – but it’s often difficult for some people to understand the less common approaches like slow travel or travelling solo.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m happy you liked it, Saru! My best advice would be to just get started – don’t worry about being perfect, because that’s something we’re always working towards.

      Like

  7. I can relate to what you express so eloquently in your post. I like walking aimlessly, just absorbing the energy and air of my destination.

    Oftentimes when others ask me what did I do in a place, when I answer nothing much, they look at me like I’m an alien.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It can be hard to explain yourself to others whose way of travel is completely different.. I think we all have our own way of doing things and slow travel may not be right for everybody, though. Aimless wanderings are my favourite part of any trip!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Yes, we American are big on the status I like the concept of slow travel, I myself right now I am engaged in life travel presently I have no permanent residence. I live where I happen to be at the time for as long as I happen to be there. So far 3 months in Thailand, 6 months Malaysia presently 1 month in Vietnam with 2 more to go. Where next and for how long? hasn’t been decided yet life on the move with no regrets.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I know that feeling! Sometimes when I only have a few days, I like to mix it up: take a tour in the afternoon, then leave a bit of time in the evening for wandering around. But it’s always a process.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s