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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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95 thoughts on “What Is Slow Travel?

  1. We’re on the same page. For me, slow travel is the only way to go, and slow travel means all the things you say. It’s so rewarding and it imprints itself on you because it has to do with feeling. It registers on the inside. I look at people taking photos and wonder if they really see and what they remember. Venice is so beautiful, isn’t it?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. We do have the same idea, and I always love reading your posts from when you’re staying in one spot for awhile – and the insights that gives you into local life. It’s a completely different experience than rushing through on a city tour.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Photo Richard Canada

    Hey there Dee. Sounds like you had a wonderful time! Venice is so beautiful. Your post hits home in that you say “quality over quantity”. I agree. Your comment makes me laugh and remember when my brother returned from Europe and felt so happy that he was able to 9 countries in 10 days!!! How absurd. I look forward with anticipation to your next blog post.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you, Richard! Nine countries in 10 days sounds like a nightmare to me as well.. I can only imagine how many of those nights must have been spent trying to get some sleep crammed on a bus or an airplane.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Good post Dee. Some people see the world, without really seeing it. Oh, they’ve been a lot of places, but they have just skimmed the surface. So much better to live like a local, shop where the locals shop, eat where the locals eat, take public transit, ride the trains or get around as a pedestrian. Along the way, you will bump into the neatest little surprises, that make for lasting memories. This is why I do not have a bucket list. If I put a quantity out here, I will lose the quality in a race to see it all before I die.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Exactly! I don’t have a bucket list either, and the list of countries that I’m most eager to see changes as my tastes change.. It did feel like I skimmed the surface when I visited Florence and Rome with a tour group. I’m sure if I went back and spent more time there, it would feel like I’m discovering a completely new place.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I spent just a couple of days in Venice, away from the bustle of the neverending trail of tourists and their cameras! You are spot-on about the slow lazy rides through the ‘back-canals’ where the guided gondolas don’t go in those terrible traffic-jam convoys. I too, enjoyed seeing those views.
    Your pictures are great – good insight to the “real” Venice.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I completely agree! I have to fight myself not to overload my schedule when I get a chance to travel. I’ve learned over the years that quality time in one place does so much more for me than quantity of places traveled. I try to spend at least a week in every location and do things like see a movie, shop at local grocery stores, and eat at neighborhood restaurants. It always makes for a better experience.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It isn’t always easy to resist the temptation to just jam-pack your itinerary, especially when you’re visiting a place for the first time – or when you realise you may not get to return later.. I try to stay flexible and mix a bit of planning with a bit of wandering and exploring.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It isn’t always easy to find people who like to travel at the same pace we do.. A lot of my trips are solo, or else with those who don’t mind leaving the planning to me πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Dee, I enjoyed your thorough treatment of what slow travel means to you. i would like to rejoin but adjust slightly the definition to what it means to me. Your definition of slow travel feels wrapped around a heavy dose of homework ahead of time. I get that as one possible strategy to focus any touring to what is strictly of value to you. But there is a different flavor of slow travel which is the exact opposite. Namely to experience a city or location in pretty much the way you would experience life wherever is your home base for example for us, yoga is part of our normal routine in our home base and we also experience cities by going to yoga classes. The difference I am drawing here is that in “normal live” few people are as intense about studying up on the history, geography etc of their environment, they just live.

    My wife Peta, prefers to read up after we leave a place. Ahead of time, she remembers very little as there is no context or grounding as of yet. But after the experience in whatever country we have been, there is a reference point which makes learning so much easier and interesting.

    One more thing to add, I am intrigued by the notion of reducing “culture shock” ~ isn’t the objective of global travel to experience other cultures that are often very different to our own and it is in the becoming aware of cultural differences, Ie. the shock, that one gets the biggest “bang” for your travel effort and money, I would argue.

    Your photos of Venice brought back wonderful memories and make us want to return!! So glad to read you chose to pause and spend all your time in Venice giving it the time it deserves.

    Ben

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Ben, thanks for sharing your thoughts! I do love getting a taste of the country I’m about to visit before the actual trip – for me it adds to the anticipation, and ultimately deepens my experience because I’m not starting with little knowledge when I arrive. It doesn’t really feel like homework: listening to a bit of the country’s music, watching a film or reading a novel are pure pleasures and I don’t think they take anything away from life or spontaneity. I’ve always been a bookworm so I love to read at all stages of the journey.

      When it comes to “culture shock,” it’s a negative phenomenon by definition, and often described as including feelings of anxiety, disorientation and loneliness. While I do want to experience excitement, discovery and wonder when I travel, I don’t want to be “shocked” when things are different than they are at home.

      Travel for me is a lot about finding common ground and connecting with people, and I’ve found the more I’ve travelled the less “culture shock” I’ve experienced anywhere. Differences between cultures are often blown up and dramatized, and travel has taught me to be open-minded and take a lot of such differences in stride.

      I’m so happy I stayed in Venice as well! I hope you and Peta get to revisit there soon.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. One of the saddest things in travel I see these days are those groups – mostly Asian but they haven’t got the exclusive – that, in a week, cram in the whole of Western Europe. I really see myself in this post because, ever since I learned to appreciate that I might not see the entirety of a place, I’ve started enjoying my travels more. We specifically added 2-3 days here and there to Southern Sri Lanka, without venturing in the ‘cultural triangle’, and it was well worth it. We stayed 4 days in Val D’Orcia, Tuscany, without setting foot in Firenze, and it was great. Well done!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Slow travel is such a game-changer, and it’s given me an entirely different perspective on why I travel in the first place. It takes a lot of the pressure and anxiety out of travel as well when you set more realistic expectations.. Tuscany and Sri Lanka sound like gorgeous spots to linger.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. judyannet

    Really lovely & informative post. My kind of travel. Being more conscious of my interaction with the people and the environment in the places I visit is something I am doing more and more now. Thank you for this post!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Liked your post.

    I totally believe in experiences vs. things and slow travel is more about experiences than bragging rights. Unfortunately, not a lot of people can take off for thirty days at a time. If your work does not hold you down to a location, that would be perfect…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you! I don’t think it’s necessarily all about time – I’ve never had a month-long vacation anywhere.. I see slow travel as more of an approach and a way of making the most of whatever time you do have.

      Like

  10. Love this! Slow travel is definitely my favorite kind of travel. I love waking up, wandering down streets and just seeing where I wake up – allowing myself to be immersed in whatever is happening in the city/town around me. ❀

    Liked by 2 people

  11. seraphsun

    I absolutely agree. I usually just tick off a few places I would love to visit, and then the rest is just blind walking that leads me to beautiful and interesting places I never read about. I have never really tried that whole reading a local novel or watching local films before traveling though sounds like a fun idea.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Blind walking is one of the few things that really makes you feel like a modern-day explorer.. And I love the idea of reading local novels too! I actually got it from @kelag_wanderlust on Instagram. She’s currently travelling around the world, and often reads novels by local authors as she goes along.

      Like

  12. Nice post ❀ Sometimes, I just want to visit as many places as possible. But the more I travel, the more I want to explore (just) few places, but deeper exploration. Act as a local is indeed an 'eye-opening' experience.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you! I’ve definitely slowed down as well the more I’ve travelled. I think it’s about learning from experience and finding the style that works best for you.

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    1. Thank you, Annalise! I love Italy and dream about making it to Sicily someday.. Traffic is crazy too here in Cairo and definitely something you have to get used to πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  13. wheretopeanut

    I love everything about this. Whenever I travel, I try to soak up the things that resonate the most to me rather than whirling through a place. It takes time to soak the essence of a city or country up, to feel like you understand it β€” if just from your outside point of view. And if organic cheese is involved, all the better!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Nicole! Cheese is always a plus, and I love your approach to going after what resonates (and which may or may not be on the “must-see” lists).

      Like

  14. Thanks Dee! I am currently on day 27 of the Camino del Norte with my 13 year old son, and we’re a little more than half way through. Our hope has been to experience the Spanish culture on the Camino, not simply blow through to get to the end the fastest – no regrets!

    Liked by 2 people

  15. As others have said, a brilliant post and for me – poignant.
    I’ve started travelling and exploring far more since my children have grown up and the simple act of pausing to sit and watch the world go by is truly rewarding.
    Even people watching in a crowded station accepting a delayed train departure, can be surprisingly therapeutic.
    Venice is on my list of somwhere to visit as my next book plot is set there!!
    Thank you for sharing such beautiful photos and I’m glad you returned to Italy and took your time 🌸

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Viola! My way of travelling has definitely evolved as well, and it’s completely different than how I travelled in my teens.. Venice is such a gorgeous setting for a book! I hope you get to visit soon. In the meantime, have you read Venice by Jan Morris? I picked it up recently and it’s hailed as one of the best travel books ever written – and might be useful for your research.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Beautifully written. I teach travel photography and I often find the greatest hurdle for my students is to restrict the amount of terrain they cover in a single trip. As you say, you can stop in London, Paris and Rome in three days, but you have yet to see Europe. Great post!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for the kind words! I think this generation is a lot more in tune with the idea of experiences being more valuable than things, but there’s still that drive to hurry and get all the photo ops for social media!

      Like

  17. Hey Dee
    Thank you for stopping by my post πŸ™‚ I could connect with everything you mentioned about traveling like a traveler. Exploring a new place and slowly seeping into it’s food, culture, and language is absolutely fascinating. We learn so much so easily and enjoy every moment of such travel. Loved how you penned down the essence of slow travel through your travel anecdotes and the vibrant photographs. Glad I found your lovely blog πŸ™‚

    Cheers!
    Sayori

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Sayori! What a great compliment.. I definitely have an entirely different perspective now on foreign cultures, and I think slow travel also makes you less ethnocentric and open to the world vs. the typical speedy tours.

      Like

  18. I dream of a slow adventure in Venice for years now. I’ve only been there once and stayed for half day… I made photos but I somehow acidentally messed up the camera settings and all the photos came out so crappy that I can’t ever look at them. πŸ˜›

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Great article, you put into words how I myself enjoy travelling. The ability to find the hidden gems and not be overtly touristy is how I see slow travelling. When you said you camped outside of Venice, I thought that was a fantastic way to stay and both natural as well as unique. Walking is also the best way to see any place. Having the opportunity to go on foot, stopping for coffee or lunch and wandering on your whim is wondrous in my opinion. I’ll be following your blog to hear more about your slow travels.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Jesse! The campsite outside Venice was just me trying to save a bit of money so I could stay in Italy longer, but it actually turned out to be a wonderful experience in itself. I stayed in a little wooden cabin surrounded by trees, and each morning I took a short bus ride into the city where we crossed huge stretches of water.. I love walking as well! It’s a great way to let yourself be spontaneous and flexible.

      Like

  20. Interesting thoughts… You’re right that reading a novel or watching a movie set at your destination before you travel can get you in the right mood and make it more meaningful and memorable when you see the places in real life. I like watching movies afterwards, actually, it’s fun to be able to recognize some of the places, the way they drink their coffee and catch some phrases in their language. As for going to see an artist I’m interested in rather than follow the masses to the “must-see” places, that’s always been a given for me… I’ve always thought that when I travel somewhere, I don’t need to try to see it all. I can always come back, or just leave some things undone.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! We have a very similar approach.. Sometimes it’s hard to resist the urge to pack in as much as possible into an itinerary, but I’ve found myself seeing a lot more and having more meaningful experiences when I’ve given myself time to wander. Less is more! πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  21. Hi Dee,
    thank you for the “like” on my blog. I completely agree with your style of enjoying a place and really getting to know it, and the people especially. Good for you for rowing against the current. Travel is not a competition. Keep it up. Venice is one of my all-time favourite places. It might soon be shutting down, as over-tourism is killing it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Johanna, when I was there, the streets would very often be flooded – and I’ve heard that’s something that happened very rarely in the past.. Apparently now they’ve banned the larger cruise boats from going too near the piazza, but I really hope they do more.

      Like

  22. Pingback: What Is Slow Travel? – Timeless Wisdoms

  23. I can’t tell you how related i feel! I was actually just in venice for my honeymoon and applied slow travelling to it’s MAX. When people ask me what i loved more about venice, i feel they expect “Piazza San Marco”, or “Bassilica San Marco”, or “Murano”… What I actually loved most was getting lost in the small streets (almost alleys), and all the quirky bookshops, cafΓ©s, & cicceterias i found along my way!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That sounds like such a beautiful honeymoon! And yes, it was surprising how you sometimes only had to go a few minutes off the beaten path to find those hidden treasures.

      Like

  24. So, So, so love this post. I’ve just come back from Israel and I feel a twinge of regret at the fact I took a day off and stayed in Jerusalem to see it more relaxed. Could have used that time to go to Bethlehem, to Yad Vashem, anything to see more in a sense. But like you said, is it just a tick and a potential insta pic? After travelling for a time it’s definitely better to take the slow road 😁

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! It’s definitely tempting to pack in more destinations, and then afterwards it can be hard to not feel regret and wonder about what might have been.. I think like with many things in life, it comes down to appreciating the experiences you did have, and being grateful instead of wanting more, if that makes sense πŸ™‚

      Like

  25. Fascinating article. But we agree with you. Wandering around a place you are visiting is one of the best ways to discover and travel. While walking you are not too fast (like when you are in the car, bike or bus) to look over things. You can simply stop and get all a place has to offer. Also the immersion and the preparation for the trip is important. The more you know and go along with the culture the more you will remember and love the trip. If you are a bit prepared it might help you how some actions or processes work in the country…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I think preparing for a trip and that anticipation you feel before you go is one of the best things about travel.. And I know what you mean about walking! It can get tiring, but it allows you so much freedom to be spontaneous and explore.

      Liked by 1 person

  26. Hours and Miles

    This is SO important. It’s crazy to think that taking the time to pause and learn something about where you’re staying and how the people there actually live and think is a sort of counter-culture. I totally agree with this!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! I think anything that goes against the “more more more” approach is counter-culture, because it’s basically putting experiences over the mindless consumption that we’re constantly pushed towards.

      Liked by 1 person

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