Slow travel. A term that has been increasing in popularity in the last couple of years. But what is it?
Well, in its most basic form, slow travel is a mindset, nothing more. It is a way of traveling - though not in the sense of how you travel (a bus that goes slow is not exactly slow travel…). But instead on the act of travel itself: focusing on connecting with the place you are visiting through all of the senses: feeling it, tasting it, smelling it, breathing it.
In fact, the term originated in Italy in the 1980s when it was more commonly connected with the idea of the “slow food movement,” which in turn, was developed to protest the opening of a McDonald’s in the city of Rome. The Slow Food Movement soon morphed into the larger idea of the Slow Movement, which today is growing to encompass many different facets of life. Including travel.
So what is the “Slow Movement”? Well, at its core, it revolves around connections.
Like we said: connections with places, both near and far, connections with people, both in your immediate family and with people you just met, connections with cultures, and yes, connections with food. The Slow Movement is about slowing down and taking your time to soak in what is around you.
So now that you have an idea of what slow travel is, the next thing to figure out is how you actually start doing it?
Well, luckily it doesn’t require much. In fact, slow travel is likely easier than what you might call “fast travel.” Why? Because when you visit a place for only a couple of days, and then only go to the tourist spots and stay at Westernized hotels or (even worse) all-inclusive resorts, travel becomes exhausting. And usually, by the time you return home, you feel like you need a vacation from your vacation.
We have done this many times. For example, when we first headed down to Peru we were following the idea of fast travel. The first two weeks we spent all day, every day doing something big and exciting. But after those first 14 or so days we were absolutely exhausted (and starting to realize we were burning through too much money). So we sat down and figured out how to remedy the situation. Our solution: head off the Gringo Trail, go up to a cool city in the mountains, and just wander around for a week or so. We had no real plans in place when we hopped on the bus to Ayacucho. All we knew was we wanted to see more of the “real” Peru - and slow down.
That decision changed our whole trip.
After that, we tried to travel much more slowly around the country: we spent multiple days in one city and at one hostel, instead of moving around every 24 hours. And many of those cities were not very touristy (ever heard of Chivay in southern Peru, yeah us either until we spent a full week there).
Slow travel not only helps you connect with the country you are visiting, but it is also really good for you overall (your mental health, your wallet) as well as the planet. Let us explain more.
Why You Should Pursue Slow Travel
No one likes rushing through a beautiful country. Rushing between point A and point B, with the end goal solely being able to say, “I was there” (and check out this photo I took) is not the way to see a place. But we get it. When you only have a short amount of time in a place, you obviously want to make the most of it. You want to check off those “must-see” spots. We 100% understand - because we have been there ourselves.
It can be quite difficult to forgo visiting everything you want because for many people this might be the only chance you have to see it. The temptation to jam-pack your schedule is very hard to let go of.
But when planning a trip what is your overall goal? Is it to go to a famous spot, spend five minutes there, get a couple of photos and leave? Or is it to experience a place? To get beneath the surface and really, truly feel it? If you are the former, then this idea of slow travel is probably not for you (and that is totally fine). If you are the latter, then keep reading.
Like we mentioned earlier, slow travel is all about mindset. It is the way you travel first and foremost. Here are some key perks of following the theory of slow travel.
\\ Lodging & Food
Instead of moving every other day (or every day) spend a couple of days, or better yet, a couple of weeks in one place. This might mean getting your own room in a hostel for a week or finding an Airbnb that is available for 2-4 weeks at a time. Tip: you usually will get a pretty nice discount if you stay for a month in one Airbnb.
By spending more time in one spot, you not only get to know that immediate area better (where the supermarket is, where you can find the best coffee, etc.) but you also forgo the stress of having to move constantly. Because who honestly likes packing up their suitcase every day?
You learn very quickly that when you can actually unpack and put everything away (clothes, toothbrushes, valuables), you feel way more relaxed and grounded. It is a lot less stressful not having to worry about getting something stolen, or forgetting something when out and about when instead you can just leave it in your apartment. Plus, when you have an apartment to yourself, especially one with some sort of kitchen, you also get to live more like a local: cooking food for yourself, shopping in the local markets, etc.
Finally, when you know you have a nice spot to head back to at the end of the day, instead of constantly having to worry about where you are going to sleep that night, you just feel less stressed. At least we tend to.
If you are planning to travel for a long time (let’s say more than two weeks), you likely will want to figure out a routine. This is especially true for travelers planning to work while on the road (hello digital nomads).
When you know you are going to be traveling slowly - likely staying in one area or place for a longer amount of time - it is easy to find a productive routine. This might mean knowing where the best cafes to work from are, or the best parks to walk or run around, or even, where the closest gym is. Having the opportunity to figure out a routine that works for you translates to higher productivity levels - meaning you can easily combine traveling with work.
\\ Cultural Immersion & Community
One of the biggest perks of slow travel is the ability and opportunity to connect more deeply with the culture and community you are in. When you only do a fly-by tour of a place you are less likely to want to stop and talk with the locals (heck you might not even have time if you are on a super strict schedule) or spend a bit extra time visiting places that aren’t in the guidebook. We totally get it - a small village in the middle of nowhere doesn’t seem nearly as cool as that ancient wonder. But the thing is, that small village is way more authentic than any touristy destination (even if the guidebooks disagree).
“With a “slow” itinerary, you won’t experience the stress and anxiety of attempting to knock out every site in the guidebook. Instead, you will stay in one place long enough to recognize the neighbors around you, to find that hole-in-the-wall restaurant that only locals go to, to know what café has the absolute best coffee.
For us, this is one of the biggest perks of slow travel. The ability to spend a longer amount of time in one spot, means you get to immerse yourself in the day-to-day goings on of the local community.
\\ Environmental Impact
Another positive of slow travel, and one that might not originally come to mind, is that it is generally much better for the environment. This has to do with the fact that airplanes have been pinpointed as a major contributor to global warming, therefore the faster you travel, the likelihood you will take more flights. Whereas with slow travel other forms of transportation are much more eco-friendly. Like trains, buses, motorcycles or mopeds, bikes, and, of course, your own two feet.
The less you move around, especially if that movement is within short distances, the less carbon you are putting off. While we understand the desire to travel to various far-off places, if you can instead spend a bit longer in one place, you will be helping the environment tremendously.
Similarly, when you have a place to stay - like an apartment - you are more likely to eat out less, which often means less single-use plastic usage overall.
The final benefit of moving towards a more slow travel-centric mindset is the fact that you will spend less money overall. Instead of spending tons of money cramming in as many activities as possible in a short amount of time, you instead spread it out and instead focus on doing things that are much cheaper (or even better, free). For example, you can take a tour of various coffee plantations in Peru - or you can spend a week or two in the area and actually explore them on your own.
Also, think how much money you would save if you weren’t taking flights every week? When you choose to slow down and spend more time in one spot, your transportation costs drop substantially.
Other ways you can save some money by focusing on slow travel is staying in one lodging spot longer (as we mentioned there is a good discount on Airbnb if you stay for a month) and having a kitchen to cook your own food from instead of always eating out (this can be more of a challenge in some places, like Thailand, where street food is very cheap).
Overall, slow travel is one of the best ways to see the world because it allows you the time and opportunity to go below the surface level and really connect with the place you are exploring. When you give yourself the time to adventure around one spot - one city, one area - you also give yourself a higher chance of making real connections with the people, cultures and customs that live there.
While we understand the draw of fast travel - the appeal of checking as many things off your list as possible in the shortest amount of time - in the end you have to figure out why you are traveling in the first place. Is it just to go to a tourist spot and take a photo and leave? Or is it to really get to know a culture, a place in the world different from your own? If it is the first, keep travelling quickly.
But if it is the latter - then welcome to slow travel!