WHAT IS SLOW TRAVEL?
Firstly I wanted to point out that slow travel means different things to different people. It is not a complicated concept; in fact it’s likely you already practice some elements of slow travel as essentially it is traditional travel. It is most commonly associated with the slow movement which is quite simply slowing down life’s pace. The most talked about slow movement is the slow food movement bought about by Italy in the 1989 which celebrates the art of local food and home cooking. The slow movement is the notion that faster does not always equal better.
Slow travel is much the same. Rather than rushing about from one tourist attraction to the next so you can tick off all the boxes it is about doing things you enjoy with intention. Slow travel is about experiencing the country you are visiting fully whether you are there for one day, 5 days or three months. Quality over quantity always.
HOW TO TRAVEL SLOW
The beauty of slow travel is it is up to you how you play it. I’m certainly not going to sit here and tell you how to travel. Slow travel is about doing something because it’s what you enjoy not because the internet says so. It is not about saying no the top tourist attractions (they are top for a reason) but rather choosing only to visit the attractions that you will actually enjoy . And then giving yourself time to appreciate them fully.
If you’re a lover of religious architecture – go and see all those beautiful churches. If you’re a foodie at heart – go and sniff out that secret restaurant that serves the best mussels you’ve heard so much about. If you’re a photographer at heart – go and find a vista that will make your heart sing.
What I do want to do is share with you some prerequisites that support the pursuit of slow travel. These are just some ways in which you can get the most out of traveling slow.
RESEARCH + PLANNING
One of the ways you can slow travel is through research and planning; take sometime before your trip to read up on the location you are visiting so you can make the most out of the time you have when you are there. By all means start with Lonely Planet guides (these guys have been creating travel guides since 1972 so know their stuff). BUT don’t forget the small guys either, seek out blogs from locals or natives too. If you have the time, read a book about the county’s people, culture or history. Make a list of places, restaurants, parks etc you’d like to experience so you can start to form a rough itinerary. Putting time into planning things like getting around will give you more time to enjoy the experience when you get there.
BUT…EMBRACE CHANGE TOO
You never know what you might find on arrival. Embrace spontaneity and flexibility. You may stumble across a hidden restaurant you want to eat at or make friends with a local who invites you for coffee. Be open to change in your itinerary and you’ll be rewarded with some of the best experiences and memories.
LEARN THE LANGUAGE
Us English speakers are oh so lucky when it comes to travel. Along with Mandarin and Spanish English is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world; which means traveling to some popular tourist destinations is immeasurably easier for us. However if you stray away from the tourist hubs or visit a country where this isn’t the case memorising a few words and phrases before you navigate your trip a little more smoothly.
What I really want to say is regardless of whether the destination you are going to speaks your language or not you should make an effort to learn at least a few basic phrases of theirs. You’ll find the locals will be much more friendly and forthcoming with advice and tips if they can see you have made an effort. Plus it shows respect and appreciation. At the very least give Google Translate a go.
CONVERSE WITH THE LOCALS
Now that you’ve learnt a little language you can make (try to make) conversations with the locals. If you want to really get to know a place learn from the people who live there.
TAKE THE SLOWER OPTIONS
With planes, fast trains and Uber at our disposal it is easy to pick the shorter, more comfortable ride when it comes to getting around. If you have the time (and even if you don’t) try taking at least one form of local transport whilst you’re traveling. These types of experiences often make the best stories to tell your grandkids down the line.
At the end of the day it is your trip/holiday/experience and you’re in charge of how you choose to embrace slow travel.
One type of transport I can fully get behind is a hire car. Maybe it sounds strange saying that but since I moved to Portugal in 2016 some of the best travel experiences I’ve had have been from taking road trips to the more remote parts of the country. Driving allows you to move at your own pace and reach those usually out of reach destinations, just like my 10 day trip to Alentejo.
WHERE IS THE BEST PLACE TO EXPERIENCE SLOW TRAVEL
This is kind of a duff question as you can obviously practice slow travel wherever you go. Having said that there are definitely places that encompass the slow movement overall and it is these places you’ll find it easier to go with the slow travel flow.
Remote islands and regions that are a substantial distance from an airport. Often cut off from the mainland or cities these places usually remain unspoilt.
Locations that don’t have public wifi or internet. It sounds silly but In these places you are encouraged to put your phone down and be present. When I was cycling in France I realised that the majority of bars and restaurants didn’t have wifi and I was so much more engaged with what was going on around me.
Local neighbourhoods in big cities. You would think cities would be the last place you could experience slow travel but its not the case. Cities offer work and opportunity which tends to attract people from rural areas. New communities are built within cities and you’ll be able to witness a huge variation of cultures come together.
Cittaslow cities. I only discovered Cittaslow recently but I am fascinated by its philosophy. Cittaslow originated in 1999 in Chianti, Italy. It is an international network of cities that agree to “accept the guidelines of Slow Food and work to improve conviviality and conserve the local environment”. The focus is on preserving traditions, improving quality of life and practicing slow living. Check the list of Cittaslow cities and consider learning more about the association.
MY SLOW TRAVEL EXPERIENCES
Ask any of my friends or family and they will tell you I am not a ‘slow’ type of person. I rush everything, I’m wildly impatient and extremely clumsy but if there is one thing I seem to be able to do slowly its travel.
Before I knew there was such a thing as slow travel I regularly spent months at a time in remote areas of Asia surfing. I was always on the hunt for quiet surf spots (if you surf you’ll know the beauty of riding an uncrowded wave) and these were usually found in unlikely travel destinations. Finding these types of spots takes planning, unusual transport options (squeezing surfboards into a tuk-tuk at a Honduras border crossing is no easy feat) and time so you are forced to practice the art of patience.
Slow travel isn’t really about how long you spend somewhere though it is about how you spend your time there. Some of the remote areas I was staying and surfing in had little or no tourist infrastructure in place so I have no choice other than to immerse myself in to the local way of life. Spending months in places like this offered me more of an insight into the country I was visiting than any other trip has. The majority of time over my years surfing in Asia was spent in Indonesia where I got to stay with locals, eat traditional food and begin to learn the language. It’s no coincidence that this is my favourite country in the world.
I guess what I am saying is that my purpose for traveling meant that I naturally had to embrace slow travel. Since then I take on the principles of slow travel wherever I go because it’s really the only way I know how. Thats not to say I don’t get swept up in trending locations and ticking off lists now and again though.
HOW SOCIAL MEDIA IS CHANGING TRAVEL
AND WHY ITS NOT OK
I feel like I could write a book on this subject but I will save that for another post and for now I will try and keep it short. Our generation is very lucky to live in a time where travel is much more accessible. Many of us are able to book flights/tours/holidays at a fraction of the cost that our parents did and reach destinations they could only have dreamed of. With apps like Pinterest and instagram a wealth of travel inspiration is at our fingertips and our bucket-lists are growing by the day.
Whilst the amount of information we can gather before we travel is exciting it often takes away the joy of discovering something for yourself.
Our constant need for approval and desire to share our life with others online has created an unrealistic picture of what travel is actually about. Search on Google for ‘Top instagrammable spots in….’ and you will be presented with dozens on blogs telling you where to get a good photo for instagram. There is something about this that just doesn’t sit easy with me. Comparison is the thief of joy after all.
Before the huge growth of smart phones and social media we traveled for ourselves and only shared our experiences with those closest to us. There was no competition for the best pose on the edge of a cliff or prettiest açai bowl – it was about being completely in the moment instead. Slow travel is a reminder that life is not a competition but it is short and we should try and embrace the moment we are in as much as possible. My one tip? Always travel for yourself and not for your instagram followers (even if it isn’t picture perfect).
SLOW TRAVEL IS TRAVEL THE WAY ITS MEANT TO BE
I think this is this best way to round everything up. Personally I believe we should be using travel to make connections, learn about the world and broaden our horizons. Rather than turning travel into yet another part of life to be mass consumed we should be using it to better ourselves and the world around us.
Pin this guide for later…..
We create guides and itineraries with the slow travel philosophy in mind. We regularly talk about local experiences, secret gems and hidden corners in our writing and you’ll notice that theme throughout our writing. Enjoy!