Slow Travel – the Secret to Experiencing More
I’ve already been quite some time into long-term traveling when I realized – oh hey, what I’m doing here is actually… Slow Travel.
In a way, it came to me naturally, since I simply could not keep up with the pace of visiting one place after another for an extended period of time.
Yet, I also realized Slow Travel is the key to truly connecting with local culture, food, yourself – all while being gentle with the environment as well as your budget.
So let me introduce you to the Art of Slow Traveling – a beautiful approach to getting more out of your journey.
(Yes, a journey it is – doesn’t that already sound better than ‘pre-planned vacation package’?!)
What is Slow Travel?
Slow Travel is the art of enjoying slowly. It is a countermovement to today’s fast-paced world.
For years, it was fashionable to jet-set around the world, visit one country after the other, ticking off as many bucket-list items as one can.
However, does that feel sustainable to you? Not just to the environment, also on a deeper, personal level. Humans struggle to keep up with this high-speed life.
When we rush through an experience, did we really have it? Did we really have time to learn from it, process it, dive deep into a foreign culture?
Slow Travel is the opposite of commercial tourism – it is an invitation to take your time. To explore mindfully. To truly relax, while being open for learning and finding yourself on unexpected adventures.
The benefits are plenty, and we’ll discuss them below, right after I share with you a little bit of how Slow Travel shows up in my life.
What Slow Travel looks like for me
As I’m writing this, I’m heading into my fourth year of full-time traveling.
This leads me to wonder… What did I fill all this time with?
Well, I walked thousands of kilometers (either trekking across mountains or on ancient pilgrimage trails like the Camino or the Via Francigena). I joined local communities and volunteered on farms. I learned the languages of the countries I traveled to and understood foreign cultures to a degree most travelers don’t. I stayed in the homes of people who actually lived there, not hotels. I hitchhiked to weird places most tourists would never find – but are more than worth visiting.
And I rested a lot. Because you can’t run from one highlight to the next without taking time to process in between. Sometimes I just stay a month in a place, simply to recover from the latest adventures.
Fast-paced travel is the quickest way to burn yourself out. I’m not sure we’re meant for this overload of experience. It is also very stressful to plan and organize this much (at least to me, anyone else?).
So I regularly take time for mindfulness – I process and collect my memories in a diary (for 6+ years, I’ve been journaling regularly). Meditation and yoga are also part of my travel routine.
It is important to take time for yourself, especially when you’re meeting new people and seeing new places all the time.
And even if you don’t have years and years to travel like me – slow down. Slow Travel, Slow Food, Slow Sex. Those movements are out there for a good reason.
The good stuff only starts showing up when we really take our time to be present, experience, feel, breathe.
Why you should make Slow Travel a priority
You really get to experience culture
Why do you travel? To me, it is not just for visiting a pretty place. I want to fall in love deeply with cultures and people and places and the food (oh my, the food!).
Experiencing cultures so different from my own is a little bit like ending up in a real-life game where you’re the only one who doesn’t know the rules. You find yourself right in the middle of it and slowly need to figure out how life works here.
Learning about a foreign culture takes time – but with every local person you meet and talk to, you’ll understand a bit more about the traditions and peculiarities of a place.
It will also give you great insight into your own cultural conditioning. Are the things you consider normal really that normal? Or are there different perspectives to explore?
Traveling opens your mind, but only if you give it time.
You have time to process
Speaking of time… Slow Travel requires processing. We are not made for an endless stream of information – there’s only so much we can take in.
So, while experiencing new things is absolutely thrilling, it is also important to take some days (or even months) off to look back on your experiences and reflect.
To me, this is also the gateway to gratitude.
If too many things happen at once, I can barely grasp what is happening to me, let alone feel grateful for it.
Things I recommend for processing are resting, reflecting, journaling, catching up with friends and sharing your stories. Time off is equally important as time on.
Slow travel is environmentally friendly
Hey, Slow Travel is not only good for you but also our environment! (And yes, maybe we should start caring about that a little.)
Slow Travel often involves different methods of transportation – instead of quickly jumping from country to country by plane, why not take the train? Or even walk?
You may feel like you don’t “have the time” to do so, but honestly, Slow Travel gives you time. It turns a quick trip into a journey where already the way is an experience in itself.
I’m sure the environment will thank you if you decided to make your trip a bit longer and save more resources instead.
Slow travel is cheaper
Having always been a low-budget traveler, Slow Travel also made sense to me for financial reasons.
Personally, I don’t quite see the appeal of having a fully planned trip with hotels and excursions and flights all booked, but apart from that, I just never understood how one can spend that much money on it.
You pay for the convenience – and while some people may enjoy that, others may find that it’s actually overwhelming to keep up with the schedule and to get the most out of each day by running from one highlight to the next.
Just like maximizing profit in economy isn’t always the most wholesome approach, the same goes for traveling.
If you take the time to go slow, you also win financially. Traveling this way gives you time to do your own research, not fall into tourist traps and choose cheaper alternatives.
Slow Travel is a form of mindfulness
Slow Travel is a great way of practicing mindfulness. Instead of rushing through experiences, try to really savor them.
Taste all the flavors of local dishes. Feel the sun caressing your body. Celebrate the strength that carried you to the mountain top. Stay curious about what you might discover in that quirky little alley.
And it is not just about mindfulness when it comes to yourself, it also is all about cultivating mindfulness towards others.
In many places, tourists act disrespectfully against local traditions, sacred places, and basic rules of respect.
Traveling slowly gives you that little space in which you can question how you would like to show up in this world.
You become a traveler (instead of a tourist)
So I don’t want to judge tourists (but secretly I do, maybe, just a little) – to each their own, but I believe if you truly want to experience a country, you need to be a traveler, not a tourist.
What does that mean? To me, tourists follow the footsteps of others. Travelers create their own path.
And creating your own adventure is something most holiday packages simply do not include.
Do you really want to see exactly the same things that everyone sees? Especially nowadays, with all sorts of “Top 3 Must-See Places in XYZ” posts and forever the same Instagram hotspots out there, it seems pointless.
Of course, some places have a special appeal, but how much more magical is it to come across one of these places unexpectedly? It is like finding your very own little treasure.
Life is not about “been there, done that”. So plan less and simply see where it takes you. Live your own adventure. It is a million times more rewarding (this involves incredible benefits like stretching your comfort zone).
Slow Travel Ideas
So, how could Slow Traveling look for you? I already shared some part of my personal journey above, but there are so many things you could do:
- travel by bicycle
- volunteer abroad
- go to places less visited
- join a sailing crew
- learn the local language
- go on a pilgrimage
- try local restaurants
- temporarily move to a place
- practice gratitude
- go on a long-distance hike
- meet the locals
- take time for conversations
- write your experiences down
- see what you find instead of having fixed destinations
- give hitchhiking a try
- become part of a community
- travel in the off-season
Essentially, for learning the Art of Slow travel all you need to do is take a deep breath, give yourself more time and understand one vital thing.
It’s not about the destination – it’s all about the journey.
So… Slow down. Live more.