Everyone travels. Even if you don’t think you do – you do.
Whether it’s a daily commute to work or to visit a friend, who’s to say where the world of travel begins and ends? Much like the philosophical question, “How many grains of sand does it take to become a pile?”, at what point does moving from point A to B become travel? Definitions are quite literally “a journey for a length of time” and “a move in a constant or predictable way.” So what is slow travel then?
The concept of slow travel isn’t new. At one point, that’s just how people got around (ie. horse-drawn carriage). These days, it’s become a reaction to the rapid zooming around that so many people do when traveling.
We understand why so many people travel armed with an extensive “to do list” focused on What-You-Can-Tell-Others-You-Did via ceaseless selfie documentation sans shame. Americans have such short vacation time (if any at all) that when they’re able to take time off, they want to cram in everything, squeezing every last drop like an electric life juicer. What’s better for you – a whole orange, or extracting one part in concentration?
We don’t pretend to have the definitive answer to this conundrum. Personally, we prefer to savor each drop instead of downing it at light-speed.
What is Slow Travel?
Slow travel is quite literally slowing down your travel. Instead of going to a country and visiting all or several of its major cities in a week, it’s staying in just one city the entire week. Slow travel is going to visit your friend who recently moved and learning what it’s like to live in that place, like we did when we roadtripped around the Western U.S. While you may see everything you want from a small village in a day, it may take months, even years, to enter the flow of a major international city. There’s no definitive example.
Slow travel is about recognizing the value of getting to know a place in an in-depth way.
It’s not about racking up a list of countries or checking things off a bucket list. We don’t keep a list of either and Sam has already ranted about her dislike for the term ‘destinations’ before. It’s also not about saying or trying to “do” a place. Like, “Do” Paris, or “Do” Spain, as if you can visit a place once and experience everything in one visit.
This beautiful piece on the Guardian details the author’s journey to a new attitude towards travel, skipping the iconic and doing what she is really interested in, a perspective she learned from her father.
Slow Travel is a Mindset
Choosing to slow travel doesn’t mean you have to eschew visiting the Eiffel Tower if you go to Paris. But it doesn’t mean that you have to go either. It’s about taking your time and being open, not setting a strict itinerary.
Taking this more deliberate yet flexible approach allows for time to process new experiences. If you’re jumping from place to place there is never time to reflect as everything becomes a blur. When you establish a mini routine in a new place, you can have that morning cup of coffee to reflect on your previous day’s experiences. Even this small ritual has incredible grounding power and allows you to really sync up with the immediate world around you.
Side effects of traveling too fast may include dizziness, fatigue, and even racism:
In his book, “Race” is a Four Letter Word, American anthropologist C. Loring Brace argued that the concept of race was born during the Renaissance when suddenly people (and by people, we mean wealthy white men) could bop from one seaport to another in oceangoing vessels. Previously, people had traveled by foot or on horseback, covering at most 25 miles in a day. Traveling this way, people could observe subtle changes in people as they moved through the landscape. Once they started traveling by ship, hopping from one point to another, they began classifying people into groups based on superficial differences like skin color. And we all know what happens when that shit starts.
We could easily spend more time coming up with more examples. The bottom line is that when traveling fast, you can see more, but everything becomes more simplified due to information overload. It’s how our brains work.
Why Slow Travel?
1. More Meaningful Connections With The…
Establishing a home base is key for us, which is why we love house sitting so much. (Check out our post How to Start House Sitting and Save Money Traveling for more info). A great start is anything but a hotel. Ever experience that bewilderment of your first time arriving at a foreign airport? Notice how everything seems to happen around in such a habitual manner with complete disregard to you? We’re not the center of the world but we can only understand the world from our point of view. To establish a baseline for comparison, we need to situate ourselves somewhere for a while.
House sitting is a great example of a way to do this. We use TrustedHousesitters – for more, read our blog post: TrustedHousesitters Review (And Tips for Using It!). Veren personally can’t wait until he gets to the home base of a new place to have a moment free from overstimulation and re-orient. The host can offer you a cup of tea while sharing with you the legwork they’ve already done of living somewhere. Even leaving a list of good grocery stores and nearby restaurants makes all the difference. Connecting with real people with a genuine desire to help you without monetary motivation (ie tourist trap personnel) is key. Which leads to…
Meeting locals gives a real perspective on a place. People make the place. But this doesn’t mean only house sitting! There’s Couchsurfing as well. You don’t necessarily have to stay with someone to participate in the Couchsurfing community. We’ve been to great meetups organized through Couchsurfing where we’ve met locals and other travelers alike. Or try doing a work exchange – though read the listings carefully to make sure you’re not being taken advantage of!
There’s also the original couchsurfing – visiting a friend. Personally, with rare exception, we only travel to somewhere where we already have a real human connection with someone who’s excited to show us where they live.
Getting involved in the local community isn’t only more meaningful for you, it’s better for the local economy. The United Nations did an assessment of typical tourism dollars and came to the conclusion that out of every $100 spent by a tourist in a developing country, only $5 stayed within the local community.
Just read this article on tourism leakage (not to be confused with Montezuma’s revenge) if you don’t believe us.
Does culture just happen overnight or at one event? Of course not. With slow travel, you allow yourself to witness culture unfold in front of you, rather than pay for pre-packaged resort styled nonsense served to you by exploited, would-work-anywhere-else-if-they-could locals.
Even staying in a place for a month only scratches the surface of a place’s culture. This is one of the reasons why we’ve based ourselves in Madrid for now. We’re speaking the language, asking questions, constantly learning. Taking in a place’s history, customs, and traditions don’t happen overnight. We’re endlessly curious and love learning what makes a place tick and what it’s like to live there. These aren’t things we can learn by zip-lining through a jungle, patronizing the nearest tourist trap, or isolating yourself in a double-decker tour bus – all which effectively convert the world around you into a human zoo. To partake in culture, you must engage it.
2. Slow Travel Reduces Your Environmental Impact
It’s in our tagline – sustainable travel. We’re passionate about constantly learning about how to reduce our carbon footprint with the choices we make. Travel can be incredibly bad for the environment so it’s vital to make every action count.
To learn more about sustainable travel, read our post: We Need to Talk About Sustainable Travel.
Not staying in hotels is huge. Your typical mainstream hotels are notoriously wasteful. Those little shampoo bottles and several towels and a flat screen television in every single room are not alleviating any environmental problems – just the opposite. It’s excessively out of control. We kind of secretly (maybe not so secretly) wish that those who can’t see the absurdity would one-way travel their asses to the moon, no layovers.
You can also reduce waste while traveling by packing mindfully: for more tips head to our Eco-Friendly Packing List.
Reducing the number of flights taken also dramatically reduces your carbon footprint. Keep flying to a minimum. Once you arrive, rely on ground transportation to get around the city and country. Avoid the trend jet-setting and hopping around via plane like it’s pogo stick with wings. There are ways to offset the carbon footprint of your flight, and while it’s a good idea, there’s room for improvement. Reducing your flights has a bigger and more definite impact. Also, PLANES SHOULD BE SOLAR AND WIND-POWERED BY NOW DAMMIT. Get on it, airlines.
Further reading: One Easy Way to Reduce Your Environmental Impact Now!
3. Slow Travel is Healthier for You
Constant travel is exhausting. Ever heard the phrase, “I need a vacation from my vacation?” Due to the American illness of incessant productivity, many feel that travel should be a back to back, balls to walls, affair. Trying to shove everything into a short period time means lots of running around and sleeping in airports or on trains. Sleep is essential for health and wellbeing and if you ignore it, burnout will come for you like the TSA reaper, prodding all your privates with a drug-detecting scythe.
Traveling slowly means you can eat at home more often which is vastly healthier than eating out. If you house sit, you can cook. If you’re visiting a friend, you can cook together. Eating local food is an integral part of traveling and one we love to enjoy. Unless you’re a budget traveler in a country where eating out is ridiculously cheap, like Thailand or Vietnam, or slightly less so, like Spain, you likely won’t want to eat every meal out.
We carry a few essential items on us at all times to help us prepare meals while traveling, read more in Our Mobile Travel Kitchen.
Staying in one place for longer means you can establish a workout routine, like going for a run, doing yoga, or traveling with an elastic band set like we do. These are things it is hard to take time for when fast traveling, but are essential for staying healthy!
4. Slow Traveling is Cheaper
Again, house sitting is the answer here. Can you tell we love house sitting? Still, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Many Airbnb listings often give a discount for long-term stays (get $40 off your first Airbnb stay with this link!).
Staying in a place with a kitchen allows you to buy groceries and cook your own meals. Veren loves seeing different grocery stores in different countries. Eating at home isn’t only better for you, it’s also cheaper.
Traveling less means less money spent on transportation. Duh! Once you’ve got your home base, walk, bike, or take public transit.
Sticking around in one place longer also means you can choose when to go to attractions and take advantage of free days or nights to save more money.
We can’t stress it enough. Answering “what is slow travel” isn’t such an easy question, since slow traveling doesn’t have a particular face or look. Whether it means spending a month per year in one spot or going every other weekend to a small town or historical site that’s a train ride away, traveling slowly means not being in a hurry. It means taking your time to savor the moment and the journey, whatever that may be.
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