SLOW travel? That doesn’t sound fun or profitable… Who is it for, anyway?
Before I answer that question with what you’re not ready to hear, I’ll tell you a story about slow traveling. If you can get through even the first section, you’ll hopefully start to hear the answer in your own mind.
What is slow travel?
“The online definition describes it as an approach to travel that emphasizes connection to local people, cultures, food and music. It relies on the idea that a trip is meant to educate and have an emotional impact, while remaining sustainable for local communities and the environment.”
The antithesis of mass tourism
Wherever you are in the world, you’ve probably seen at least one of the big tour buses that invade your hometown’s most famous tourist destinations.
They come in at a towering height and park. Then suddenly, a million people pour out of it, chatting loudly in a foreign language. They blindly follow a guide holding a colorful little flag to the best viewpoint of said attraction. Within 15-20 minutes, they take turns snapping photos, and then they leave.
And if we’re getting real here… most of the time there’d be one or two croissant paper bags left behind, whether they were intentional or not.
You’d also never see those folks taking the subway or biking in a big group from one destination to another. It’s always the bus, even if the next attraction is around the corner. If that sounds like a lot of carbon footprint to you, you’re right.
That is what the slow travel movement is… absolutely NOT.
The History of Slow Travel
The Slow Movement
The slow movement is a blanket movement that covers everything from slow food, slow cinema, slow education, and slow fashion, to slow travel. And no, the term slow doesn’t literally mean “snail speed.”
I have upcoming explanations on where it came from. But for now, let’s just say that the slow movement values nature over the industry, experience over money, and culture over glamor.
“It is a cultural revolution against the notion that faster is always better. The Slow philosophy is not about doing everything at a snail’s pace. It’s about seeking to do everything at the right speed. Savoring the hours and minutes rather than just counting them. Doing everything as well as possible, instead of as fast as possible. It’s about quality over quantity in everything from work to food to parenting.”Carl Honore, in his book “In praise of Slowness”
The Origin: Slow Food
It all started with Carlo Petrini in 1986. In resistance to the opening of a McDonald’s near the Spanish Steps in Rome, he campaigned for the “Slow Food” movement. (As opposed to FAST food… now you see why the word “slow”) And all he wanted was for people to continue sourcing local ingredients and honor the traditional way of cooking instead of chomping on burgers.
Over time, what Petrini started has caught on. Today, it is an organization with branches in over 150 countries worldwide. And all it’s asking for? Quality over quantity in food production. This means stronger and longer-lasting support to the local farmers and a reduction in food waste.
The Product of Slow Food: Cittaslow
Inspired by the Slow Food movement, the membership organization was founded in 1999 with several Italian towns on its roster. The goal is to improve the city’s quality of life by reducing industrialization, reducing the city’s carbon footprint, promoting locally grown, high-quality food, and slowing down the overall pacing.
In 2003, Ludlow, England became the first English-speaking Cittaslow town.
Today, there are registered Cittaslow towns across 34 countries. Sonoma, California, Perth, UK, and surprisingly 11 towns in fast-paced South Korea are among its current members.
And of course, having passed a handful of qualifications, the Cittaslow towns would be great hidden gems to start slow traveling in if you’re new to the practice. You can easily Google the members!
Now that we know what movements have led to slow tourism, back to the present.
Next, I’m going over some misconceptions that have driven a lot of people away from “slow traveling.”
“Slow travel is the opposite of luxury travel.”
Luxury hotel brands like The Autograph Collection and Ritz-Carlton have embraced the charm of destination cultures. Not only are the hotel decorations reflective of this shift, but their concierges are also required to give local recommendations on food and cultural experiences in the area if asked.
“Slow travel costs more money.”
Not necessarily. Your budget mostly depends on your travel style and your destination, doesn’t it? Spending a month in Thailand or Bali will very likely cost you the same amount of money as living a normal week or two in San Francisco.
In some cases, staying longer in one place, which is how you experience local culture, may even cut down your cost. Better lodging rates, fewer luxury restaurants, and more home-cooked meals would contribute to lowering your budget.
CURIOSITY and CONSIDERATION, I think, are the spirit of slow travel. It is a mindset, not a practice. We all go through life at different paces. As long as you’re wildly curious about your destination, you alone will know best how much time you need to soak it all in.
This means even if you want to see the Colosseum and the Pantheon when you’re in Rome, you’re not committing the slow travel crime. If those places are where your curiosity takes you, well… that’s just what serves you best. And now that we’re on the topic of the Colosseum and the Pantheon, let me introduce you to two of Slow Tourism’s favorite offspring.
Also known as “Cultural Heritage Tourism,” it’s the practice of digging deep into the origins of what’s in front of you. Once you’ve done this, you’ll very likely understand how history influenced the way of life in that culture today.
Thanks to Heritage Tourism, the modern traveling world has become much more understanding and respectful of cultural differences.
So… are you going to the Colosseum to snap pretty pictures and immediately leave to tell your friends that you’ve BEEN THERE? Or are you planning to read the signs and learn all you can about how epic structure was used in ancient times? If you pick the second answer, congratulations, you are a slow traveler!
The concept of Sustainable Tourism concerns both the quality of life for the host and the quality of experience for the tourists. Having meals at local places, reducing your carbon footprint, being mindful of the destination environment, and taking care to leave the place better than you found it. These are all the main characteristics of sustainable travel.
That said… how are you getting to the Colosseum? Are you paying hundreds of dollars for a rental car that you will drive there and add to the city’s already intense traffic? Or are you taking the bus or the subway, or are you biking there? If you pick the latter options, congratulations again! You are a slow traveler!
Integrating it in the fast-paced world
Doesn’t this travel style seem more plausible now that you know it’s not about the speed? It’s all in your mind and how you choose to respond to the world around you. How freeing is that?
The next time you drive somewhere, instead of trying to get “there” as fast as possible and feeling frustrated when you run into traffic, turn on your favorite playlist, and just enjoy it.
The next time someone says something that upsets you, instead of reacting immediately, look inward, focus on YOUR own mental health, and walk away.
And if you ever feel inadequate not being able to afford a designer bag, ask yourself, “Can a simple fabric bag hold all my stuff just as well?” If the answer is yes, why would you pay thousands of dollars for an industrialized item that functions just the same?
My slow travel mission
“It’s easy to dehumanize someone when you don’t understand what they’re saying.”
I can’t remember for the life of me where I heard that phrase. But it’s stuck with me until this day. And it’s the reason why I started wanting to learn more languages and know more about other countries’ stories.
There is not a single trip I do today that I do “just because.” Some grand goals of mine are always a part of it. I visited Sukhothai to find out more about the origins of my ancestors. I visit most of my destinations to pick up their language. And when I went to South Korea, I kept going back to their traditional saunas until I found out it’s been a huge part of the Korean way of life.
In the end, what I’m searching for on this mission is connection. I believe we’re all connected in this universe. By exploring, I can become more connected to myself, and see how the world around me constantly changes who I am with the knowledge it has to offer.
Tips on maximizing slow travel
Lastly, I leave you with a set of tried-and-true ways to maximize a “slow” trip, all of which I’ve used. And I still do on every trip. I hope you find some use for them.
Approach your vacation like you do food.
Since food seems to be one of the few things all humans can agree on, I’d say approach it like you would the slow food movement. Remember one of those days you were so bored and sad, you just wanted to cook a precious little meal for yourself?
What dish should you make? Which supermarket would you get the ingredients from? Which playlist or childhood movie should play in the background while you make it? And finally… how did it feel taking that first bite and discovering how delicious it is, how well it hit the spot?
It’s the same with traveling. What’s the new (or old and beloved) destination I’d want to visit this time? What do I want to see there? How will I get there? What kind of experiences do I want to have? Then, over a glass of wine and a good playlist, dive into research and start putting together your vacation recipe.
The locals are your best friends.
Wandering around on your own is all good and fine for slow travel. But every city has a story that needs to be told. Is it really enough to know which hole-in-the-wall restaurant you like best? Wouldn’t you want to know if you’re standing above the oldest pipe system in the world? Or if a part of the statue you walked by this morning literally inspired the Maserati logo?
For the first few days in a new city, I recommend joining walking tours, cooking classes, or dinner experiences run by the locals. Not only will you be enriching your own experience culturally, but you’ll also get to support the locals and get a close-up of the culture.
Or maybe, instead of making friends with the locals, take it a step further and stay in with them. Look for homestays in the area you’re visiting. Trust me, the locals always have a ton to offer a foreigner.
Plan, Plan, Plan.
There is a fine line between “worrying about things that can go wrong” versus “preparing yourself for the things that can go wrong.”
When planning your trip, take the time to lay out the worst-case scenarios that you think could or might happen. Is it a problem that can 100% be prevented? Is it all under YOUR control?
If the answer is yes, do EVERYTHING in your power to prevent it from happening. Be thorough.
But if the answer is no, which will be the case most of the time, do what you can to minimize the impact those scenarios will have should they happen. Pointers below.
Make sure to have travel insurance.
Check your credit card terms. Does it provide coverage for lost baggage? Does it cover medical emergencies overseas? Should you buy extra travel insurance?
Make reservations, even if you don’t need one.
You know that restaurant or experience you’ve been wanting to try when you visit a city? If you ABSOLUTELY cannot handle missing out on those, call them and make a reservation.
Triple-check operation dates for places on your list.
Do you have 4 different museums that you’d like to visit? Check ALL their operation dates and note them down so you don’t show up on their off day.
Leave half your itinerary blank.
All while doing all this “damage prevention” work, leave as much room as you can to move these “dear to heart” items around if something unexpected happens. When debating whether to build something into your itinerary, ask yourself “will I be very sad to miss out on this?” If not, leave it on your list but out of your itinerary. And do it only when it turns out you have time left.
Oh, and have I mentioned “planning?”
Preparing for everything and anything that can go wrong AND expecting it to go wrong will make sure that you have the mental capacity to handle the stump.
Because as glamorous as the internet make traveling seem, most of the time it isn’t. The travel industry is jam-packed with outside factors we cannot control. If you’re going on a trip, you’re bound to have a delayed flight, miss a connection, have your luggage missing, find it raining unexpectedly, the list goes on.
Spend several hours of extra time and energy while planning, and I promise that when the stumps do come, you’ll breathe easy knowing that you’ve done EVERYTHING you possibly could to put together the best experience for yourself.
Without the “If I had done that, then this wouldn’t—” you’ll find plenty of mental space to accept and enjoy the uninvited experiences that come your way. You might even learn something new about how to handle said problems… or about yourself.
It honestly blew my mind when I first seriously read about Slow Tourism and how much it actually covers. I, too, used to think slow traveling meant that you had to stay somewhere for at least a month and that you weren’t allowed to visit tourist sights.
But… after reading all of that, who do you think slow travel is for?
Is it for you, too? I sure hope that would be a yes.