If you’re a frequent traveler, you’ve likely heard about the slow travel movement. Held up as a more meaningful and powerful mode of travel, slow travel is praised by those frequent travelers who want to get away from the tourist hordes and truly experience a destination to the fullest. But what exactly is slow travel and how can you experience it for yourself?
“Slow travel” isn’t always easily definable and what the term means can differ from person to person. So what does it mean to you and how can you incorporate the slow travel ideology into your next vacation?
What is Slow Travel?
Slow travel is, in many ways, connected to slow living and the slow food movement. Slow living, put very simply, is a way of life that focuses on mindfulness, the present and personal fulfillment, as opposed to focusing on productivity, consumerism and the future.
When you apply slow living concepts to travel, the result is a travel experience that’s more fulfilling and in-the-moment, versus all about getting top travel sights checked off your bucket list or itinerary, or visiting the most Instagrammed travel destinations around the globe. It takes all of the social pressures of travel and pushes them to the side, to ensure that your vacation is truly worthwhile for you and your family.
What is slow travel not?
If you read the above and think slow travel means you have to go live by yourself in a monastery for your gap year, or you need to escape to the Indian mountains for a silent, no-speaking retreat, Eat, Pray, Love-style, hold up. That’s not what slow travel is at all.
Slow travel can be experienced by any traveler, on any budget, with any timeframe and anywhere in the world. You don’t need to go anywhere “exotic” or far, far away, or even that far off the beaten path. You can experience slow travel in your own town. You don’t need big budgets or a huge amount of time off work. You don’t need to leave the kids at home to experience slow travel.
You also don’t need to give up all your creature comforts to enjoy slow travel. You can take your cell phone, your camera, your favorite beauty products, and still snap all those selfies.
It all comes down to the way you use your time, money and tech, to create an amazing slow travel experience.
The Practical Benefits of Slow Travel
But beyond giving you a more relaxed, fulfilling, emotionally-rewarding trip, slow travel also comes with a few practical benefits.
Slow travel can actually save you money, as slow travel often incorporates a lot of activities that are cheap or free. Say goodbye to high-priced tourist traps, and hello to low-budget holes in the wall.
Slow travel also often focuses on closer-to-home, less-ritzy destinations, meaning you’ll save on both your transportation costs and accommodations.
Retain your love for travel
It’s no secret. Ask any frequent traveler, leisure or business, and they’ll tell you. After a while, you just get tired of back-to-back trips. You get travel burnout. Traveling a few times per month sounds well and good until you actually do it for a year-plus and then realize you’re spending very little time on other things you enjoy, like hobbies and spending time with friends in your hometown.
Slow travel can help you retain your love for the world and road, as it’s not as fast-paced as traditional travel and it focuses on making a trip all about your likes and interests, and authentic experiences, versus the top “must-see” sights and activities.
How to Plan a Slow Travel Vacation
So, does a more meaningful, fulfilling and mindful vacation sound like exactly what you need? Tired of vacations filled with go-go-go itineraries that hardly leave any time for you to enjoy the holiday that you paid oh-so-much money for? Here’s how to plan a slow travel vacation.
Choosing your destination
When it comes time to choose your slow travel vacation destination, you’ll want to be very mindful. Don’t just rush to pick the latest popular destination that all the social media influencers or travel vloggers are going to. Not only are those destinations likely to be more crowded and stressful, but they can also be more expensive and, on top of that, destinations that face over-tourism aren’t always benefitting from your tourism dollars in the ways you might think that they are.
Instead, look for a destination that’s going to offer you what you really need from this vacation. Maybe you know you need to disconnect for a while, so you go somewhere nature-heavy and remote. Maybe you’re itching for a bit of culture, so you go somewhere with a previously undiscovered (to you, at least) culture or history, somewhere that you haven’t read about a million times already (for example, maybe you pick Romania for your Europe vacation, instead of Italy or France). Maybe you love a great food scene, so you check out the nearest town or city with a heavy food or drink-geared local culture.
You can also specifically look for less-crowded or underserved destinations or local economies that actually could use your tourism dollars. A quick tip? Simply look for recent news articles on destinations that are trying to revamp their tourism industries. Those destinations are most likely to welcome you with open arms.
And remember — there’s no need to go far to enjoy an amazing, slow travel vacation. Don’t avoid looking within your own county or state for the perfect spot to get away.
Picking your mode of travel
In many instances, you’ll need to fly to get to your vacation destination, but if you have the option to not fly, consider it. Not only is flying a huge drain on the environment, but it can also be costly.
If you can, look to local communities that are accessible via eco-friendly trains or even a car. If you’re a little more active and enjoy the outdoors, you can also consider traveling to a destination and then seeing the surrounding area or state via hiking or cycling trails.
Picking your accommodations
When picking your accommodations, just as you did when picking your destination, consider what you truly need and want from this trip. Do you want easy accessibility and convenience? If accessibility and convenience will make your trip less stressful, you might want to consider staying in a hotel (though try to pick an independent hotel, or at least one with a bit of character, versus your average big-box hotel that’s the same in every city).
However, if you want more peace, quiet and seclusion, you might want to opt for a more remote home rental option, from Airbnb or VRBO. Even a home rental in a city can be more peaceful and allow for a slower pace of life than a hotel. Sure, you might need to stock your own snacks versus going down to the hotel restaurant for a quick bite, but you may also enjoy a backyard, walking around a local neighborhood filled with local people and other amenities and perks that you won’t get with a big-box hotel chain.
If you’re planning on traveling to multiple destinations throughout your trip, you might consider renting a van, so that you get your accommodations and transportation all in one package. Not only will this save you some cash, but it’ll also allow you more flexibility and freedom as you travel from spot to spot, without the need for hotel check-ins and other strictly scheduled itinerary items.
Picking your activities
Of course, you can do all of the above and still not reap the full benefits of slow travel if you don’t pick the right activities for your itinerary. And on that note, take your itinerary and toss it. Rip it up. You don’t need it. It’s time to live in the moment, without spending every waking second hyper-focused on what’s going to happen next. If you’re totally concerned with getting to the next museum or scenic view, you’re not truly living in the moment and enjoying the “now.”
Sure, it’s a good idea to have a rough idea of what you’ll do during your trip, but don’t make any hard and fast plans. Keep things loose and go with the flow. Do what feels right in the moment.
So how can you do this?
You’ll want to do plenty of research ahead of your trip, for starters. Read up on your destination and, even better, your exact neighborhood that you’ll be staying in. What’s it known for? Where do the locals go? What restaurants, cafes, museums, local markets and other attractions are covered in the regional media, or featured on locals’ social profiles? Go there, not the spots recommended by the travel guide you bought at the bookstore.
Make sure to pick activities that you actually like, too. While sunrise goat yoga might be popular on Instagram, if you hate waking up early, goats and yoga, you’re not going to have a great time. If you want to spend a day visiting non-photogenic spots and eating non-photogenic foods in a non-photogenic outfit, do it. This is your vacation; it’s not about what hotspot’s going to get likes on Instagram or what so-called hidden gems are listed in the guidebook.
You might want to also simply visit your destination with no plans in mind, get there and just wander around. For those who prefer a highly-controlled, checklist-dictated travel style, this can be stressful at first — but it’s well worth a try. Wandering around a new place can help you discover shops, eateries and attractions that you otherwise would never know about.
Easing Your Way Into Slow Travel
But we understand that the concept of slow travel can seem stressful (really stressful) for those who’re more accustomed to traditional travel. If there’s no itinerary, how do you even know you’ll do anything? (We promise you’ll find something to do, itinerary or not!)
If you’d prefer to ease yourself into slow travel, there are a few ways you can do so.
Make your beloved itinerary, but add in a few gaps and empty spaces. Maybe you leave a morning or afternoon (or two or three!) free so that you can step into that shop that caught your eye or that small museum that you didn’t know existed, rather than rushing on to the next reservation. Maybe you leave a day open to just do whatever catches your fancy.
Plan a trip to a popular locale, but plan a side trip of a day or two, over to a lesser-known location nearby. For example, maybe you’re planning a trip to Washington, D.C., but then you stop over for a weekend in Prince William afterward, to check out the Civil War sites and great local food scene. Maybe you have a business trip to Pittsburgh in the works, but you stop over in Centre County afterward, to check out the hiking and agritourism.
Keeping the Slow Travel Vibe While at Home
But for many slow travel practitioners, it’s not merely enough to enjoy the slow travel trend while on the go. Many find an even greater fulfillment when they bring some of those slow travel vibes back home.
Sure, not everyone can completely chuck the to-do list for good, but it is possible to chuck it in the bin for the weekend. You can explore a new neighborhood in your city on foot for a day trip, without any real plan, just seeing where your feet take you. You can choose a slower, more environmentally-friendly form of transportation.
Is Slow Travel Right for You?
Slow travel isn’t the best option for every single traveler. Maybe you love fast travel and find it fulfilling all by itself. But, if you’re starting to feel like every vacation is just a hassle, it might be time to try something new and a little more mindful. Slow travel might be just the thing to renew your wanderlust during your next trip.