After many years of rushing from one appointment, attraction, or location to another, we decided to give slow travel a try. The result for us was seeing places, old and new, through completely different eyes. When we immersed ourselves in the local culture and embraced flexibility, we found that every experience became richer, deeper, and more authentic, the essence of why we love to travel.
What Is Slow Travel?
Slow travel is all about connecting deeply with your travels. Rather than rushing from item to item on a checklist, slow travelers treat each experience as an opportunity to learn, feel, and relate more deeply to the locale, people, culture, and cuisine of a place they want to explore. Slow travel seeks to be sustainable through experiences that positively impact local communities and the environment, even as they provide a strong emotional impact for the traveler. Simply put, slow travel is going to a destination and allowing yourself to become part of it.
Slow travel provides an antidote to the everyday world with so many pressures and obligations we can barely catch our breath. It’s about quality, not quantity. We become wiser, more compassionate, and more connected with the people we meet and places we go. Here are some of our top reasons we think you need to try slow travel.
1. Relax And Enjoy
Once upon a time, a vacation provided relief from the stress of everyday life. But over time, we began trying to jam everything we could into a few days, creating more stress than we were escaping. Slow travel exchanges checklists and must-have Instagrams for the chance to really enjoy a place and all that goes with it.
It’s amazing how much more present and engaged you can be when you’re not looking through a camera lens or crossing off a list item. It’s easier to relax and look forward to whatever the day brings. A sense of well-being emerges as you take time to appreciate each experience, not worrying about having to rush on to something else. When you get home, you won't need a vacation from your vacation.
2. Immerse Yourself For More Memorable Experiences
One major issue with shifting from typical touristic travel to slow travel is FOMO -- fear of missing out. If you’re used to jumping from one hotel to another, one attraction after another, one restaurant to another, the idea of slow travel may feel like you’ll miss the latest Top 10. In reality, you free yourself from the tyranny of barely scratching the surface of everything without enjoying anything. Slow travel allows you the time to appreciate a destination, its people, culture, and everything that makes it a wonderful place.
Go to one museum and study the art, architecture, meet the curators, get the backstory rather than zipping through three museums and snapping some photos. Take a long, leisurely walk and let your senses absorb the sounds, sights, smells all around you. Feel the destination. Immerse yourself in the culture. Spend time with locals. The more you immerse yourself, the more you will discover and want to explore. Long and winding roads lead to many more unique and memorable experiences than rushing along the well-known ones.
3. Meet People And Actually Get To Know Them
When you decide to go the slow travel route, you free yourself up to meet and spend time with others. You can meet locals at a park or restaurant and enjoy a conversation. Learn about the people on your food tour or cooking class. You may even decide that you like someone enough to meet them later for lunch or a coffee. Because you are not rushing to the next big thing, your interactions tend to be more relaxed and more real. People like it when you actually enjoy hanging out with them. So not only will you have a chance to make acquaintances, you might even make a few friends.
We have had several experiences where we met people along the way who have become friends for years. From striking up a conversation in a little bistro to chatting with chefs, store owners, and fellow travelers, we still connect to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, reminisce about our great travels, and plan for more. Meaningful relationships take time to nurture, and slow travel provides the perfect environment for friendships to bloom.
4. Save Money
Yes, it’s true. When you go slow, you save dough. Think about it. Typical rushy-rushy travels involve spending money on multiple forms of transportation, well-known attractions, restaurants in high demand from visitors, and short stays at different accommodations. But slow travel doesn’t require you to be near anything in particular. You can take your time getting anywhere and skip the lines and tourist spots. Your money will last much longer.
As you explore, you’ll also discover more no-money fun. The places that locals enjoy, where you can get a better meal for less money, a pretty and uncrowded view for free, and an insider spot they don’t share with tourists. Longer stays often provide greater discounts too. Even in major cities, locals know when many museums and cultural attractions offer free or reduced-price admission, so if you pay attention, you can save a bundle. One of our favorite discoveries was a phenomenal Italian restaurant down a tiny side street in Spain. We discovered it while wandering around one evening and ate there twice in one week!
5. Be More Sustainable And Eco-Friendly
It’s important to us that we do our part in minimizing our carbon footprint. Inherently, traveling in planes, trains, and buses takes a toll. We can transport ourselves to one location and spend more time exploring it on foot, bike, pedicab, and horseback. That’s less taxing on the planet than rushing to the next thing on the list with whatever motorized vehicle will get us there in a hurry.
One of our favorite trips was on a barge cruise in France. The barge moved so slowly that we could get off at one point and walk or ride a bicycle to a local town or village, explore it for several hours, and eventually make our way back to the barge. Not only did we get to work off some of those amazing French meals, but we got to spend time with locals in places we would never have seen on a typical busy itinerary.
6. Support Local Economies And Authentic Cultures
When you decide to go slow, you can stay wherever you choose. A local farm or vineyard, a beautiful family-run bed and breakfast, whatever appeals to you. You’re no longer tied to multinational corporate interests. You’ll be putting money into the pockets of local businesses that will also provide an authentic experience that’s part of the culture that surrounds you. While you’re at it, you can discover local cuisine, artisans, and merchants who can provide perspective on what is true to the place you are visiting, not catering to generic tastes of people from somewhere else.
One of our most memorable stays was at a gite (like a small inn) in Quebec, Canada run by a woman who loved cats and flowers. She spoke almost no English and our French was minimal, but we communicated through our mutual interests, meeting fabulous felines and gardens. Walking through this neighborhood setting, we discovered some of the best meals we’ve ever had in local restaurants filled with locals. It felt good to know that we could give back in some way to a place that gave us so much joy.
7. You Will Grow As A Person
The biggest benefit of slow travel for us is how it affects us on a basic human level. Once you allow for a more open experience, new opportunities find their way to you. Being flexible enough to meet someone new or try something different gives you the chance to share more, learn more, exchange more, and grow more as a person.
We’ve floated on a river with bald eagles overhead, made spinach a brand new dad, watched a baby moose walk with its mom, dined on a patio to the sound of tiny tree frogs, and met a few alpacas somewhere along the way. These are just a few slow travel experiences we’ve enjoyed. The people and the stories that go along with them will stay with us forever.
Slow travel allows you to explore untethered from expectations and limitations. You can discover more about people, culture, nature, authentically and sustainably. And if you are willing, you may even discover more about yourself.
Editor's Note: For more on the power of travel, check out our Inspire category.