Slow Travel – The Next Trend in Travel?
We used to travel very differently than we do now. We used to make busy itineraries, hitting every sight that Lonely Planet deemed worthy of visiting. We’d cram as many countries and cities as we could into one vacation, coming home even more exhausted than when we left. That changed when we left our jobs to travel full-time.
We started out with 6 months in Indonesia. The list of countries we wanted to see was endless and we were concerned about spending so much time in one place. In the end, we fell in love with the country and its people. This is when we realized that the quality of your experience in a country matters so much more than the number of countries you can say you’ve visited. As we’ve continued our journey throughout Southeast Asia, we’ve fully adopted the slow travel lifestyle and will never go back.
Slow travel is less about the amount of time you spend and more about the mentality you have while traveling. It’s about prioritizing experiences over sightseeing in order to connect with the people and culture of the country you’re visiting. When you take away the pressure to see everything, travel becomes less stressful and more meaningful. If this sounds intriguing to you, here are some tips on how to slow travel, even if you don’t travel full-time.
1. Stay as long as you can
Yes, the amount of time that you travel doesn’t define whether or not your vacation counts as slow travel. However, having more time definitely makes it easier. If possible, save up your vacation days to take one longer trip over multiple short ones. Or, if you can swing it, artificially extend your vacation by working remotely from your destination before or after your trip. Another way to extend your vacation days is to minimize the amount of time you spend traveling or in airports, which brings me to the second tip.
2. Visit fewer destinations
When traveling halfway across the world it’s tempting to cram as many destinations as possible into your itinerary since you never know when you’ll be back. But if you have a week of vacation and choose to visit three different destinations, you’ll end up traveling on 4 of those 7 days, thereby reducing your fully relaxed days to 3. We prefer to pick one destination as our home base, then take trips from there. Not only will visiting fewer locations allow you to spend more quality time in each place, but it will also save you time and money from having to pack up and move every few days.
It’s easy to think “there’s not enough to do in this destination to fill my time”, but that’s never true. There are always more things to do that you expect and you’ll free yourself to be able to really get to know the place you’re in. Get a feel for what life is like there, find the hidden gems, develop your go-to food spots, be able to get around without having your face plastered to Google maps, observe how people are different (or the same) as back home.
3. Ditch the itinerary
We’ve been there, planning jam-packed daily itineraries to squeeze in 30 sights into one week. Countless times, we’ve come home from vacation in need of a second vacation. Travel shouldn’t be treated like a scavenger hunt. It makes us so sad to see tourists get to a sight, snap a few photos then leave 5 minutes later. That behavior won’t make memorable experiences.
Instead, we avoid scheduling every second of each day. We still do our research on the places we’re visiting and have a list of things we’d like to see but we try to only schedule one activity per day! Most of the time, we’ll aim to see the main tourist attractions in the morning (this has the added benefit of avoiding the crowds) and the rest of the time is left for chilling and exploring.
4. Avoid group tours when possible
We generally avoid group tours as often as possible since they tend to pack too many activities into the day. You are also at the mercy of your tour guide and other groupmates to decide how long you’ll be able to spend in each place. Traveling independently lets you take your time, spend as long as you want, take detours, and uncover surprises along the way. It’s also usually significantly cheaper!
Of course, not all group tours are bad. We actually love doing free walking tours when we first arrive in a new city to learn about the history and get our bearings.
5. Choose your destination wisely
Do some research on the destination before you choose to travel there. Some destinations are just not as conducive to slow travel as others. Avoid places where the culture has been whitewashed by the tourism industry or where it would be too difficult, expensive, or dangerous to explore alone.
We spent 6 weeks in the Philippines, but had quite a difficult time feeling at home there. Most of the attractions involved going off land to smaller islands by boat. As you might expect, hiring a private boat captain for a day is quite expensive, so the only economically feasible way to do this is via group boat tours. We tried to avoid the boat tours as much as possible, but even on land, many of the activities were too dangerous to do alone. Things like visiting waterfalls and hiking all required guides and we found it very hard to ever discover things on our own.
6. Eat like a local
Don’t travel to a new country and eat exclusively food from your home country. We enjoy the occasional chicken McNuggets or Cold Stone, but we mostly try to eat at local spots. The best way to learn about a culture is through its food. Find restaurants where you’re the only foreigner in sight or restaurants with no English menu. Another tip is to take cooking classes to learn more about the local ingredients and food culture!
7. Sleep like a local
Avoid staying in foreign-owned resorts and hotels where the only locals around are the staff. There are many websites you can use to stay with locals in their homes. We love using Airbnb and have had so many amazing hosts who teach us everything about their city and invite us to local events. Other sites to check out are Couchsurfing and Homestay. You’ll meet some truly hospitable locals and save loads of money on accommodation as well!
8. Learn the language
Depending on where you’re traveling, learning the language can seem like a daunting task. Use free tools like Duolingo to learn the basics before you leave for your trip. You’d be surprised by how far knowing a few phrases will get you. If you have some time at your destination, sign up for language classes with a local. We took Indonesian classes while in Bali and ended up learning so much about its culture through the language. We also were able to have very basic conversations with locals who spoke zero English in only a few weeks!
9. Choose slow transportation
The fastest way to get somewhere is not always the best way. These days, it’s easy to forget that the journey between destinations is as important as the destination itself. Flights, cars and even buses and trains create a barrier between you and the outside world. If you have time to slow down, why not walk, or take a bicycle or scooter. You’ll be able to interact with your surroundings, smell the smells, hear the sounds, watch the people, and reduce your carbon footprint while you’re at it!
10. Learn a new skill
When you visit a new country you have the opportunity to learn so much from your new surroundings. You might find yourself in a country where a certain skill or activity originated and can learn from the experts! Take Muay Thai lessons in Thailand, learn Ashtanga yoga in India, dance Tango in Argentina. Even after you leave the country you’ll be taking a part of it with you. Ten years from now which do you think you’ll remember? Checking off 30 of Rome’s churches, or spending hours learning how to make gelato by hand?
11. Let go of expectations
When you get to a destination, you’ll undoubtedly have expectations of what your trip should be like. Don’t get attached to these expectations. Let places surprise you and take you on unforeseen journeys. Be open-minded about what you’ll like and dislike. See new things and don’t stress about missing things you planned to see. If you allow yourself to go with the flow, you’ll find the most meaningful experiences.
12. Give back
Traveling is a privilege that we often take for granted. Who knows what traveling will look like in the future? There might be more restrictions on where you’ll be able to go, or for how long. Do something to give back to your host country. You could choose to volunteer, or do something as simple as picking up trash at the beach to show gratitude.
We hope this inspires you to try out slow travel. Often, you’ll find that it’s not the sights that make a place special, but the people and the culture that make your travels unforgettable.