Most of us travel to escape our everyday stress and routine. We plan to get away to another city, even another country to relax, unwind and see some interesting sights. But, what actually happens is quite the opposite. Instead of the trip being a reprieve away from stress, it quickly morphs into a different type of stressful activity.
Picture this familiar scenario!
Even before the trip begins, you spend several hours meticulously planning your upcoming vacation. Every hour and minute of your itinerary is planned to a T. Everything from where you’ll go to what you’ll wear is carefully organized.
On the trip, you run from one attraction to the next seeing anywhere from 3 to 4 attractions in a single day. The whole trip is so rushed that before you know it, your vacation is over and you come back home even more exhausted than before. If any of this describes your trip… then you should switch it up and consider slow travel.
What is Slow Travel?
Slow travel is exactly what the words mean. You travel at a slower pace, taking the time to explore local food and culture along with popular tourist attractions. In this type of travel, there’s no rush to get to places. There’s no list of all the things you MUST do on your holiday. In fact, there’s no strict itinerary. The emphasis is on going with the flow of things, being open to offbeat and spontaneous experiences and mainly just enjoying the trip.
The idea of slow travel spun off from the slow food movement that was founded in Italy in 1986, by Carlo Petrini. The slow food movement took birth as a healthy alternative to the fast-food culture. It promotes local food and traditional ways of cooking. Similarly, slow travel promotes local experiences, alternative modes of travel like walking, bicycles, buses, and trains, environmentally responsible ways of tourism, and generally a slower pace of exploration.
Why I travel slow?
Years ago, when I was a Ph.D. candidate, I was based in London, UK. One big advantage of being in the UK is that Europe is so closeby. The availability of budget flights made it very easy for me to take mini-vacations during my long weekends. During these trips, I behaved like a typical tourist. I tried to see as many places I could in a short space of time. I spent all my time running from one famous cathedral to another must-see museum. Even though I saw a lot of places this way, I don’t have a single lasting memory from these trips. I just have a vague impression of the places I’ve seen but I can’t tell you anything about the places I saw in detail.
In 2016, I took my first slow travel trip to Quebec City. The city is comparatively a smaller city and can be seen within a few days or a week at the most. Yet, I spent a whole month in the city. It was an infinitely more pleasurable experience.
The next year, I did the same when I visited Tokyo in Japan. Since then, I have fallen in love with this form of travel. The memories I made during these slow travel trips have outdone all the trips I have taken before. Now, I don’t want to travel any other way. If, like me, you want to travel slow, here’s how you can do it too.
How to do Slow Travel
There are many ways you can incorporate the ideas of slow travel ideas on your trip. Here’s how to do it.
No Strict Itinerary
A strict itinerary usually leads to FOMO(Fear Of Missing Out) and stress if you don’t adhere to it. Instead, try a loosely planned itinerary. Have some days in your trip itinerary where nothing is planned for the day. You can decide on the go where you want to go or just rest for the day. While this means that you still have some control over the things you plan to see and do during your trip, it allows for more free time and spontaneous sight-seeing.
1. One Attraction per day
Some proponents of slow travel propose avoiding popular tourist attractions altogether and exploring other local experiences. I don’t support this idea completely. For example, If you’re visiting Paris for the first time, there’s no way you want to avoid seeing the Eiffel Tower or The Louvre. They are very much a big part of Paris. However, there are ways to make the experience more enjoyable. Here are some better ways to see popular and crowded tourist attractions:
- Plan to see only one popular tourist attraction per day. Since there’s no rush to get to another place the same day, you tend to be more relaxed despite the crowds. After you see the attraction, spend some time exploring the surrounding area. You may find an interesting cafe, a bookstore, or a local restaurant that will make the trip more memorable.
- If possible, purchase a skip-the-line ticket so that you spend more time enjoying the attraction rather than standing in the line.
- Visit during the shoulder or off-seasons. This is not only beneficial to you but also good for the local economy. Prices for hotels are also generally lower during shoulder and off-seasons.
2. Meaningful trips
It’s true that slow travel lends itself naturally to longer trips that span a month or more. So, if you are passionate about travel, then you could try finding a career that will give you this flexibility. However, this is not an option for many people who work in location-dependent jobs. The good news though, is that the principles of slow travel can be applied to shorter vacations too. As I mentioned before, plan to see fewer places but in more detail even if your vacation is short. There’s no point in seeing 10 things in 2 days, it’s better to see 2 to 4 things in 2 days instead. You may end up seeing a lesser number of things but you will definitely make the trip more meaningful.
3. Try Local experiences
Try experiences that let you get a glimpse of local life. You can do this, for instance, by renting apartments through short-term vacation rental services like Airbnb and HomeAway that bring you in close contact with locals instead of booking a hotel room or resort.
Take a local cooking class. In Japan, similar to an Airbnb, there’s a service called airKitchen that provides travelers with a chance to visit ordinary Japanese family home’s to cook and eat home-cooked meals together with local hosts.
4. Be a Tourist In Your Own City
What better place to explore than your own city! On your days off from work, break out from your routine and explore your own city with the eyes of a tourist. Try the new restaurant in town, find out some off-beat locations that few people know about, check out the new exihit in a museum, plan a picnic in a park nearby. You’ll be surprised how entertaining your city can be.
5. Pick Aparthotels/ homestays over hotels
As a travel blogger, I prefer short-term rentals over hotels for more than one reason. First, they are more economical when compared to hotels. For example, short-term rentals like Airbnb and Homestay, offer huge discounts (around 40% or more) when you stay at an apartment for more than 28 days. Since my stays are typically longer, I save a lot of money this way. I also prefer not to eat out everyday. So, I pick apartments with fully equipped kitchens. So, I can cook whenever I please. The other advantage of staying at a short term rental is that, I automatically feel like I am living in the city rather than merely visiting it. So my experience of the city is more enriched. I can observe the daily lives of the locals up-close.
6. Try alternative means of Travel
Recently, with the climate change movement, the concern over air travel emissions have increased. While it’s not possible for every one to sail across the Atlantic with zero carbon footprint like Greta Thunberg, small efforts can be made to reduce your carbon footprint. For example, take the local transit, travel by trains instead of planes when possible, walk and bike instead of renting a car for shorter distances.
These are some simple ways to travel slow. Whether you follow these are not, I hope you cherish your travels and not let stress get in the way of your enjoyment.
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