A Beginner’s Guide to Slow Travel

A Beginner’s Guide to Slow Travel

There it is, the email from Jack you’ve been waiting fora screaming deal to Lima. You bust out your card and book the trip of your dreams. Now you just have to plan it. 

You’re envisioning the pastel Victorian houses over surf-lined clifftops, Peruvian cooking classes, bohemian art markets and afternoons lounging poolside. There’s the world-famous restaurant in Miraflores and all the fresh-caught ceviche you can eat. Oh, and you’ll have to plan a trip to Cusco to see Machu Picchu, and to Rainbow Mountain, and Lake Titicaca and you’d really like to go to the Amazon… Uh-oh. There’s so much to see and not enough time!

You are at the crossroads of travel where the question is: To see, or not to see. Do you cram all your dream experiences into one daunting trip or pick only the top few and forever long for the rest? Suppose the solution is not to plan as much as possible but to pick only the essentials and slow things down. Yes, you won’t get to experience it all, but more people each year are taking this counterintuitive approach to travel. They are happily missing out on a few things yet still coming home feeling fulfilled and even refreshed instead of needing a vacation after their vacation. They are planning trips at a more relaxed pace and prioritising what they really valuethey are slow travelling.

And as the community of these slow travellers grows, they are redefining the typical vacation goals and changing the travel industry. A 2019 survey found slow travel to be most desired by respondents, beating out other categories like adventure travel and social-media inspired trips. Another top contender was JOMOthe joy of missing out or visiting off-the-beaten-path destinationsan idea some wrap into their own slow travel philosophy. More people are looking for a different kind of travel experience, especially solo travellers.

The Link Between Food and Slow Travel

To start, slow travel can mean touring at a literal slow pace, but the community’s values also include sustainability, cultural immersion and respect for animals and people, to name a few. Before slow travel had a trendy name and modern community, the philosophy was lived and shared by travel writers from as far back as the 19th century, if not earlier. Many of their ideas may seem eccentric to readers today, like shunning trains because they thought they were too fast and modern, yet the core philosophy was much the same. It wasn’t until the 21st century that a cohesive movement with the term ‘slow travel’ began, and it started, of all things, with fast food.

In the 1980s, a proposed McDonald’s near the Spanish Steps of Rome was strongly opposed by some of the local citizens. Protestors coined the term ‘slow food’, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, and meant it to mean the opposite of fast food. Instead of a hamburger that is roughly the same as those sold in thousands of stores across the globe, made with cheap ingredients and available in minutes, slow food might be an entrée from a family-owned restaurant which sources their ingredients from the farm down the road and spends an hour preparing it. 

The protestors in Italy saw a negative global cultural shift happening with fast food and all other things ‘fast’ and wanted to share their perspective on the value of ‘slow’. They saw slow food as setting aside speed, sameness and quantity to refocus on depth, quality and variety. In the years since slow food was coined, this core philosophy has expanded to cover topics beyond food. The slow movement wheelhouse includes slow money, slow fashion and increasingly, slow travel. 

One could define fast travel as a one-month tour of 21 European countries or an all-inclusive resort that guarantees we never need to leave the comfort of our pool loungers. These fast travel roads are well-trodden, and for good reasonsthey are great for those short on time or so burnt out (and who isn’t both these days?) they can only fathom a chair, a beach and a drink on their holiday. Yet with fast travel, some things are sacrificed for the sake of convenience and comfort. Slow travel seeks to reconsider these tradeoffs. 

If you are looking for something novel, relaxing, or contemplative, to reduce your environmental footprint, or to save money, slow travel may fit the bill. From visiting three countries over a gap year to learning a new language and cuisine to spending the entire afternoon reading a paperback on the beach, slow travel offers a depth of experience and cultural immersion not found with the usual kind of trip.  

Guatemala masks 

The Slow Travel Guide

If you’re feeling slow curious and thinking of making Lima your first slow trip, there are a few decisions to makedefining your priorities, managing your budget and picking accommodations. And since you probably don’t actually have a trip to Lima booked, there’s also the decision of where to go and how long to stay there.

There are as many ways to slow travel as there are slow travellers. Some spend months in one place while others slow travel over two weeks of holiday. There are digital nomads, working on the road, and others who save for years for the trip of a lifetime. Slow travel can be done in a week or many years, in one city or in many countries. 

Most importantly, there are no hard rules for slow travelling, keep in mind the views and ideas shared in this article are just one perspectivedon’t be afraid to colour outside the lines.

Financial and Environmental Budget

Slow travel can be more environmentally sustainable and cheaper than traditional vacationing. One of the biggest expenditures of resources on a trip (like money, fuel and carbon output) is transportation. When you stay in one place for a longer time, you get more days exploring for the same cost and carbon output. First, minimize the cost of that plane ticket with Jack’s Flight Club, and where it is impossible to reduce your footprint, consider carbon offsetting

Accommodation is often the second biggest cost, but longer reservations sometimes mean cheaper daily rates (although the days still add up). Lower turnover in hotels and rentals also requires less cleaning and water use. Over a trip, the fewer times you switch accommodation, the lower your footprint. Chunking periods of accommodation and transportation is like getting a bulk discount for your wallet and the environment. 

Some people take trains, buses, bikes or their own two feet to leave an even lighter footprint over shorter journeys. This is usually much cheaper and more sustainable but also obviously slower. To further reduce resource use, you could stay in environmentally conscious lodgings like eco-retreats, although these can be more expensive. 

Grape picking

There are many options for funding a slow trip. Some work remotely, others save to spend months or years abroad or take a long-awaited retirement. A few go to work as international teachers or nannies while many more keep their jobs at home and slow travel over holidays.  

If you fall into the latter group and feel a few weeks isn’t sufficient to slow travel, there are options for you too. One easy way is to focus on one destination per trip, allowing deeper immersion in that culture and a lower footprint. To extend the excitement of a few weeks holiday, you could spend the months ahead learning the language, the history or how to cook signature dishes. On your return, host a party and share your experiences, pictures and gifts. Even if your trip is just to the other side of your home country, chances are there are some unique and novel aspects to explore. 

One great example of this comes from the Kyoto City travel board, which launched the Stay Home, Feel Kyoto campaign in response to Covid-19. The campaign allows immersion into Kyoto without ever visiting, a clever way to ‘travel from home’ or make a short trip to Japan feel longer.

For long-term slow travelling, staying within budget is essential. If you like getting your hands dirty, there’s farm labour or hostel work, which provides volunteers with a bed and sometimes food and can massively decrease expenses. But do your research first, some countries restrict volunteering for room and board. Adventurers who walk or bike and camp on their (very) slow journeys also save a lot in the process.  

For longer trips, it’s possible to save even more by minimizing unused belongings. Some slow travellers move out of their apartments or sell their homes and put their things in storage (or their generous friend’s attic). Many also sell their car and major belongings. If living out of a backpack or suitcase doesn’t suit you but you are looking for equally big savings, consider the increasingly popular RV and van living. This can be cheaper than accommodation and transportation, depending on local laws like camping restrictions and the cost of fuel. 

A Deeper Connection

Intrinsic to slow travel is a respect for others. Embracing the regional economy, rather than purchasing from multinational corporations, is the fastest and most dependable way to increase local incomes and help preserve the culture. Skip the super-size menu and go for a mom-and-pop restaurant or choose a homestay over a chain hotel. Visiting local markets and cooking your own meals offers an experience more like the daily lives of locals, employs local food producers and also offers footprint and financial savings. The slow movement emphasizes fairness to both consumers and producers and aiming for a more ethical travel experience. When leaving a place, ask yourself if you are leaving it the same as, or better, than when you found it so that others after you can enjoy the same experience. 

The deepest and most memorable travel experiences are often from connecting with others. While slow travelling, you have time to find your favourite haunt, like a pub or coffee shop, and learn the names of the staff and regulars. You will meet others on the road and for those that become friends, you’ll have the flexibility to get to know them and perhaps become travel companions. One of the best benefits of slow travel is being able to make spur of the moment decisions. 

Chirimoyas in supermarket

Slow travel allows you to really get to know a culture. You have time to practice the language, learn about the history or local ecology. You can try many different dishes in restaurants, find your favourite, and maybe even learn to make it or tour local farms and vineyards. Just don’t forget to make a toast to the origins of slow travel.

Where, When and How Long

To slow travel and not feel like you missed out, it takes a little planning in advance. In the example of the trip to Peru above, there were more sites to see than time allowed. Take time to think deeply about what you want your experience to be and prioritize your values. This will help determine what to do this trip and what to save for next time around. You’ll feel better knowing you aren’t missing anything you can’t live without.

Many value the rest and relaxation of leisurely paced trips. Too often, travellers will visit a dream destination then come home exhausted, their memories a blur. Having time to take breaks between highlights can make all the difference. When planning the length of a trip, don’t forget to schedule downtime to recharge. 

Just about any destination is fit for slow travel. If you have relaxation and quiet in mind, the countryside of Europe or the beaches of Central America and the Caribbean are nice. For foodies, there’s the birthplace of the slow movement, Italy, as well as Thailand, Japan and New York City. And for the adventurous, there are trips like Machu Picchu in Peru or a biking tour of China. 

If you’re looking for destinations where you can slow travel on a tight budget, look for backpacker favourites. Typically, backpackers fly into one city and out of another and journey overland between via buses, trains, etc. Southeast Asia, South and Central America and Eastern Europe all have relatively lower costs of food, accommodation and public transportation.

The slow movement is about savouring experiences at just the right speed. This leaves a lot of room for artistic liberty. If you really want to do something, make it a priority and don’t feel confined to any set of rules. If that means making room in a backpacker’s budget for an all-inclusive resort recharge or ticking off the highlights of Europe with a quick tour, do it. 

  Sky view over plane

Whether you’re going to Lima or taking a trip across your home country, slow travel offers a new and intriguing perspective. From priorities to budgets to respecting and preserving cultures, you can now focus on experiencing travel at your own speed and savouring deeper connections with people, time and place along the way.

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Did this inspire your first slow trip? We’d love to hear about it! Feel free to drop us a message on [email protected]

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