The beauty of slow traveling
What is meant by slow travel?
Simply put, slow traveling means taking more time at a place in order to experience it more deeply. It’s a mindset in which you aim to dive deeper into the local culture and get to know it properly.
This way, you’re able to set your own pace and let go of any stress instead of rushing through.
It’s the opposite concept of mass tourism, where you mainly take quick tours in order to see as many sights as possible. Due to mass tourism, many travelers have almost forgotten how to shut down. So, instead of visiting countless places, what enriches your travels are more deep experiences. How do we like to put it? — Less is more!
With slow traveling you open your senses to truly see a place and its people, engage with them and understand how they live. By taking public buses, walking, or cycling you get a feeling of their everyday life. You experience their culture and food in a completely different way. In order to do so, you get off the beaten path, visit local businesses and restaurants and support the local communities. That’s what also aligns it with conscious and sustainable traveling.
Exploring Panama by bike
Where does slow travel come from?
I’m sure you’ve heard of slow food, right? And slow travel actually goes back to the same movement which came up in Italy in the 80s.
As a backlash against fast food, the Slow Food Movement arose when a McDonald’s branch was proposed to open in Rome. Local food producers, chefs, and farmers aimed to draw attention to the importance of the traditional cuisine that relied on old recipes and local ingredients. Instead of simple food intake, the conscious preparation and consumption of valued foods became key in the Slow Food Movement.
And the concept of slow travel ties in with exactly that: It’s all about enjoying the moment. Taking a step back from chains and mass consumption, but focusing on local customs and traditions. Truly diving into a culture and thereby supporting the local economy.
Just like slow food, slow traveling is a mindset that focuses more on quality instead of the number of your experiences.
Nothing better than local food!
Benefits of Slow Travel – Why is slow traveling important?
Not only for you, but also for the community you visit, slow traveling offers a lot of benefits. So let’s have a closer look at the impact of slow travel and why it’s important.
You prevent exhaustion
Have you ever heard of “travel fatigue”? Maybe not, but you may have felt more exhausted at the end of a trip than at the beginning. Sometimes even apathy sneaks in, and you lack motivation for activities that normally excite you. That’s exactly what travel fatigue is about. Some also call it “tourist burnout”.
And it occurs when we try to see and do as many things as possible. That may work for a short period of time but sooner or later your body and especially your mind get tired.
So it’s time to ditch that frantic mentality and allow yourself to smooth into the pace of the locals. Step away from seeing your vacation as a checklist of things to do, and must-sees. Rushing from one place to another will only leave you exhausted. A shift towards slow traveling gives your mind and body more peace and relaxation and allows you to travel at your own pace. You can finally switch off! And you won’t come back home and need that vacation from your vacation.
Remember: You can always come back later to see more of that destination.
Time to calm down
You have a deeper travel experience
Reading that you can see and experience more when you travel more slowly may sound contradictory. But think about it.
You spend less time on the road, rushing from one place to the next. That gives you the time and the energy to immerse yourself in the local culture. This way, you’re more likely to explore areas, food, or hidden gems that you wouldn’t be able to see if you frantically check your to-do list.
I always love these relaxed strolls through local neighborhoods, where I can get a feeling of how the locals actually live. Where I can watch the grandpas meeting at their favorite coffee corner to play backgammon with their pals. And where kids play on the street with those fluffy street dogs they’re just falling in love with.
Or how much fun local buses are, where families sing along with folk songs on the radio, where vendors squeeze through the aisle with their huge baskets of homemade treats, or where the driver fools around with the youngsters on their way to school.
And at the same time, I can truly see the landscape of that country.
These are the most authentic moments of traveling.
Central American bus rides are always fun
It helps to get connected
Deeper experiences also bring about connections.
Through slow traveling, you have the chance to take part in the culture and local activities such as cooking classes or support a beach clean-up.
This way, you can dive into and become part of the local life. Get to know the people in the place you’re at!
But it goes way beyond that because what makes these activities special are the people you get connected with.
And you never know what these connections bring. I’ve made the most special experience getting lost in conversations with people I met while traveling. Those can be deep, inspiring talks or lessons that help you for life. But those can also evolve into friendships. Some of them may last for years.
For me, the friends I make traveling are some of the most precious things I bring home. And isn’t it so much fun to stay in touch and know you’ve always got a place to come back to somewhere in the world where you can directly feel at home?
Slow traveling helps to save money
Staying at a locally owned apartment or even homestay can be your first link to the local culture. But besides the more authentic experience that you get when you stay at a guesthouse or visit a local restaurant, these locations are also less expensive than the touristy alternatives.
Bonus: When you stay longer, you usually get better accommodation rates and also safe money on transportation that you’d need if you changed places every few days.
And let’s be honest – what’s better than trying all the yummy specialties at a street food stall or small restaurant where grandma cooks for 20 years?
If you stay in an apartment with a kitchen, you can even go grocery shopping as the locals do. Head to the closest market, buy all the fresh stuff, and cook something new for a fracture of a restaurant visit.
Strolling through Vietnamese markets
You leave your comfort zone with slow traveling
Diving even deeper into the concept of slow traveling, you’ll realize that there will be situations in which you have to venture out of your comfort zone. But that’s a good thing because this is the only way to grow!
You may have to get used to people speaking only a foreign language around you. Instead of following around a perfectly English-speaking guide, you have to overcome language barriers and learn a few words to be able to communicate. But believe me, locals will cheer you and admire your effort, even if it’s a simple “Donde parte el autobús?”
Along with that, you may have to haggle, encounter situations that scare you, or get used to cultural customs that are foreign to you. And you need to be open and brave to engage with people you’ve never met (which can be extremely challenging for introverts).
But every time you’ve mastered a new challenge, you’ll grow from it, your personality evolves and the next challenge will seem even easier.
Have you ever done a boat trip that left you on a tiny island?
You support local businesses
We’ve talked a lot about benefits for you, which are awesome, but let’s face it: Traveling isn’t (only) about you having the best time of your life. It’s about bringing a benefit to the destination you visit, its locals, and its environment!
“Always choose local” is a mantra for sustainable traveling as well as for slow traveling. If you do so, your choices in terms of accommodation, food, products, and transportation are great for the local community. Instead of large, international corporations (that are rolling in money), your money goes to the local organizations, economy, and standard of living.
With every single choice, you help to support sustainable tourism at your destination that other travelers can hopefully enjoy in the future.
Shopping where the locals go
Slow traveling treats the environment with care
With fewer means of transport, longer stays in one accommodation, and supporting local businesses instead of international corporations, the slow traveling mindset is easier on the environment.
Think about it. When you stay in one place for longer, you take fewer buses or, even worse, flights that may take you from one destination to the next. You rely on public transportation or even walk and cycle more. Obviously, that results in a lower CO² footprint.
The same applies to accommodation. No need for cleaning and new bed sheets every few days. That results in less energy and fewer chemicals.
And food vendors and markets usually offer mainly locally-grown produce that isn’t shipped across the world just for you to consume it.
Eventually, slow traveling leads you off the beaten path, which is an important path against mass tourism. When more and more people travel to lesser-visited destinations, we spare those places suffering from overtourism.
And I guess, I don’t have to tell you how much more relaxing it is to be far away from the crowds.
Who is slow travel for?
When you think slow traveling is a concept only for gap year backpackers or pensioners, I can directly tell you: You’re absolutely wrong!
Keep in mind that slow traveling doesn’t mean traveling for months. It just means that you cram fewer different destinations and fewer activities into the time you’ve got for your vacation. So it’s indeed doable for everyone, also with a job and a limited number of days off!
No matter what’s your budget – backpacking or luxury travel.
No matter how many days of vacation you have – a weekend trip or 3 weeks.
No matter if you’re planning a city trip or a nature experience.
No matter with whom you travel – solo or as a family.
On all those occasions, you can allow yourself more quality time instead of quantity.
Think about a family spending time on a farm during their holiday, a group of friends renting a house by the sea, or a couple staying in a local apartment in a city. As long as the vacation values a slow pace and a deep experience with the local culture.
And don’t blame yourself if you still want to hike up to Macchu Picchu or take a picture in front of The Tower Bridge. It’s all about the right balance and refraining from making a crammed to-do list for your vacation. A step back from FOMO. And a step closer to yourself and how you truly want to experience a destination.
On the way to the local bus in Costa Rica
How do I start slow traveling?
It’s so much easier than you think. The most important step is the right mindset. Here are some tips to start slow traveling on your next trip.
Take more time at one destination
This is right where we start when planning your next trip. Instead of seeing three different cities within one week, shift down a gear or better two.
If you’re having a vacation of two weeks, let’s start by sticking to two or three places and exploring those areas deeper. Take your time to sit in a café watching people or reading a book, spend the whole day in one museum, or pick a small hike and take all day to soak up these surroundings. And why not allow yourself a little nap in the sun in between?
Taking more time allows you to connect deeply with your destination instead of having the thought of leaving again tomorrow always roaming around in the back of your mind.
And in terms of sustainability: For long-distance trips, a longer stay of at least several weeks is a must! There’s no sane reason to fly across half the globe for one week.
Take some time for yourself
Whether it’s in a locally-owned guesthouse, B&B, small hotel, homestay or you prefer renting a local apartment or Couchsurfing. Everything is possible as long as it’s closely connected to the local way of living.
Here you can get to know the inhabitants and start learning about the culture and traditions of your destination.
I love thinking back to the conversations about Arab culture (and cultural conflicts) with the host of our Riad in Marrakesh
. Or doing yoga with my host in Bocas in Panama
who turned out to be a yoga teacher. Or the delicious food of the mum cooking at their home and guesthouse in Cebu in the Philippines. So many great memories
And rental homes or apartments are simply perfect for slow travelers. You can move in and you’re placed right into the local way of living.
But remember: Even luxury slow travel is possible. If you feel like a treat, you can rent a local villa or another special experience stay run by locals.
Our wonderful Guesthouse Casa Papaki in Ometepe (Nicaragua)
Immerse yourself into the local way of living
Think more of living at a destination instead of staying there. This way, you can understand and feel the local lifestyle more deeply.
So why not go for a run and stop by a local café for a short refreshment in the mornings? Talk to the people working or having breakfast there.
And go grocery shopping where the inhabitants go. Meet the locals and soon you’ll feel like part of the community.
And here’s the best part of it: This is your chance to get the best tips on where to eat, the secret free hour to visit a viewpoint, or the local’s favorite sunset spot.
Be mindful of transportation
Speed breaks the calmness and connection to a place that you’ve just gained. So think twice if you chose to take a taxi instead of walking. Or if you’re tempted to hop on a plane to your next destination instead of taking the local bus.
Your environment and your carbon footprint will also be thankful if you stick to the slower, local means of transport.
Isn’t the bike one of the loveliest modes of transport?
Stay flexible with your travel plans
When you leave gaps in your planned itinerary or to-do list, you’re more spontaneous. And spontaneity and surprises are where the fun truly begins! You’ll usually be fine with planning the first two days after your arrival and the last one before leaving again. The rest of the adventure can build while you’re right in the middle of it.
This way, there’s enough time for following locals’ recommendations, joining new travel buddies on their itinerary, or spending a day at the hidden beach a fellow traveler was raving about.
Also, without a stiff plan, you’ll stay more relaxed if something doesn’t turn out as it was supposed to.
I once met two travel buddies in an extreme traffic jam that made us miss our ferry to the island of Utila in Honduras
. So we spontaneously booked another hotel together and eventually spent over a week together and stayed longer on an island we had no clue about before.
Sunset drinks in Utila
Avoid touristy places
Does racing through overcrowded places align with the idea of calming down during your vacation? I guess not. To be honest, I already shudder at the thought of forcing myself through the masses of tourists in front of The Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy
, who seem to constantly ruin each other’s photos.
And that’s the opposite of the mindset of slow traveling. A quick stop at a famous sight won’t give you a true feeling of the place, its culture, and its people.
I get it that there are some destinations or tourist attractions that look just so tempting in pictures.
But usually, these over-visited places suffer a lot from too much tourism they can’t handle. They often have a litter problem or suffer from water shortage and the environment has no chance to recover due to the constant mass of tourists.
So for your own well-being as well as that of your destination, try to visit other lesser-known gems, such as the white villages in Milos
or other Cycladic islands
instead of Santorini. Or how about the ancient Maya ruins in Honduras
instead of Chichen Itza in Mexico?
All these places are just as magical as their famous neighbors.
Copan Ruinas in Honduras
Travel off-season & off the beaten track
This is one of my favorites. Besides heading off the beaten path by visiting unknown villages
or exploring Menorca
instead of its famous sister island, traveling off-season will also enhance your experience.
Moving around consciously, experiencing a place with all senses, diving into nature and exploring hidden corners is so much easier when you don’t have to slog your way through tourist masses in the high season.
So if your job allows you to travel off-season and you’re not bound to school holidays, I highly recommend experiencing your destination during the low season. When you’re mainly surrounded by locals
, even touristy places such as Marrakesh in Morocco
can be experienced in a completely different way. The perfect atmosphere to experience its authentic culture
and to slow down!
Another plus is that it’s usually cheaper and you may even find yourself as the only one by the beach in Greece
Alone at the beach in Paros
Be open to new experiences
All this is only possible if you’re ready to get out of your comfort zone. Say yes to an adventure that might normally scare you. Have the heart to go out and talk to locals. Try out a different kind of stay (how about a nice little guesthouse instead of the large hotel chain you used to prefer?) Embrace the extraordinary and be ready to grow.
Believe me, it’s so worth it. And there are unforgettable experiences waiting for you out there!
Hiking around Lake Como (probably not the first thing you’d think of at this chic Lake, right?)
Examples of slow travel
To give you some more inspiration in order to get started, here are some examples of slow travel vacations.
Time to say goodbye to all-inclusive holidays and vacation packages. And to say hi to quality time and to combine slowness with deeper experiences.
Road trips – Let the road be your destination and take you to places you wouldn’t have imagined before. Stop wherever you feel like, no matter if it’s a cute roadside café, a hidden campsite, or an unknown waterfall of which you’ve just read the sign.
Traveling by local means of transport – Look out for the slow coach or regional train that takes you through totally untouristy villages and landscapes. And why not get off in a cute town you’ve never heard of before to check out their farmers market or to have a looong lunch break?
Homestays – Why is it that so many people crave fancy hotels? Some of my best travel memories are from times that I’ve stayed with locals. This usually leads to unforeseen highlights such as a rustic family dinner with garden-grown veggies, homemade ice cream, a private traditional cooking class, or lots of cuddle time with their dogs.
Long strolls – Instead of just hopping in between sights, put away your phone and map apps and just follow your nose. Take whatever alley looks cute and allow yourself to get lost. I’ve found the cutest corners in London this way, even after I had visited the city almost ten times. Walking tours with locals are also a great experience!
Bike tours – How about skipping the tourist bus and either renting bikes and exploring by yourself or booking a bike tour? You’ll see the place from a completely different angle!
– Staying right where the local food grows is the best way to try a country’s real taste. Here you can also learn about traditional production methods, original recipes, and enjoy fresh food “zero km” or “farm to fork”. This could be a vineyard in Tuscany
, a rural farm in the Alps, or a small lodge right next to a rice field in Vietnam.
– Why always stay at a hotel? You can also stay on a sailing boat to explore different parts of a Mediterranean island or take the unique 5-day sailing adventure from Panama
to Colombia. This is for sure a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
Cooking with locals – You’ve never truly experienced a culture if you haven’t tried the local food. And even better, if you’ve cooked them. So book a local cooking class, and you can even take the taste home with you and cook for your family and friends. That’s better than any souvenir!
– Yep, volunteering
is probably the best way to not only get to know the locals and their culture, but to also support the disadvantaged. So help out in a local organization, support building projects, or try wwoofing (working on organic farms).
Freighter travel – You may have never heard of it, and it’s only an option for those who have a lot of time and are willing to refrain from any comfort and civilization. But freighter travel is a way to inexpensively travel around the world without airplanes or commercial cruise ships.
Volunteering in Guatemala
Volunteering in Guatemala
I hope, now you’ve got some ideas and inspiration for your next trip!
And I also hope, this post made clear, that slow travel doesn’t mean physically traveling as slowly as possible or spending a minimum amount of days in a certain destination. Slow traveling is rather a mindset that can be applied to any length and any type of traveling.
It’s about finding the right speed and balance for you and your destination.
So soak it all up and blend into the local community!
Do you have any experiences with slow traveling? Share your experiences in the comments below!