What is slow travel?

Published on 9 June 2022 at 12:32

We see it often: tourists running from one place to another. Just arrived at one spot and already packing to go to the next spot. And if that makes you happy, who are we to judge? 

But do you know this is very impactful on the local community? A better way of traveling is slow traveling. We will elaborate the history, meaning and our experience with slow traveling in this blog.

What does slow traveling mean?

To integrate the principles of slow travel into your travel plans or even into your daily life, you have to know what the meaning behind slow traveling is. We will give you tips and examples about how to implement slow travel principles in your travel plans. Or even in daily life as well. To let daily life be a little bit more of a traveling experience. 

“Slow down and enjoy life. It's not only the scenery you miss by going too fast - you also miss the sense of where you are going and why.”

― Eddie Cantor

Local ingredients for street food (Chanachur Badam)
in Calcutta/Kolkata, India. 

History
Just like there is fast fashion or fast food, there is slow fashion and slow food as well. These are all part of the Slow Movement. The Slow Movement started with a protest in 1986 in Rome, when Mc Donald's opened a restaurant near a local restaurant. A protest against fast food got the Slow Food Movement going. And where else could have been starting, in a place like Rome where the local food is so amazingly fresh and pure? Later on this idea of slow food, also became known in the fashion industry, living style, economics, city design and traveling industry.

There are not really rules for slow traveling, but what we consider involved with slow travel is keeping in mind the pace, impact on locals and the environment. For us, taking time to establish an emotional and spiritual connection with the local people, customs, culture, nature, food and environment is truly worth it. Also, there is more space for spontaneous happenings, the chance for something unexpected or creative to happen is bigger.

Especially in the last couple of years we see that slow traveling is getting more popular. This is a great development, still cultural sensitivity and awareness is required.

Adil helps a local restaurant lady cooking
Noodles in Nepal.

Tourism and consumerism
The impact of tourism on local societies is well known. An area can be positively impacted, because of the economic boost. But what if the economical boost stays within the area of the hotel only? Sometimes people don't even leave the hotel, don't talk to any local people and do not eat their food in the restaurants. What is the impact of this on the local society?

On the other hand: visiting native tribes (as far they still truly exist) or small villages can also cause a big shock. It is scientifically proven that a culture changes, as soon as tourists start coming. Think for example of a local artist, who suddenly starts to sell more instead of higher quality products. It can change a culture into a superficial product and it can even create resentment amongst local people.

Commercialising cultures can be a big problem and it is something to be aware of. Traveling slow is therefore a good habit to develop. But how to practice this and implement it in your traveling experience or even in daily life?

“Slow tourism is characterized by reducing mobility and by taking time to explore local history and culture, while supporting the environment. The traveller’s main goals are relaxation, self-reflection, escape, novelty seeking, engagement and discovery."

- Journal of Travel Research

In Varanasi, where we stayed almost 3 weeks, partly because of the Delhi belly ;)

The meaning of slow travel
When you are slow traveling, you don't watch, you are seeing. You can see lots of things inside. You would miss the deeper meaning when you are traveling fast.

You can meet the culture, meet the people, eat local food, drink some tea with local people. More so, these are an important habits which can be implemented in daily life as well. Why not take another route to the office job? Stopping at a local restaurant for a cup of tea? Leaving a little earlier from home, to walk a little slower and look around. Have a talk with a stranger or sit a little to observe during the journey towards your daily groceries. 


To slow down means to make meaningful connections. You can think about:

  • Instead of visiting a local village for a couple of hours only, consider staying for 14 days.
  • Instead of visiting 5 hot spots on one day, pick one and roam around at that place only. 
  • Instead of going to the same restaurant over and over, ask around where locals have their lunch. 
  • Instead of going to the famous tourist places, pick a spot in the opposite direction to visit.
  • Instead of flying from one destination to another by plane, take the local train or bus.

 

Traveling local in Bangladesh sometimes means taking a CNG or rickshaw-van.

The meaning of slow travel is to create a deeper connection, a deeper way of understanding and truly seeing the local culture, tradition, environment and people. When you stay 14 days, pick one spot, eat at a local restaurant or pick a spot far away from touristic places, chances are you will experience more meaningful encounters, conversations or visits.

Our experience with slow travel

When you start to travel in the way mentioned above, you will find yourself more often in spontaneous, unexpected and inspiring places.

Bodhi Tree in Bihar, India.

Some examples we experienced have to do with spontaneous experiences. For example visiting places in a way which you didn’t plan. While traveling through India, from Varanasi on we had a choice: go further towards Rishikesh or go back in the (less touristic) direction of Calcutta and stop in Gaya. Accidentally we found a host on couchsurfing near Gaya, so we headed there. We always wanted to visit the The Bodhi Tree (underneath Buddha experienced enlightement), but we didn’t think about that anymore. While on the way towards the Dungeshwari Temple caves, we suddenly crossed The Bodhi Tree, an amazing experience!


When you take more time for traveling slow, you also have time to stay longer in certain places. This happened to us for instance in Nepal, where we helped a local organise a special event during Shiva Ratri for local children.

Helping with an event for local children during Shiva Ratri in Nepal.

“The great benefit of slowing down is reclaiming the time and tranquility to make meaningful connections – with people, with culture, with work, with nature, with our own bodies and minds.”

Carl Honoré

Meeting new people
Finally, meeting unexpectedly nice people is another experience we want to share here briefly. Some even wanted to be our host for a couple of days. Now, we don't say: “visit every local who is inviting you”. Instead, tune into yourself. Which means in the first place ask yourself if the energy of the person is feeling good. After that you can decide to spend some more time, so you can start to understand their intentions better. If there is truly a connection, you can decide to stay over or otherwise to go further on your own path.

Sometimes this can create complicated situations. In Nepal we were hiking and asked some locals to put up our tent, they agreed. The next morning, an enthusiastic villager - a somewhat older man - came to bring us hot water. Short after, he invited us to his house and wanted us to stay another night. After discussing it with his wife, they decided to ask us for money. The man clearly felt ashamed and the wife was somewhat pushing. From both sides we completely understood, and to prevent any further disruption we went ahead. 

The local old man and his family in Nepal.

In short
Slow traveling can be implemented easily. It is about taking in the scenery, taking time to explore local history, culture and customs. It is about tuning into yourself more, to really feel if a place is resonating with you, if you really have a connection with people you meet during the road, or if it is the time to move on.

Not because the next destination is already booked, but because it feels that way. It is coming from an intrinsic motivation, rather than from an external motivation to shoot the best Instagram picture or just to share with people that you were there.

Staying a little longer than planned (when it feels good) and not planning ahead is a good way to start. Pick only one spot to roam around. Or when you travel in between several spots: take the train or bus! Eventually, you will experience more spontaneous and meaningful encounters or events. And most importantly: enjoy!

Pictures from our Instagram:


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