Do you ever come home from a trip with a shorter fuse than before you left? Did it begin with an expensive long-haul flight, jet-lagged for the first 3 days, a fully booked itinerary, far exceeded your data plan, BUT the food was great! Consider How Slow Travel Might Be The Remedy To Fast Lifestyles!
Enter slow travel: making the choice to take slower means of transportation. Simply put, you could replace a flight with a road trip, train ride or ferry. Swap driving with a walk, a bike ride, or even hop on the bus, stare out the window, enjoy a book. With options like ‘fastest’, ‘best’, ‘most direct’, travel itself has been presented to us as an inconvenience: rarely valued for its own sake.
Slow travel can also be more broadly defined by placing an emphasis on our human need for connectedness. It’s about travelling close and far with a focus on building a relationship to a place, instead of consuming the place.
The Slow Movement is catching on worldwide: phenoms in slow food, slow beauty, slow fashion, many of us are working towards more focused and intentional habits. As Carlo Petrini, the founder of the slow food movement, says:
“We have lost our sense of time. We believe that we can add meaning to life by making things go faster. We have an idea that life is short — and that we must go fast to fit everything in. But life is long. The problem is that we don’t know how to spend our time wisely.”
How Slow Travel Found Me
“We are inundated with advice on where to travel to; we hear little of why and how we should go.” author Alain De Botton comments in The Art of Travel. He further reflects on how trips and travel, in a nutshell, can reflect our life’s pursuit of happiness: both satisfying and dissatisfying all at once.
Slow travel snuck up on us when my partner and I went travelling for a year. To limit our environmental impact, we chose to fly 3 long-haul flights and tried to avoid shorter flights whenever possible (we ended up taking two). Starting our trip on a tight budget in New Zealand, we were drawn to hiking. Meeting other hikers led to connections with people who were unplugging on their trips as well. Hiking also provoked curiosity about New Zealand’s birds, so we bought a bird book. Lo and behold, we found ourselves quietly crouching on rocks at low tide watching variable oystercatchers! Wait… what happened?!
From New Zealand, we flew to China and travelled overland for 3 months in spite of cheap regional flights being available. What I found is that on a 30-hour train ride, or a 10-hour bus ride everywhere is somewhere. You’re likely to end up with no WiFi, limited food options, and lots of time for self-reflection: reading, journaling, listening to music, chatting with curious locals, or playing cards. It helped to re-set the pace and focus of the trip- back to figuring out why and how we were travelling.
Home for 2 years now, we’ve taken on experiments in local slow travel. It’s taught me to walk and watch, sit by the river, and seek out my own local weekends away- even in a Manitoba winter. Just as in life’s pursuits, our slow travel has oftentimes worked out well, and other times not so well. All of it: memorable.
How to Integrate Slow Travel into a Fast Lifestyle
Does slow travel sound like a stretch for you? Start S-L-O-W-L-Y! You can craft your own unique brand of slow with careful attention to the journey, re-connection, and the environment.
Start Local. Start here, at home by carving out a morning or a day where you unplug (even start with putting the phone on silent, or airplane mode). Explore a neighbourhood, or sit at a cafe for longer than usual. Local travel is also ideal while you save vacation time and money for a bigger, farther destination.
Unplug. If you can’t get comfortable unplugging at home, it could be just as challenging while travelling. So prep yourself to go on a trip, ditch the data, leave the phone in the room (or at home), and sink into a slower routine that allows for connection to your fellow travellers. You may feel vulnerable at first, but it will create space for change and relaxation
Delight in the unexpected. A wrong turn might be just the right thing. Anyone who has gone on a trip dominated by sightseeing the highlights knows that it’s possible to crave being alone somewhere, not have to queue, or a spontaneous experience to punctuate the trip. ‘Who knew?’ is just as good as the ‘Best of’.
Keep it simple. Quality over quantity: Choosing a focussed trip (to stay in one place as a home base) can mean you have less to plan ahead of time. It opens the door to slip into the pace of another culture.
Cut the speed. Going quickly detaches us from what we’re doing and seeing, which oftentimes means we miss out on appreciating nature. Get outside and slow down how you move around: replace driving with walking, biking, running. Reconnecting with the outdoors will help you to make other lifestyle changes.
LEARN into it! Get a sense of where you’re going by reading historical fiction, watching a documentary or learning basic pieces of the language. It will help you to notice the little things once you get there, and could move you towards adopting more slow travel habits once home.
Go against the grain. It takes guts to not go see all the highlights. I’ve definitely second-guessed myself before and caught myself headed towards (or deep into) a travel rat race. I would come to notice FOMO creeping in, or of not making the most of our time. But the fact is, ‘maximizing’ your time can also mean exhausting yourself.
Savour the savings. By saving vacation time for the far-away trips and opting for more local vacations in-between, you cut back on transportation costs and receive discount rates for longer bookings.
By focusing on how and why you travel, you can give your wanderlust the opportunity to have a life of its’ own. I’m curious to know: how do you find Slow in your travels?