What is Slow Travel and Why Do It?

Everyone travels. Even if you don’t think you do, you do. Whether it’s a daily commute to work or to visit a friend, who’s to say where the world of travel begins and ends? Much like the philosophical question, “How many grains of sand does it take to become a pile?”, at what point does moving from point A to B become travel? Definitions are quite literally “a journey for a length of time” and “a move in a constant or predictable way.” So what is slow travel then?

The concept of slow travel isn’t new. At one point, that’s just how people got around (ie. horse-drawn carriage). These days, it’s become a reaction to the rapid zooming around that so many people do when traveling.

We understand why so many people travel armed with an extensive “to do list” focused on What You Can Tell Others You Did via ceaseless selfie documentation sans shame. Americans have such short vacation time (if any at all) that when they’re able to take time off, they want to cram in everything, squeezing every last drop like an electric life juicer. What’s better for you – a whole orange, or extracting one part in concentration?

We don’t pretend to have the answer to this conundrum. But we do know that personally, we prefer to savor each drop instead of downing it at light-speed.

What is Slow Travel and Why Do It? - AlternativeTravelers.com

What is Slow Travel?

Slow travel is quite literally slowing down your travel. Instead of going to a country and visiting all or several of its major cities in a week, it’s staying in just one city the entire week. Slow travel is going to visit your friend who recently moved and learning what it’s like to live in that place, like we did when we roadtripped around the Western U.S. While you may see everything you want from a small village in a day, it may take months, even years, to enter the flow of a major international city. There’s no definitive example.

What is Slow Travel and Why Do It? - AlternativeTravelers.com
Exploring the tiny town of Halfway, Oregon, with a friend who grew up there.

Slow travel is about recognizing the value of getting to know a place in an in-depth way.

It’s not about racking up a list of countries or checking things off a bucket list. We don’t keep a list of either and Sam has already ranted about her dislike for the term ‘destinations’ before. It’s also not about saying or trying to “do” a place. Like, “Do” Paris, or “Do” Spain, as if you can visit a place once and experience everything in one visit.

Slow Travel is a Mindset

Choosing to slow travel doesn’t mean you have to eschew visiting the Eiffel Tower if you go to Paris. But it doesn’t mean that you have to go either. It’s about taking your time and being open, not setting a strict itinerary.

What is Slow Travel and Why Do It? - AlternativeTravelers.com
Taking the path less traveled.

Taking this more deliberate yet flexible approach allows for time to process new experiences. If you’re jumping from place to place there is never time to reflect as everything becomes a blur. When you establish a mini routine in a new place, you can have that morning routine of a cup of coffee to reflect on your previous day’s experiences.  Even this small ritual has incredibly grounding power and allows you to really sync up with the immediate world around you.

Still in a hurry? Side effects of traveling too fast may include dizziness, fatigue, and even racism:

American anthropologist C. Loring Brace argued that the concept of race was born during the Renaissance when suddenly people (and by people, we mean wealthy white men) could bop from one seaport to another in oceangoing vessels. Previously, people had traveled by foot or on horseback, covering at most 25 miles in a day. Traveling this way, people could observe subtle changes in people as they moved through the landscape. Once they started traveling by ship, hopping from one point to another, they began classifying people into groups based on superficial differences like skin color. and we all know what happens when that shit starts.

We could easily spend more time coming up with more examples. The bottom line is that when traveling fast, you can see more, but everything becomes more simplified due to information overload. It’s how our brains work.

Why Slow Travel?

1. More Meaningful Connections With The…

Place…

Establishing a home base is key for us and why we love house sitting so much. A great start is anything but a hotel. Ever experience that bewilderment of your first time arriving at a foreign airport? Apart from the privilege of speaking the international language of English, notice how everything seems to happen around in such a habitual manner with complete disregard to you? We can only understand the world from our point of view. To establish a baseline for comparison, we need to situate ourselves somewhere for a while.

House sitting is a great example of a way to do this (we use TrustedHousesitters but head to our post on how to start house sitting for more info). Veren personally can’t wait until he gets to the home base of a new place to have a moment free from overstimulation and re-orient. The host can offer you a cup of tea while sharing with you the legwork they’ve already done of living somewhere. Even leaving a list of good grocery stores and nearby restaurants makes all the difference. Connecting with real people with a genuine desire to help you without monetary motivation (ie tourist trap personnel) is key. Which leads to…

People…

Meeting the Momo Master in Berlin! What a sweet guy from Nepal with an inspiring story – he spoke 5 languages and has lived all over the world. If we had only focused on seeing the Brandenburg Gate, we never would have met him and shared conversation over his homemade momos.

Meeting locals gives a real perspective on a place. People make the place. But this doesn’t mean only house sitting! There’s couchsurfing as well. You don’t necessarily have to stay with someone to participate in the couchsurfing community. We’ve been to great meetups organized through couchsurfing where we’ve met locals and other travelers alike. Or try doing a work exchange – though read the listings carefully to make sure you’re not being taken advantage of!

There’s also the original couch surfing – visiting a friend. Personally, with rare exception, we only travel to somewhere where we already have a real human connection with someone who’s excited to show us where they live.

Getting involved in the local community isn’t only more meaningful for you, it’s better for the local economy. The UN did an assessment of typical tourism dollars and came to the conclusion that out of every $100 spent by a tourist in a developing country, only $5 stayed within the local community.

Just read this article on tourism leakage (not to be confused with Montezuma’s revenge) if you don’t believe us.

Culture…

Does culture just happen overnight or at one event? Of course not. With slow travel, you allow yourself to witness culture unfold in front of you, rather than pay for pre-packaged resort styled nonsense served to you by exploited, would-work-anywhere-else-if-they-could locals.

Attending the Chinese New Year Parade in Madrid gave us a new perspective on the international community in Madrid – read more here

Even staying in a place for a month only scratches the surface of a place’s culture. This is one of the reasons why we’ve based ourselves in Madrid for now. We’re speaking the language, asking questions, constantly learning. Taking in a place’s history, customs, traditions doesn’t happen overnight. We’re endlessly curious and love learning what makes a place tick and what it’s like to live there. These aren’t things we can learn by zip lining through a jungle, or isolating yourself in a double decker tour bus, effectively turning the world around you into a zoo. To partake in culture, you must engage it.

2. Slow Travel Reduces Your Environmental Impact

It’s in our tagline – sustainable travel. We’re passionate about constantly learning about how to reduce our carbon footprint with the choices we make. Travel can be incredibly bad for the environment so it’s vital to make every action count.

Not staying in hotels is huge. Your typical mainstream hotels are notoriously wasteful. Those little shampoo bottles and excessive towels, not to mention a flat screen tv in every room are not alleviating any environmental problems – just the opposite. It’s excessively out of control. We kind of secretly (maybe not so secretly) wish that those who can’t see the absurdity would one-way travel their asses to the moon, no layovers.

Reducing the number of flights taken also dramatically reduces your carbon footprint. Keep flying to a minimum. Once you arrive, rely on ground transportation to get around the city and country. Avoid the trend jet-setting and hopping around via plane like it’s pogo stick with wings. There are ways to offset the carbon footprint of your flight, and while it’s a good idea, there’s room for improvement. Reducing your flights has a bigger and more definite impact. Also, PLANES SHOULD BE SOLAR AND WIND-POWERED BY NOW DAMMIT. Get on it, airlines.

3. Slow Travel is Healthier for You

Constant travel is exhausting. Ever heard the phrase, “I need a vacation from my vacation?” Due to the American illness of incessant productivity, many feel that travel should be a back to back, balls to walls, affair. Trying to shove everything into a short period time means lots of running around and sleeping in airports or on trains. Sleep is essential for health and wellbeing and if you ignore it, burnout will come for you like the TSA reaper, prodding all your privates with a drug-detecting scythe.

Hiking to and then relaxing in natural hot springs near Salt Lake City – good for the body and mind!

Traveling slowly means you can eat at home more often which is vastly healthier than eating out. If you house sit, you can cook. If you’re visiting a friend, you can cook together. Eating local food is an integral part of traveling and one we love to enjoy. But unless you’re somewhere where eating out is ridiculously cheap, like Thailand or Vietnam, or slightly less so, like Spain, you likely won’t want to eat every meal out.

Homemade enchiladas made entirely with free food from the fridges at our hostel in New Mexico

Staying in one place for longer means you can establish a workout routine, like going for a run, doing yoga, or traveling with an elastic band set like we do. These are things it is hard to take time for when fast traveling, but are essential for staying healthy!

4. Slow Travel is Cheaper

Again, house sitting is the answer here. Can you tell we love house sitting? Still, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.  Many Airbnb listings often give a discount for long-term stays (get $40 off your first Airbnb stay with this link!).

Staying in a place with a kitchen allows you to buy groceries and cook your own meals. Veren loves seeing different grocery stores in different countries. Eating at home isn’t only better for you, it’s also cheaper.

Overwhelming ourselves at Veganz, the all vegan supermarket in Berlin – Read more in our Berlin Vegan Guide!

Traveling less means less money spent on transportation. Duh! Once you’ve got your home base, walk, bike, or take public transit.

Or a surfboard?!

Sticking around in one place longer also means you can choose when to go to attractions and take advantage of free days or nights to save more money.

We can’t stress it enough. Slow travel doesn’t have a particular face or look. Whether it means spending a month per year in one spot or going every other weekend to a small town or historical site that’s a train ride away, traveling slowly means not being in a hurry. It means taking your time to savor the moment and the journey, whatever that may be.

Be like Buddha rock and just be.

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Sam and Veren have joined forces to become the Internet Blogging superhero, AlternativeTravelers. Blending two creative styles (and stubborn brains) together - some would call this a miracle.

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  • Yalou van der Heijden

    I love the way you have written your article, as well as the reasons you guys are traveling slow. (:
    I unconsciously started traveling under the slow travel concept, but when I left Nepal I didn’t continue doing so. It doesnt mean I didn’t have a good time in Asia, but I definitely see and appreciate the knowledge and fun exploring one place for a longer period of time gives you. I will travel more consciously during my next big trip, keeping the above mentioned reasons in mind! (:

    • Thanks so much Yalou! It can definitely be hard to slow down sometimes when there are so many wonderful things in the world to experience! I’ve heard Nepal is incredible. Do you have a new trip planned? =D

  • nkompanik

    Absolutely love this article!

  • Sarah Elisabeth Johnson

    love love love this. I also practise slow travel. I’m not an anthropologist, but it’s an interest of mine so getting to know a place slowly through the people is one of my favourite things to do. I really like to understand where I am

    • Thanks Sarah! Totally agree! To me, not trying to understand a place fully seems counter-intuitive to what travel is all about!

      • Sarah Elisabeth Johnson

        Absolutely! I’m in Bali at the moment and all I want to do is meet the locals, ask what they are doing, learn about the culture… and write.

  • Shivya Nath

    To the point. Love it!

  • Mikkel Paige Mihlrad

    I love this post. As I get older I’ve found way more value in slow travel than bouncing around to a new city every 2 days on a 2 week trip, for instance. I love all the points you made too about getting to know a culture more, environmental impact benefits and cost benefits too! Great article.

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