Have you ever sat in the window seat on an airplane, watching the world below crawl by unassumingly, and wondered what it would be like to wander through those distant landscapes? If you answered yes, then you might just be a good candidate for practicing slow travel. Here’s everything you need to know about the travel philosophy that takes its time to get involved.  

What is Slow Travel?

Slow travel is a movement that seeks to decelerate the pace of modern travel. By consciously taking the slow road in order to experience the full scope of their journey, slow travelers fully engage with the locations they meander through. Living like a local, thinking about one’s impact, and making meaningful connections with both people and places are paramount elements of this philosophy. In part, a reaction to contemporary society’s fixation on what’s “fast,” slow travel substitutes speed and convenience for patience and engagement.

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The philosophy has its origins in the slow-food movement, which was established in protest to the opening of a McDonald’s franchise in Rome during the 1980s. At the time, residents of the Italian capital saw the introduction of the fast-food chain as an affront to their city’s culinary scene. The slow-food movement champions sourcing ingredients from sustainable providers that are local to the region and preparing food using traditional methods. This is an attempt to preserve the connection that diners have with where their food comes from, the people making it, and those they enjoy it with.

Slow travel grew from this philosophy and, as such, has retained its focus on community, sustainability, and enjoyment.

The Slow-Travel Manifesto

A primary element of the slow-travel manifesto is engagement with the communities travelers come to exist within. Trading well-trod sights for lesser-seen parts of a city means putting yourself in a position where you are the odd one out — in doing so you’ll see the side of a place that isn’t shaped for tourists’ eyes. While there is much to be said for seeing renowned landmarks, slow travelers search for the life that buzzes beyond tourist traps. They spend time learning the rhythm of the places they visit, immersing themselves in the locale rather than rushing to the next thing on the “Top 10” list as soon as they’ve checked something off. When travelers engage with the local cultures and attempt to connect with the people who are the essence of a community, deeper relationships with host nations can be forged.

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Another core tenet of slow travel is decreasing the environmental impact of one’s movements. All too often, the relative ease of air and motor travel makes us prone to forgetting about the energy it takes to build and fuel the engines of our vehicles. The rapidity of such forms of transportation has indeed been revolutionary in our daily lives, but that doesn’t mean that we should remain indifferent to the effects such a breakneck pace has on the dwindling resources our planet possesses. By easing our milage, we free up time to see the world we pass through with more clarity, rather than just whizzing by.

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Above all, the slow-travel movement is about enjoying every aspect of your journey. Traveling from A to B as fast as possible means missing out on the beauty of the in between. Leaving the hustle and bustle of our busy lives behind and going off in search of the wonderful minutiae of the everyday can be just as, if not more, rewarding. Slow travel is meant to reshape how we perceive the intermediary time spent traveling, transforming it from a nuisance into a joy in its own right.

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How to Travel “Slowly”

Although slow travel may not appeal to those who yearn for a week spent on the sun-drenched shores of a country half a globe away from their home, it’s ideal for those who are looking to keep their travel local or, at the very least, bound to a nearby region. If you fall into the latter group, this could mean spending your time wandering the side streets of a small town or biking from place to place rather than driving. Essentially, what you’re looking to do is slow down and appreciate your surroundings, as well as the journey that took you there. This will compromise how much ground you’ll be able to cover, but it will also encourage you to better appreciate the area you do explore.

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Not needing to rush to the next stop on your itinerary will free up time and allow you to gain a sense of life in a place rather than simply seeing its “greatest” sights and moving on. That said, if you do have a few must-see locales on your list of things to do, then try walking between them rather than taking a bus, train, or car. Thinking locally is important, so perhaps instead of jetting off to another hemisphere, opt for hopping on a train and heading just a few stops down the line to explore somewhere you’ve never been before — odds are, you’ll be surprised at what a curious wanderer can find.

Ultimately, it is important that you remember to enjoy the journey. Slow travel is about the getting there, rather than the “been there, done that.” Allow yourself the opportunity to observe the charming details of the world you live in — details that are often lost in the blur of a view from a fast-moving vehicle. In the simplest terms, slow travel is a mindset, not a destination.

Header image by Jacek Dylag