Holidays increasingly seem to be turning into an Instagram bingo – people taking pictures and ticking off sights, rather than properly immersing themselves in the experience. Go to any major art gallery or iconic sight, and you’ll be hard-pressed not to find evidence of this.
One antidote is ‘slow’ travel. Although the term has been incorrectly co-opted by tourist boards and hotels, slow travel isn’t about a particular itinerary or holiday package. It’s actually a mindset. An offshoot of the slow food movement, it’s about immersing yourself in a place and allowing yourself time to experience adventures and be spontaneous (regardless of whether they actually happen).
The slow travel concept has been around for over a decade, but it has had to adapt as the world has evolved, to meet the increasing pressure of being connected to technology.
Melissa Connell, editor of Slow Travel magazine says: “There has definitely been a recent upsurge in the amount of interest in slow travel. Slow food and slow living have gained a lot of interest in recent years, as the world has seemingly become more connected than ever, yet people are feeling more disconnected than ever with each other and the environment.
“Digital cameras allow us to take thousands of photos on our travels, yet a lot of the time we're not connecting with our subject. All humans have a deep longing for connection and the slow lifestyle offers this. Slow travel offers the ultimate opportunity for adventure, growth and, yes, connection.”
“It made me hyper aware of how today's tourism industry commodifies cultures to make the traveller as comfortable as possible, while robbing them of the opportunity to really immerse into the culture.
“Staying in luxurious hotels where you're not really a part of the local community; eating in restaurants that serve foods that aren't local, traditional or in season; participating in overland tours or cruises where the aim is to tick off as many 'highlights' as possible in a short time span. Slow travel is about getting back to the roots of travel; allowing for delays, discomfort and spontaneity in order to have a more enriching experience.”
Charlie Marchant, who runs the Charlie On Travel blog with her partner Luke, has written about sustainable travel and the experience of travelling slowly. She says, that apart from the fact that it is less of a burden on the environment – for instance, you reduce your carbon footprint by staying in one place – there is a huge impact on your mental wellbeing.
“Slow travel feels like a wholesome and satisfying travel experience. There's no rushing around, no set schedules, no being on edge about missing buses or trains, and so on. You can experience a place at your own pace without the stress of trying to get to see everything and feeling exhausted at your end of the trip.”
And that’s just it. The last thing you want from a holiday is to feel like you need another holiday just to get over it. Slow travel allows you to unwind and relax in a way that is more meaningful than simply lounging by a swimming pool.
As a starting point, Melissa’s immediate advice is to avoid hotels. “Same with spas. If you're having a nice, relaxing spa experience in Thailand, how are you connecting with the local Thai community? Slow travel is less about being 'served' by local people and asking what they can do for you, and it's more about walking shoulder to shoulder with them and becoming part of their daily lifestyle.”
She recommends house swaps as a way of immersing yourself into someone else’s culture. When she did this with a woman in Tahiti, she said: “I even looked after her dog! I bought food from the local supermarket and explored parts of the island that were off the tourist trail. It was so amazing to be living in a street amongst the other local people.”
Both Charlie and Melissa recommend homestays or courses that are run by locals. For Charlie, favourites include tapas cooking courses in Barcelona and making peanut butter with the locals in Guatemala.
“No matter how long you have in a place, you can meet locals through apps and organisations like Airbnb (homes and experiences), Couchsurfing (accommodation and meetups) and Meetup," Charlie says.
The way you travel is also important. We’re so fixated on getting to the destination in the quickest time possible, but slow travel is about reclaiming the journey.
Melissa refers to it as "slow transit". She says: “This means taking an overland or sea journey via more traditional means. Thinking of the journey itself as the holiday. So, maybe you'll take a slow train or go on a big cycling trip, or you'll go on a long sailing journey.”
Main image credit: Stéphan Valentin on Unsplash