Do you want to travel slowly? Or are you just curious about what slow travel is? Fast travel can be stressful and exhausting, but slow travel has the power to transform. Read our slow travel guide to find out why you should try travelling slowly and get tips on how to do it.
What’s in our guide to travelling slowly?
As full-time travellers, sometimes we travel slowly, sometimes we travel fast. When Stephen’s yoga teaching schedule is in full swing, there are times when we have to be in a new city every weekend.
Fast travel is stressful, exhausting, and soul destroying.
I hate it.
That’s why, when our schedule is our own, we slow down as much as possible. We book a place and stay for a week or more. Or we rent bicycles and move from place to place at 15 km per hour.
Our days of leisurely travel remind us why we started travelling in the first place. These are the moments we live for — and the ones we will remember for the rest of our lives.
If you want travel to be truly transformational try travelling slowly.
If you want to become a slow traveler, read on for our top…
15 Reasons to Travel Slowly + 10 Slow Travel Tips
What is Slow Travel?
Why people travel too fast
We meet a lot of people when we travel and, naturally, the conversation turns towards where they’ve been and where they’re going during their travels.
It usually goes something like this:
Us: So, where were you before this?
Traveller: Well, we started in Paris, then flew to Rome, Amsterdam, London, Venice, and now we’re here.
Us: Oh wow, how long have you been travelling?
Traveller: 10 days.
Us: [Silence as we nod slowly, trying not to let the shock and dismay show on our faces.]
It’s no mystery as to why people do this to themselves. Many feel that this trip to Europe or Asia or America is once-in-a-lifetime. If they don’t see it ALL now, they never will.
First of all, that’s just not true. Most of us, as long as we make travel a priority in our lives, will get to see more of the world than we think.
Second, if it is your only chance to travel, do you really want to spend the whole time rushing from place to place, never really seeing anything? Do you want to be so focussed on the next destination, the next experience, that you forget to enjoy the moment you’re in?
One of my favourite novelists puts it this way:
We residents sometimes pity you poor tourists not a little—handed about like a parcel of goods from Venice to Florence, from Florence to Rome, living herded together in pensions or hotels, quite unconscious of anything that is outside Baedeker, their one anxiety to get ‘done’ or ‘through’ and go on somewhere else. The result is, they mix up towns, rivers, palaces in one inextricable whirl.E.M. Forster, A Room with a View
This style of travel, where tourists see everything but absorb nothing, is the antithesis of slow travel. And it’s becoming increasingly common.
In our Instagram world, most people only spend as long in a place as it takes to get the perfect shot, then it’s on to the next sight without ever stopping to appreciate or understand what they’ve just seen.
So what is slow travel?
There’s no single definition of slow travel — and you don’t need a long vacation to try it. You can travel slowly for a weekend, a week, or take years — it’s up to you.
More than anything, slow travel is a way of thinking about travel that prioritizes immersion and experience over sights and tourist attractions. It’s a preference for sinking your teeth into the culture, rather than following the guidebook blindly.
Slow travel gives you the chance to learn not only about the culture you’re visiting, but about yourself as well.
Done right, travelling slowly has the power to transform your life.
Why Travel Slowly?
1. Travel Slowly to Save Money
Not only is slow travel better (at least we think so), it’s cheaper!
First, slow travel helps you save on transportation costs, often the biggest travel expense. Accommodation can also be cheaper because you can avoid booking big chain hotels that are usually right next touristy attractions. Instead, stay further out to experience more local life at cheaper prices.
Slow travel also helps you save on food. You’ll have time to explore local restaurants and avoid the tourist traps that charge more for less.
2. Travel Slowly to Save Time
If you just have a short break it might seem smart to travel faster, packing as many places in as you can. But the flipside is, whe you travel quickly, you waste a ton of time in the act of travelling. Transferring to and from the airport, sitting on trains and busses, checking in and out of hotels, queuing up for attractions and tickets…
All of this time could be spent relaxing and absorbing a new culture.
3. Travel Slowly to Save Energy
Have you ever needed a vacation from your vacation? We’ve been there, trust us!
If you pack every minute of your itinerary with a different activity or sight, you’ll be exhausted by the end of each day. Pile a week or two of busy days on top of each other and, by the time you get home, you’ll need a week off to recover.
Travelling slowly gives you time to sleep in, take a nap in the afternoon, or just sit sipping coffee while the world goes by.
Slow travel gives you time to relax — and isn’t that what a vacation is really for?
4. Travel Slowly to Save the Planet
Airplanes suck (and not just because they treat you like cattle). Planes are extremely destructive to the planet — and they’re my least favourite thing about our travel lifestyle.
If you can take a train or bus to reach your destination, definitely do it, even if it takes longer. And if you have to fly to get there, don’t compound the problem by taking a lot of short hop flights during your trip.
Overland travel, by bus or train, will help decrease the environmental impact of your trip.
Staying in homestays, apartments, or small hotels, which is easier if you are travelling slowly, also reduces your impact, since these places tend to be more eco-friendly and less wasteful than big hotel chains.
5. Slow Travel Helps you Avoid Tourist Crowds
One of the biggest bonuses of slowing down your travels is getting away from other tourists!
On a slow trip you’ll have time to explore off-the-beaten track places and destinations. And when you do choose to visit the big sights, like the Sistine Chapel or the Louvre, you can choose a day and time when crowds are thinner. You’ll avoid the queues and have more time to spend in a staring contest with the Mona Lisa!
6. Make a Bigger Impact
This is one of our favourite things about slow travel. Fast travellers book their hotels for proximity to the biggest sights, and these hotels usually belong to international conglomerates.
When you travel slowly, you are more likely to stay in independently owned accommodation, like a family Airbnb or an out-of-the-way homestay. This means your travel money makes its way directly into the local economy and benefits local people.
7. Connect with People
When you choose to stay in locally owned accommodation, you’ll have contact with locals (the hotel owners) from the second you arrive. We’ve had amazing, enlightening conversations over dinner or coffee with our hosts around the world.
They are also able to recommend independent drivers, restaurants, and other attractions — you might be the only tourist there! Locals are naturally curious about a tourist who manages to find their favourite haunts, so don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation and learn what it’s really like to live in a destination.
8. Connect with the Culture
You’ve heard the expression “going native”, right? OK, it probably has racist origins, and it can be used in a derogatory sense. But we’re not ashamed to adapt to foreign cultures.
Staying in one place a little longer lets us learn all the similarities and wonderful differences between our culture and the one we’re living in. We are happy to adopt aspects of the local culture that seem better than how we do it back home.
9. Connect with Yourself
Not every moment of your slow trip will be spent partying with the locals. Perhaps our very favourite aspect of slow travel is that it gives you time to absorb what you’ve experienced.
Instead of seeing a bunch of stuff back to back to back, you’ll have time in between experiences to consider them, contemplate, and decide what they mean to you. As you learn more about the world, these slow reflective moments will teach you more about yourself, too.
10. You’ll See More Travelling Slowly
This one sounds counter-intuitive. How will you see more if you’re moving around less? Well, what we mean is, you’ll see more of your destination and less of the airports, train stations, busses, trains, and taxis.
Travelling quickly often means taking long journeys between places — all you’ll remember is the tarmac flashing by outside your bus window. With slow travel, you might tick less off your bucket list, but can go deeper in one place, allowing yourself to follow the unexpected twists and turns of a slow journey.
11. Slow Travel is Where Adventure Lives
When you have time to follow intriguing pathways, duck down twisting alleyways, or say yes to unexpected offers, something incredible happens — your holiday turns into an adventure!
We’ve been invited into stranger’s homes for coffee, taken on hikes in incredible hidden places, and found beaches that only locals know about.
The world is full of hidden marvels and when you slow down you have a chance to discover them.
12. You’ll Make More Lasting Memories
Some itineraries are so jam-packed that there’s no time so sit back and absorb the experiences. When we don’t have time to think, our brains don’t have a chance to make permanent memories. One sight or city pushes the memories from the last place out of your mind.
(I think that’s why people take selfies at iconic places. It helps us remember places that we didn’t really experience at the time.)
When you get home after a period of fast travel, the trip might seem hazy, like a dream, each memory indistinct. When you slow down, you give your brain more time to form complete memories, and you’ll be able to call up the scents, colours, and feeling you had for years to come.
13. You’ll Learn to Live with Less
If you take a longer trip and travel slowly, you might just start to realize an important truth.
You don’t need all the gadgets, gizmos and tchotchkes you have at home. When you’re out in the world with just what you can fit in your suitcase, you start to realize that it is more than enough.
You might find a sudden urge to declutter, minimize, and downsize when you get back home.
14. Travel Slowly to be Happier
Modern life tends to prioritize being busy over being happy. We rush from here to there, every moment of the day scheduled to the last second, until we fall into bed, exhausted.
(That’s exactly how most people travel, too.)
Travelling slowly is a great way to prime you for living more slowly when you get back home. We hope you’ll realize that the most valuable moments on your trip were the slow, silent moments — and start to build those into your regular life, as well.
Once you do that, you’ll make room for happiness to grow.
15. Travel Slowly to Change Your Life
If we believed the glossy marketing in travel magazines and on billboards, it’s the grand (expensive) travel experiences that change you. We’ve found the opposite to be true. The big experiences and sights, shared with hundreds of other tourists, are interesting enough. But there’s nothing transformational about wrestling 100 other tourists for your chance to glimpse the Mona Lisa.
Wandering down a quite alleyway, sipping espresso in a cozy cafe, hiking up a peak, cycling the outskirts of a busy city… these moments make travel special.
The moments when it’s just you and your sense of adventure, are the moments that tug at your heart, feed your soul, and call on you to transform into the person you’ve always wanted to be.
How to Travel Slowly — 10 Tips to Change the Way you Travel
1. Plan to not Plan
Whether you’ve got two weeks or two months, it’s easy to let travel planning take over your life. Before our big bike trip, I spent hours with a map, planning our exact route, what sights we would see, and where we would stay. It only took about 24 hours before the plan was shot and were winging it.
It’s hilarious when I think about it now, but what a waste of time!
Travelling slowly means leaving the moment-by-moment plan far behind and letting the world take you where it wants you to go.
So for your next trip, plan the bare outlines of your journey, and let the blanks fill themselves in as you travel.
2. Don’t Fly
Sure, you might need to fly to get to the country or region you want to visit (if you don’t need to, don’t!). But from there, use only ground transportation, preferably busses and trains.
You don’t usually have to book ground transport ahead of time, so it’s far easier to change your plans on the spur of the moment.
Ground transportation is also more efficient, better for the environment, and allows you to actually see the place you’ve come so far to visit.
3. Rent a Room in an Apartment
If you really want to become part of local life, rent a room in an Airbnb apartment. No, don’t rent a whole apartment — get a room in someone else’s house. If you find a good one, you’ll get a chance to chat with your host, or maybe even share a meal, and learn about what life is like from their point of view.
4. Try Housesitting
If you really want to “try on” somebody else’s life, housesitting is the perfect way to do it. We have experienced what it’s like to be an expat in Hanoi, Brno, Brighton, Casablanca, Riga, and lots of other places around the world. Housesitting is brilliant, too, because it’s free accommodation (woohoo!) and if you’re lucky, you’ll get a fluffy pet to keep you company.
We recommend TrustedHousesitters to find your next house sitting gig.
5. Make Time to do Nothing
For some of us, doing nothing sounds like heaven. For others, it’s the worst punishment ever. If you’re in the second category, I suggest you deliberately schedule “nothing” time into your travel calendar. But don’t worry about being bored. Doing nothing in a strange place is the quickest route to adventure that we’ve ever found.
6. Learn a Few Words in the Local Language
Since you’ll be travelling slowly, you can take a little time to learn a few words of the local language.
Start with “hello” and “thank you”. Then work you way up to “how are you?”, “what’s your name?”, and other phrases of small talk. Even if that’s all you can say, it’s worth it to see the expressions of delight on local’s faces when you actually adress them in their own language.
7. Get Lost
Wander wander wander. If we have one rule for slow travel, this is it. Put down your map, people, and just go!
The “do nothing” time you built in your schedule is the perfect time to wander. Keep your eyes open, observe the people, the buildings, and the life around you.
Once you’ve had enough wandering for the day, pull out your smart phone and use your favourite map app to get unlost.
8. Take a Tour
We used to think that tours were only for fast travellers or travellers who didn’t know what they were doing. Now, we realize that good tours are like your backstage pass to a destination!
A good guide will open doors that are usually not accessible to tourists. Of course, you want to avoid big group tours that chug you from place to place in a giant, smelly bus. Look for small group tours with companies who focus on independent-style travel. These types of tours can reveal facets of your destination that you would never experience on your own.
For independent and transformational small group tours, we love Intrepid.
9. Try a Cycle Tour
Cycle touring is not for everyone, obviously, but if you’ve ever felt the sheer joy of hopping on a bike, we highly encourage you to try a cycle tour.
If it’s your first time travelling by bike, we recommend joining a short multi-day tour. That way, everything is provided for you, you’ll have all the right gear, and a guide who can show you the ropes.
I don’t think it will take long for you to discover the indescribable joy of travelling by bike — our favourite method of slow travel.
If you want to get out on a bike anywhere in Asia, we recommend Grasshopper Adventures.
(Related: Read Jane’s post The Truth About Cycle Touring to see if it’s right for you) →
10. Book a Retreat
If you really want to make your slow travels transformational, a retreat is a good option. You can spend your entire trip on a retreat, or just dedicate a few days of a longer trip to a retreat.
Many retreats include yoga, others teach you about nutrition or cooking, while still others focus on your mental wellbeing and include lots of massages! Whatever style you choose, a retreat will give you vital time to slow down, peel away the busy-ness of life, and remember who you are and what makes you happy.
If you’re looking for a retreat, you’ll find a great selection on BookRetreats.
So, are you ready to try to travel slowly? Can you let go of your guidebook, your minute-by-minute plans, and your checklists and just let yourself slip into the local lifestyle? Where will you slow travel to next?
♥ Happy transformational travels, Jane & Stephen
We’re not going to lie, it takes a LOT of work to create travel guides like this. But it’s easy to help us out! If you book or buy something using one of our personal links in this post, we’ll earn a small fee at no extra cost to you. Of course, we would never recommend anything we didn’t 100% believe in! Huge thanks in advance! –S&J