Slow travel. It sounds like something Chris Martin and Gwyneth might have engaged in, you know, before all the conscious uncoupling and the fact that Martin now refuses to travel at all (or something like that), but it’s making waves in the world of globetrotting.
If you’re sick of sugar coated trips and holidays so jam packed you return home more exhausted than when you left, slow travel could be for you. We take a look at the grassroots trend that’s got travel lovers living like locals and stripping it back to the bare essentials.
Officially speaking, slow travel is an offshoot of the 1980’s slow food movement which focuses on eating locally, seasonally, traditionally and often communally. It initially gained momentum when McDonald’s tried to open up in Rome. The outrage! I’ve just Googled it and apparently there are now more than 40 outlets in the Italian capital, so it didn’t necessarily prevail.
While Rome couldn’t fight off Ronald with a loaf of focaccia, the slow food did grow into a whole 360 slow movement, and so, slow travel was born. Essentially, it’s about connection – to the place, to the people, the food and so on. Think of it as the antithesis of ‘getting it for the ‘gram’, packing in every tourist attraction you can possibly find and waking at 3am to catch red eye flights.
Inntravel, the travel booking site that specialises in walking, cycling and holidays of a generally calmer pace, are experts in all things slow. They told me that the concept is “all about travelling at the pace of a butterfly.” And by that they mean finding a pace to suit you, be that walking, cycling, taking a journey by rail or paddling along in a canoe.
It’s about slowing things down, both mentally and physically, and allowing yourself to really bed into the place you’re visiting, be that horseback riding through the planes of Wyoming or taking a train ride through the tea trails of Sri Lanka.
Slow travel takes time, it needs to brew. You’ve not only have to have the time but the budget and the patience, too. You can’t cram it into the five day’s annual leave you have to spare and equally, if you’re the type of person who wants to see and do every single thing on a trip, slow might not be for you.
Money-wise, slow travel doesn’t necessarily mean expensive travel and in many ways can be far cheaper, but you have to have the luxury of taking a decent amount of time off and how to fund that to really reap the benefits.
There are a wealth of travel tastemakers doing it well. Take Insta-tourist Lucy Williams who is always one plane ticket ahead of the curve when it comes to travel trends, whether it’s hiking the tea trails of Hatton in Sri Lanka or exploring the beaches of Cuixmala in Mexico.
Or Jessica Nabongo, AKA The Catch Me If You Can, the writer and travel influencer who’s fixed abode seems to be the world and whose 184K followers watch her travel by camelback in Jordan or live like a cowboy in Montana.
Then there’s Sommer Pyne, or House Curious as she is known on Instagram, whose 47k+ followers grew from her eye for interiors, her now closed House Curious homeware shop and Sommer’s own London-based house, which in itself is like walking into the pages of Elle Deco. But in January 2020, Sommer, her husband and two children packed it all in to travel the world for eight months looking for a slower, more inspiring way of life.
“I was probably a little burnt out with having a second child and running a business,” Sommer explains. “We were working more than we were enjoying life and craving adventure. We were in Greece for my husband’s birthday and I just blurted out, “We should just pack it all up and go travelling!”
They bought a world map and did just that. As a family they are now in Sri Lanka taking it slow, making memories at their own pace but know that within the next 24hours they could be on another plane to another destination. How exciting, how liberating.
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Be careful what you wish for in 2020. At the beginning of 2019 I started a vision board that I never finished and the only thing that made it on there was travel and adventure. So I started doing everything in my power to make that happen. I booked trips away with friends, went on retreats and was lucky enough to work with @secretescapes and @lexusuk on a travel adventure. I was in Greece for my husbands birthday and over lunch I blurted out “why don’t we pack up everything and go traveling for a year.” I don’t even know where that came from but every bone in my body was pulling me in this direction. To my surprise my husband was up for it. Fast forward and here I am on a swing watching a dreamy sunset at the beginning of our 8 month adventure. Never in a million years did I plan to shut my shop down and take my daughter out of school but life has a funny way of surprising us. What are your wishes for this year? Write them down below and see if they come true xx
For obvious reasons, it’s better for the planet (if you ignore the fact that you might need to take a long-haul to get there). But once there, slow travel encourages you to take more leisurely modes of transport – swapping a plane for a train, choosing a hiking trip rather than getting cabs from place to place – hence why you need more time to do it. You may be buying a long haul plane ticket but once you’re there you can enlist in a relatively sustainable lifestyle.
Slow is also good for soul. As Inntravel explain, “modern life is busier than ever before. We’re bombarded by information and have become slaves to technology. Taking quality time out has become increasingly valued if we’re not to lose touch with what’s truly important, and with the beauty of the world that surrounds us.”
It’s all about unplugging, unwinding and reconnecting. “Not only do you get a more fulfilling experience while you’re away, you also feel more revitalised and refreshed – and have longer-lasting memories – when you get home,” they added.
For Sommer and her family it’s about doing things to the beat of their own drum. “It’s about taking time to get under the skin of the places,” Sommer explains, “with no concrete plans, just moving when we’re ready. It’s not about fitting in all the touristy sights, it’s just about living and enjoying a place like a local.”
Inntravel suggest heading east to Slovenia, or ‘Slow-venia’ as they’ve nicknamed it, adding “Slovenia has a pristine natural environment and the locals have so much pride in seeking to protect it.”
Portugal is also cited as a way to take things slow. “In the Aveiro region you can enjoy leisurely, traffic-free cycling alongside lagoons rich in birdlife close to the little-visited ‘Silver Coast’. As is Spain. “In Asturias, you can trundle along by ‘Slow Train’ – hopping on and off almost at will while enjoying the charming villages and glorious beaches that this corner of ‘Green Spain’ has to offer.”
While we’d all love to take a great chunk of time to travel on the proverbial slow boat to China, it’s entirely possible to enjoy the full benefits of slow travel a lot closer to home, and in a much shorter space of time. Inntravel suggest taking quality of experience over number of nights. Most of their self-guided holidays last for about a week – the perfect duration to truly get under the skin of a region. “It IS possible to ‘Escape to the South Downs’, for example, for just four nights. This will allow plenty of time to really get to know the area – the rolling chalk landscapes, the ancient hill forts and high-quality inns of England’s newest National Park,” Inntravel explained.
Going slow also ignites your curiosity, takes you out of your comfort zone and has you coming away with something more fulfilling than a handful of Instagram posts and a tacky fridge magnet.
The Go Slow Checklist:
✓ Swap planes for trains
✓ Choose Airbnb over hotels
✓ Consider a home swap
✓ Speak to the locals and at least try to learn the basics of their language
✓ Book authentic experiences
✓ Shop and cook locally
✓ Make sure you move (hiking, sailing, etc), just not too fast