Updated December 4, 2023
There's no doubt that we live in a competitive, fast paced society. Somewhere along the way it's become possible to be a winner or loser at absolutely everything.
We need to have the right house, car, relationships, job, eat at the right restaurant, and vacation at the right places in the right way while posting the right pictures to social media so everyone knows we're having a great time.
If we don't, somehow we've failed.
Wait a second.
When did it become possible to fail at vacation?
I understand failing high school math (since I did) or failing French class (which I also did). But there shouldn't be a grade attached to vacation.
Vacation is supposed to be regenerative, restorative, and restful. But how can it be when it seems like everyone is competing to have the best trip?
What if there was a better way to vacation?
It turns out there is, and it's called the art of slow travel.
What is slow travel?
Like great pasta, wine, and so many other fine things in life, we can thank the Italians for the "slow" trend. It started with the "slow food" movement in response to the first McDonald's being opened in Rome in the 1980s.
Slow Food is a return back to local, regional cuisine prepared using traditional methods. It's the direct opposite of the fast food culture that we're used to in the USA. Good food takes time and is worth the time it takes.
Slow Travel is the same idea. Instead of rushing from one "must see" place or tourist attraction to another, it's about slowing down and taking the time to really understand a destination.
When you travel slowly you give up on the idea of seeing 4 great European capitals in a week. Instead you go to one place, whether it's for a week, a month, or more, and you really get to know it.
You take the time to create a routine, become part of the local community, to have a favorite market and coffee shop, and to recognize and be recognized by the locals.
I'll never forget traveling to Florence a few years ago. We were asked by multiple locals how long we were staying.
When we said "two weeks" always the next question was "yes, but how long in Florence?"
"Two weeks? All in Florence!?"
Their faces would light up, and they would make suggestions of places we should go and things we should see and experience that most people simply wouldn't have time for.
They were filled with joy that we took the time to really experience the city they love instead of simply passing through looking for the next adventure.
How do I do slow travel?
There's no right or wrong way to do slow travel. Remember, this is not intended to give you another way to fail at vacation.
Slow travel is more a mindset than a specific way of traveling.
It's not about seeing how much you can fit in, it's about leaving time to really experience a place.
Because travel is more than just checking "can't miss" experiences off a list. It's lingering over an aperitivo in a piazza before experiencing an exquisite dinner. It's wandering cobblestone streets in hidden towns. It's seeing the greatest works of art the world has ever known in the settings that inspired them.
Travel should cause you to feel more alive, not more burned out.
Slow travel can include everything from how you get to your destination to where you stay and what you eat.
Instead of flying you can take a train, car, or even a boat. Getting someplace slowly allows you to see and experience your surroundings instead of flying over them.
Where you stay can also be part of slow travel. You can stay in hotels, but you can also consider vacation rentals or home stays. That allows you the option of shopping the markets for what's local and seasonal and cooking for yourself, which provides another way to experience a new place.
There's nothing wrong with seeing the top sites, and I actually recommend that you do. But when you travel slowly you're not cramming all the museums of Florence into a three day trip. Instead you take the time to space them out over a week or more.
Maybe you visit a museum in the morning, and in the afternoon you take the time to sit with a good book. The next day you take a winery tour in the countryside and learn about what makes the local wine so special. The third morning you visit another museum and spend the afternoon at the pool at your hotel.
After a week or two traveling like that, you go home with both great memories and feeling rested, like you really had a vacation.
Where can I slow travel?
Part of the beauty of slow travel is that you can do it anywhere.
Whether you're visiting one of the world's great cities like New York, Hong Kong or Buenos Aires, or traveling to a more exotic and adventurous location like New Zealand, Costa Rica, or southeast Asia you can adopt the slow travel mindset.
That's why I call it the art of slow travel. There isn't a prescribed way to do it.
If you're in a city, take the time to explore the neighborhood where you're staying. Walk each block around your hotel or vacation rental and see where the locals eat, shop, and hang out. Then join them!
Take a walk or a bike ride and just look around. It's ok to be out with absolutely no plan of where you're going or what you'll do. Leave space in your day for the unexpected and spontaneous.
Instead of having an activity planned each day, embrace a slower pace. Be a traveler, not a tourist. Learn about the local culture and everyday life in a new destination.
The bottom line
Slow travel is about letting go. Letting go of the need to have every moment planned. Letting go of the fear that you'll miss out.
Slow travel is also about embracing. Embracing having space in your day to try something new. Embracing an opportunity you didn't know you'd have.
Ultimately, it's about balance.
If you're looking for more travel tips, look no further than our travel blog. You can check out all our blog posts here.