My husband and I have been doing slow travel since before we heard the word (I know, we’re such hipsters 😉 ). Our idea of a weekend away involves reading books in companionable silence as much as it means hopping from one sight to the next with barely time for a bite to eat.
Travelling new places and exploring new cultures invigorates me in a way few other things do, but at the same time it can be intensely draining. When every day is packed with more to do, I get anxious and stop enjoying myself as much as I would with a little more downtime. By giving myself the chance to have slower, more relaxed days, I relieve some of this pressure and enjoy the busier days more fully.
One of my favourite days in Stockholm, for instance, was the day we had little planned and spent the morning wandering around Södermalm. We walked leisurely around the town, talking and exploring anything that caught our interest. Unless we’d specifically planned a day like this, it would never have been possible on a more scheduled holiday.
What is slow travel?
As a term, slow travel means many things to many people. To digital nomads, slow travel is spending months in a single place, slipping into the day-to-day rhythms of life. To others, slow travel is lying on a beach somewhere hot, where every day has no plans but to relax.
To me, slow travel is a mindset, and an individual one. What I call a slow trip you might call an action-packed trip, or vice versa. And likewise what I think of as a slow trip now is different from what I might think in fifty years.
Slow travel isn’t about how many sights you see (or don’t see) or how long you spend in a given place. It’s an approach to travelling that prioritises enjoyment, not ticking off a list of sites or giving into FOMO.
Slow travel is about enjoying the moment
One of the hallmarks of slow travel, for me, is that it’s about enjoying the here and now. I’m not interested in running myself ragged in a vain attempt to see all of the must-sees at a given location. I want to enjoy my holiday while I’m on it, which for me means leaving some breathing space in my schedule and enjoying the days as they come.
Slow travel is about letting go of FOMO
It’s impossible to see all the tourist attractions in a given place. I lived in Edinburgh for half a decade and not only are there popular tourist venues I’ve never been to, there are some I’d never even heard of until after I moved away. If I were to spend a week or a fortnight in Edinburgh and tried to see all there is to see? I’d be an anxious ball of nerves, afraid of missing something crucial.
Slow travel is about letting go of that fear, knowing that we’ll never have time for everything, and prioritising what it is we want to spend our time doing.
One of the things I’ve realised with slow travel, as well, is that by accepting that there isn’t time for anything it’s easier to let go of the things that don’t work out. When we went to the Isle of Skye, for instance, I really wanted to see Dunvegan Castle (I love a good castle trip!). However, we left it till the last day, only to find out it was closed.
I was disappointed at the time, but I never think of that when I think of our trip. Instead, I remember sweeping vistas, a lovely wee pottery shop in Uig, and sitting by the fire in our holiday cottage reading a book.
Slow travel makes room for surprises
When you have your entire itinerary planned out from the start of your trip, there’s little room to change your path midway through. Often the most memorable parts of a holiday are the things we didn’t anticipate, and if every day is already planned out, then there’s no time to go see that museum or gallery recommended by the hotel receptionist.
How to get started
The biggest piece of advice I have for your first slow trip is to pick somewhere close to home. Slow travel is a mindset rather than a set of rules, and can be applied as easily on the other side of the world as in your home country. That said, I think starting close to home can make it easier to avoid giving into FOMO, because if there’s anything you really regret not seeing, you can make another trip.
For instance, if you live in England and take a weekend in Edinburgh, you might give the castle a miss, as it’s expensive and often busy, knowing that if you later wish you had visited you can make another trip. If you live in New York and visit Edinburgh, however, it’s much harder to go back to see the castle.
This is where prioritising the attractions you visit really matters. Slow travel is about taking the time to enjoy your destination instead of rushing from one ‘must see’ to another. For many visitors to Edinburgh, the castle itself really will be a must-see, while others would rather climb Arthur’s Seat for a view of the city and take a day trip to Linlithgow Palace or Blackness Castle instead.
There’s no golden rule for how much of your holiday should be taken up by pre-planned tours and how much should be left as whitespace. Personally, I like to book a few things and have a few more things planned without any set time, leaving more time for those than is needed (for instance, I might have three days of the trip with nothing booked, and plan for 1-2 days’ worth of activities).
A final note
There’s no right or wrong way to do slow travel. What counts as slow when you’re a university student spending a semester abroad might be a rushed trip twenty years later when you have three young children. What makes it slow is the mindset, one of soaking up the essence of the place you’re visiting rather than hurrying about for the most Instagrammable pictures.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on slow travel!