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7 Reasons Why You Should Try Slow Travel
On a Tuesday evening in Novi Sad, when it had finally cooled to a tolerable temperature, I left my little studio apartment and headed out to my local brewpub. I didn’t have any plans to meet anyone, but I knew whoever was there would be down for a conversation over a pint. That’s how it was in Serbia – conversations started easily and friendships formed naturally. In my five weeks there, I went to a local’s birthday party, attended a film festival with friends, was invited to an experimental vineyard, and even went on a few dates.
Over the last eleven months, I’ve been living nomadically, slow traveling throughout the world. It’s an incredible opportunity, made possible with my CELTA and freelance writing, and it’s completely changed my view on travel. When once I would cram my travel schedule with destinations and activities, now I try to block out large chunks of time in one destination without much planning. I have converted to slow travel.
What is slow travel?
Well, there’s no hard and fast definition of this new movement. There’s an element of choosing land travel over air travel, in an effort to respect the environment. Then there’s the vague description of focusing on the “experience” of travel. Also there’s this understanding that you’re spending more time in a destination than is typical – though even that is relative. But I would say slow travel is about alleviating the pressure to jam pack your holiday schedule, allowing yourself time to seek out authentic experiences instead of just hitting up the Instagram-able highlights.
Ten years ago I spent thirty-six hours in Prague – mostly because I was trying to get from Venice to London and it was cheaper to stop than fly directly. I was excited to see another country. But can I really say I’ve been to Prague? Maybe. I did go into one of the seediest hostel clubs I’ve ever seen, got my first introduction to Baroque architecture, and had a picnic by the river. But in the last ten years I’ve learned the benefits of slowing down, and it’s definitely become my preferred way to travel. If you haven’t given it a go yet, here are just a few reasons you might want to try slow travel.
1. Slow travel connects you to locals. As we entered the hawker center in Singapore, “our” guy spotted us across the courtyard and waved. It hadn’t taken more than a week or two for me to pick his Indian food as my favorite in the food court, his warm, fragrant naan earning my undivided loyalty. Over the last three months, I had become a regular.
“It’s our last night here!” I wailed and quickly snapped a selfie before the heat from the oven overpowered me.
Fast travel often means you’ll bond quickly with other travelers in your hostel. Slow travel gives you the time and opens the windows for building relationships with locals. For me, it means chatting with craft bartenders in Kiev, attending a museum opening in Singapore with long-term expats, and hanging out at a craft beer festival in Belgrade with the brewers themselves – opportunities that are rare when I travel at break-neck speeds
2. Slow travel is (often) more affordable. Travel tends to add up, even if you take the cheapest bus available every time. Cutting out a plane ticket or two adds a lot back into your travel budget. And sometimes you can get a good deal on accommodation by staying in one place longer. This is especially true of apartment rentals, where you can frequently find owners giving weekly or monthly discounts – sometimes as much as 50%!
3. Slow travel lets you invest in local businesses more easily. I passed by the cute little bakery in Novi Sad about three times before I caved to temptation and popped in. A cheerful middle-aged mom was behind the counter. After learning I was from the States, she showed me pictures of her son who was studying in Boston, proudly described all her baked goods that were made with products from her own home and garden, and sent me away with an extra bag of cookies just for stopping by. Needless to say I was a repeat customer.
When you travel slower you have the time to find those local hidden gems. The weekday produce market, the new craft brewery, the local grill with traditional food where you have to mime your way through ordering. And not only do you invest in the local economy yourself, but you’re able to pass on those suggestions to other travelers.
4. Slow travel bolsters your language skills. When I breeze in and out of a destination in a few days, I rarely learn more than hello, please, and thank you. Traveling in Mexico for three weeks let me practice my basic Spanish skills, and my noticeable improvement gave me more confidence than four years of academic study had. And while you may not aspire to fluency, you’ll be able to pick up more language and impress the locals more the longer you stay in a country.
5. Slow travel relieves stress. One of the most stressful things about my travel life is grocery shopping. Not just trying to Google translate labels but also asking and answering questions. Admitting to the check out lady at grocery stores that I only speak English can garner the most withering looks. So I felt extraordinarily relieved when the check out lady at my local grocery store in Kiev finally recognized me.
“Ah yes,” she said. “American.” She laughed, amused by my inability to answer basic grocery store questions.
Slow travel gives you a break from trying to figure out new things all the time, whether it’s grocery shopping or the bus timetable. Part of the joy of travel is experiencing new things, and part of the joy of slow travel is having new things figured out.
6. Slow travel makes you an “expert” on a destination. After living in Kiev for three months, I felt completely confident writing a list of my favorite cocktail bars in the city. Staying in Bucharest for seven weeks meant I had ample opportunity to figure out the metro, bus system, and taxis. Three months in Singapore meant that I played tour guide twice to visiting friends. But if someone asks me what to do in Paris, I’d barely be able to list all the main tourist attractions, even though I’ve been there twice.
7. Slow travel gives you a well-rounded view of local life and culture. Living in Novi Sad for a month gave me the chance to experience three different festivals – a traditional dance festival, a wine festival, and an international film festival. And I just missed the huge music festival they host every year. I heard local perspectives on the NATO bombings, the current economic climate of Serbia, and the growing craft beer scene. I rarely get that kind of cultural perspective when I just parachute into a country for a few days.
It’s not always possible, practical, or even preferential to slow travel. I am always tempted to add on just one more destination to a trip. But I’ve learned to slow down, take a breath, and sink deeper. And I’ve found that I enjoy my travels a lot more when I do.
What’s your preferred travel method? Do you jam-pack your itinerary or do you take a more leisurely approach? Do you have any special experiences from slow traveling?
Interested in learning more about slow travel? Amy is writing a free beginner’s guide to slow travel in Europe. Sign up for her newsletter on her blog to hear when it’s released!
Amy snagged a CELTA from Teaching House New York in 2013 and since then has taught on three continents (and counting). Having a CELTA has made her dream of moving abroad possible, and currently she is slow-traveling through Europe. She loves getting to know students, wandering around cities, and trying to find the world’s best donut. You can check out her travel adventures and mishaps at The Wayfarer’s Book.