GO GREEN TIP #109: 8 Reasons
Why Slow Travel is Better
I’ve been traveling slowly for the last ten years, so clearly I’m partial to it. But I also believe I’m an astute observer of why it works well. So, at the risk of provoking controversy, I’ll just come right out and say it: I think Slow Travel is the way everyone should see the world.
It’s admittedly easier to say this being the homeless drifter that I am, with no mortgage to speak of, no kids to support and nary a “real job” to contend with. But regardless of these financial ties or career commitments, I believe slow travel is generally the best way to go. And I’m here today to give you eight reasons why.
Before we start, perhaps a brief discussion of what Slow Travel means is in order? It means not trying to stuff a million activities into an itinerary (or not even having an itinerary). It means not constantly moving from place to place, whether that be sights within a city, cities within a country, or countries within a continent. It also means literally transporting yourself from one destination to the next with no regard for the amount of time it takes.
1) Slow Travel Is Cheaper
It’s cheaper due to the fact that transportation is amongst the most expensive aspects of traveling, especially for budget travelers. Every plane, train or bus pass adds to the overall cost of a trip.
Also, accommodation— another big financial factor— is often discounted for longer stays (i.e. a small percentage for staying a week as opposed to a day, or a larger reduction for a month as opposed to a week). Even eating in transit is more expensive.
In other words, staying in one place for longer has money-saving perks, and one of the many is that all of those travel funds aren’t being spent on going from point A to B to C to D.
2) Slow Travel Provides More Memorable Experiences
Generally, the major objection to slow travel is that we’ll miss something and never be back to the same place again. That may be true. But, in rushing around to take in every last sight as quickly as possible, we sacrifice both our sanity and our enjoyment of what we’re seeing.
The majesty of the Eiffel Tower resonates much more deeply when it’s taken in with a picnic in Champ de Mars (the adjacent park) than in a 10-minute dash around the museum inside.
Was the point of traveling all the way to China to simply see the Great Wall before moving onto the next thing, or to spend the morning hiking along it? Go slowly and you’re much more likely to get an experience that’s worth remembering.
3) Slow Travel Maxes The Relaxing
This one seems obvious because, for many travelers, the whole point of taking a trip is to chill out. Dashing from one spot to the next isn’t exactly the best way to do that. That being said, you can’t really claim to have experienced Mexico if you never left your luxury resort in Cancun (which is more like no travel).
There is a happy medium to be discovered somewhere away from the luxury resorts, with lazy afternoons in little cafes along the promenades of colonial towns. Or tiny bamboo beachside restaurants with papasan chairs in the sand that beckon you to kick back and watch a week’s worth of sunsets.
This place and others like it are where slow travel tends to take us. They are places where we can disconnect from the hustle and bustle, breathe deeply and get something truly rejuvenating out of our travels.
4) Slow Travel Is More Sustainable
We all have to accept the fact that traveling– especially by plane– leaves a whopping carbon footprint.
To oversimplify the situation (technically, the number of passengers changes everything), the slower our means of transport, the less that footprint is. A plane is worse than a car; a car is worse than a train; a train is worse than a bus; a bus is worse than bikes or walking.
But the fact of the matter is that we all have to get there somehow, and not all of us have the time (or inclination) to travel from Alaska to Patagonia by bicycle. Still, going more slowly– in whatever forms that takes for us– minimizes our impact.
5) Slow Travel Enriches The Trip
…or, at least, it opens up the opportunity for more enriching endeavors, such as signing up for a local language course (or cooking or whatever).
Lots of people have found that volunteering with NGOs is a rewarding way to travel, allowing us to enrich the lives of others. Aren’t most of us looking for real experiences and interaction with locals anyway? More outdoorsy travelers swear by work-stays on organic farms, which can be arranged through organizations like WWOOF, HelpX or Work Away.
Slow travel allows for much more than just lying on the beach, souvenir shopping and fine dining. It is a means by which our trips can mean more, both to us and to others.
6) Slow Travel Often Takes Us Off The Beaten Track
The fantasyland referred to as “off the beaten track” seems to be the ultimate destination for many a traveler. It represents a place where visitors don’t outnumber locals, where life meanders more naturally than it does via tour guide, and where the culture we experience is one of authenticity rather than showmanship.
This place is much harder to find when we whiz through a city or country, looking only for the highlights (or, even worse, blindly following people with megaphones). Moving slowly allows time for wandering and wondering, going for a walk and getting lost, ducking into enticing bars and trying the food stall all the natives seem to be flocking to, then sitting where they sit.
It’s here, where motion and time become afterthoughts, that the beaten track finally disappears.
7) Slow Travel Results In More Organic Cultural Exchanges
To know a place– to really feel its heartbeat? That takes lingering.
If someone visits our hometown for an afternoon or a weekend, we wouldn’t say they know what its like to be there. It takes happening upon community events and festivals. It takes developing friendships with (or, at a minimum, recognition from) vendors, neighbors and other local people.
It takes time to discover favorite spots, such as the comfortable coffeehouse, the bench with the perfect sunset, the quiet bar (or the rowdy one), and the intersection to avoid. It equates to knowing about specialty dishes, funny customs and local lore. It all takes the sort of time that slow travel– to whatever degree we afford it– provides more of.
8) Slow Travel Tickles The Element Of Surprise
Itineraries, schedules, guidebooks, return tickets… these things don’t provide us with much in the way of surprises. They move us along slickly, smoothly and— if they work as intended—snag-free.
But, when we get home from an adventure, it’s never these things that we’re itching to tell our friends about. It’s when these things break down– when we end up down a back road somewhere, getting lost in the middle of the jungle, stumbling upon some hidden treasure, or staying up all night at a sing-a-long on the hostel porch– that travel truly becomes interesting.
Traveling slowly doesn’t necessarily mean that the things on your would-be itinerary never get done. It just means that they get done in their own sweet time.
To be fair, I understand that some of us have a finite amount of time during which we can travel. It may be two weeks over the summer, a two-month break from university, a gap year, or merely a long weekend.
The point is that we should savor our travel time, make sure we linger on the tastes and smells, memorize the sights with our eyes and not just our cameras, feel the warmth of the sun on our skin, and move to the nighttime rhythms (whether they be crickets or discos).
Slow travel isn’t necessarily all about the amount of time we spend somewhere, but how we use that time. It’s important to make the most of it. For me, that has come to mean losing track of the hours, leaving my watch behind and seeing what makes a place— wherever I may be— special. –by Jonathon Engels; photos by Jonathan Engels & Emma Gallagher
Jonathon Engels is a traveler, writer & teacher who’s been living abroad as an expat since 2005. He’s worked in nearly a dozen countries, and visited many others in between. He’s currently on a slow travel trip from Central America to Patagonia, volunteering his way throughout the journey. He’s a regular contributor to One Green Planet as well as Permaculture News, which focus on helping to keep the world green and clean. He’s also the founder of The NGO List, a compilation of grassroots NGOs seeking international volunteers. His work can be found at Jonathon Engels: A Life Abroad, and his current whereabouts and goings-on are available on his personal blog.
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