For Dale and myself slow travel is both an interesting and fulfilling way to travel and we truly believe that you don’t need to be a full-time traveller like us in order to enjoy the method. In fact, we believe you can slow travel both on your only fortnight holiday a year, or a short weekend.
Slow travel is a matter of attitude and impact, and not time spent doing it
After writing a piece about what slow travel is and how we enjoy it so much to the extent that we won’t travel any other way; a lot of people seemed to be interested in trying it and asked us for tips for slow travel that they could use themselves.
I do believe that there AREN’T specific set rules in order to slow travel and that what works for us might not work for everybody else, but I always love to share what we do and how we do it, especially knowing that it might be helpful or even inspiring for others.
Here are some tips for slow travel beginners that are based entirely off our own experiences and lessons learned by stumbling along the way through the good, the bad, and the uniquely special meaningful moments that their of us will ever forget.
1. Dump Your To-Do List And “Must Sees” Places
Try to go with the flow. See the attractions you want to the must, but allow yourself to get lost in the side streets on the way there. You might encounter something completely unknown and unexpected that – in the end – might become the most interesting part of your trip.
I’m a fan myself of ‘To-Do Lists‘ for work and admit that sometimes I’d be lost without them, but when it comes to exploring somewhere I like to have the mental freedom of not having to rush from one place to the other for only the purpose of ticking something off a list. It stresses me out and I end up not enjoying myself.
Instead I choose not to keep them when we travel.
Don’t get me wrong, I still do my research beforehand – if I have the time, and if there is something that catches my attention I’ll note it down somewhere – because it can be part of the fun and it builds the excitement of visiting a new place. This though doesn’t turn into a list of “must-sees” places for me, but more into something like “I’ll see what’ll happened when I get there. If I have the chance, the time, and nothing else better to do – I’d love to check this out!”
Slow travel is not about how many places you see, it’s how you experience them.
2. Read Up – but Not the Usual Travel Guides
Someone once told me that they like to read books about the destinations they are going to, and they didn’t mean travel guides.
Reading a novel or anything where the story is set in the place you’ll visit can increase your wanderlust more and can also help you understand the culture of that place a little better.
It happened to Dale once before going to Barcelona. He read ”The Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, a great book and one of his (and also my) favourites as it’s set in the charming Spanish city during the 1940’s and 50’s.
When we were there instead of visiting only the popular places we instead hoped to see instead if we could find the alleyways and shopfronts mentioned in the book, and the local blue tram the main character was often taking. It was a very different way to see the city which we both loved and lead us to see parts of it that we would have totally missed otherwise.
I know we don’t always have the time, but finding just thirty minutes a day to read a book based on your next destination can really help to shape how you experience it.
3. Stay Longer If You Can
The more time you spend in a place the better your understanding of the local culture will be.
I know this isn’t something everyone is able to do because time is very precious luxury nowadays between all of the hours a full-time job occupies, but choosing to have one extended holiday over two short ones can really change how you see the world.
If you have the chance to embrace a longer trip (by longer I don’t mean necessarily for years like us) you’ll have a better chance to enjoy slow travel and dedicate a longer period of time to each place you visit.
4. Choose One Place Instead of Many
If you don’t have a lot of time on your hands, stay in one place only instead of jumping from one city to the other – something we’ve both done and found always exhausted us. It’s certainly not the best way to immerse yourself the daily life of the places you’re travelling to, which is an important part of slow travel.
You might feel that you are missing out because your “not making the most of your time“, but believe us when we say that you’ll be enriching your travel experience and creating dozens of meaningful memories.
Plus, by staying in only one place you’ll save money on transportation and time. In fact, if you haven’t got many days to travel then stay in one place and explore it thoroughly and deeply and see what you discover – just a thought!
5. Learn The Lingo
Another useful tip for slow travel is to learn some local language and phrases.
There is no need to become fluent (unless that’s what you want), but knowing a few words and sentences will definitely make a difference.
We love to see the smile on people faces when we make the effort to order something as simple a coffee in a local bar using the few words we learnt. It’s the best way to make a connection and can give a good first impression to the people we meet. It shows that we don’t want to be just outsiders. It says “let’s connect together, you and I“.
6. Walk, Walk, and Walk
I understand this might be something not everyone might be able to do – especially for those with health issues – but if you can then this is one of the best ways to explore a new place and hopefully help you to accidentally stumble on unknown interesting sights.
It might be a slow way to move around but we prefer it. We use public transport only when we have to cover huge distances, or if we are incredibly tired; otherwise we usually use our legs as transportation which is also incredibly environmentally friendly too.
If walking isn’t for you, cycle instead
We don’t often do it, it’s better than taking a taxi, plus many major cities have very easy to use public bikes too – perfect for embracing the slow travel mentality.
7. Don’t Be Afraid of Getting Lost
This is something that often happens to us even if Dale is what I like to call ‘The Map Man’.
I think this goes pretty well with not having a set itinerary to follow and just being happy to wander around, ending up being somewhere completely unknown.
Getting lost isn’t always a pleasant experience, but it might lead you to discover unexpected beauties and to meet interesting people.
For instance, when we got lost somewhere in the Thailand countryside, trying to reach the beach on foot without knowing it was more than 20 km away. We didn’t have a good map of the area, we just followed the directions some locals gave us. After some time we were tired, and got caught by a thunderstorm along the way.
Without really knowing where we were exactly, we almost gave up and had turned around to go back to our hostel when a kind Thai lady on a moped stopped and tried to offer her help. She didn’t speak any English and our Thai was rather limited to just a few greeting words, but somehow we managed to understand each other and she gave us a lift – yes, three of us on a moped! – to the beach.
That was an happy story that totally made our day. It showed us the kindness of a complete stranger and it may have never happened if we choose to take the bus instead. The few words we knew helped connect us and turned our day around.
A big tip for slow travel is in my opinion to stay flexible.
Flexibility leaves you room to be more adaptable to unforeseen situations that might appear and bring with them new experiences; and it’s not just about having a flexible schedule.
For us being flexible mentally also makes us more spontaneous, something we both like and think you’ll enjoy too if you try.
9. Join Some Activities
Taking part in local activities can also help you to learn more about the local culture.
Walking around exploring is great, but getting involved and doing fun things with locals is a far more entertaining learning experience.
Ask around, search online, or check on social media channels for recommended activities you think you might like to try. No matter if it’s a cooking course, a meet up with people living there, a festival, or even a football game supporting the local team.
You may or may not enjoy these experiences, it all depends on how they go and how involved you are in them; but one thing’s for sure – they’ll show you a side of your next destination you’ll have never considered.
10. Take Your Time To Also Relax
Always remember that slow travel isn’t a race. There’s no need to rush. Take your time and see things at your own pace with as many breaks as you need in between.
One of my favourite things to do is to stop every now and then to simply watch people go about their lives doing their daily rituals, tasks, and routines. It teaches me a lot about them, I just hope they don’t mind me doing it!
11. Eat The Local Food
Slow travel is also about slow food. immerse yourself in the local culture by eating the traditional dishes at only local restaurants, and not those photocopy international chains.
For us as vegans it can be slightly more challenging at times, but we always try to ask locals for local specialities that are vegan by default and on most occasions we succeed in finding something, and for that we’re always super happy!
12. Wander Through the Markets
Make sure you to the same markets the locals go to, and not only those that are purely designed as a tourist attraction. It’s there that you’ll see what the local products are, what people are buying, what they really eat, and what they use everyday.
Plus markets are great places for people watching, which I adore.
13. Try To Mix With The Locals
Do what they do, observe them, interact with them. Go to the local restaurants with no English menu, learn enough words of the local language to get by and be polite. It’ll put a smile on the people you meet.
This might be one of our biggest tips for slow travel.
Without getting to know the people that live in a place we wouldn’t know half as much as we do about the places we’ve visited.
I mentioned this before but most of our more memorable experiences are the ones connected with people and not necessarily a destination itself.
It might seems difficult – and it can be challenging at times – but there are numerous ways to get to know locals.
14. Start Couchsurfing
We love to couchsurf and there is no better way to get to know locals than by staying with them.
If that’s a bit too much for you, or if you prefer to keep your privacy by staying in other accommodation, then use use Couchsurfing to arrange meetups with locals, or agree to attend one of the many community meetups and activities that are regularly arranged.
By arranging to have a coffee and a walk around a city with a local you can learn in just a few hours than you possibly good by reading about the place in a travel book.
15. Choose a Homestay or airbnb
Those two options can be similar to Couchsurfing and both can are great ways to have a more authentic local experience.
It very much depends on who your host is and just how far their willing to share what they know about their home town, but generally people who invite you into their home are quite open to discuss how things really are.
Like everything you can have a real mixture of experiences, of which we’ve had the both.
In Madrid we were so fortunate to have a great Airbnb host who literally told us of all the secret places we could go to that matched our interests.
On the other side of the coin we’ve also had some cold exchanges that were limited to our host telling us just the basking about the place we were renting, before finally giving us the keys and leaving.
In our eyes it’s worth taking a chance with both experiences as nine times out of ten they work out amazingly well, you’ve just got to hope your host values the experience as much as you do.
We think that volunteering or getting involved in local projects is also a good way to know the place better and to also give something back somehow. Just remember to do a background check on where you volunteer and who it’s for. It’s important that your effort, money, and help goes back to the local communities and not to some big company’s wallet.
17. Join a Meal With Locals
Sitting around a table sharing food is something we’ve done many times with our Couchsurfing hosts. It’s often the place where the best conversations start, with exchanges of experiences and stories. It’s not just about the food you are eating but also – and more importantly – about getting to know who you are sharing it with.
If you aren’t a fan of Couchsurfing though there are many ways to share a meal today. The sharing communities are getting bigger and bigger, you just have to check what’s on during your visit and see if it fits you.
There are many websites you can check, and this is something we are definitely willing to try more as soon as the chance comes up.
18. House Sitting
Another great tip for slow travel that we absolutely love is House and Pet Sitting. This can not only be not a cheaper way of travelling and staying somewhere, but also it really gives us time to soak in our surroundings and – depending on how long we stay in each place – we might even have the time to explore the close by villages too, always at our own pace and with no pressure.
19. Travel Overland
If you can, travel by train, bus, car-sharing or even hitchhiking (something we really want to try more of at some point). It might seems like you are taking longer to get somewhere, but slow travel is also about enjoying the journey itself and not just the destination you are about to reach.
20. Do Less
Ultimately, but not any less important, in order to slow travel you really have to get into the mentality of doing less. In this way, not only you will have more time to enjoy more of what you choose to do, but you’ll also feel less stressed about running around around or racing through places.
Remember that doing less can actually mean gaining more in terms of your total travel experience.
This in fact should have been my first tip for slow travel, because, as I said several times, it’s all about quality and not quantity.
What are your tips for slow travel?
I really hope that these tips for slow travel will help you to at least to give it a try. I think it’s worth experiencing it before saying that it’s not for you entirely.
We haven’t always travelled this way, and that’s exactly why we know we prefer slow travel more than rushing around, because we’ve been there and we’ve done that before.
I really hope I answered the questions we’ve been asked and hopefully gave some good and helpful tips for slow travel that you can put to good use.
Do you have any other tips for slow travel?