What Is Slow Travel? and Why We’ll Never Travel Another Way
What is slow travel, and why are so many people starting to do it? Franca discusses why for it's the best way to travel around the world and experience it

We like to define ourselves as slow travelers therefore people often ask us what slow travel is, why we like it so much, and why we often shy away from the more fast pace touring option of trying to cram in as many places as possible in a short space of time.

For Dale and myself making the most of our travel time isn’t about seeing as much as we can, nor is it not about how many cities we can see in a week or two whilst in a country. Neither is it about running from one monument to the next to take a photo just so we can say:

“We’ve been there”, or “We’ve done that”.

No, for us maximizing our travelling time means to choose experiences over sights – and more than anything else – quality over quantity.

This is what slow travel means to us.

To give an example, we like to share a meal with the locals we meet, to share our experiences with them and listen to theirs, to learn from them as much as we can about their country rather than going around sightseeing without really knowing much about what we are looking at, or the history behind it.

Having a picnic on top of a mountain with our Couchsurfing host in Geneva

Having a picnic on top of a mountain with our Couchsurfing host in Geneva

What Is Slow Travel?

Slow travel is about fully immersive experiences.

It’s centred around a prolonged and in depth experience, primarily with locals, but not always.

Slow travel isn’t just skipping tourist attractions or popular destinations either. Not at all. It’s all about how we decide to enjoy them and every other activity we do.

It’s about taking the time to embrace everything around us, to enjoy even the simplest things that aren’t necessarily the most popular or the most famous.

For instance, during the four months we spent in Berlin we didn’t miss an opportunity to go hunting for new hidden pieces of street art – which isn’t difficult at all in Berlin – but we also went to see the famous East Side Gallery, where some remains of the Berlin wall are completely covered in incredibly nice and meaningful murals.

We could have just walked fast, took a selfie in front of it to show we’ve been there (like we’ve seen a lot of people do), but instead we chose to take our time to look at each piece, trying to understand the message the artist wanted to share before giving our own interpretation on it.

We easily spent hours walking along the route of the wall and surely we could have stayed even longer if wanted. The whole experience would have been even nicer if the artists themselves were there to explain what they wanted to represent, and perhaps create a discussion with them by talking about what we personally perceived from it.

Connecting with people is a very important part of what we like to call slow travel. Without any form of communication, links, and confrontation the travel experience would be sterile for us.

It would be nothing more than purely looking at beautiful places because “you MUST go see that”, without actually seeing anything at all, only to walk away without any connection.

Only by talking with people and observing what they do and how they do it can we really get to know local culture.

Celebrating Franca's birthday in Penang   with our Couchsurfing hosts

Birthday surprise for Franca organized by our Couchsurfing hosts in Penang

We’ve had those kind of moments when we didn’t connect with anyone and those are the ones we barely remember if not only to say to ourselves “if only we’d had a local showing us around or to talk with…”.

We believe connecting with locals and people in general is so important because it’s what make travel memorable. Those are the moments and experiences we keep talking about for years and years because they left a mark on us, an imprint, something that makes us as much as that places and that moment as it is to us.

Slow travel is a state of mind, and it depends entirely on the choices you make and how you decide to enjoy your time.

Jointly, it’s not important to follow what everybody else does either, or to go where the crowds go ( unless there’s something there you want to see too).

Removing the rush and standing still even for a moment can reveal so much of a new destination and the culture and people within it, simply by letting your surroundings envelop around you and letting it tell you its story.

No quick glimpse. No Snapchat message.

A long, detailed book of new words, ideas, smells, tastes, sounds, and the people that create them all.

Slowing down by Geneva's lake  enjoying the sunshone

Slowing down by the Geneva’s lake and enjoying the sunshine

Why We Love Slow Travel

We adore slow travel today because we too were once those very same people who race through places, especially at the beginning of our journey three years ago.

We were probably spending only a couple of days per city and had very little contact with the locals and as a result we now want to return to some of these places to dedicate more time trying to enjoy it in a completely different way.

The more we’ve travelled and keep travelling, the more our priorities have changed.

Instead of wanting to tick off as many places on a list we now choose not to have one. There are still countries we’d love to see, but we’re in no rush to see them.

We want to embrace our surroundings and if it means sacrifice some activities and doing less, or seeing fewer countries in the process, that’s fine with us. In fact, we truly think that a big advantage of slow travel it’s that doing less is actually more.

We are looking for more meaningful experiences that can help us grow.

Travelling slowly also means trying to give back as much as we can to the communities by carefully choosing what we do and how we do it.

Being responsible and choosing low impact tourism is also part of what we define as slow travel.

We like to be aware of our carbon footprint and – if we really cannot avoid taking a plane in some circumstances – we make sure we do something else to balance it out; and whilst travelling slower from one place to the other may be largely stressful and a hated part of many people’s trips, for us it becomes another chance to observe the country we’re passing through, because it’s not planned, and not pre-organised for us.

Slow travel by train

Slow travel by train

For instance, with the pre-prepared and all-inclusive holiday packages that often offer everything you can possibly want (and so often you already have at home), people end up never actually leaving their comfort zones.

When we look at those methods of travel we see a complete absence of the unexpected. There is no anticipation, people that choose this kind of travelling know what they’ll do, how long they’ll be in a certain place, and even what their daily menu will look like even before they get there.

What will these people learn from their travels? Will they relax? Sure, they probably will.

Will they learn from anything about themselves or the local culture they were guest in? No, probably not.

If that’s what someone chooses to do, so be it. We all enjoy life in so multitude of different ways that one person may love, but another will detest. It’s all individual, and it’s those differences that make us all so special and worth travelling to meet – but for us any other way than slow travel would leave us both empty and incredibly bored.

Slow travel means we tailor our own trips, sometimes without any tailoring at all. It leaves ourselves open to the unexpected, unknown, and the yet-to-be discovered.

No one chooses what we eat. No one chooses what we do. Or how long we’ll stay.

We make our own adventure.

How To Slow Travel

There are many ways to slow travel, and none of them are perfect. In fact, that’s the point.

You can travel slowly for years like us, or you can travel slowly on a fortnight vacation or a long weekend because it’s about experiences, an attitude, and the impact we have.

It’s a mentality.

A simply first step is to do less, not more – especially if you’re short of time.

Connect with locals and do what they do. Spend a weekend at a homestay and do as they do.

A local craftsman working in Lecce

A local craftsman working in Lecce

Learn a little of the language before you arrive, order something in a bar with no English menu, and enjoy the uncertainty of not knowing where the conversation is going.

Embrace the awkwardness of the situation.

Drop the travel guide and head in the opposite direction to where they’re pointing you. Go off-the-path and enjoy getting lost for a chance. You never know what unexpected fantastic places you might discover.

There are no “must-see’s” for us. There are popular places for tourists (and there’s nothing wrong with that), but we never feel compelled to see something just because a list told us to.

Sometimes we see them, but we won’t feel bad for skipping them either.

An off-the-path route we discovered in Geneva

An off-the-path route we discovered

We also love to mix in a little bit of Couchsurfing, Airbnb, or other types of accommodation when we feel we need some alone time – and it’s even better if we’re going to be house sitting somewhere.

House sitting not only gives us somewhere cheap to stay, it also gives us the opportunity to really get to know our surroundings.

It’s exactly what we did in Berlin for instance, where we ended up spending 4 months last year exploring not only the more remarkable places in the city, but also its suburbs in both the East and West, giving us a more complete and better understanding of how the city works.

Since we started travelling we’ve became more adventurous. We like to say “yes” more to opportunities and challenge ourselves.

We are not the most adventurous people and we think you don’t need to jump from a 100ft bridge to fulfill your travels (unless you are into that kind of thing obviously), it’s trying to find adventures in the ordinary local daily activities that fulfill us the most and give us a more in-depth experience.

Again, the journey between places helps to deepen the travel experience, especially in the case of car sharing.

By using car-sharing – or even train-sharing – we’ve met many great people and, even if we took longer to get from A to B, it was never a waste of time. On the contrary, it made the whole journey even more memorable and worth talking about.

We understand that Couchsurfing isn’t for everyone, so there are different ways to connect with the locals like attending a local cooking course, joining a special tour, or other activities.

There are so many options that the fast growing concept of “sharing communities” offer to guarantee a more authentic and enriching experience.

For us the best and more important way to slow travel is to make our own itinerary based on what we like and how we enjoy it, with no stops along the way “because everyone’s going there”.

Walking the Fife coastal path in Scotland

Walking the Fife coastal path in Scotland

Is Slow Travel For Everyone?

Believe it or not, but we’re not trying to convince everyone to change the way they travel.

We understand that we are all different and like to do things differently – but for those willing to forget about the set-travel mindset, make their own way of travel, and set their own pace; slow travel can be an incredibly eye opening thing.

As long term travellers it works perfectly for us because it helps us to avoid burnouts which, believe us, will happen sooner or later; but there are still people that might find slow travel not enjoyable simply because they love to run, they feel better, and are much more energized by cramming as many things as they can into their trips.

Some people love to have everything pre-organized and already set to be and find that less stressful. All they expect from a trip is to take it easy and not to worry about anything. They might not even be looking for a more rewarding experience but a mere holiday physically away from home, that’s all.

There’s really nothing wrong with that, but clearly for us it’s not enough.

We’re snails, and we’d never have it any other way.

Would you call yourself a slow traveller?