What Is Slow Travel: Sustainable Tips For Mindful Trips

Travel doesn't have to be rushed, stressful, or expensive. Learn to travel slowly - discover what is slow travel, the benefits to you, and how to get started!

In today’s whirlwind world, travel often resembles a blur of landmarks and rushed exchanges. But what if there was a way to truly immerse yourself, forge genuine connections with local communities, and tread lightly on our planet? Enter Slow & Sustainable Travel – a revolutionary approach that reshapes the very essence of exploration. But, what is slow travel exactly?

Slow travel, an emerging trend that emphasizes the importance of immersing oneself in the journey, encourages travelers to forge a deeper connection with the places they explore.

Woman holding wildflowers in her hand while standing in a rice field in Bali

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What is Slow Travel?

Slow travel isn’t about ticking off bucket lists or maximizing sightseeing photo ops. It’s a mindset shift, a conscious decision to savor the journey, not just the destination. You ditch the rigid itineraries and embrace the unexpected. You trade whirlwind tours for lingering conversations with locals, learning their stories, and immersing yourself in their traditions. You prioritize experiences over possessions and authentic connections over fleeting encounters.

For me – slow travel is a mindset centered around sustainability, being present, being open, and trusting the flow of life. I believe when you allow the flow of life to happen without force or pushback, it takes you exactly where you should be. 

We’ve all heard of Slow Fashion and Slow Food – the movement away from low-quality, mass-produced products towards sustainably sourced goods. It’s time we adopt the same perspective for how we spend our time and travel.

"Slow travel may mean different things to different travelers, but I define it as staying in one place for longer and going deeper into the local culture. It’s taking the time to make real connections with locals versus jam-packing a schedule full of tours. It’s staying in Kyoto at a Ryokan instead of city hopping throughout Asia."

Slow Travel = Sustainable Travel

As you travel around the world – or even at home – you will become aware of the current state of the natural world. You will see species disappear from a region, extreme changes in weather, and plastic waste sprinkled through an otherwise natural landscape. It’s unfortunate, but it’s also inevitable.

However, when you take a step back and think about the whole picture of why that is, you start to see how every human decision is linked to one uniting system. Nothing in this world happens in a vacuum, especially when it involves traveling to the other side of the planet!

When you travel fast, you take quick emission-intensive flights, to arrive at a resort on land that was taken from local people, and go on manicured excursions to ‘see the sites’.

Alternatively, if you allow yourself more time to move around, you open more possibilities to navigate the world. You use public transportation, you stop by local shops and restaurants simply because you can, and you stumble on hidden gems that most people are too busy to stop at.

You become a conscious traveler, mindful of the impact your presence has on the environment. This deliberate approach paves the way for a more sustainable future for tourism and the communities it affects.

When you feel more aware and connected to the world, you feel more driven to protect it. By getting in touch with the world, you think about your actions and decisions with consideration to the world.

Fast Travel

  • Strict plan to optimize time
  • Stressed thinking about the next plan
  • No time to meet locals
  • Does what all other tourists do
  • Doesn’t usually make lasting connections
  • Expensive splurge of sight-seeing
  • No time to rest, time is limited and planned
  • Emission-intensive transportation
  • Enjoys comfortable travel
  • Tourist” = Sees a place

Slow Travel

  • Flexible plan to enjoy time
  • Ability to be present in each moment, no stress
  • Pursuit of conversations with locals
  • Receives off-the-path suggestions
  • Makes intimate and lasting connections
  • Well-paced adventures, without huge expenses
  • Time for rest and reflection
  • Slow transportation = less emissions = cheaper
  • Enjoys authentic travel
  • Traveler” = Experiences a place

Who Is Slow Travel For?

Slow travel seems to be emerging as so many people find remote work opportunities. It is also well-timed with a new generation of people entering the workforce – a generation filled with dreamers and doers who can’t stop asking big-picture questions and trying to find the meaning behind life.

I felt it myself – I was working a stressful Corporate Sustainability job for years, and while I felt my role had a positive impact, I was sacrificing a lot of my time and freedom. I gave up a part of myself, and at 26 years old, I felt that the next 40 years of that wouldn’t be satisfactory for me.

There is so much to see in the world, and while I was fortunate enough to travel full-time in a very slow way, anyone can do it, even if you still work in the office! In short, slow travel is for remote workers, new families, people working 9-5 jobs, people in a gap year, retirees, teachers on summer break… everyone!

If you already know this lifestyle is for you, explore the steps you need to plan your slow travel journey! But, if you’re not sure why you should change the way you think about travel, here are a few reasons.

1. Deeper Connections

Traveling with a focus on awareness and being present inevitably will slow you down. It is too much for someone to see a dozen things in a few days, and be able to be fully engaged with all of them. You will never be able to see everything in the world, and even if you could, would you truly experience them?

You can think of slow travel as reducing the radius one tries to ‘see’, and instead focusing on thoroughly experiencing the few things that are done in the given time. If someone is focused on seeing it all, then they will be so concerned with what they think should be seen, that they miss everything in between.

Engaging in mindful and slow travel creates opportunities to develop deeper connections with the world, yourself, and the people you meet along the way.

You foster genuine relationships with local communities, becoming more than just a tourist passing through. By slowing down, you become a guest, not just a spectator, learning their stories, traditions, and challenges. This cultural exchange fosters understanding and empowers you to be a responsible ambassador for sustainable tourism.


2. Personal Transformation

Slow travel strips away the busyness and demands of daily life, allowing you to reconnect with yourself. You discover new passions, challenge your comfort zone, and learn to be present in the moment. You return home richer in experience and perspective, with a renewed appreciation for the simple joys of life. It is not even possible to put into words how this opens your perspective and shifts your thoughts about what it means to be a human. Our understanding of life is shaped by what we are exposed to, and slow travel allows you to develop a deeper appreciation and broaden your perspective on alternative ways and values.
Girl sitting on a rock on the Oregon coast, watching the waves roll in

3. Authentic Exploration

Rather than putting your time and money toward catered experiences, you have the chance to enjoy the realistic way a region exists. You delve into responsible travel practices, supporting ethically run accommodations, choosing eco-friendly activities like wildlife safaris led by local guides or guided hikes that focus on conservation efforts, and respecting local customs and natural resources. You become a champion for responsible tourism, paving the way for a more sustainable future for travel and the destinations you visit.

4. Environmental Stewardship

Your awareness of your environmental impact is inevitable when you travel intentionally. You see the impacts that people and land have from a more resource-intensive way of living, and you inherently change your personal choices.

Suddenly, you minimize your carbon footprint by choosing eco-friendly transportation, supporting local businesses that prioritize ethical practices, and reducing waste. You become a conscious traveler, mindful of the impact your presence has on the environment. This deliberate approach paves the way for a more sustainable future for tourism and the communities it affects.

Maybe you even get involved and volunteer locally to help communities globally combat their climate threats!

Two bags of trash on the beach, collected by volunteers in Bali

5. More Mindful, Less Stressful

When you limit your time, you inevitably put stress on it – to experience everything, to enjoy it all, and to see enough. However, when you travel slowly, you take all the stress out of traveling since you allow yourself time to get comfortable and go with the flow. Think about when you go on a 2-week vacation to a foreign country. You have to think about the customs and cultures, the food they eat, the dangers that may exist, the weather, the cost, and the people… I’m already overwhelmed! Instead, when you have a few months, you allow yourself to move at a pace that is comfortable for you, and you don’t put too much pressure on planning!

6. Save Money with Slow Travel

Racing around to do everything there is to do can be both tiring and expensive. When you travel slowly, you’re less concerned about seeing the ‘must-see’ places in an area, because you learn that there is so much to see that isn’t what everyone else is waiting in line for. Traveling at a slower pace can be a more budget-conscious option. By spending more time in one location, you can often find better deals on accommodations and take advantage of lower-cost local experiences. There are also potential cost savings with transportation. When you travel slowly, you aren’t in a rush to get somewhere as quickly as possible. This opens the doors for other transportation options than carbon-intensive flights, like trains or boats which are much more enjoyable! Food is also a major part of cultural significance, which you can explore more when you travel slowly. Instead of going to the closest restaurant, which is probably targeted at tourists, you can explore the local cuisine at a much more affordable price.

Tips To Make The Most of Slow Travel

1. Research, Don't Plan

While it is great to be aware of what is around you, you shouldn’t lock yourself into any official plans right away. If you let yourself go with the flow, you may find things that you would never find on TripAdvisor or Google Maps. Check out what things there are to do in an area so you know what other opportunities might exist too! Allow yourself to let go of the need to see and do everything. Instead of creating a rigid itinerary, focus on a few experiences that genuinely interest you and allow yourself the freedom to explore without a rigid schedule.

2. Choose Sustainable Transportation

Select eco-friendly transportation options whenever possible. Utilize public transportation, walk, and look for ferries instead of flights. Not only will this reduce your environmental impact, but it will also allow you to take in the sights of the area at a more leisurely pace.

When you move slowly, you also open the opportunity to meet other like-minded people. Enjoy the journey, and make that a part of the experience. It’s not just about the destination!

3. Stay in Local Accommodations

To further immerse yourself in the local culture, choose small, locally-owned accommodations such as guesthouses, bed & breakfasts, or homestays. These options often provide a more personal experience and can offer unique insights into local life.

There isn’t a better way to practice the language, understand the values and traditions, and connect with an area than staying with a local family. Not only do you learn, but you also help support locals. 

Check out Booking.com or HostelWorld for homestays. No matter where you look for your accommodation, check out the host, are they local or a foreign investor?

4. Travel in the Off-Season

If you go to a major tourist destination in the middle of peak season, you may find that tours are booked and accommodations are limited, which makes planning essential. If you travel in the off-season, you skip the massive crowds of stressed-out travelers, and you get to move more freely. 

Similarly, challenge yourself to get off of the beaten path. Explore new less explored areas. This can lead to unique and unforgettable experiences that you might otherwise miss. Just because you don’t see it as a trendy place on Instagram (yet), it doesn’t mean there aren’t new places to explore that will be more authentic and memorable.

5. Talk to Locals

There are no better people to connect with than locals. I’m guessing you didn’t travel to the other side of the world to connect with people who are from the same state/country as you. When you’re out to eat, ask the server if they know of any good viewpoints. Talk to shop owners about what they’re selling and be open to learning about local crafts and traditions.

These conversations will open so many doors for you – you never know who knows where the best waterfalls are, tricks to avoid tourist traps, or offer genuine connection!

6. Be Adaptable

Part of adopting a slow travel mindset involves being open to change and spontaneity. Be prepared to adjust your plans as needed and embrace the unexpected. This is where a lot of growth develops in you, as you learn to trust yourself in unknown situations.

You are capable and intuitive. Trust your instincts, and prioritize your safety, but also allow yourself to be uncomfortable and challenged. You never know what opportunities are out there until you’re open to them.

Summary - Slow Travel; Mindful Tips For Sustainable Trips

Slow travel offers a refreshing alternative to the typical fast-paced, checklist-driven approach to exploring the world. By embracing this mindset, you can deepen your cultural understanding, reduce your environmental impact, and create meaningful connections with the people and places you encounter. By following the tips outlines in this article, you can begin to adopt a slow travel mindset that aligns with the principles of sustainable and responsible travel. 

So, on your next adventure, remember to take a step back, slow down, and truly savor the journey.

Posted by Taylor Mallaber

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