slow travel

There is a scene in the film European Vacation with Chevy Chase, where he is plundering through Rome, looking at historical monuments and statues, checking off each stop in his travel book with satisfaction, and quickly moving on to the next one. That is not slow travel. And shoot me if you ever catch me doing this.

What do I mean when discussing slow travel? One online definition describes it as an approach to travel that emphasizes connection to local people, cultures, food and music. It relies on the idea that a trip is meant to educate and have an emotional impact, while remaining sustainable for local communities and the environment.

This is part of it, yes. But not exactly what I mean.

Another online definition says “you get to set your own pace, let your hair down, and enjoy the ride. This is a great way to see the sights like a local would and go wherever you set your heart on.”

This is sort of what I mean, but not quite.

But this third definition found online is closest to what I mean: “Slow travel is all about connecting deeply with your travels. Rather than rushing from item to item on a checklist, slow travelers treat each experience as an opportunity to learn, feel, and relate more deeply to the locale, people, culture, and cuisine of a place they want to explore.”

Look at the photograph of Stephanie above. To me, this is slow travel. Wait, you might ask, you’re having breakfast. Most of us would have breakfast when traveling. How is that slow travel?

What you don’t know is that this particular meal lasted THREE HOURS. For us, that’s slow travel. Enjoying, savoring, chilling, breathing, taking the time to let our surroundings soak in. NOT being in a rush to get moving to the first touristy task. In fact, a slow travel breakfast is NOT having a plan once breakfast is done.

For us, that’s slow travel.

Have you ever heard someone proclaim that they needed a vacation when they got back from their vacation? Yeah. Me too. A lot. They didn’t slow travel.

My favorite thing to do is go for walks when I’m in some new location. I have no agenda. I have no time limit. I have no idea where I’m going to end up. I wander wherever the path might lead…never knowing what I will stumble upon.

I love this kind of slow travel. I love being surprised at what I see and at what I find. Scroll down to the video below, and you’ll see the kind of thing I mean. To set the scene, I was just walking around Positano, Italy. My only goal was to climb and see how high I could scale the mountainside town. Two minutes before shooting this video, I had no idea I would find five hundred year old stairs that would take me up at least 500 never ending feet. Amazing. As Rolf Potts says, “Walk until your day becomes interesting…”

Look, I get that this is all personal preference. Some people enjoy having a jam-packed itinerary that has them scheduled every minute. Good for them. That’s not our style. We need time and space to breathe…to take it all in.

These days, Americans seem to find it a badge of honor to be moving nonstop, always hustling, on the move, from sunrise to bedtime.

No thank you. I live my life where I am never in a rush. Never in a hurry. Never overscheduled. This is how I live. Why would I EVER not live that same way when I travel?

Here are a few ways I define slow travel:

  1. No agenda (or at least a very loose one)
  2. Take time with meals
  3. “You wanna know people? Know their food.” (Yia Vang)
  4. Explore (with no destination in mind)
  5. Work to learn the language
  6. Read books in advance to appreciate the history of where you are going
  7. Don’t just hit the popular tourist spots (see the unknown nooks and crannies)
  8. Look at things with your own eyes, not just through a lens to post to Instagram – there are endless things to be noticed if you just open your eyes
  9. Stay in hotels that don’t rush you, that aren’t tourist factories operating merely to process as many Americans through as possible. Stay in a place that treats you like family, gets to know you, and wants you to call it home…
  10. Acknowledge that travel is spiritual
  11. Look at travel with appreciation, not as an achievement
  12. Can you almost talk about “time dilation” with slow travel? Methinks, very much so

So, now that people are starting to travel again following the pandemic, I am hoping people will bring with the experience a new approach and mindset to the adventure.

Travel is not just something to check off a bucket list, not just something to bang through so you can populate your social media feeds to show off how many sights you can see on one trip.

No, travel is to be experienced deeply, slowly. It’s meant to learn about a new place, new people, new language, new customs, new culture…it’s to help us become worldly.

That process cannot be accomplished in a hurry, rushing through a Griswold checklist. Honestly, why would you go through all the planning, airplane (or driving) hassles, and expense….to simply haul ass though a travel guide checklist?

This may be goofy, but when Stephanie and I are visiting a place, we call it home. Why? Because we don’t want to be tourists, for one thing, but two, it’s because we want to experience living life in a different place, to see what it feels like, to see what we learn from the experience.

Slow travel is the only way, in my opinion, to truly experience the world. As they say, the world is a wonderful book, and those who never leave home read only one page. So, why rush through it?

Exploring, and climbing, Positano

Click here to see my comprehensive notes and photographs from our 2022 journey to Italy.

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