The Magic of Slow Travel
Why adventuring at your own pace will enhance your life.
I've been travelling my whole life. Whether with family, with friends, or by myself. When I think of my future, of how I want to create my life, it's travelling that plays a central role. I crave the rush, the taste of a new adventure, of discovering new beauties of the world. And oh my, they are endless. So many amazing, intriguing places to visit, to experience, to breathe in. No matter your travel preference, there is something out there for everyone: whether it's luxury or rugged, warm or cold climates, forests or beaches.
Yet in the busy ways of life, especially if you're tied to a limiting amount of vacation days per year, discovering all these global beauties can be challenging. Where do you find the time to travel, to see all the things you want to see, to have time to actually put your feet up and relax, and make it back in time before work starts again? Sometimes the challenge seems nearly impossible.
As a student, travelling felt a little more feasible. With long summer vacations and many long weekends, I found there to be plenty of time to travel. Yet, for university, I was already living in a different country than the three I had grown up in. Studying in Paris, France, I found myself discouraged to leave the city on shorter holidays. I felt as if there was so much to learn and discover about and within the city itself, that going elsewhere seemed silly. While living there, and even afterwards, I found it challenging to describe this lack of desire I had felt to visit new places during university. Especially when so many of my friends seemed to be going somewhere new almost every month. It sometimes made me feel like a fish out of water.
It wasn't until I read Bhavana Gesota's The Art of Slow Travel, that it finally made sense: living in Paris had felt like slow travelling.
What is "slow-travel"
Slow travel, as defined by Remote Year, is "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, in the present moment and for the future, while remaining sustainable for local communities and the environment."
Although there are many, similar, definitions on the internet about what slow travel really is, and as Gesota similarly shares in her book as well, I chose to share this definition because a) I feel it encompasses each aspect of slow travel fantastically, and b) I like that it includes the emotional piece of slow travelling.
This emotional aspect you create when slow traveling, and how you create it, is a very individual thing. Some people can feel themselves really fall in love with a place from the get-go, for others, it takes some time to grow into their new location. This is similar to travelling in general, people enjoy their adventure in their own unique way. Some people love the fast-paced, tourist attraction route through a city or a country. Visiting only the sites that guidebooks talk about. Others enjoy travelling more "off-road" - less planning, more spontaneity. But there is also a group of people who want more than the fast-paced vacations or the week (or two) of lying on the beach and relaxing. Some travellers seek to submerge themselves in a new culture, to become familiar with a city as if they were a local, to learn the language, meet the people who live there. But not in a way that's permanent; rather, they travel with the intention of getting to really know a place, to let the place become a part of them, yet to know they can always pack up and move elsewhere, dive into a new culture, language, location. These are the slow-travellers of the world.
By slow travelling you are taking the time to get to know a new place. To embrace the culture and customs of the people around you, to pick up some local lingo (more than just the swearwords people always seem to learn first). Slow traveling is knowing the ups and downs of a place, to know how to get home without an app, to feel confident in navigating the city and its people. Slow traveling is feeling at home even in a new place.
Let's dive even deeper into what slow travel brings you. Besides the experiences you'll have surrounding culture, food, and locations, what it is really centred around is connection. You get the opportunity to really learn about the people around you. Not just the friendly barista who makes your coffee or the nice cashier at the supermarket. No, I mean the people you meet that become your friends, your fellow slow travellers, expats, nomads. These are people who might be passing through or who might've fallen in love with the place and decided to stay long term, but no matter why they are there, these are often the ones who impact your life the most. When you are travelling around the globe by yourself, you qiuckly come to realise that there is no time for doing things that you don't love. The same goes for spending time with people - time and attention are your most valuable assets and you come to realise that you only want (and should) give them to those you enjoy being with. Sometimes this may leave you with less people around you, but the quality you'll find in those people is worth more than anything. Your slow journey will allow you to find many of these golden people.
Yet what has possibly been my favourite aspect of slow travel, something I've come to really realise in the past two years of living in the Caribbean, is that slow travelling brings you a connection with yourself. Each new location that you travel to, every time you choose to go somewhere different and explore what's there, all you have is yourself and that which you carry in your backpack. Even if you don't realise it, you're completely trusting on yourself to have the tools and the strength you'll need to navigate your new environment. How absolutely magical is it that you trust yourself so much to embark on this new adventure by yourself? Realising this really made me feel proud of myself, but also gave me a stronger incentive to take time to invest in me. To take a closer look at my habits, my self-sustainability, and my overall mindset and actions. Doing so has led me to feel even steadier on my own two feet and even led me to the decision for going on, yet again, a new adventure - this time I'm headed to Lisbon, Portugal, a place I've never been before.
The greatness of travelling slowly
It often feels like the world is in a rush. There's always somewhere to be and somewhere to go. Honestly, it can be exhausting. This high-paced life has somehow become the norm; it has even slipped into my own life. The biggest appeal to me, therefore, of slow travel, is just that, it's slow. You aren't rushing anywhere. You genuinely feel like you're living your life and get to discover new, wonderful people and places. You get to discover the gems of a city, the magic that each neighbourhood holds, at your own pace, in a way that works for you.
One of the beauties that slow travel has shown me, is that life is simple. we tend to make it very difficult for ourselves. We're always worrying about what needs to be done, where we need to, who we need to meet. But these are all distractions of life, of the here and now. At the end of the day, it's being happy in the here and now that matters. Slow travel has helped me realise that and to be more present in my own experiences. You chose to be somewhere for a specific time frame, and because of that, you'll want to enjoy each moment you have there. To discover the world around you, to meet locals, learn their language and way of living. When you're focused on the things that are in your immediate surroundings you find yourself to be less distracted and more present. You get to tune in with your own life.
Slow travel is more than taking a trip somewhere for a longer period of time - it's a lifestyle. Deciding to live somewhere for eight months, a year, maybe three, you're actively choosing to explore what it's like to create your life, your day-to-day existence, in a different place. Slow travel, therefore, isn't a break or an escape from your daily life the way a vacation might be - slow travel is a lifestyle.
Even if you only choose to do it once and then return "home", wherever that may be, you'll find that it impacts the way you live your life. Being abroad has the effect of opening up your mind and your horizons. You meet and connect with people from different walks of life, maybe you learn a new language, you get to experience a new culture. All of this changes you and the way you exist. The new cultural traits will mix with that which you already know, just like the language and the customs of communication. And when you're back "home", you'll most likely find that you don't fit in the same way you did before. You dared to explore and you grew and therefore you no longer fit into your old form. Thinking about all my slow travel friends and acquaintances, I can't come up with anyone who has actually returned to where they came from. They have, time and time again, sought out a new adventure or a new place to share their light, knowing that the changes they had gone through would mean the place was no longer the same. Sometimes we're better off holding on to the dear memories rather than attempting to re-live a past life in a past location.
Feeling at home
Sometimes we slow travel and don't even realise it. We spend a few months or a year, maybe more, in a new place; we know what to expect, yet you haven't gotten bored yet. You can laugh about the things that don't work, know some (or a lot) of the local lingo, and you can easily get around without having to look at a map. That might be the moment when the switch flips - when this strange city, this new town, this place you used to be a newcomer to, suddenly feels like home. It's not a moment you can calculate or plan in. It doesn't take a set amount of time. But eventually, you'll find yourself telling someone you're on your way "home", flying, driving, train-ing (is that a word?) home.
From that moment you're doomed.
Just kidding, you're not doomed at all. What I mean to imply is that by deciding to make a home in a new place, you create space for your heart to grow a little larger. And when the (inevitable) moment comes that you depart, go to a new place, it hurts. You feel as if you're leaving a piece of yourself, of your heart, behind. Yet I'd love to argue that this is the beauty of slow travel; the thing that keeps me doing it again and again. You leave a piece of yourself but you also take something with you: a new love for where you've been, new cultural pieces, personal growth, and all the adventures that you embarked on.
Sometimes changing homes so frequently can feel challenging. Sometimes you feel as if you belong no where except for your rental apartment that houses your stuff. Maybe not even that but only your backpack feels like it houses "home". These days being a slow traveller can feel tough. Sometimes you'll yearn for that feeling of having a home somwhere. Know that this is your journey and that you can choose to create a more permanent home somewhere at any moment in time.
But those moments, those thoughts, are only snippets, an occasional tough day where you feel blegh. If you stick around to the slow travel thing long enough, you'll find that you have a home within yourself. The most portable home that goes with you anywhere. The most reliable source where, if you take good care, the power never goes out, the lights are always on, and a place where (self)love is always present. Create a home within yourself and your slow travel will never make you feel like you're missing a "home".
Slow Travel + Me = 🤝
Slow travel feels like the only logical way for me to live my life. At least right now. There is so much of this beautiful world that I want to see and experience, so many wonderful people I have yet to meet. Yet I want to do it in a (self-)sustainable way and to me, slow travel makes that possible - the ideal kind of adventure. I don't want to feel as if each adventure I embark on is an escape or a break from my regular day-to-day. I want my travelling to be a part of my day-to-day. I want to do my work in a cosy café in Lisbon, have my dinner in a hole-in-the-wall in Zagreb. I want my morning run to take me along the Amsterdam Canals. I want to taste the travel, the new adventure, in all that I do in life. To do this while simultaneously building a home out of myself that I can take with me on all my slow travel adventures.
Some may say that this lifestyle is only sustainable because I'm "young" and "free". But having grown up internationally, across four different countries with my family, I know this lifestyle can be sustainable even when you're creating a life with others. Truthfully, I think nothing would be more fun than to embark on this kind of adventure, something that makes you happy, than with the people you love the most.
Slow travel is an experience that will enrich your life. No matter whether you do it only once or make it your permanent way of living, taking the time to see the world slowly will not only give you the opportunity to see more beauty in the world but also more comfort and confidence within yourself as your safe space, your home, as your trusted life and travel companion.