Taking it Slow

September 3, 2020

It’s time for us to slow down and ask ourselves ‘why am I in such a rush?’

Modern life has us ploughing through a multitude of tasks every day — with a to-do list that continuously grows, we put unfathomable amounts of pressure and stress on ourselves with no end in sight. The saddest part is that this way of life seems to be seeping into our other habits, including the way we choose to travel. The irony being that a holiday is usually an occasion for us to relax and replenish ourselves. With our suitcases packed and our sun hats on, we head out the door with a vision of us unwinding in the sun with a cocktail in hand. Yet in reality, we’re figuring out the fastest way to reach our next destination and how to tick off as many tourist attractions as possible — with no thought to the environmental ramifications.

Enter the term slow travel: a welcome respite to our current holiday predicament. Inspired by the Slow Food movement, which emerged in Italy in the 1980’s as a protest against the opening of a McDonald’s in Rome, it advocates local farming, regional cuisine, communal meals and a slow pace of life. According to them, slow food ‘recognises the strong connections between plate, planet, people, politics and culture’. They envision a world where ‘all people can access and enjoy food that is good for them, good for those who grow it and good for the planet.’

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What does this have to do with travel you ask?

The initiative behind the slow food movement is a return to cultural roots — to cultivate a connection with local people and places. This same philosophy can be applied to the tourism industry. By stepping away from this desperate need to consume a destination, we can begin to focus on nurturing that destination. When you think about the environmental impact of global travel, where flights account for over 2% of the world’s carbon emissions and London Heathrow alone is responsible for more CO2 emissions from international passenger flights than any other airport globally, it’s a wonder why we haven’t already altered the way we travel.

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On a positive note, increasingly more tourists are seeking alternate ways of travel as the environmental cost of flights becomes difficult to ignore. This means a return to travelling by boat, bike and more. Embracing slow travel since 1984 is no other than Inntravel, the slow holiday people who specialise in walking, cycling, touring and snow holidays. Many of the trips they organise across Europe can be reached by train. Whilst some of these destinations may take longer to reach, the focus for Inntravel is to ‘discover the lesser-taken path and take time to enjoy the moment’.

For luxury travel company Original Travel, slow travel is ‘about swapping planes for trains and exchanging four wheels for two. It’s about letting yourself sink into a wonderfully unhurried state of mind where each moment is deliberate, gentle and purposeful.’

This isn’t simply about making more environmentally-friendly choices for your journey. It’s a frame of mind that remains even when you’ve arrived at your destination. Rather than rent a car, choose to use local buses or cycle schemes. The UK bus industry for example, also endorses this low impact attitude, pledging to reduce carbon emissions by purchasing only ultra-low or zero emission buses from 2025 (The Confederation of Passenger Transport).

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A step beyond eco-tourism

At its core, slow travel is both a conscious choice to use slow, simple forms of transport, and to adopt a more present mindset. The exact definition will vary for each individual, as we are forced to ask ourselves ‘why do we travel?’

Alongside being a better choice for the environment, slow travel is equally beneficial for our wellbeing. This adapted mindset allows us to connect with a destination through the people, the food, the history and culture, as well as the language. By slowing down, individuals have an opportunity to experience more as they take the time to fully engage with a destination. When done responsibly, this form of travel can also benefit local communities, economy and biodiversity. Perhaps you want to know how to cook authentic Spanish tapas as opposed to just tasting them, why not take a lesson whilst you’re there? Or maybe you’re keen to spend more time outdoors, and what better way than to incorporate hiking or cycling into your travels? Slow travel empowers us to become part of a place, even if for a short period, rather than merely pass through it.

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“We don’t take a trip. A trip takes us”

- Travels with Charley: In Search of America, John Steinbeck.

Where do we begin?

It’s always best to start small and locally. Explore nearby towns, choose local accommodations, restaurants and shops, and learn from local guides. Pause and think about how you want to travel — can you reach your destination by train? Is it easy to cycle or walk around town?

Slow travel is more than a ‘trend’ to tick off, but a way of life. It is a balance between mindful choices and perspective, which positively contribute to the planet, its people and to yourself.

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Take a moment today as you head out the door to appreciate your surroundings. Notice the architecture you see around you, grab some fresh produce at the local market or shop, and try to notice just one little thing you may have missed before.

Author: Alexandra Straessle