How to Embrace the Concept of Slow Travel
September 3, 2020
The key to multicultural engagement, immersion, and adaptation.
Coined by me and my cousins, #Eurothon2016 was our hashtag for our graduation trip to Rome, Paris, and London.
Three cities. Three countries. Nine days.
Like most people, we wanted to maximize it by going to as many places as possible. When we’re pressed for time, we prioritize the touristy spots, take a substantial amount of touristy photos, maybe do a few touristy things, then off we go to the next city.
We end up running around trying to see everything because it’s the only we can get our money’s worth. Or is it?
What Makes a Trip Worth Your While?
In 2015, I spent a full month in Paris for a summer program. I could’ve gone backpacking around the Normandy Region, visited the beaches in Southern France, or booked a flight to a different part of Europe like what the other foreign students did.
But I didn’t.
Instead, I walked around Ile de la Cite every weekend and sat by La Seine people-watching for hours. I lounged in Shakespeare & Co. and discovered other quaint bookstores. I explored several classic & contemporary museums and took the time to read the description of each piece. I watched street artists paint on cardboards as a canvas, and bought a beautiful piece that now hangs on my bedroom wall. I stopped googling “Best cafes in Paris” and just entered cafes that caught my eye. I leisurely combed the aisles of wine in the grocery. I made friends with the lobby attendant. She took us salsa dancing. I talked to other locals, found out how much a flat in the central district costs, why Paris is called the City of Lights, and why their most celebrated national day was actually characterized by violence & unrest. I got lost, missed my stops, went back and forth until the Paris Metro became more and more familiar.
This trip was my first taste of what is called slow travel. And it was a full course meal of Parisian life. It took me a whole month to fully experience a place that had such a well-defined list of must-see or must-do things. Even then, I still hadn’t seen it all. So, isn’t it ironic to insist on going to multiple cities — countries, even — in a much shorter timeframe?
Slow travel is the antithesis of the conventional things we think makes up a good trip. Because what makes a trip worth it isn’t the number of things you checked off of your list, but the quality of the whole experience.
How deeply did you engage with your surrounding? How much did you find out about the local community? And most importantly, how has it affected your existing notions about yourself and the world, if at all?
Slow Travel is a Life-Changing Mindset
Slow travel isn’t just a pace. It’s a mindset — a newfound appreciation for what it means to make the most out of a new place. As Jim Elliot poignantly says,
‘Wherever you are, be all there.’
Here are three benefits to embracing this mindset:
1. You get to take a real break
We travel to refresh. To hit the pause button. It’s not supposed to be another manic day where you feel like you don’t have enough time or that you’re tied down by an agenda. By choosing slow travel, you purposely visit and do less so that you can enjoy the things that interest you. You give yourself that much-needed break that allows you to relax your mind, recharge your body, and revitalize your spirit.
2. You pack up creativity
In this fascinating story, Dave Smurthwaite explains how visiting the local supermarket is far more beneficial than taking selfies with the Eiffel tower:
“The key is multicultural engagement, immersion, and adaptation. Someone who lives abroad and doesn’t engage with the local culture will likely get less of a creative boost than someone who travels abroad and really engages in the local environment.”
Managing language barriers and looking through unfamiliar items and food with labels you can’t understand can be intimidating. And it’s far from the glamor of grand monuments. But exposing yourself to the local community engages your brain and shows you a dimension of their culture that historic landmarks won’t.
3. You’re not going to be the same person after
I used to be this high-strung, type-A individual who was perpetually busy and got high off of productivity.
But in my senior year of college, I found myself toning it down. I lessened my commitments. I stopped feeling restless when I had downtime. For the first time in a long time, I remembered what it was like to genuinely enjoy what I was doing and the company of the people I was working with.
I could’ve stepped on the gas knowing that it was my last days in college. Instead, I hit the brakes.
It was the year that followed my summer in Paris.
I didn’t realize it then, but slow travel had a subtle, far-reaching effect on me. I stopped glorifying the fast life. I learned to pace myself, be comfortable with the stillness, make deeper connections, and really be in the moment.
Explore a Place Through the Lens of a Slow Traveler
No matter the length of your trip, remember what Walter Hagen said:
‘You’re only here for a short visit. Don’t hurry, don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.’
Travel slow. Go beyond the postcards. Stop falling for tourist traps. And enjoy every moment through these 5 simple ways:
- Go where the Romans go — Take it from the locals. Ask where they shop, eat, or go for leisure. I’ve found that a unique way to connect with a place is to experience the nightlife. I don’t mean that ultra-premium nightclub where 4 out of 5 people are foreigners. In almost every city, there is a district or area lined with local pubs & bars — It’s Toronto’s Queen Street, Dallas’ Deep Ellum, or Manila’s Poblacion. They won’t be tourist-free, but these districts are sure to house the unique hole-in-the-walls frequented by locals.
- Plan only half of your daily itinerary — Slow travel is not a call to abandon planning or to skip out on important landmarks. The point is to allow spontaneity so you can wander, uncover the city’s hidden gems, and “smell the flowers along the way.” Intentionally do less to get more. Watch the baker knead dough from a bakery window. Enter that cute random cafe. Catch the street exhibitions. Listen to the buskers and stay until the end of the song. Choose one major activity for the day and don’t worry about how you’re going to spend the rest of your time.
- Take a second look — On my last full day in Paris, I went back up the Eiffel tower for the second time and witnessed a beautiful surprise proposal. It was the city of love in action, in the most romantic spot in town. Same place, yet, an even more special experience for me. When you travel, allow yourself to take a second look. If a certain place or landmark hits you differently, just go ahead and visit it again and revel in its beauty. It’ll be just as worth it.
- Approach a stranger — Conversations with people of different nationalities are rarely small talk. In my experience, the people you meet on your travels are willing to let their guard down precisely because you’re in transit. You can jump into questions that lightly touch on their core — what they do for a living, how they feel about their country, why they’re at that place at that time — , and it paves the way to deep insights and meaningful discussions. Slow travel, as defined by Travel World, “allows, for the briefest moment, the chance to peer into someone else’s life and to share that moment in time with them.” So, put down your phone and start a conversation.
- Spend time alone — If you can, get some alone time even if it’s just for a while. Stay longer in the public park. Walk around the area. Or have coffee in a nearby cafe. Just find time to be with yourself. There’s nothing like a change of scenery to help free your mind, reconnect with yourself, and ignite new ideas. A fresh environment helps you think of fresh perspectives. You learn to see yourself and the world, quite literally, from a different place.
So, is it worth it to spend your time and money in one place? Well, travel is always worth it. We see new sights, discover local color, and understand the world a little bit better.
But why only look for a change in scenery, when you can experience a change in yourself? Why settle for a glimpse of local color, when you can get a pretty good view of the rainbow?
That’s the magic of slowing down, forming deep connections, and immersing yourself in unfamiliar territory. So, make the most out of the city. Enjoy it from the lens of a slow traveler.
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Featured Photo by Christian Garcia on Unsplash