I wish I could say that I intentionally set out to Slow Travel when I stepped on my first international flight to India in 2003, but that would be a lie. The truth is I didn’t know what I was doing, I just knew I had to go.
India wasn’t on my bucket list, in fact I’m not sure I even had a bucket list back then. I can best describe it as I woke up one morning with an insatiable burning desire to be in India. The kind of desire that cannot be suppressed. The desire that won’t just go away. The desire that can only be quenched with action.
What started as an 8- week service trip turned into a 6-month experience of slow travel.
What is the Slow Movement
Slow travel is part of the slow movement, the cultural phenomenon that started much earlier in the mid 1980’s with Carlo Petrini’s protest against the opening of McDonalds in Rome. It sparked the creation of one of the first slow movement subcultures, Slow Food. Since then the Slow Movement has been applied to many other cultural activities, from food to work. Even sex has entered the movement!
Carol Honore, who coined the phrase “slow movement” describes it as:
It is a cultural revolution against the notion that faster is always better. The Slow philosophy is not about doing everything at a snail’s pace. It’s about seeking to do everything at the right speed. Savoring the hours and minutes rather than just counting them. Doing everything as well as possible, instead of as fast as possible. It’s about quality over quantity in everything from work to food to parenting.
Applying the slow movement to travel
Applying Honore’s slow movement philosophy to travel may seem a bit counterintuitive especially for us Americans who receive an average of 10 days of PTO per year. 10 DAYS!!! Compared to the mandatory 20 days employers offer in European countries.
It’s no wonder we are fighting a stress epidemic coupled with depression and anxiety. I’ll save that for another post though.
With such limited PTO we have been conditioned to cram it all in. Do more, move faster, check the boxes, capture it all in photos so we can look at the details later when there is more time and come back home exhausted but with another stamp on the passport and a highlight reel to share on social media.
Travel companies have capitalized on Binge Travelers for decades with tour packages that charge you an arm and a leg to maximize your time and minimize your memories.
I think people are fed up, or simply exhausted. The slow travel movement is pumping the breaks on binge traveling. Fueled by an overwhelming desire for connection and purpose, we are looking to ancient wisdom for guidance leading us to slow down on many levels, including travel.
Become a Traveler vs. Tourist
When I found myself without a corporate job at the end of 2016, I decided to step out of the san Francisco rat race and self-propose a year- long sabbatical. I packed a bag, and set off to travel.
As exciting as it sounds, I was a ball of nerves. I knew only one thing for sure…That I didn’t know anything at all.
I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know how I was going to feel. I didn’t even know where exactly I’d be going.
The field of human potential calls this the “unknown”.
Stepping into the unknown feels like taking a big crazy leap of faith and once your mid- leap you have a choice for how you want to land – with curiosity or concern.
This is what differentiates travelers and tourists (in my opinion).
A tourist steps into another country with a checklist to tick off and searches to recreate the luxuries of home.
A traveler arrives with no checklist, no idea what their next move will be, and feels completely at home. A traveler opts to engage in conversation with locals to piece together the journey one step at a time.
The latter was me. As I slowed down and immersed myself in the new city I would call home for some unknown amount of time, I discovered a vibrancy that could only exist through conversations and connections. People were helpful, kind, and generous … I began to wonder why? I didn’t say or do anything different from other people I knew that lived in these areas, nor from when I’m at home in San Francisco.
But something was different, it was subtle yet powerful. I had an openness to me that came with months of slowing down, paying attention, and creating time to connect whether it be with the server at the corner restaurant, the hairstylist who did my hair, or the local barista.
In slowing down my journey unfolded.
With slow travel, I became a part of my surroundings, a temporary local if you will. I saw a few sights, walked to local markets and cafes, and built long lasting friendships.
As an added my bonus, my money was spent where it was most needed, in the local community.
How to turn your next vacation into slow travel
Slow travel is about quality vs. quantity. Rather than cramming in 20 cities or countries, spend time in 1 or 2 places and soak it in. Instead of planning every moment of everyday, have a couple items on your list and travel without an agenda and with curiosity.
Whether you are traveling, going on vacation or having a staycation you can apply the slow movement principles to create a more fulfilling and even life changing experience.
5 simple ways to have a life changing vacation:
- Stay local: Pick one place to visit and find an apartment or cottage to stay in versus a 5-star hotel. You’ll be more local and meet other people.
- Ditch the data plan: Easier said than done. When I was away I didn’t have a data plan and often I was without Wi-Fi so I had no choice but to read, write, and be present. It created space to meet people and have spontaneous conversations.
- Surround yourself with good people: Spending time traveling tends to put relationships into perspective and you realize that your time is valuable and how you spend it determines the course of your life.
- Create space for spontaneity: Life is what happens when you’re busy making plans. By freeing yourself from the pressure of seeing everything, you can relax, enjoy your surroundings, meet local people, discover off the beaten path gems.
- Get comfortable with being uncomfortable: Saved the best for last. Slow travel makes for a lot of downtime and perhaps even uncomfortable encounters with others or even yourself. All of this leads to life changing experience and immense amount of growth.
I’ll leave you with this quote:
Traveling – It leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.
Go out there and write your story… slowly.
As always don’t just take my word for it. Go out there and try it for yourself. Report back and let us know how it goes.
P.S. Download this simple meditation guide to help you slow down
Ritu Riyat is an Applied Yoga and Meditation coach and Diversity and Inclusion leader in Silicon Valley. She creates simple habits to support sustainable health through food, movement, and meditation.