In our consumer culture, travel has become the latest thing we consume. Many of us now travel to take photos to post on social media — we create ‘grammable travel moments instead of experiencing them.
When we travel, we often try to do as much as possible, as quickly as possible and forget to slow down and experience a place. This isn’t sustainable (and it’s also exhausting). Slow travel aims to address this. You can use this article as your ultimate slow travel guide.
Below, we’ll cover what slow travel is, why it’s important and how to slow travel sustainably and responsibly.
What is Slow Travel?
If you’re asking: what is slow tourism? it’s essentially traveling slower by choosing to stay in one place for a longer period. The primary slow travel definition means staying in a particular destination for three weeks or more.
Some slow tourism examples would include visiting a city and engaging in more local activities instead of hitting all the touristy spots in a few days.
Slow travel has become increasingly popular with remote workers or retirees, but traveling for longer periods isn’t always possible for everyone. The principles of slow travel, however, can be embraced by all to travel more responsibly.
What Are The Benefits of Slow Travel?
There’s a reason the slow travel movement has caught on. Slow travel benefits us personally as well as the destinations we visit. When done responsibly, slow travel can be a great way to travel more sustainably.
Slow travel can help support the tourism industry in a more sustainable way, by providing consistent demand. This helps combat the pitfalls of off-season, when businesses may have to shut down, and peak season, when destinations become overcrowded.
Slow travel allows travelers to truly get to know the places they visit as well as helps travelers to connect with locals. Slow travel can also give us the space and time to engage in more ecotourism and educational activities.
Lastly, slow travel often saves money since you’re spacing out activities over time and choosing to do more local, everyday activities. A slower pace also helps lower stress.
What Are The Potential Downsides of Slow Tourism?
While slow travel can help combat the consumptive and extractive nature of travel today, that doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences of slow travel. There are a few things that long-term travelers should still be aware of such as gentrification and overtourism.
As remote work becomes more common, popular destinations for slow travelers and digital nomads are now being negatively impacted.
Popular places for digital nomads, such as Bali, Mexico City, Medellin, and Lisbon, experienced an influx of travelers that are often making considerably more money than the average local community, due to their currency.
[Check out our guides to sustainable travel in Mexico and ecotourism in Portugal.]
When these travelers choose to stay for longer periods, some cities experience rising rents, higher costs of living, and overcrowding with less housing and resources available for locals.
If we aren’t mindful of our actions when we slow travel, spending more time in one city can end up negatively impacting the place we’re visiting.
How To Slow Travel Sustainably:
There are a few principles to be mindful of when we slow travel to ensure we’re traveling sustainably and responsibly.
Thoroughly Research The Destination Beforehand
Reading the local news can help us get an idea of current events and any particular points of tension or difficulties that the place may be experiencing.
It’s also a great idea to understand the history of the destination we’re visiting. This way we can better understand the culture as well as get an idea of activities we may want to do while visiting.
Make an Effort to Speak the Local Language
In today’s global and technological world, it’s no longer essential to fluently speak the language of the places we’re visiting. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try though, especially when we’re slow traveling!
We can memorize greetings, how to say thank you, and any common questions or phrases you’ll be using daily (such as how to order food). When we’re the ones visiting, it’s important not to assume everyone speaks our language and to make the effort to speak theirs.
Slow Travel Tip: If you don’t speak the local language, download Google translate. You can use this app, even without the internet, to help you communicate wherever you go.
Know The Cost of Living and Tipping Expectations
Before visiting a new place, it’s important that we take the time to look up what the tipping expectations are, as well as how much things tend to cost. This will give us a good idea of what to expect when ordering a taxi or eating out.
This is especially important when we’re visiting a country that doesn’t have as strong of a currency as our country. People often drastically overtip because they think things are “cheap” without understanding how that can impact the place, and even potentially be disrespectful.
While we should always pay a fair price and be generous with a tip when we can afford to be, it’s key to still be mindful of how we spend our money while traveling, and follow the local expectations.
Be Mindful of Privileges We May Have
When traveling from a country that has a very strong currency and/or passport and visiting a country that doesn’t, responsible slow travel involves remaining conscious of those privileges.
While something may seem cheap to us as a traveler, that doesn’t mean it’s cheap to the people who live there and who may now hear if you loudly exclaim how cheap your drink is.
The same goes for the privilege we may experience as tourists. We might not face any of the safety concerns, discrimination, or economic hardships that some locals may experience.
What we’re experiencing as a tourist may or may not reflect what it’s like to live somewhere.
For remote workers able to travel freely, remain mindful that in certain countries, the majority may not be able to do the same. For some people, travel is not possible at all.
If we’re able to slow travel, we have a degree of privilege. Part of responsible slow travel is remaining mindful of this as we visit places outside of our home country.
Learn and Follow the Local Laws and Customs
Every country has different laws and customs. As a responsible slow traveler, it’s important to understand what the local laws are beforehand and of course, follow them.
Slow Travel Tip: Do some research on the local customs.
For example, do people greet each other on the street and how do they greet — a kiss, a hug, a hello?
Are there certain days of the week when things are closed, like Sundays? Are prices negotiable or fixed when shopping for markets or hailing taxis?
Knowing the local customs ahead of time will make it much easier to navigate a new place respectfully!
Choose to Support Local Businesses and the Local Economy
How we spend our money while traveling can make a big difference. Support local, sustainable businesses and artisans and avoid international chains or corporate establishments whenever possible.
Prioritize local drivers, tour guides, restaurants, markets, and shops. This way we’re directly supporting the local economy while traveling.
Do As The Locals Do
Researching the place we’re traveling to (what to do, where to go, and how to conduct ourselves) is part of making a conscious effort to follow the local norms.
Things like… eating when the locals eat, not working from cafes or restaurants if that’s not common, dressing respectfully, hanging out where the locals hang out, doing local activities along with touristy ones, and making an effort to meet some local friends.
Prioritize Locally Run Accommodation
When it comes to accommodations, a wonderful way to slow travel sustainably is to choose locally run accommodation. Consider local, eco-friendly accommodation, like a sustainably run boutique hotel. When choosing to stay in an Airbnb, we can try to choose listings from a local host instead of a property management company.
When renting a long-term apartment, research the typical monthly rent to understand what’s realistic for the area. Keeping these things in mind can help us support the local economy and prevent rising prices in the neighborhood.
Stay in Neighborhoods Where Expats Commonly Stay
The best way to prevent further gentrification or displace locals is to stay in a neighborhood where expats and tourists commonly stay. These neighborhoods have often long-been occupied by fellow tourists, so our continued presence likely won’t alter the neighborhood or displace people.
Visit Popular Places Responsibly
Last but not least, when visiting popular tourist destinations or slow traveler hotspots, it’s important to be especially mindful of our actions. Popular destinations are popular for a reason, and we can still visit places experiencing overtourism responsibly.
Prioritize visiting crowded destinations during the off-season when you can (it’s also usually more affordable), and try to follow the above tips to visit mindfully!
Choosing to slow travel means we’re choosing to slow down to consciously experience and learn about the places we’re visiting. When we’re open, mindful, and curious about the places we’re lucky enough to visit, it’ll be no problem embracing slow travel sustainably.
About The Author:
Alicia Briggs is a writer & editor specializing in slow travel & sustainable living. She’s worked in journalism since 2016 and currently writes for a variety of publications such as Sustainably Chic and Hidden Lemur. She has been a full-time traveler since 2018 and runs her own blog, Learning the Local Way, where she covers responsible travel & living tips.