The Benefits of Slow Travel

The Benefits of Slow Travel

Slow Camel Trek near Rang-Kul, Tajikistan

Slow Camel Trek near Rang-Kul, Tajikistan

Slow travel makes for deeper travel and deeper travel makes for better travel. The more I have travelled, the slower I have travelled. Yes, it’s great to see so many different locations on a holiday, but seeing fewer of them and seeing them deeper is better

My first experience with deeper travel came in January 1992 in Paris, France. Back in those days, there was no Schengen Visa, and as an Australian I needed to obtain a French visa to visit as a tourist. Since it took so much effort to get that visa, I decided that I would stay in Paris for up to a month to make all that visa hassle worthwhile. I found some fairly average accommodation in a central Paris suburb for 3 weeks. Every day I left the pension and walked down the street, a middle-aged man was always there, rugged up for the cold winter weather, and selling crepes from a mobile food stand – my first experience with street food. Every time I passed him I would order a crepe with ‘jambon et fromage’ (ham and cheese) in my very poor French. For the first week I did this, I was just another customer, but during the second and third week, his face would light up when he saw me and he would prepare my crepe the way I liked it without me having to say a word. He would sometimes even add an extra topping for no extra cost. By staying in the one place for a long time I have formed a connection with this man. The way he treated me during the second and third weeks was similar to the other regulars that stopped on their walk to work – except that due to the language barrier he and I spoke more with gestures and facial expressions than with words.

Since this first experience with slow travel in 1992, I have grown to love it more and more. I’ve definitely had times where I have travelled at a normal or even fast pace – especially when my holiday time was tight – but even though I did that for several holidays, I would soon move back to the mode of slow travel.  Even when I had planned a busier itinerary (such as only 2 nights in say 3 consecutive cities) I would then slow to have a least double that time in the next destination.

The are numerous benefits of slow travel and this are listed below.

Connect With A Place And Its People

As mentioned in my story, slow travel allows you to connect with a place and its people. Familiarity with a place allows to meet people and interact with them at a different level. The perfect example of this was the town of Nanyuki in Kenya. Situated near Mt Kenya, touts wander the streets looking for business for their hiking expeditions to the mountain – the second tallest in Africa. My first visit there I stayed for about 4 nights. For the first 2 days, every tout who approached me asked me about mountain hikes – I declined as it is not a hike I could do. By the third day, when the touts approached me they didn’t ask me about mountain hikes any more, they instead wanted to talk about everything else – What is life like in Australia? What is your job? What do you think of Kenya? and in return I would ask similar questions about their life, the town of Nanyuki and Kenya.  I could quote countless other times this has happened and it certainly has made the travel experience a far richer and meaningful one for me.

Cheaper Form Of Travel

Slow travel is a cheaper form of travel. One of your biggest expenses when travelling is moving around different cities or countries. For example, if during a three week holiday you decide to stay in 5 places for 4 nights each instead of staying in 10 places for 2 nights each, you have just saved yourself the cost of moving to 5 extra places – and this cost can be significant. One of the benefits of staying in place for a longer time is that it allows you time just to sit and observe or just walk to admire the place you are visiting, or even engage in a few conversations with local people. These don’t cost money. If you did visit 10 places in 3 weeks, then you have 10 lots of expenses of visiting attractions such as museums, galleries, and historical sites. If you stay in only 5 places, your cost of these attractions is effectively halved.

Prevents Travel Fatigue

Slow travel prevents travel fatigue. Travelling, by its nature, is a more tiring (though more exciting) experience than staying at home and going about your daily activities. There is a lot of latent energy you expend when visiting new places – and after a while it can be tiring. The more weary you are during your travels the less your will appreciate everything that you are experiencing. Slow travel prevents this from happening because it allows you time to take some time to rest and refresh if you don’t have the energy to visit yet another historical monument or another museum. Because you are in one place for a longer time, you can leave this visit for another day.

Suited To Family Travel

Slow travel is perfectly suited to family travel. Moving around with little ones takes time, plus they can tire easily. If you travel with children, you will naturally adopt the slow travel model anyway, but being conscious to adapt it means that you more fully appreciated all the benefits of slow travel.

Avoid The Crowds

By taking travel more slowly it allows you more time at each place thus giving you the ability to avoid crowds. For example, in Egypt, the ancient sites are fantastic to visit – as long as there aren’t crowds of people around you. The tombs are small and can easily get crowded. When in Egypt, I would wait until I saw no groups of people nearby or no groups of people entering the tomb. Then I would enter and enjoy the place in relative solitude. If I did walk into a tomb and found a lot of people, I would just stand to the side and wait – soon enough these people would leave and again things would be quiet. Slow travel allows you the extra time to make use of those quiet periods that occur at the vast majority of tourist attractions.

Better Travel Photography

Slow travel is better for photography too. For example, let’s say you want to photograph a city scene at sunset. You make all the preparations and head there excited to get your photos – only to find that heavy clouds roll in, thus denying you of your sunset. Slow travel allows you time to revisit a place if the weather isn’t right or you think you can get better photos next time. However, to make the most benefit of this, try to get the majority of your photos early in your visit so you can revisit your favourite places to photograph later on if required.

How to Travel Slowly

The most important point with slow travel is not to have a busy itinerary – this defeats the whole purpose of slow travel even if staying in one place for longer. When making an itinerary allow a lot of free day time each day. As a rule, I will usually visit tourist attractions in the morning (when they are at their quietest) with free time in the afternoon and then using the dusk period for photography. This allows me to add something extra if needed or do nothing if I’m feeling a bit weary.

For example, on a recent family trip to Prague for 4 nights (and partly due to travelling with an infant) – we planned this itinerary for full 3 days: Day 1: Old City of Prague (including Old Town Square, Charles Bridge and the Vltava River: morning-early afternoon), Day 2: Prague Castle (morning-mid afternoon), Day 3: no plan. Every evening also was kept free. Doesn’t look like much, does it? However, having no plan for Day 3 was a major bonus, for near to our hotel was the very impressive Vyšehrad and if our itinerary was full we could not have visited this place that ranked as one of the highlights of our visit. Free evenings were also beneficial – the original plan was to undertake some photography, but instead we frequented a nearby Chinese restaurant. Because we did not set schedule every evening, it was easy to adjust our itinerary to what suited us best – and this worked perfectly and it made for a most enjoyable and relaxing holiday.

So how long should you stay in each place – unless I’m in transit to a third destination, my minimum stay in any one place is 3 nights but it can easily be longer, such as 4 or 5 nights. If a place has a lot to offer, there is nothing wrong with staying for a week. Remember, if staying in one place for long, you can either receive discounts of stays for one week or longer (check different dates on the relevant website) or you can negotiate directly with senior staff to organise a discount for extended stays. Most times you will receive a favourable response.

Read more: Improving The Travel Experience