The famous Taoist philosopher Laozi once said, “A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.”
All too often, people who travel seem to have a list of things they want to accomplish. It doesn’t matter how they go about it, as long as they can check everything off that list.
Many of these travelers don’t seem to care if their experiences can offer them anything other than the ability to brag about the places they went.
Recently, to counter this superficial attitude commonly found in traditional tourism, a movement known as slow travel has been gaining a lot of traction.
Slow travel is the idea that the only way to directly experience your surroundings is by slowing down, rejecting the checklist approach of the tourism industry and keeping yourself open to the myriad of new experiences that exist out there in the world.
Slow travel is a mindset, a lifestyle and by far the best way to travel.
How to Prepare for a Slow Travel Expedition
Figure out money.
Traveling isn’t cheap, and spending significant time abroad is going to necessitate that you have a sufficient source of funding.
Either save enough money to travel around for a while or secure some kind of funding along the way. This could be remote-based work, or you can look to find a job abroad.
Whatever you decide, be sure to budget appropriately and in accordance with what’s necessary for you.
Overcome the language barrier.
Being able to speak the local language is an essential piece of the slow travel puzzle.
You want to converse and connect with the locals as you experience your life in each new destination you visit.
In fact, traveling to a new place with the sole purpose of learning the language through immersion, also known as a language trip, is a great way to travel slowly!
But even if you don’t take a language trip, there are plenty of ways for you to become conversational in a language and make the most of your slow travel experience.
Check out FluentU for a fun and easy way to learn new languages quickly.
FluentU takes real-world videos directly from the culture of the country you’re visiting—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
FluentU also offers progress-tracking tools and video suggestions based on what you’ve already watched.
Each video also comes with flashcards and exercises to help you remember the words even after you’ve finished watching.
And since one FluentU account gives you access to nine different languages, you can spend some time touring Switzerland, work for a few months in Peru, relax in China, and you’ll be able to learn German, French, Italian, Spanish, and Chinese with one FluentU account.
Check out the full video library for free with a FluentU trial!
Plan out your route.
It’s important that you have a route mapped out so that you can travel with ease and efficiency.
Map out a route that takes you from point A to point B in a smart and safe way. One of the best things about slow travel is that traveling between locations can also be done slowly.
Look for locations that offer what you want. If you’re looking for peace and serenity, make sure to get away from the city. But if you want hustle and bustle with a lot of things going on, make sure to go where the action is.
Insurance is crucial when doing any kind of travel, whether it’s long-term or short-term travel.
Find yourself an insurance provider that will cover you over multiple destinations and is flexible enough to accommodate changes in travel plans.
Also, since you’ll be gone for a relatively significant amount of time, you’ll want to make sure your travel insurance isn’t going to cost a fortune.
SafetyWing is a great slow travel insurance provider. It has high levels of flexibility spread throughout inexpensive yet thorough travel insurance plans.
Slow travel requires spending a significant amount of time in one place, so it’s important to research visa requirements surrounding how long you can spend a certain amount of time in any one place.
Find out if you need a visa, how to get a visa that is specific for the amount of time you want to be there and what the rules are for foreigners in that specific country.
Whatever you do, make sure you don’t overstay your visa. Calculate the exact date that you need to leave and write it down so you don’t forget.
Once you’ve taken care of these crucial preparation steps, you’re ready for your first slow travel adventure!
Slow Travel: 7 Benefits of Taking Your Time as You See the World
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1. You become a local and build strong connections.
Whenever anyone asks me where I’ve traveled, I always respond that I’ve lived in certain places.
Wherever I go, I like to become a local.
I rent an apartment. I learn the public transportation routes. I identify the local eating habits. I build social circles. I know where the best supermarkets, bars, clubs, restaurants, barbershops and electronics stores are.
And I always strive to learn as much of the local language as I can to be able to form basic friendships with people I meet every day.
When I do this, I become a knowledgeable resource of that area. Not only for myself, but also for the fast travelers who are just entering the area and looking for something specific. Helping tourists find their way around isn’t just helpful, it’s also a great way to make friends while abroad.
When you become a local, you embrace the language, people and culture. You plant deeper roots that eventually spring into deeper connections.
You’re in the country for a longer period of time, so the friendships you create are less superficial and tend to last long after you’ve left.
You embrace the area as your own, and you forge a strong personal connection with the region.
2. Slow travel saves money.
This might not be immediately obvious, because “slow travel” might require “a lot of travel.” And traveling can get expensive!
But slow travel actually saves you a substantial amount of money in the long run.
First of all, most slow travelers are looking for stronger connections and experiences that they can’t access through superficial tourist attractions. That’s why they opt to stay away from the overpriced tourist areas. Instead, they patron local services in cheaper areas that treat them as thrifty locals instead of big-budget tourists.
And being a friendly foreigner in an area full of locals often gives you a lot of hidden perks.
My friend lived in a non-touristic area of Chongqing, China, and never had to pay for a haircut. He had become friends with a barber who was so amused each time he saw this blue-eyed foreigner that he would always cut my friend’s hair for free.
Also, people who offer services like housing and transportation rentals often give long-term renters discounts for their services.
For instance, a one-week stay at a hotel room in a touristy part of town might cost $75. But one month’s rent for an apartment in a much more culturally interesting part of town might only cost $100.
You’re still getting all the same amenities—and in many cases, you get more—but because you’re committed to a longer stay, you receive substantially better rates.
And finally, since you’re staying in one location for a long period of time, you don’t need to spend so much money on frequent travel from place to place. Staying put cuts out a lot of travel costs.
3. Living in the moment is more relaxing.
Being in the moment means you’re living life freely. There are no strict plans to tie you down.
You can wake up one morning and go to the beach. Or you can go to the store to buy some fruit. Or you can sleep in until noon. Or you can rent a motorbike and drive to a remote waterfall.
When you live in the moment, you’re free to do whatever you want rather than try to cram a bunch of experiences into a week or two.
This allows for all of the unplanned adventures to occur as the neighborhoods, culture or scenery controls your emotional drive to do whatever you feel like doing.
When you travel slowly, all the stress of making sure your vacation is perfect goes away.
You’re living in the moment and accepting everything as it comes, so there are no bad experiences—there are only experiences. This zen-like attitude is way more relaxing than making sure your itinerary is jam-packed with all of the necessary tourist hotspots.
The slow part of slow travel allows for peace and ease.
You can breathe, slow down and take in everything that’s around you. It’s all about adopting a mindset that whatever happens is just part of the experience.
All you have to do is relax and let the experiences happen.
4. Slow travelers have richer experiences.
I was aimlessly walking with a friend down the streets of Yangon, Myanmar, and my friend said to me, “Why do you walk so slowly? If you walk quickly, you get to see more things.”
I told him, “There’s nowhere to be! When you move quickly, sure you’ll see more stuff, but you won’t get to fully experience what’s already here. Look at the subtle ways the locals interact with one another, watch the interaction between the different people in the tea houses, listen to the subtle tonal intricacies of the Burmese language. You can even smell the different types of bread being made behind each apartment door!”
He admitted, “Yeah, I guess I never really noticed any of that stuff before, and I’ve walked this street over a dozen times!”
When you move at a slower pace, you can start to pay attention to what’s directly in front of you instead of what you want to be in front of you.
Sure, you may see less, but you get to experience more. You understand the value of quality over quantity.
This is how you get to pinpoint specifics about certain cultural behaviors, and it allows you to interact with the culture in a very granular and intentional way.
The experiences become rich, intricate and fascinating as opposed to simplistic, predictable and superficial.
5. Slow travel is more eco-friendly.
Since you’re spending a lot of time in one specific place, there’s less of a need for frequently traveling between two places. And recurring long-distance travel is not only prohibitively expensive, it’s also bad for the environment.
When you travel as a tourist, you need to hop from destination to destination at a relatively quick speed. Prioritizing speed often results in a lot of high-speed travel—think hours-long journeys in private cars, airplanes, etc.—which promotes environmental degradation.
Slow travel allows flexibility for relatively low-emitting transit between destinations like shuttle buses, trains and boats. It’s irrelevant if it takes two or three days to get to your next destination, so hopping aboard a ferry boat might not only be the cheapest option, it’s probably also the most eco-friendly.
The slow travel mindset is about being in harmony with your surroundings as opposed to the fast travel mindset, which disregards the surroundings of the natural world in favor of cramming in a lot of experiences.
When you have the option to take your time, you also have the option to be kinder to the environment.
This kind of low-impact tourism allows you to get the experiences you want without feeling like your desire for travel comes at the cost of the environment around you.
6. Authentic travel happens when you slow down.
The tourism industry tends to be very fake.
Most tourist spots are heavily dressed up so that lots of people can come, take a picture, post it on Instagram and then leave. They offer plenty of comfort services designed to placate tourists.
Tourists come to see the tourist spot, eat tourist food, take a tourist picture and leave. They never get to experience the reality of an area.
When you travel slowly, you get to experience what the area is all about. You see the authenticity of the location.
By simply slowing down, you strip away the superficial layer that’s designed to keep tourists happy. You can see what life is really like, eat authentic food and meet normal people who aren’t tour guides or people selling you souvenirs.
This slow travel approach allows you to experience everything from a firsthand, non-tourist perspective. This gives you a much more accurate sense of what life is like in that location.
7. Slow travel lets the journey be the teacher.
There’s an old saying: It’s the journey that counts, not the destination.
This is great advice when embarking on a slow travel expedition. When you slow down and open yourself to the wide range of experiences that lie before you, you’re able to embrace the journey instead of the destination.
You see what’s truly important about traveling: meeting new people, sharing experiences, learning about new cultures, building connections, learning languages and gaining positivity through the experience.
It doesn’t matter if those things come from one place or 100 places.
Sure, it’s cool to say that you’ve been to 100 places. But it won’t matter much if all you got out of the experience was the fact that you can say you’ve been to 100 places.
Where’s the wisdom gained? Where’s the cultural perspective? Where are the new friends from each of those 100 places?
The journey is what makes us well-rounded and better individuals. It’s irrelevant where we’re going as long as we pay attention to how we get there.
Slow travel isn’t a new concept.
As time goes on, more and more people are recognizing that the most powerful way to interact with a new culture is by spending a significant amount of time there. By learning about and engaging with that culture in an authentic and intentional way.
And while it may seem daunting to dive into slow travel at first, simply implementing some of the slow travel ethos into your foreign journeys will help you to recognize these seven benefits firsthand.
So next time you go out into the world, slow down, relax, open your eyes and watch as slow travel brings you some of the best experiences of your life!
Eric Michelson is a nomadic, philosophizing, peace-minded pluralist. He hopes to help bridge the divide between the diverse factions of the world by exploring various perspectives brought on by personal experience. You can follow Perspective Earth to learn more about him and his work.