Demystifying the Slow Travel Movement to Explore Deeper

Transformative travel experiences that enrich our lives and truly alter our perspectives are more elusive than ever. In our fast-paced world, which glorifies bucket lists and instant gratification, travelers often forget to pause and live in the moment. Yet there exists a real desire for meaningful journeys that offer more than fleeting, Instagram-friendly photo opportunities. Let’s explore how the slow travel movement offers a means to really engage with a destination and explore deeper.

The Movement Begins

The origins of the slow travel movement can be traced back to a favorite destination among travelers – Italy. It began as a spin-off of the slow food movement that was inadvertently launched in 1986 by food writer and activist Carlo Petrini. When the first McDonald’s opened in one of Rome’s iconic piazza’s in 1986, he protested in favor of local producers. The goal was to cultivate awareness for our food’s sources, to promote cooking with care, craft over fast food and to advocate eating locally.

In the early 2000s, this sentiment of conscious consumption naturally spilled over into other industries, including tourism. The slow travel movement suddenly questioned our motives for traveling and discouraged dashing from one top tourist site to another. Instead, it favored going deeper by exploring the cultural aspects of a place through specific themes. 

Over time, the core definition of the slow travel movement morphed to mean different things to the various communities of slow travelers. “One of the defining elements of slow travel is the opportunity to become part of local life and to connect to a place and its people,” says advocacy site Slow Movement, an umbrella community for various slow resources.

The Concept of Time

Following this guideline, it might seem that the definition of slow travel supports only those with boundless time. Some slow travel advocates insist that the movement requires one to move slowly through a destination, devoting several weeks to exploration. Others champion actually living in a place for more intense personal experiences. But there’s still plenty of space within this movement for those who can’t spend weeks or months in a single place but still desire more meaningful travel.

According to Geir Berthelsen, a physicist who founded the World Institute of Slowness think tank, the concept itself pertains to the forgotten dimension of time. “Unlike chronological time, [slowness] is non-linear,” he shares. “It is…time that works for you, extraordinary time.” By decoupling the concept of slow travel from duration, which is chronological, we begin to realize that true slowness if non-linear.

“Slowness, which we at the institute describe as ‘non-linear time,’ is the opposite of normal, chronological time,” Berthelsen continues. “Whereas chronological time frantically pulls us forward into a future that never seems to arrive, slowness enables us to live in the moment and to experience the here and now.”

Prague Astronomical Clock, Prague, Czech Republic/Andrew Shiva 

A Matter of Pace?

For many, pace is the most critical element of slow travel. Ethan Gelber, a longtime slow traveler and travel editor at Green Matters, believes human beings and our planet are not necessarily built for the relentless urgency that is palpable in modern life. As such, people are finding new ways to counterbalance life’s frantic pace in order to slow down, he says. “[They’re] choosing slow-cooked feasts over fast food, and appreciating naturally aged drinks before quick-fix sodas,” notes Gelber. Besides this revival of thorough food preparation techniques in place of disposable, store-bought cuisine, there’s also a revival of time-intensive crafts like smithery, carpentry and weaving. It indicates the cultivation of a new mindset that appreciates a slower way of doing things for the sake of relishing the moment – a mindset that can enrich travel.

The Benefits of Slowing Down

Part of this new mindset, the slow travel movement encourages the slackening of pace so we can become present – psychologically, as well as physically. We should stop to appreciate distinct moments, allowing our senses to tune with the environment, instead of rushing to cross items off a bucket list. We will become more aware of our surroundings and more open to serendipitous experiences.  

Most memorable travel experiences are enjoyed when we stop moving so quickly. They occur in the tender moments when we strike up conversations with strangers, the times we wander aimlessly or in those hours we spend with local gastronomists and artisans, watching them craft and create with passion. Slow travel might result in an invitation to a local’s house for dinner, stumbling upon an inconspicuous cultural celebration or discovering a setting of idyllic beauty.

The slow travel outlook accepts that you may never check every single item off your bucket list. More so, it encourages you to embrace that possibility and instead focus on the meaningful experiences that pop-up during those in-between spaces.

We can develop the slow travel mindset anywhere, whether in our backyards or on foreign soil. By choosing to slacken our pace, we can connect deeper with the places we visit because we take time to stop and engage.

Aerial view of Wadi Rum, Jordan/Andrew Shiva