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Last Updated on 19/05/2023
Curious about slow travel and wondering how to do it? This detailed slow travel guide features tips and ideas to help you revolutionise the way you travel.
Itineraries longer than our arms, endless tickets to book, queues at attractions, and underlying stress simmering below the surface… we’ve all been there.
Holidays are supposed to be a relaxing break from our busy lives but more often than not we return home needing a holiday FROM our holiday.
But what if you could experience more without running yourself ragged? What if you could travel in a way that benefits you and the place you’re visiting? What if you could be a sustainable traveller but still feed your wanderlust?
The answer is slow travel.
This comprehensive slow travel guide tells you how to experience more while doing less on holiday.
What is slow travel?
To put it simply, slow tourism is a form of travel which involves ditching planes for overland transport such as trains, walking, cycling, or boating.
On a deeper level, slow travel is a mindset focused on human connections and authentic experiences rather than viewing travel as a commodity.
Slow travellers take their time to experience a destination instead of just passing through it. They seek real, first-hand connections with the people who live there rather than encounters designed for the tourist’s benefit at popular attractions.
The aim of slow travel is to see MORE by doing LESS. This might seem counterintuitive but it’s the quality of the experiences that matter, not the quantity.
For example, rather than cramming all of Italy into a two-week itinerary, you spend a week or two getting to know Tuscany.
Slow travel is sustainable travel. It gives you the opportunity to go off the beaten path, contribute to the local economy, and enjoy the journey rather than focusing only on the destination.
It benefits you too. You feel more rested and fulfilled, and with a deeper understanding of the place you’ve visited.
What are the origins of slow travel?
Slow travel has its roots in the slow food movement which ignited in Italy during the 1980s to fight against McDonald’s opening near Rome’s Spanish Steps.
The fast food chain represented all that was wrong with the way life was speeding up alongside people’s dwindling interest in the food they were eating.
Officially founded in 1989 in Piedmont by Carlo Petrini, Slow Food International sought to rekindle the appreciation for the small, local producers, chefs, artisans, and farmers that make Italy’s food so renowned.
The same principles behind the slow food movement form the basis of slow travel too. Just like slow fashion and slow living in general.
Who is slow travel for?
First, let’s bust some misconceptions. Slow travel is not just for retirees or digital nomads with buckets of time and money to travel.
Slow travel suits everyone young and old from budget backpackers to luxury travellers as well as families, couples, and groups. There are no restrictions!
Travelling slowly isn’t about the amount of time you have, it’s about what you DO with that time. Your five-day trip can still count as slow travel.
The only requirements to slow travel are being open, going with the flow, and enjoying the journey as much as the destination. I’ll share more about how to do this later.
The benefits of slow travel
Here are some top reasons why the slow travel movement is so important.
You experience local culture
Slow travel invites you to interact with the local community away from the tourist attractions.
You can get to know the local culture by taking part in a traditional activity or event, learning the language or finding the best restaurant that tourists don’t know about.
You get to see what it’s like to live there and meet people with fascinating stories to tell.
Plus, getting an authentic cultural understanding helps bust prejudices or misconceptions about a place. Read my guide to taking ethical travel photos to find out more.
It benefits the local economy
The longer you stay in a place, the more money you will spend on shopping, days out, and buying souvenirs from local businesses etc.
In other words, your hard-earned cash goes directly into the local economy rather than the pockets of large international companies – otherwise known as tourism leakage.
A sustainable way to travel
Slow tourism is more sustainable because your positive contributions to the local area outweigh the negatives.
You support local businesses, go off the beaten path, use public transport, avoid tourist hotspots, and travel at a slower pace rather than rushing around.
It lowers your carbon footprint
The faster you travel (flights, driving etc) the bigger your carbon footprint. The slower you go (hiking, cycling or staying put in a place for longer), the lower your impact.
That’s not to say you can’t fly at all as a slow traveller. You should just make sure to use lower-impact transport when you’re there.
Slow travel relies most on public transport which requires less fuel and has fewer carbon emissions than planes.
- A return flight from London to Amsterdam is 136kg per passenger
- A return train journey from London to Amsterdam is 27.2kg per passenger
A note on cars: driving isn’t always more carbon-efficient than flying. Your carbon footprint varies depending on the number of passengers, the car’s model, and what it runs on.
Slow travel saves money
Since you’re spending longer in places, it’s easier to budget. You don’t have to pay for expensive plane tickets or tourist attractions.
Instead, you live more like a local by eating at cheaper restaurants, cooking at your accommodation, and using public transport.
You see more
Slow travel asks ‘what do you want to experience?’ rather than ‘where do you want to go?’ By spending longer in a region or place, you start to really see it.
Perhaps you’ll have a chance to see market day or experience a local custom? Maybe you’ll find a new favourite coffee shop or discover something that’s not on your original itinerary!
Travel shouldn’t be about following a cookie-cutter itinerary of the next person. It’s an experience uniquely tailored to you. Giving yourself the time to experience a place makes it unique to YOU.
You meet more people
It’s a given that if you’re going to spend longer in a place, you’re going to meet more people – and that’s exactly what travelling should be about!
It reduces overtourism
Slow travel reduces the impact of overtourism because it’s less about chasing the thrill of a ‘must-see’ and more about authentic experiences.
As a slow traveller, you’re not following the well-worn tourist trail to the top attractions. Instead, you stay in fewer places, avoid expensive tourist hotspots, and go off the beaten path.
This alleviates the pressures of overtourism in busy places and gives money to overlooked areas.
You feel less like a tourist
When you travel at a slower pace, you see what the destination is like from a local’s point of view.
You might become more familiar with the culture and infrastructure (like how the public transport system works) or learn some of the language.
In other words, you feel more connected to the place and its people!
It’s better for you
Our daily lives are hectic enough without making our holidays busy too. Slow travel allows you to enjoy your trip rather than cramming as much as you can into your itinerary.
Trust me, you’ll feel much more refreshed when you arrive home from your slow travel holiday.
This is what travel is all about!
Slow travel reminds you why you love to travel in the first place. It takes you further than what you read online or see on social media for an immersive experience that’s unique to you.
Ecotourism and slow travel
Ecotourism and the slow travel experience go hand in hand because they both benefit small off-the-beaten-path communities in an eco-friendly way.
Like ecotourism, slow tourism helps to develop our cultural awareness and understanding of nature in the places we travel.
Many experiences rooted in ecotourism are already examples of slow travel. Read my list of ecotourism activities to see the connection.
The best ways to travel slowly
These are some of the best slow travel activities:
Typically associated with twenty-year-olds travelling on a budget (most likely in Southeast Asia), backpacking is an easy way to travel slowly too.
You move slowly from one place to the next using public transport as it’s often the cheapest way to travel.
Perhaps you’ll stay in a hostel for a few weeks at a time, maybe working for six months and travelling for the next six? There’s no rush.
What if you could get all your accommodation for free when you travel? Housesitters take care of a homeowner’s property and pets while they’re away in exchange for free accommodation.
You do basic cleaning, water house plants, feed the pets, and collect any mail for the agreed-upon length of time. It’s a great way to get to know the area and live like a local.
Always go through a proper website like Trusted Housesitters for your safety.
It’s never been easier to work from anywhere and adopt the digital nomad lifestyle. Remote working gives you the chance to settle down and experience the place for longer. You live there rather than travel through it.
While being a digital nomad in itself is legal, digital nomads tend to travel on tourist visas which is a legal grey area. You’re not supposed to work on a tourist visa.
However, an increasing number of countries are launching their own digital nomad or remote working visas.
A note on renting: If you decide to stay in an Airbnb, try to avoid areas that have housing issues. Many communities are being priced out of their homes or can’t find anywhere to move because of holiday rentals.
Cycling is one of the most sustainable ways to travel since carbon emissions are reduced to a minimum.
It allows you to slow down and take in your surroundings. Plus, it’s great exercise, gives you lots of fresh air, and a digital detox!
Make sure you’re comfortable on a bike and you’re physically able to handle the long days of cycling. That doesn’t mean you have to be a fitness fanatic though. You can go at your own pace and watch your stamina grow each day.
Create your own cycling itinerary or find guided and self-guided tours at Skedaddle, Much Better Adventures, and H+I Adventures.
Many new train routes and sleeper trains are cropping up, making it easy to travel around mainland Europe without flying.
Travelling by train invites you to enjoy the journey. There are few luggage restrictions, no extra waiting around at airports, and you can sit back and watch the changing geography unfurl outside your window.
Trains in Europe are affordable and if you opt for a sleeper, it saves you the cost of a hotel room for the night. These trains are modern and comfortable too with sleeping arrangements to suit your budget.
See the Man in Seat 61 for train route itineraries in meticulous detail. I hope to take the train from London to Italy one day!
Where better to live like a local than with a local? During a homestay, you stay with a local family in their home as their guest.
Homestays give you the opportunity to stay in places that might not have hotels or other tourists. It’s also a great way to try home-cooked dishes, get travel tips, and support the local economy.
Stay safe by booking your homestay through a legitimate platform. Homestay is an obvious one. Another good option is Workaway if you want to combine a homestay with volunteering or a working holiday.
Hiking is a fantastic way to connect with the place you’re travelling through. Plus, it’s easy to build a hiking itinerary to suit your interests.
You can hike through the countryside, passing through small towns and villages as you go. Stay in hotels or go camping, incorporate the history of the local area or make the focus food and wine.
A hiking trip can be as long or as short as you like. Remember to follow the Leave No Trace principles and ensure you’re physically up to the challenge you’ve given yourself.
Slow travel tours
Intrepid Travel runs guided small group tours all over the world and each one is led by a local guide, focuses on local experiences, and incorporates homestays throughout.
If you prefer the self-guided approach, Byway Travel creates bespoke itineraries without a single flight involved.
Original Travel uses local concierges to help you get an authentic experience of the place you’re visiting. For more tour ideas, read my guide to the best sustainable travel companies.
Off the beaten path
Going off the beaten path is a key part of slow travel. This means avoiding the well-worn tourist trails and opting for lesser-known places that appreciate your custom more.
It’s not about visiting places that are unsafe. You’re choosing regions that tourists don’t know about.
Think of alternative destinations to the most popular places. For example:
- Riomaggiore instead of Cinque Terre in Italy
- Foelgandros instead of Santorini in Greece
- Choquequirao instead of Machu Picchu in Peru
- Doubtful Sound instead of Milford Sound in New Zealand
- Lombok instead of Bali in Indonesia
You get the idea!
Farm-to-table experiences mean getting to know where your food comes from in the local area. Absolutely no food air miles and no fast food!
So what does a farm-to-table experience look like? How about seeing how halloumi is made in a Cypriot village before eating it at the restaurant around the corner?
Or perhaps doing a wine trail tour in the Central Otago region of New Zealand’s South Island? The possibilities are endless (and utterly delicious!).
Easy slow travel tips
Here are some quick tips to help you master the art of slow travel:
Leave gaps in your itinerary
Don’t try to plan every moment of your trip. Allow yourself to go with the flow and see where it takes you.
Have a few must-dos in place but be flexible in case you want to move things around. Leaving gaps in your itinerary will allow you to stay curious about the place you’re visiting.
Pay attention to how you’re feeling too. Don’t fancy doing that walking tour? Don’t! It’s your trip.
Choose alternative ways to travel
If you’re travelling closer to home, look at alternatives to flights. We’re more connected than ever and it has never been easier to get the train rather than fly.
Similarly, when you’re travelling, use public transport rather than flying to multiple places.
Look for authentic experiences
The best way to see below the surface of a destination is to ask the locals for recommendations. Start with the local Visitor Centre or ask the reception staff at your hotel.
Avoid big tourist attractions which will only have you fighting through crowds just to get a photo. Most of the time, they just aren’t worth the hassle.
Slow travel destinations and holidays
Any country in the world can be a slow travel destination!
Here’s a quick list of some of the easiest countries to slow travel in, and some trip ideas to get you started.
New Zealand is a beginner-friendly destination for backpackers. It was the first destination I visited as a solo traveller.
I spent over three months travelling from the top of the North Island to the southern point of the South Island.
Slow travel ideas: Backpacking! New Zealand has an easy-to-navigate backpacking culture. You can find cool hostels, flexible backpacking tours, and amazing scenery.
Australia is so vast that slow travel is the only way to do it any amount of justice. You can spend from six months up to one or two years here and still not see it all.
Australia’s landscape differs throughout the country so you’ll always encounter something new. The lively travel culture makes it a no-brainer for many backpackers.
Slow travel ideas: Australia has an abundance of epic road trips like Coral Coast to Broome in the west. Hop in a campervan and feel the freedom of the open road.
Another vast country with so much to see, there’s a reason why so many Americans rarely venture outside of it. You can find every type of landscape here from deserts to mountains. It’s a land of contrast.
Slow travel ideas: USA is well-known for its national parks such as Yellowstone and Rocky Mountains National Park. If you’re a nature lover, why not pick one to explore either by road or on foot?
Canada offers plenty of opportunities to embrace slow travel and get off the beaten track.
Sample the quiet fishing village life in Newfoundland where the seasons are part and parcel of life. Or get deep into nature at a remote retreat surrounded by rainforest. There’s so much to see and do.
Slow travel ideas: Road-tripping is an amazing experience in Canada but if you don’t drive, you can enjoy a 1200-mile train journey through Western Canada for just over $100.
Mainland Europe provides ample opportunities for slow travel as it’s so diverse and interconnected.
Interrail is a fantastic way to get around and you can find a pass that suits your budget and timeframe.
Notable countries include:
Portugal is one of the cheapest countries to visit in Western Europe. It’s also easy to get around with FlixBus (I did this when I spent three weeks in Portugal during the summer!).
Slow travel ideas: Make Lisbon your base and explore the Algarve or wine-producing Alentejo region. Or why not make the most of Portugal’s new digital nomad visa and work in a sunny beach town?
France is well suited to that slower pace of holiday – and it’s so easy to get there by train from the UK. Get outside Paris and find picturesque French towns nestled within a beautiful and diverse countryside.
France has plenty of road trips you can do but more eco-friendly options include the high-speed TGV train or cycling holidays.
Slow travel ideas: France is known for its cycling (Tour de France!).
Why not cycle the Garden of France aka the Loire Valley? The 800km cycling route takes you through a UNESCO World Heritage Site with castles and wineries to look out for.
Where better to enjoy slow travel than in the birthplace of the slow food movement? Head out of the cities and discover a slower-paced life in the regions of Piedmont, Umbria, Emilia-Romagna, and Tuscany. Or explore Italy by train in search of ‘La Dolce Vita.’
Slow travel ideas: Walking holidays mixed with wine-tasting and cooking classes are popular.
Or why not go wilder still with a multi-day hiking adventure in the Italian Dolomites? You could also create an Italy by train itinerary – something I’m keen to do myself too!
The UK has plenty of slow travel opportunities (despite trains being expensive). Enjoy walking routes, such as the Hadrian’s Wall Path, the Cotswolds Way, and the Snowdonia Way.
Wales is also a great place for cycling holidays, and you can camp or road trip your way around Scotland and Northern Ireland. The possibilities are endless!
Slow travel ideas: Why not explore Britain’s waterways by narrowboat? You can hire a boat with a skipper or learn the ropes yourself.
Spain is one of the most popular countries to visit in Europe, but you can still find a slower pace of travel off the beaten path.
The Balearic islands of Mallorca and Menorca are quieter than some of their party-hub neighbours. Here, you can find pretty fishing towns and incredible seafood.
Alternatively, Northern Spain is less touristy (if you avoid Barcelona), the scenery is breathtaking, and the food and wine are exceptional.
Slow travel ideas: Northern Spain’s Feve trains run on a trio of railways that are often hidden from railway maps.
Running on 1000mm narrow-gauge lines, they connect Bilbao in the Basque Country to Ferrol Galicia with more than 100 stops along the way.
Slovenia is the first country in the world to be declared a Green Destination. Its capital Ljubljana is one of the few cities in Europe with a car-free centre.
Public transport is easy to use and accessible both inside and outside of the cities so slow travel is a no-brainer!
Slow travel ideas: Slovenia’s tourism board has put together an exciting new cycling route which is perfect for foodies and nature lovers.
The Green Gourmet Route passes boutique sustainable wineries and Michelin-starred restaurants. It takes about two weeks to complete and it can be guided or self-guided.
Slow travel FAQs
Does a cruise count as a slow travel holiday?
While you’re technically travelling overland, cruising doesn’t count as slow travel. Cruises contribute to overtourism as they unleash thousands of passengers on a port at a given time.
Passengers rarely spend longer than a few days at the port so they don’t have a chance to support the local economy or get to know the culture.
A passenger on a cruise ship emits about two times more CO2 than someone who flies and stays in a hotel!
Boat travel tip: look for smaller expedition ships like Hurtigruten or container ships instead of enormous passenger cruise liners.
Does flying count as slow travel?
The further away you want to travel, the more time you need. An endless amount of time to travel isn’t a luxury that most can afford.
While flying isn’t technically viewed as slow travel, you can still embrace its core principles when you reach your destination.
As a slow traveller, you don’t have to give up flying altogether as long as your intention is to fly less while experiencing more.
Does slow travel require lots of time and money?
No, anyone can enjoy slow travel. They don’t have to be retired, rich, or digital nomads.
This guide should give you plenty of slow travel inspiration whether your trip is a weekend or several months!
Can families travel slowly?
Yes! Slow travel is an enriching experience for children. Plus, spending longer in a place is much less stressful than attempting to cram as much as you can into an itinerary.
How do you prepare for your slow travel trip?
Ditch your rigorous itinerary but don’t forgo research! I recommend reading up on your destination so you know what you’ve got yourself into.
More tips include:
- Learn about the customs and traditions
- Learn a little bit of the language like ‘please,’ ‘thank you,’ and ‘hello’
- Wise up on exploitation so you know what to avoid
- Pick a few activities you would like to do but leave time for wandering
Slow travel guide final thoughts
I hope this slow travel guide has helped you see the benefits of a gentle travel pace.
When it boils down to it, slow travel holds many of the core reasons why we travel – for meaningful connections, new adventures, and memories that last a lifetime.
What’s not to like?
If you have any questions about how to slow travel or would like to discuss the topic further, my inbox is always open.
Looking for more sustainable travel tips? These articles can help!
- What Is Sustainable Travel and How to Do It?
- 10 Amazing Ecotourism Activities To Do Around The World
- 15 Best Ethical Animal Experiences Around the World
- No-Fly Holidays: London to Barcelona by Bus (Review)
- What is Ecotourism and Why is it Important?
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Good to know that slow travel is catching up with travellers. It is a good way to experience more without getting tired. Moreover, slow travel is good for reducing the carbon footprint.
You’re right, it’s an excellent way to reduce your carbon footprint while travelling!