What is slow travel?

Have you ever returned from a city break or short holiday only to feel more exhausted than you did before you left? Trying to see or experience as many things as possible within a short period of time can lead to what many call 'tourist burnout.' You just can’t cram everything into one little trip so by the time you return, you feel like you’ve missed out.⠀⠀

But there's another way: introducing slow travel. Slow travel started as an offshoot of the slow food movement, which promotes local ingredients and traditional cooking, linking the pleasure of food with supporting communities and local ecosystems. Like slow food, slow travel emphasises connection over everything else – connection to local people, local food and local culture. There are no particular guidelines on how to travel slowly – rather it is a mindset to encourage you to explore your destination thoroughly and genuinely immerse yourself in the local pace of life.

The benefit of slow travel is that it is more sustainable for local communities and the environment. It ties in with the 'leave only footprints' mantra employed by many ecotourists – the slower you travel, the more likely you are to avoid harmful modes of transport, like planes, designed to get the job done quickly. You may opt to cross a long distance by train instead to experience the scenery along the way or participate in a car club or car sharing scheme to engage with locals. Perhaps you try to learn a bit of the local language and rent a spare room in a family home instead of getting a whole Airbnb for yourself. Maybe you take a bit of extra time to discover a hidden, independent café or visit a small farmers' market. You could slow it down even further and complete your whole trip by foot – anything's possible! ⠀

Climate change requires us to rethink our typical modes of transport. Aviation alone accounts for 5% of global CO2 emissions with a return flight from London to San Francisco emitting more than twice as much as a family car produces in a year. While airlines are improving fuel efficiency to reduce emissions, they are still unable to keep up with the vast increase in passenger numbers, projected to double in the next 20 years. An intercity train in Britain, for example, emits just 16% of what a domestic flight in Britain would contribute to CO2 emissions. A coach ride emits just 11%.  

But it’s not only the environment that can benefit heavily from slow travelling – it’s also our mental health. As the world becomes increasingly frantic and we are faced with an intimidating pace of life, slowing down can do wonders for our mind and body: it lowers stress levels and blood pressure, enhances our decision making abilities and other cognitive functions and restores our emotional equilibrium. By slowing down and experiencing our surroundings fully, we give ourselves space to discover more meaning in the little time we have.

So, next time you're itching for a holiday (and let's be real – who isn't at this point?), try to take it low and slow. Ditch the to-do list of the top 10 attractions and instead let your sense of adventure be your tour guide. You don't have to do it all – save some sights for another trip.