6 ways you can travel slowly (even when you don’t have time!)
Have enticing tales about slow travel left you with a sense of longing, but also with a simultaneous sense of “how do people find the time for all that?”
I completely understand why these leisurely adventures inspire your wanderlust. Slow travel really brings you back to the root of why travel is so appealing in the first place.
It allows for a break from your daily pace of life, a chance to relax and explore, an opportunity to meet new people and experience new cultures, and the possibility of coming home transformed. Aren’t these the most distilled yearnings of a wanderluster?
These ideals are even more enticing in the context of our current culture.
Speed, going viral, efficiency, distractions, 24-hour news cycle, productivity, KPI’s, scrolling, stress, keeping up with the Joneses – all of this noise is enough to give our nerves a splitting headache.
The pace of our lives these days is not sustainable. We long for a break. And when we get to take one, sometimes it is just as fast-paced as our lives!
Current travel culture, much like the pace of our lives, is also not sustainable.
Fast-paced, FOMO fuelled escapades are often causing more harm than benefit to local people and cultures. These trips also rarely send a traveler home feeling fresh and inspired.
So how do you travel slow? Especially when you don’t have time to literally travel slow?
Well, that’s a simple answer and an intentional practice.
Are you ready for it?
Adopt a slow travel mindset.
1) Plan ahead of time
I think intentional planning is the single most important part of setting yourself up for would-be slow travel success.
Sure, there’s the romantic notion of spontaneity in travel. I won’t lie and tell you that these magical glimpses of fortune aren’t usually the most memorable travel experiences. They definitely are, and we’ll talk more about how to invite them.
But first, you gotta have a plan. Especially if you have limited time.
Reasons why you gotta plan:
- Plans keep you from spending all of your time learning how time-consuming details, like local transport or currency conversion, work.
- Research keeps you from getting caught up in a tourist trap that will leave you feeling salty rather than charmed.
- Planning ensures you won’t be running around town buying necessities that you could’ve thought ahead to pack.
- Due diligence makes sure you aren’t stepping into a cultural faux pas that prevents you from a memorable experience, like showing up to a temple in the wrong outfit and being denied entry.
- Learning about local culture before you go makes it easier to get along with local people, which can only enhance the possibility of having moments of connection while you travel.
- And if you don’t plan before you go? Well, besides the fact that stumbling around a new place can be a horrible waste of time, it can also end up being pretty darn unsafe.
Please, just do your planning before you go. All of it. And then don’t waste another minute on plans once you arrive. Show up fully and enjoy!
2) Ditch the bucket list
You know all that great planning you are going to do before you leave town? Well, do yourself the world’s largest favor and avoid over planning.
You can’t do everything in the travel guides, especially if you aren’t actually traveling slowly. And, honestly, you won’t want to.
Of course you think you want to experience everything, I always think so too. There can be this sense of time scarcity when it comes to vacation. You work so hard for the leave you take, and you really want to make your vacations count. Especially the quick ones.
I’m telling you: if you want to make them count, ditch the bucket list.
Here’s the deal – checklist travel experiences are almost always forgotten the moment you get home.
The list of the things you saw is always the part of your travel story that your friends and family start yawning through. And you’ll probably find that waiting in line for all the most noteworthy tourist attractions will be yawn-worthy for you as well.
It’s hard to imagine not seeing all the things you’ve seen on social media in real life, but you can see so much more if you don’t spend all of your time in line and pushing through crowds!
Jetting from one line item to the next simply won’t deliver the portal into the travel experience you came for.
My favorite travel memories and stories are the moments I didn’t know to plan for. These things only arise when I am paying attention to my surroundings. Bucket list tunnel vision pretty much ensures I won’t have these magic moments pop up.
So before you finalize your itinerary, take a breath – a deep one.
I actually mean it. Practice now: deep breath in, deep breath out.
There you go.
Now look at your itinerary. If you can’t bear to cross anything off, mark what you can as optional. Prep yourself to leave space for the spontaneous.
I promise you, you’ll have no trouble filling in the blanks of your itinerary with meaningful experiences. Especially if you learn how to really pay attention as you explore.
3) Pay attention
One of the clear benefits of actually getting to take a long, leisurely trip is that it gives you more time to come across some of those spontaneous gems.
Also, the modes of transport associated with slow travel – like long-range buses or trains – provide ample opportunities to peek your head out and catch the little details of the scenery going by.
Your trip may not have the time built in to enjoy these little luxuries by default, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t experience the trip-enhancing delight that comes with simply paying attention.
To quote perhaps the most cliched cliche out there, you need to stop and smell the roses.
Making sure that you take in the sensory elements of your surroundings will do two things.
First, it will make the world around you much more engaging as you’ll notice more of those little details that you came to see in the first place.
But more importantly, when you breathe deep and look around you as you explore, you invite the travel muse to meet you. I know that sounds lame and woo woo, but you’ll miss the lightening-quick spark of spontaneity if your eyes aren’t open and you aren’t engaging with your surroundings.
Four top tips for sharpening your “pay attention” muscles while you travel:
- Put down your phone. I’m not trying to rain on your parade if photography is your travel jam, but be conscious of how often you are using it. We miss so much when distracted by our screens.
- Remember to breathe deep. It keeps your monkey mind from hopping all over the place and brings you back into your body and the present moment.
- Set an intention for your day before you head out. Decide that you are going to ask questions, try new things, or experience delight. Framing your thoughts for the day helps you to notice these opportunities during the day’s adventures.
- Practice gratitude. Especially when things go off-kilter during your day, as can often happen when traveling somewhere new. This will help pull you out of negativity, which can hold you back from seeing those spontaneous possibilities around you. It can also help draw happy people and experiences to you, just like Felix Felicis. Gratitude really is a magic, trip-hacking potion.
4) Stay local
When I say stay local, I don’t mean stay in town. I mean stay with locals! Whether it is through couch surfing, homestays, or a locally-owned hotel, local accommodation is the gold standard of intentional travel. It’s also the way that slow travelers get a taste of local life.
I’ve explored the benefits of early communication with a local hotel in my post about booking direct, however these benefits only multiply once you are on your trip.
A local stay sets the stage for a local travel experience. It is easier to get the feel of the food and the culture if the hosts of your trip are local themselves.
For me, it deepens my feeling of connection to a place knowing that I am actually supporting the local economy rather than padding the pocket of an international hotel chain. While keeping your money local may not be one of your personal travel priorities, its benefits are worth considering if you haven’t before.
Also, local stays often can hook you up with the best local tips, day trips, and experiences. If you are someone who is interested in making meaningful connections as you travel, your choice of accommodation is a great place to start.
5) Make meaningful connections
One of the biggest draws of travel is making connections with people from different places and cultures. Sticking around in one place for awhile can make that easy, but if you don’t have time for slow travel you will have to find other ways to prioritize engaging with new people.
And it is definitely something you should prioritize.
You likely already have a (potentially photoshopped) idea of what the major attractions look like from things you’ve seen online.
Have you ever felt the disappointment of going somewhere new, only to find that you felt like you’ve already seen it? And, potentially even more disappointing, that it was better looking in its pictures?
I know I have :/
If you want to prevent turning travel into a disappointing Tinder date, you should focus on what the internet can’t provide: experiencing the humanity of a destination.
Engaging with new people is fun! It also gives you an opportunity to grab some hot tips for exploring your new surroundings. Hopefully you left time in your schedule for random delights, because local tips are gold!
You want to connect? You have to listen.
Listen: this is my hottest tip for making connections when traveling.
Sure, answer questions if they’re asked. Otherwise, zip your lip and take it all in. You have the rest of your life to chit chat, learn while you can when you’re there.
Listening is also how I learn the way people would like to be treated. Respect is a hard thing to navigate outside of a familiar culture. Heck, respect is a hard thing to navigate inside a familiar culture! Being well-intentioned just isn’t good enough anymore.
Listening is a key element in how I am learning to navigate my way in the world more ethically. I think it’s probably one of the best skills that travel can give you, if you practice it.
So how do you meet people to practice with? Such a good question. Especially if you are an introvert like me!
If you are booked at a hostel, you’ll likely find social life built into your days. If you’re not, pop by the bar at a hostel and you’ll definitely find some chatty travelers to fill your ears with travel advice.
To branch out from traveler and expat advice, you may need to go out of your comfort zone to connect.
Hang out at a local coffee shop or bar and see if you can make conversation naturally. This really helps if you’ve studied the language before your trip!
And if you strike out when striking up conversations? Pull out your pocket book!
Local tour guides, baristas, bartenders, your hotel concierge, and your homestay hosts are all a wealth of information.
And there’s nothing inauthentic about paying for local advice and a good chat. These people work in tourism and hospitality and are in the best position to provide you with local guidance and perspective.
Take them up on that, and pay them appropriately for their time. Everyone wins.
6) Buy Local
Slow travel lends itself to shopping in local stores because oftentimes these travelers are staying in long-term rentals. They end up at local markets, grocery stores, and shops because they need supplies, but also because they have the time to discover these gems organically.
You may be tempted to save time by grabbing fast food for breakfast or save money by grabbing your favorite goods duty-free, but you should consider being more intentional with your travel purchases.
Buying local is something I do as often as I can – in travel or in life.
Sometimes supporting local businesses costs more, sometimes it is where I get the best price. Every time, I feel like I have to worry a little less about the ethics of the supply chain. Every time, I feel great about my purchase knowing I’ve supported a local store.
Amp up those good vibes by supporting local stores that are social enterprises, owned by women, or owned by minorities. Our tourism dollars can definitely support any destination, but they can do so much more good when they support certain types of businesses.
And have fun while shopping local! Local stores can be a great way to learn about local culture and connect with a local person. And most of these goods can’t be bought online or be replicated, which makes them a unique element of traveling to your destination.
I work hard for my money, and I like using it to support small businesses. And the fact that I am often getting one of a kind items and experiences when I do is a cherry on top. I’m sure you’ll feel the same way when you give it a try!
Bonus Tip: Journal
I’m not sure if all slow travelers do this or not, but it is something I recommend for anyone who is away from home. Especially when you are experiencing new cultures and anything outside your comfort zone!
If you’ve taken my hot tip and put your phone down while you travel, I’m guessing that you will have quite a few more memories and quite a few less pictures than you would have otherwise.
Document your memories while they’re fresh!
Journaling will help you keep the new perspectives you’re gaining during your travels alive after your trip! But it can also help you frame your mindset for each day of your journey.
Want to give it a try? Download your own free copy of the Intentional Travel Journal for your next trip!
Start building your slow travel mindset!
How are you going to practice infusing a slow travel mindset into your journeys?
My recommendation? Start now!
Most of the tools listed above can be done at home as well as on the road. In fact, you just may find that you don’t even have to leave your backyard in order to experience the world in a new way. Handy during iso, eh?
Let me know which tips you’re going to try in the comments! I can’t wait to hear.