The art of slow travel: the journey is just as important as the destination

Posted by on January 23, 2019
Step on to a ferry and sail to your destination of choice. Photograph: Cara Dolan/Stocksy United

When was the last time you really slowed down? The kind of slow that involves sitting in a plaza and watching the world go by, heading out for a leisurely walk just for the joy of it, or simply choosing the slower mode of transport so you can enjoy the views along the way?

Welcome to slow travel, the movement that goes back to what travel is all about – the journey, not the destination, the experience, not the social media post.

Slow travel started as an offshoot of the slow food movement, which itself began in Rome in the 1980s as a protest against a McDonald’s opening up in Piazza di Spagna. What started as the indignation of food-loving Italians turned into a celebration of traditions and culture, of authenticity and building connections – ideas that were all wonderfully ahead of their time.

In a world where we’re all too busy and too stressed, with too little time and too many emails, slow travel is like a deep breath of fresh air. It is our chance to step out of our lives and immerse ourselves in a different culture, to explore and soak up experiences.

Slow travel is about enjoying those hundreds of perfect little moments that make up a trip; a view transformed when the sun comes out from behind the clouds, the ideal spot found to watch a city come to life at dusk, that moment you connect with someone across the language divide.

Forgo the planes tearing through the sky and high-speed trains turning every landscape into a blur, the journey is at the heart of the slow travel movement. Step on to a ferry, for example, and sail to your destination of choice. Gaze out at that wide expanse and try to remember the last time you saw such an uncluttered view, just you and the horizon.

You can even make it an overnight trip – after all, what’s the rush? Is there any better way to disconnect than by reading a good book with a sea view, enjoying a meal then retreating to your cabin to be rocked to sleep by the sea?

Back on dry ground, modes of slow travel range from your own two feet to two wheels. There is nothing like a hike or bike ride through pristine scenery to set the heart soaring. Head off the beaten track and you could find yourself in a village where nobody speaks your language, where you have to negotiate menus scrawled by hand and sip on the local table wine served up in hearty jugs. And it could well be the best meal you’ve ever tasted.

You can slow travel through mountains and forests or along coastlines, reconnecting with nature – but slow travel in cities is just as rewarding. The tangled streets of old towns are perfect for getting lost and discovering unexpected little squares. The chances are, in one of these squares you’ll find a slice of original slow life taking place – old men sat on benches catching up on the day’s news, women in tiny corner cafes enjoying a drink and a snack.

Simply put a pin in a map and head off to explore. Photograph: Javier Pardina/Stocksy United

The car may not feel slow, but try to beat that sense of freedom when you drive off a ferry in your chosen destination and can simply put a pin in a map and head off to explore. Spend days wending your way through country lanes to visit towns and villages, perhaps the odd vineyard or castle. Stay in an old converted farmhouse here, a cosy family-run boutique hotel there.

In slow travel there are no specific rules. The aim is simply to enjoy authentic experiences, to push pause on all the stresses and pressures of modern life and treasure those little moments.

For you, slow travel could be spending more days in one place, really getting to the heart of it, or choosing to stay in locally run accommodation. It can mean dining on wonderful locally sourced produce, the conviviality of a shared experience, or simply leaving city life behind and reconnecting with nature.

Whether you are literally travelling slowly – hopping on a ferry instead of taking a flight, for example – or simply taking on some of the slow travel ideas (there’s nothing slow about mountain biking, but that uplifting feeling of being surrounded by nature and breathing in crisp, fresh air certainly fits in with the movement’s ethos), slow travel is the antidote to modern life.

So the next time you’re planning a trip, make it a slow one. Wander, explore and lose yourself. Savour those fleeting little moments of perfection. Give yourself the journey to truly unwind. Relax and press reset.

That’s what the slow travel movement is all about.

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