“Slow down.” This is the simple message of the Slow Movement. In today’s high-speed world of fast food, jet planes and instant communication, we are losing touch with ourselves, with each other, and with the earth, says the Slow Movement.
But what is ‘slow travel’? Like ‘slow food’ and ‘slow media,’ ‘slow travel’ is a part of the movement. It’s a reclaiming of what has been lost in today’s hyper pace of life and travel. It’s a state of mind while travelling. It’s a personal approach.
Today, to launch a couple of weeks of focus on Slow Travel we’ve asked the WHL Group staff what their thoughts and experiences with slow travel have been. Their answers were varied yet unified. The common message is simple – when travelling, slow down.
“To me, slow travel is less about the number of dots on your travel itinerary and more about the quality/size of those dots. I have been travelling the world for around 40 years now, and have lived for periods of between one and five years in places as diverse as Japan, the USA, Vietnam, Austria, Nigeria, Switzerland and the UK.
Living in all these countries taught me a few things. First was that in all cases my first impressions shifted quite significantly as I got to know the people and the country better. This is not so surprising, but what was a little surprising to me was that it usually took a full year (or more) to really start to get under the skin of a place and feel comfortable, getting to a point where I could call a place ‘home.’
Being a better slow traveller required experience in my case. It is a learned skill; it is a life skill, really. I’ve found that people who are best at slow travel have a lot of empathy, and are decent people (fair, honest generous and considerate). They relate well to others.”
~ Len Cordiner, CEO, WHL Group
“Slow travel, to me, means slowing down your pace to appreciate the journey you take along the way – to see sights that travellers often bypass, to experience local culture far away from the tourist traps, to meet people and get a feeling for their lives while treading lightly on the local environment.”
~ Laurel Angrist, Editor, The Travel Word
“To me slow travel is about developing a sense of belonging in the communities you visit. Learning your way around and finding the amazing bakery or the unusual market that never gets featured in guidebooks. It’s about cultural experiences and making memories. It’s not about the places you saw, but rather about the people you met and what they taught you along the way.”
~ Jen Aston, Director, whl.travel Africa regional office
“My preferred form of travel is by bike. Whether I’m making a short hop as a commuter in my home city or spending weeks (and sometimes months) on the road covering hundreds or thousands of kilometres, I prefer the speed – or, relatively speaking, lack thereof – of self-propulsion. It gives me a sensory-rich sense of place. I feel the rain when it falls; I smell herbs and flowers when I roll by home gardens; I hear the braying of cattle or, better yet, a soothing depth of silence. I see the overlooked treasures between the points of departure and arrival.
Best of all, I meet the locals. It’s impossible and foolish not to, because they impart the true depth of experience that makes slow travel – travel at human speeds – so poignant. For as long as my body allows, and soon with the youthful vigour of my sons to help propel me, I intend to keep to my pedal-powered steed. And hope to continue to be able to claim that, true to this day, I have steered over more ground on two wheels than I have on four.”
~ Ethan Gelber, Chief Communications Officer, WHL Group
“Does anything truly interesting ever happen on a plane? Watching a rerun of a movie you first saw 15 years ago is not interesting. Folding yourself into a bathroom mere feet from your fellow passengers is not interesting. Picking at a cube of reheated food matter as your elbows vie for space with those of your neighbour is certainly not interesting.
Slow travel may not always be fun, but it’s almost always interesting. If it’s a choice between a plane and a four-hour bus journey sitting next to a goat, give me the goat every time. You get the best views, you get the best price and you get the best stories. Even if you don’t enjoy it at the time, think about how good it’ll be when you get there.”
~ Paul Tavner, Developer, The Travel Word
“Slow travel is lingering somewhere rather than just passing through. It’s unpacking your bag and staying long enough to find a routine. To travel slowly is to leave your lodging without a camera sometimes, and to be able to say ‘I’m living here.’ It’s strolling, sitting, watching and absorbing the beauty in tiny details.”
~ Cynthia Ord, Newsletter Editor, The Travel Word
“Slow travel for me involves heading to a destination without a plan. In this way, instead of running around trying to hit all of the ‘major must-dos,’ I wander through neighbourhoods taking in the sights, smells and sounds of what life is like in a particular destination, giving myself permission to stop where I like and explore any street that beckons me.
Then of course there’s slow travel through slow transport. I’ve ridden through rice paddies on an elephant in Thailand, travelled calmly down waterways in India on a traditional houseboat and been pedalled through the madness of Hanoi traffic by an ultra-calm pedicab driver. When your means of transport changes, so does your perspective.”
~ Michael Franco, Chief Communications Officer, Lime&Tonic
“For me, slow travel is taking the time to hang out with local people. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to stay in one place for longer a period; it can be just a few hours, as long as you take the time and get to know a place through its locals. I would skip a sight or two for the opportunity to chat with locals, have a tea or coffee with them, and just talk about their lives, their families or even the weather.”
~ Klaudija Janzelj, Global Sales Manager, Urban Adventures
“To me, slow travel means getting to know the vibe of a place by experiencing local, day-to-day life and its routine patterns. I love doing this by going to local coffee shops, eavesdropping on conversations (or even arguments!), taking public transportation, eating local food in local restaurants and listening to music that’s popular at the time. My favourite way to travel slowly, though, is by walking. Walking forces you to slow down and to pay attention to your surroundings. It’s a practice in observation. You catch the small details that are otherwise hard to see when you only spend a few days in a place, or only go to the main tourist attractions. Even little things, like the style of shoes that everyone seems to be wearing, can provide great insight into local trends and habits.
An example of slow travel? I recently spent a month backpacking across Poland by myself and without a car. My goal was to visit the villages that all of my great-grandparents came from. As many of these places were off of dirt roads, I was literally travelling ‘off the grid.’ I was forced to take local public transportation (and when that didn’t exist, to walk or hitchhike); I was forced to learn language skills; and I was forced to rely on the kindness of strangers to provide help. They always did. And I got to know rural Poland in a way that I never would have otherwise. I also learned a lot about myself and my ability to be self-reliant.
~ Jenna Makowski, Content Editor, whl.travel
“Slow travel to me is spending a solid amount of time in a place where you can see more than the Lonely Planet highlights, which usually throws the itinerary out the window. It’s about seeing the humanity in the eyes of the local people rather than crossing a destination off the bucket list. It’s about taking the time to step back and let it all sink in.”
~ Maureen Valentine, Director, whl.travel Asia and the Pacific regional office
“Going slowly, travel is much more than ticking off a box on a list. It’s about taking time to meet the locals, learn their stories and, in return, leaving a little bit of your story behind. It’s about discovering every facet of a destination – beyond the major highlights – and taking the chance to discover a place with all your senses.
My slow travel experiences always make the best stories, even if they aren’t always the most pleasant situations! Last month, I decided to take the local train from Varanasi to New Jalpaiguri in India. The train was 12 hours delayed, so I had to spend the night in the cold train station with monkeys, dogs and cows. There weren’t any other foreign tourists there and we slept amongst other locals and families in the station. We met a lot of people during the delay and I’ve told this story at least a hundred times since I’ve returned. If things had run smoothly, then the experience wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting.”
~ Ashley Hiemenz, Product Manager, Gunyah
“Slow travel is travelling without a strict schedule or itinerary. It is about staying longer and merging with the local scene, doing the regular things you would normally do in your own place: taking a bus, sending a correspondence, buying groceries. It is talking to a stranger for a long time and enjoying even the silent minutes of no talking. It is walking with your camera and realising that at the end of the day you took less than a handful of photos. It is entering an appliance shop and not buying anything, just to watch the people and their ways. It is about being the ultimate flâneur every time you walk down a street during your holiday.”
~ Andre Franchini, CEO, Hotel Link Solutions
“Slow travel to me means taking in the sights, sounds, smells and history of a destination, connecting with the locals and experiencing their culture, their cuisine and day-to-day lives, so you walk away with a real understanding of place and lasting memories of its people. The best way to do this is to take your time, being adventurous and using the slowest form of transport available, preferably ‘shanks’s pony.'”
~ Rob Shortland, CEO, whl.travel
“To me slow travel is about becoming a part of local life of the destination you visit. It’s about connecting to a place, its people and culture. It is something totally different from trips where you just follow the list of all ‘must-sees’ and after getting home you realise that you actually need a holiday to recover. Slow travel means to me that I can stay in one place long enough to have a favourite dish in the local restaurant.”
~ Anda Cirule, former director, whl.travel Europe and the Middle East regional office
“Devagar se vai ao longe. This old Brazilian saying defines quite well what slow travel is to me. It means something like ‘slowly going further.’ In my opinion, haste is the enemy of the perfect trip. Rent an apartment instead of staying in a hotel. Read the local newspaper. Stray from the postcard sites and get lost!”
~ Wallace Faria, Director, whl.travel Americas regional office
“Slow travel is about the journey, not just the destination. Being excited about where you’re going, but being just as excited by how you get there, the people you meet, the sights you see and the experiences you have along the way. About slowing down to acknowledge that the journey you’re on allows, for the briefest moment, the chance to peer into someone else’s life and to share that moment in time with them.”
~ Adrian Cordiner, CEO, Green Path Transfers