Although it never occurred to me at the time, all of the different places we lived in during Brett’s time in the navy were in a sense a form of slow travel. We knew we weren’t going to live in any of these places permanently, but for a couple of years we had the time to make deeper connections to our location, staying long enough to engage with the community, eat and learn to prepare local foods, support local businesses, and learn about the local culture and history of a place, whether that was in in the U.S. or overseas.
Instead of having to rush to see all the famous sites in a short period of time, we were able to use our time to engage in neighborhood and community activities, attend and/or volunteer at festivals, learn to cook regional dishes, and find out what local residents liked to do. All the time spent at our different duty stations were intense cultural experiences, and even if we didn’t know it then, changed the way we viewed the world.
Slow travel is not about money or privilege, other than the privilege of time, but of making a temporary home in another place, even if that’s only for a week or so. It’s not about checking off a list of sites to see or activities to try, or seeing how much can be done, but about allowing oneself to do a slow exploration of what exists wherever one is.
Almost everyone, I believe, can agree on what “fast travel” is: a limited amount of time to get from Point A to Point B, squeezing in as much as possible along the way, whether that’s hitting the famous sites and then moving on, or squeezing in as many vacation activities as possible. That’s the only kind of travel many of us know or can do because our vacation and travel time has been or is limited by school or work schedules, or a lack of funds to do otherwise. I think we’ve all gone on vacation at one time or another and tried to “do it all,” and instead of returning home feeling relaxed,, and with experiences to ponder, we’ve instead felt exhausted and ready to go back to our regular routine to recover from the vacation.
Traveling slowly means changing beliefts of what travel means. Rather than focusing on the destination, with slow travel it’s the journey, from planning to saving to the actual trip and being there, that becomes the central point of travel. The anticipation of visiting a new place and what you’ll see doesn’t get in the way – it’s just one piece of the whole. Slow travel is about taking the time to stop and soak in the environment versus trying to see and do everything, or check things off a list. It’s about being open up to learning and experiencing new things as well as different ways of looking at the world. It’s about giving back to your location rather than only taking from it.
Slow travel means being there. It’s about deceleration, making conscious choices and realizing that even if you are only going to be in a place for a week, you in fact have an abundance of time versus a scarcity of it.
My mother was an energetic traveler, but she always went somewhere with a list of famous places she wanted to visit, or ‘must-do’ activities, and checked them off as she saw or did them. That style of travel worked for her, and made her happy, but she also for the most part kept herself detached from her surroundings, and instead only felt secure in tour groups or with family, which was probably pretty normal for someone from her generation. I acquired my love of traveling from my mom, but I couldn’t be more different in how I like to travel. For some reason I am by nature a slow traveler, and prefer to stay away from tours and groups if at all possible. I still enjoy seeing famous sites, but I’m happiest staying in one place, living like a local as much as possible, and discovering new ways of seeing the world or approaching problems.
There is no right way to take a journey. Everyone should travel the way they feel is best for them based on their time, budget and what they want to see and experience. But once in a while, even if all you have is a week, maybe think about giving yourself the time to contemplate something different, something slower, and change your expectations of what travel has to be. What’s the rush?