The Luxury of Slow Travel

A side street in Lisbon, Portugal

What do you think of when you think of luxury travel?

Is it flying first class and having a big, comfortable seat with a footrest, one that reclines into a bed? Dining on real china with real silverware instead of having to use plastic everything? Receiving special treatment the airport, like being seated early and greeted with fresh coffee or a cocktail?

Is it being pampered in five-star lodgings with high thread-count linens, every amenity you could imagine, or a staff that knows your name and takes care of every whim?

Or is it taking the time at your destination to truly unwind and experience your location in more depth versus skimming the surface and racing from sight to sight or activity to activity?

While I have greatly enjoyed the first two aspects of luxury travel, over the past year I have come to realize that embracing slow travel was the most luxurious thing I had ever experienced. While we enjoyed our structured tour of India, and our train ride across Australia, embracing the ethos of slow travel and the opportunities to connect with a place and its rhythms, culture, food, and sights has made for our most memorable travel experiences, with the added benefits of costing us far less than it would otherwise and being easier on the environment.

A magical shot of St. Peter’s at dusk, captured as we walked back to our apartment one evening in Rome.

Our slow travel experiences didn’t mean we had to make or find the time to be in a place for a month or longer, although we were able to do that in a couple of places. But it did mean what the name says, that we slowed down, and didn’t feel like we had to try to do and see everything (especially on a rigid schedule) or eat everything, or try to fit every experience into our visit. Slow travel meant interacting with the local culture up close whenever possible, trying to overcome some of the language barriers that we encountered, and taking the time to notice and observe local customs. Slow travel for us was about making connections. All of this took place sometimes within the space of a few days all while visiting and experiencing some amazing sights along the way.

Street art can be found down alleys or off the main thoroughfares, but sometimes you have to look up to find it, like with this work in Montevideo, Uruguay.

Some of the ways we did this were:

  • Staying in homes and apartments through Airbnb versus staying in hotels.
  • Shopping for most of our food in local markets versus eating out all the time.
  • Using public transportation most of the time.
  • Not having a set schedule every day, or a list of things we had to see or do. For the most part we got up and got going when we were ready to start our day. And some days we did nothing but explore the neighborhood we were staying in, or stay home and read.
  • Adapting ourselves to local customs whenever possible, such as removing our shoes when entering a home in Japan (and then turning them to face out), or greeting shopkeepers and other workers in France with Bonjour! before any beginning business operation.
  • Not expecting people to speak English with us. If they could or wanted to that was great, but we never made it the expectation. We tried to learn how to at least say hello and thank you in the local language of every place we visited (and excuse me or pardon me if possible).
A fruit market in Italy

Time, whether long or short, can either be one’s nemesis or one’s ally when traveling, something that there’s never enough of or a luxury to be savored even if all one has is a few days. When the emphasis is on experience over sights, and quality over quantity, the time one has can become the ultimate luxury of travel. 

10 thoughts on “The Luxury of Slow Travel

  1. I very much agree with you. My idea about luxury travel is similar, however I usually do a little research about what I would like to see in a place. I usually split my time equally between sightseeing and experiencing the culture. Weekends are especially good to get a feeling for the culture and people as usually are filled with street events the locals attend and also a way to avoid the extreme crowds at the touristic attractions. I remember when we were in Verona, there was a street game festival with teams coming from all over the world. We got to play a game from India, one from Thailand and one from Estonia. Families with children were out and about checking out all these games and having fun. I thought it was quite something unique.

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    1. Like you, we like to split our time between sightseeing and experiencing the local culture. We also love having the time to do nothing if we felt like it and not feeling guilty about it. One of the highlights of our month in Florence was being out on Halloween and seeing how it’s done there. We loved watching little kids in simple costumes go into a few neighborhood shops with a parent and greet and talk with the owner to receive a special treat (things like a small cookie or a small piece of chocolate which they enjoyed on the spot). One mom who spoke English was horrified by our custom of going to strangers’ homes and asking for candy. So different from the US but it was equally charming.

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  2. I agree that taking it slow in your travels is a far greater experience. Almost 10 years ago, my husband and I bought a little beach cabin with the hopes of spending some summer weekends and maybe some fall weekends as well. I worried that we would quickly grow tired of going to the same place but that didn’t happen at all. As a matter of fact, just last time we were there we discovered a hidden little gem of a beach we never knew existed. We just slow down and go with the slower pace of life in this little beach village. We only wish we could spend more weekends but retirement is coming soon.

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    1. The thing that’s great about slow travel is that it doesn’t require a whole lot of time; it’s a mindset. You do what you want to do while adapting to the rhythms of the place where you are. There’s no list of things one has to see or do, no schedule one has to keep. It can make for a very rich experience.

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    1. Thanks Howard! Our experiences slow traveling this past year were a revelation, and I now can’t imagine traveling any other way.

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  3. We too have done the slow travel thing. It is much more relaxing. During my business career when traveling on business I almost always took extra days, especially when going oversees. The company did not mind if we kept it to a minimum so we had time to enjoy the area for a day or two between meetings. We never had a set schedule so we could relax and be spontaneous. it was great.
    Now retired we mostly go to Japan (Kyoto) to visit my son and his family. We go for a month at a time twice a year as the granddaughter is only 3 1/2 and we want to be there to watch her grow up. We stay in an Airbnb [getting way more expensive now 😦 but still cheaper and more convenient than a hotel] so we can be close to the kids. We stay in a residential area and walk a lot and we are virtually the only non-Japanese in the area as it is not a tourist destination area. We shop and live pretty much as a local for the month. Even managed to squeeze in a round of golf the last trip in May with a Japanese relative – seems strange to have extended family in Japan. I’ve gotten to where I care as much about the issues in Japan as those here. We are there often enough that the local merchants remember us. No English but they do seem glad to see us again.

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    1. Relaxing is just one part of slow travel, and you point out lots of the extra benefits that come with slow travel, from more involvement with the community and the people there.

      We’re so happy that we can now potentially do two long visits per year in Japan – we’re really looking forward to our long stay next year, whether it’s for a year or just three months again.

      And, I agree that Airbnb in Japan is getting very expensive, no matter where you go.

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    1. Good words to know in the local language, although we found during our travels that they’re pretty well marked these days. In Japan you need to know how to ask, “how does the toilet work?” They’re wonderful, technological marvels there but can be quite complicated, especially when all the writing is in Japanese!

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