Slow-traveling in Colombia’s Tayrona Park. (Photo: Jessie Festa/Jessie on a Journey)
By Jessie Festa
I’m an avid fan of slow travel, which is travel speak for, well, traveling slowly. I’d much rather stay in one destination for a long period of time and really get to know the place and its people than change locations every other day just to be able to “see more.” In my mind, physically viewing more often equates to actually experiencing less. Plus, traveling slowly helps you avoid travel fatigue, save money, and travel in a more eco-friendly way (less movement means fewer carbon emissions).
That said, most people don’t have the time to stay in one place for longer than a week or two, or they may have a number of places they’re really hoping to see during one trip. In those cases, the key is to adopt the mindset of a slow traveler — even if you’re only there for a few days. It sounds like an oxymoron — how to slow-travel on a quick trip — but it’s actually way more doable than you think. Here’s how.
1. Do less
Just because you’re traveling from place to place at a mile a minute doesn’t mean you need to spend your days running around like a marathon racer. Choose the specific activities you want to do, and then just enjoy the experience, rather than feeling as if you need to do everything. You’ll have a more relaxed and focused mindset when you’re not racing from one place to the next.
Rather than booking it through Bogotá’s Paloquemao Market so we could “see it all,” my friend and I took our time sampling fruits and other goodies — and that’s what we remember about the market. (Photo: Jessie Festa/Jessie on a Journey)
2. Go seriously local
One of the biggest benefits of slow travel is the ability to truly immerse yourself in local culture. But just because you’re traveling quickly doesn’t mean you can’t sprinkle uber local experiences into your itinerary — especially in view of all of the great sharing-economy tools for travelers that exist today. Have a meal in a local home, stay with a local, hire a local guide, plan meet ups with locals via Couchsurfing forums, peruse local markets, see a local band, or take a local cooking or artisan class. The possibilities are endless — and, perhaps more importantly, doable.
3. Plant a tree
One of the best parts about slow travel is that it’s very eco-friendly, in that you’re not using tons of gas to shuttle your way all around town. And it’s easy to get that eco benefit while you’re on a slow trip. You can plant a tree, opt for walking and cycling around your destination of choice, shut off all electricity when you leave your hotel room, opt for an eco-hotel, or even just save your leftovers for later instead of throwing them away. While there’s no need to beat yourself up over traveling in a less sustainable manner, it’s a nice gesture to do your best to make up for the extra carbon dioxide you’re expending.
Paddling your way around is a fun — and very eco-friendly — way to get around Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. (Photo: Jessie Festa/Jessie on a Journey)
4. Make your trip special
Another fundamental aspect of slow travel is that it makes travel feel more like a transformative journey than a quick vacation. To experience that feeling on a shorter trip, all you have to do is get out of your comfort zone. Try something you’ve never done before, or, better yet, do something you never thought you’d even have the courage or the option to do. Another option: Take part in an ethical volunteer project (hint: They’re not all created equal). Point is, be sure you plan at least one thing that can potentially change your perspective.
5. Talk with people
It sounds simple enough. But take a minute to really, really think about it: The simple act of taking the time to talk to people can give you more insight into a culture than anything else you do. The longer you’re in a place, just relaxing at its coffee shops, spending lazy afternoons in parks, and/or doing normal daily activities, the easier it is to get to know its personality and community. Simply talking to people can help you do this even on a fast trip.
6. Assimilate into daily life
While a short trip means you probably won’t have a ton of downtime, spending at least a few hours enjoying the city from a local point of view can really enhance your trip. Not sure what to choose? Think about how you’d spend a Saturday at home and tailor that itinerary to the place you’re in.
Let’s say you’re in Guatemala, for example. Rather than attempting to see all of the sights, pick up some food at the local grocery store, go for a run around town, and hit up the bar at the end of your block for happy hour. While these don’t exactly sound like things to write home to Mom about — “Hey, Mom, I went grocery shopping in Guatemala!”—they will give you a better understanding of the vibe of the place than any museum ever would.
A local in Kerala, India. (Photo: Jessie Festa/Jessie on a Journey)
7. Choose one home base — and stay there
If possible, stick with one home base and explore from there. For example, if you have a week to spare and want to go to Paris, then take the time to really get to know Paris, rather than trying to jet-set all around Europe just because you’re already there and you’re so close to everything else. During that week, take a day trip or two to neighboring cities, but always come back to Paris. Wait until you can take the time needed to complete an entire European trip before you try to squeeze one in, in too short a time.
8. If you must move from city to city, go by foot — or bike
If you must travel from city to city on a short trip, choose a slower mode of transportation. For example, when I had two weeks to travel a large portion of Kerala, India, I decided to explore by bike. In China, I hiked from village to village, and got invited into local homes for food and tea along the way. Sure, I was covering a lot of ground each day, but I still felt like I had a culturally immersive experience. And that’s the thing about slow-traveling your way through a short trip: Even though you don’t have a lot of time, you can still make the best of it and get to know a place’s real vibe.
View from the top around Kerala, India. (Photo: Jessie Festa/Jessie on a Journey)
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