Passport? Check. Portable charger? Check. Water Bottle? Check. This list goes on. Preparing for a vacation is primed with to-do galore, triple checks of carry-on bags, and impeccably timed treks to your terminal gate. After the stress of the planning for the perfect vacation, you get there and immediately, the trip itinerary is in effect. What happens next is the antithesis of slow travel.
Packed schedules don’t leave any room for exploration or spontaneity, and the need to hit the Instagram-worthy hotspots cuts away from time for flowing into the rhythm of the locals. You’re doing a lot in a little, but each experience lacks immersion and only offers a shallow taste of what your destination has to offer. Before you know it, you’re back home—and need another vacation just to recalibrate. Vacation burnout is real, but slow travel and its underlying principles of mindfulness are the perfect remedy to reframe your next trip, big or small.
What Is Slow Travel?
Slow travel is known by a multitude of names: sustainable travel, immersive travel, or low-impact travel. This decorated mode of vacationing sprang from a 1980s movement in Italy. Though hard to pinpoint the exact start of this philosophy, slow travel has its roots in the year 1986 when activist and journalist Carlo Petrini protested the opening of a McDonald’s at the Spanish Steps of Rome.
In one of the most peculiar displays of protest, Petrini began handing out bowls of penne pasta to travelers to protest fast food upending the local culinary economy. Protesters yelled, “We don’t want fast food. We want slow food!” This demonstration kicked off what we know today as the slow food movement, which cherishes local ingredients, traditional culinary methods, and the beauty of a home-cooked meal rather than a mass-produced combo.
Much like slow food, slow travel challenges us to seek alternatives to the instant gratification of a post-industrial tourism economy. It means to reject our obsession with uber-convenience and adopt a mindset that focuses on immersive connection. The beauty of slow travel is that it is not reserved for global traveling. It can show up as staycations in our city or a quick weekend trip across state lines.
If your last vacation wasn’t enough to convince you to travel slowly, we’ve got you covered. Dive into our 5 favorite benefits of traveling mindfully:
1. You’ll Spend Less for More Memories
By deconstructing your itinerary and leaving room for wandering, slow travel allows for a deeper exploration of any city. With this mindset, you can explore the hidden gems of a destination that would otherwise go overlooked, with the added bonus of spending less and experiencing more.
Go for a long walk through new neighborhoods and pause to chat with your companion or a stranger. Maybe you befriend a local barista, who tells you about a local folk band playing in the park that afternoon. Or perhaps you find an artist painting a fresh mural—and get the story behind the piece. This costs you nothing but opens your eyes to so much.
Savor the flavors of the local cuisine and eat at neighborhood establishments, which, while slower-paced, are often more affordable and authentic than tourist-centric restaurants and chains. Instead of making the meal a pit stop, treat it as a destination. Get curious about the food and smells, ask questions, sit, and observe. The best memories are created when we slow down and enjoy the little, transient moments.
2. You’ll Reduce Your Eco-Footprint
Your strolls and mindless wandering on foot have opened your mind to the wonders of slow travel. Choosing slower modes of transport can also open up a magical, new path.
Maybe on that bike ride around the city, you venture to a hidden park and find a scenic landscape overlooking the city. Maybe another day, you decide to ride the train instead of taking Ubers around town. On the train, you hear a performer with a voice like velvet and a cool wardrobe to match. After their performance, you tip and ask where they got that cool hat! They tell you about a local milliner not too far from the next train stop and they give you walking directions. Who knew?
Using sustainable modes of transportation like buses, trains, and even bicycles has a lower carbon footprint compared to frequent taxis. By following the principles of slow travel, not only have you reduced your carbon footprint, but you made a new friend and have a meaningful new souvenir—plus a tale to tell.
3. You’ll Foster Deeper Connections
Slow travel is like a warm greeting; it invites you to immerse yourself. There is nothing richer than cultural exchange, especially on vacation. Remember that cool hat you just got? Maybe you’ve learned that the shop has been in business for decades. Because you were open to possibility and eager to learn about your destination's cultural fabric, you unlocked a piece of its story—a story you’re now a part of.
Connecting with the community and developing a deeper understanding of your destination's culture and traditions is often overlooked when we are in the mode of fast travel. For VAWAA guests like Laurel R., her apprenticeship experience with Loretta and Marlene was filled with local history and slow, rural Alabaman livin’. Spending a week learning the generational traditions of quilting in Gee’s Bend, Laurel was able to visit historical sites like the St. James Hotel and say hello to the matriarchs of the Quilters Collective!
4. You’ll Find Magic Outside Your Comfort Zone
In theory, vacation is supposed to be comfortable. We want to relax, but we also want to see as much as we can of our destination before heading back home. The pressure to do it all happens when we think of experiences in checklist format, eager to cross things off. Let go of the fear of not experiencing everything, beckons the call of slow travel.
Put the granular itineraries away and step out of your comfort zone! Be as flexible as you’d like with your experiences, and delve into the abstract. When you slow down, you leave room for moments that can’t be planned. Challenge yourself to broaden your perspectives and enrich your traveling experience. Harness the endless possibilities of your creativity and connection on vacation.
VAWAA apprentice Mary vacationed with VAWAA artist Anja and learned the art of wet felting. To her surprise, she got a chance to spend an afternoon with a group of local artists gathering for a show and tell. She reflects, "We had opportunities to visit a few places in Slovenia, and I’ve fallen in love with the gentle folk of this dramatic country."
5. You’ll Stress Less
Tourist FOMO is real. Often, we do so much on vacation that we barely get a chance to relax. No one needs to be experiencing vacation burnout. Traveling unhurried allows you to rejuvenate and recharge. Approach every day of your vacation with the principles of mindfulness. Leisure is the name of the game, and you can focus on the quality of your experiences rather than the quantity.
Slow Travel Is Meaningful Travel
Compared to the ways we have vacationed, slow travel can almost feel overwhelming. How do we reprogram ourselves to mindfully vacation? Not building our extensive itineraries is a task that takes intentional effort to not do. Slow travel will seem like a challenge at first, but its principles want you to experience the myriad of possibilities your next journey has in store. Spend more time in one destination, worry less, and answer when you hear adventure calling.
As you embark on your next journey, consider the profound impact that slowing down can have, not just on your vacation, but on your perspective of the world and your place within it. The perfect place to start your slow travel journey: Vacation With An Artist.
Vacation With An Artist can provide you with the unique fusion of creative immersion and cultural exchange you’ve been craving. Unlike the relentless pace of conventional tourism, VAWAA and its incredible community of master artists offer creatives (like yourself) an opportunity to delve into the heart of the world's beautiful destinations and deeply engage in the art of craft. Forge meaningful relationships with 139 artists across 29 countries, and become naturally attuned to the local rhythms and customs. As an apprentice, you will embrace the essence of slow travel and savor the holistic experiences you deserve.
Gone are the days when you bypass the beauties of your surroundings on vacation. Your best slow travel vacations are ahead, and they are brimming with unforgettable discoveries compared to mere sightseeing. Prioritize your creativity and deconstruct those itineraries—you’ve got a vacation to book!
Written by Tyler Pharr