Global Exploration is no longer the province of traveling salespeople and wealthy vacationers. Far-flung getaways, destination weddings, weekend flight hopping … all of these are becoming increasingly attainable for more and more of the population. Alongside these quick excursions, there is a growing movement to make traveling a lifestyle – to see travel as education, as a philosophy, or even as a career. “Slow Travel” is a phenomenon being embraced by many from itinerant workers to van dwellers to post-graduate entrepreneurs.
Slow Travel is, unsurprisingly, all about traveling slowly, not in the sense of avoiding high-speed trains or opting for the lazy cruise over the brisk flight, but rather by lingering at a destination; seeing the world from more than a tourist’s eye view.
The Slow Traveler is giving and taking in a more substantive way than the tourist – she is a part of the community. She is not dashing from hotel to monument to the beach and then airplane – half an eye always on the ticking clock. Neither is she glued to the camera app on her smartphone, for, unlike Monsieur de Grellet, she is not obliged to only pass this way but once – in fact, she will pass that idyllic cafe with its Instagram-worthy vista on her daily walk for the next six weeks. Today, she is free simply to observe and enjoy.
SAVING & EARNING MONEY
The Slow Traveler is not only able to be more conscientious about where she spends her money (she need not support only the hot spots and established venues), but she is able to be much more frugal than the typical vacationer. AirBnbs, hotels, and hostels often have discounts for longer stays. Additionally, volunteer exchange communities, such as Workaway, can provide room and board in trade for a bit of time and talent, giving you the bonus of a local connection, housing that may not be available to the public, and a chance to “give back” – all without tapping into your bank account.
The Slow Traveler also has the economizing luxury of time: is museum fare cheaper on Tuesday? Very well, she will wait till then. Is it more affordable to stock up at the local market and only eat out occasionally? That’s another penny saved. And what of pennies? If she’s coming from a country with a stronger currency, she has time to take advantage of that extra purchasing power.
On the question of income – If the Slow Traveler is subletting her apartment back home or on a sabbatical, it might not be an issue - as she is saving money in so many other ways - but for many an income could be needed for an especially long stay. Freelance visas and digital nomad jobs are cropping up everywhere. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic forced companies across the globe to reconsider their use of “work from home” policies, employees and businesses have been clamoring for freedom of movement. Perhaps the Slow Traveler’s career allows for a fully remote job, or perhaps she is freelancing or using a working holiday program only temporarily before returning to the traditional workforce. Either way, new doors are opening.
The Slow Traveler is able to ignite friendships; she is a part of two communities: the region or country in which she is a guest, and the other expats and like-minded wanderers who make up the local Slow Travel community. Not only does she have the added weeks and months to cultivate conversations, outings, and neighbours – she has certain commonalities easily ready for observation. Moreover, if she wants any company it must be a new company, therefore discovery is as daily to her as is the song to the songbird. The keenly perceptive C.S. Lewis once wrote, “The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, ‘What? You too? I thought I was the only one.’”
The Slow Traveler has a broad, open outlook. Her’s is a view of the region that is more closely indicative of the actual lived experiences of locals, she is, therefore, open to a different genre of learning. She can stroll the backroads and sample unfamiliar fruits, she can know what it is to see the lake for the first time, but also the fiftieth. These are perspectives not easily won by any other means.
This is not to sneer at the site’s tourist frequency, the Taj Mahal and the Mona Lisa are classics for a reason, but the Slow Traveler is not limited only to these acclaimed gems, they are a part of her - much more balanced - wanderlust diet.
Change is something all beings seek from time to time – for the traveler, presently eschewing routine and seeking new climes, that time is now. Lasting changes, however, take more hours than can be meted to the hurried weekend, even though hours have a peculiar elasticity while en voyage. The Slow Traveler is developing something, she is realizing a new mode of vision. When she does return to her original home it will have something else to say to her than what it said before, because foreign things are now familiar to her. She is learning by comparison. As the fish does not know water is wet, neither does the untraveled yokel recognize just how sharp is his accent, or that the old house has a smell quite different from Hong Kong or The Dead Sea. The Slow Traveler has a new angle from which to gaze at the places she thought she knew before – and so might, somewhat paradoxically, be more knowledgeable of her hometown than if she’d sat in it alone for years and years more.
In times well-known for their rhetoric of division, otherism, nationalism, and partisanship, deeper alterations and wider prospects are key ingredients to a much-needed salve of pluralism.
The great American novelist Mark Twain is best remembered for writing stories about Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, but in his own day, he was more renowned as a travel writer and unofficial ambassador. This oft-quoted line from his musings is a fitting end to this brief reflection on Slow Travel:
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”