When I returned home after an overseas trip earlier this year, I was exhausted, sleep-deprived, and burnt out. I had been on holiday, so why did I feel desperate for another break? The truth is, travelling is rarely as relaxing as we hope it to be. From navigating airport chaos and lugging suitcases to finding affordable accommodation, it can be stressful.
Professor of religion, psychology and culture, Jaco Hamman says, “Many of us seek to get away in order to be present; we speed to destinations in order to slow down; we may care about the environment but still leave carbon footprints.”
What is slow travel
Slow travel, slow tourism, or even eco-tourism, on the other hand, is a type of travel that focuses more on the journey than the destination. It tries to minimise visitors’ harm on the places and people they encounter. Instead of spending a few days in a place, slow tourism encourages staying for a longer time to experience the lifestyle of the local people.Slow travel isn’t only better for peace of mind, it’s better for the environment too.
Slow travel enthusiast and blogger, Jessica Harumi, travelled to Cape Town last year where she first practiced slow tourism. Jessica came to Cape Town with the intention of staying one month in the city, but found herself spending three months in Cape Town. “Exploring Cape Town’s rich culture really helped challenge and affirm some of my own values in a really inspiring and serendipitous way,” she explains. A year on from her first slow travel experience, Jessica has travelled to cities such as Seattle and Lisbon, continuing the slow tourism practices.
In their academic paper on slow tourism, Aikaterin Manthiou, Phil Klaus and Van Ha Luong say the slow tourism movement is a significant reaction to mass tourism. They say that the philosophy of deceleration offers a way of providing slow tourism with specific guidelines. These guidelines include tourists taking the time to visit, reducing their carbon footprint, having an ecological and ethical vision, focusing on local contacts and nearby sights, consuming local products and discovering heritage, conserving the locals’ quality of life, and ensuring a high-quality tourism experience.
In a nutshell, slow travel offers “more authentic experiences that take particular care of the environment”.
Why is slow travel more eco-friendly?
The tourism industry has grown exponentially over the past few decades, creating jobs, generating revenue, and stimulating economies. The travel industry has become a large part of our global economy, accounting for one in 10 jobs worldwide, according to UNEP. But it has also become a big contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, leading to air pollution as well as depleting natural resources and destroying ecosystems.
This form of travel also focuses on engaging with the local community. “I like to think that practicing slow travel helped me gain a different perspective, one more akin to a local’s experience,” Jessica says, reflecting on her journey to Cape Town. “The social aspect is something almost completely overlooked with conventional travel and yet it’s what makes the travel experience so meaningful, being able to see a place through the eyes of a local, at least for a little while,” she adds.
By staying in one place for longer, and focusing on exploring a single area as opposed to an entire country – or multiple countries – you can reduce the carbon footprint of your travelling.
How to travel slowly
The ability to travel is a privilege that comes at a cost to the environment and can come at a cost to host communities. Hamman says that travel becomes irresponsible when tourists ignore injustices and inequities they witness or ignore the way travel contributes to the unfolding climate crisis.
So, when you do travel, opt for more eco-friendly transport options, hire a local guide, stay in locally-owned accommodation rather than international hotel franchises, and support smaller local businesses that do not exploit people or the environment. Unlike conventional tourism, where most of the profits are enjoyed by big corporations, slow tourism encourages people to visit independent stores and restaurants and explore the local business ecosystem.
In this way, slow tourism does not contribute as much to the wasteful culture that is associated with more conventional forms of travel. While we may forgo some sustainable practices when we’re on holiday, visiting a place for a more extended time helps you to continue the same practices you do at home.
Jessica says that one of her top tips for people wanting to give slow travel a go is to get into a routine. “I know it sounds boring but adopting a bit of a routine like morning walks through the park or grocery shopping at a market can really help route you in a place and get you tapped into that local’s experience. You start to see the same people and become familiar with the neighborhood which can make you feel more of a kinship with that place.”
The reason travelling can often feel exhausting is that we try to fit in so many activities in a day. Jumping from one tourist attraction to the next doesn’t give us the chance to really explore a new place. Slow travel allows time to immerse yourself in a new environment, connect with the people and the history of a place.
“I always build time into my schedule to walk as much as possible when visiting new cities. You can take in so much more visually and get a much better feeling of a place at this slower pace. You’re also much more likely to be surprised with a great view or an interesting shop along the way,” says Jessica.
Ultimately, travelling is a luxury, and slow tourism, in its entirety, may not be a viable option for many. But as we embark on the holiday season and many of us take a (well-deserved) break, by incorporating some of these practices, you can decrease your impact on the environment and explore yourself in the process.
- Feature image: Dino Reichmuch / Unsplash