Why I find (the term) Slow Travel Offensive
What is "Slow Travel" Anyway?
I get google alerts related to travel. One of the top travel trends for 2017 is “Slow Travel". First, I had to google "what is slow travel". Then I became fist-shakingly outraged at the whole Slow Travel idea. For those who don't know slow travel is a movement that encourages people to slow down when they travel. Instead of opting for all the tourist attractions in a few days, you aim to travel so that you can have a more "cultural experience". This must be a term some American came up with (and I'm American by the way). I want to share why I find the term "slow travel" offensive.
The article that drew my ire is this one by independenttraveler.com called The Art Of Slow Travel.
Who are These People?
Granted I do realize that this is more for people who work tradition jobs and have limited time to take the vacation of their dreams. That means finding all the top places to go, eat and experience in a limited amount of time. I get it. But I really think this movement should be called one of the following:
How to travel like the rest of the world has been traveling for years
Travel for Americans who want everything NOW even when in slower-moving parts of the world
Safe travel for people who want to experience culture from afar
Travel for people who only want to hear English
This Isn’t New
I don't mean to be glib. Really I don't, but this is an American issue. Europeans paved the way for backpacking decades ago. Young American hippies followed suit. There was a time when people were more curious about the world and craved to have new experiences. As Americans, we are accustomed to having everything fast. Our food, our coffee, how quickly we are wrung up at the counter are all of indicative of a general lack of patience that's ingrained in us from the start. Bigger, faster, harder, stronger. That's never been for me.
Learning to Enjoy a Slow Dinner
I've had the pleasure of traveling quite a bit through Western Europe. Even living good in Amsterdam for a while. The first time I had. 2.5-hour dinner with my Dutch friends, I was in awe. Starving. But in awe. The focus was on the conversation. The server didn't rush over to take our orders. He took his time as did my dinner mates take their time ordering.
I had to laugh at myself because I could just see my dad getting so mad at this kind of service. But it meant a lot to me. I feel at home.
I'm a New Yorker and I'm guilty of going into NYC now-now-now mode when I'm in smaller towns or slower cities. "How long does it take to make my iced caramel macchiato with an extra shot, no whip, and milk from a Cambodian baby goat?! I guess what I'm saying through my dry-ass sarcasm is that we need to slow down in general.
Drop that Cheeseburger!
How can you truly experience a culture and what it has to offer only eating at only the places you recognize while ordering the most familiar thing you can find? All that, so you can scarf down your food and get in line for whatever tourist attraction awaits you?
There's nothing wrong with touristy things. But the reason why you may be tired after an attraction-packed vacation is that you didn't take the time to slow down and really experience the place.
I regularly will strike up conversations when abroad. Even if there is a language barrier there is ALWAYS a way you can communicate. Do you have the patience to try? Because maybe, the local at the coffee shop could lead you to the best food you've ever had. And no, it's NOT on yelp!
English, Only English Please
The section that bothered me the most was where they list the countries most friendly to the trendy slow-traveler. Australia, New Zealand, the Caribbean and Canada. Notice the "English-only" theme. Using their advice you'll miss it of the beauty of the temples of Thailand and Bali. The amazing food in Tokyo. The beautiful wilderness of an African safari. The list goes on.
The travelers and nomads I admire travel in the way I long for. To have a cultural experience that goes beyond the dog and pony show so often presented to us as foreigners.
The Reasons I find the Term "Slow Travel” Offensive are:
It's America/English speaker-centric and doesn't acknowledge the long history of people around the world who always travel like this
It disregards the true Nomadic travelers who in their videos and blogs share what they are now calling "Slow Travel"
It makes it seem somehow elitist. As if you are special and more enlightened if you travel this way. It's a way to be better than THOSE people.
It encourages “safe" travel and allows you to travel without really getting to know the "foreign" people who call that country home.
My Humble Suggestions
Don't aim to slow travel. Aim to travel with the goal of REALLY experiencing where you are. Food, customs, and the people.
It's ok if you're a planner and want to follow all the guide books somewhat. But if you only have a week. Try the following:
Schedule 1-2 of the most important attractions and go. No shame in that.
Go and try to become a short-term regular at a coffee shop or local bar and engage someone in conversation.
Ask them where THEY eat and for THEIR recommendations.
Take a day to just relax. Whatever that means to you. If you're in a beach location head to that beach. Not the crowded beach. The one a little further that has fresh coconut and a local will sell you an amazing local dish.
Ask what the dish is called.
Know how to say “hello" and "thank you" in their language.
Smile at locals regularly, and generate good will.
Most importantly, realize that whatever country you are from, that you are from one of many. And the more we try to truly understand and respect each other, the better we can make the world
Don't follow the latest track trends. You don’t need to call it "Slow Travel". Book a ticket and go get lost in a new land. You'll come back seeing your country with different eyes.