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.

2 Comments

  1. First off, I completely agree with all your humble suggestions at the end for people with busy work schedules and limited time to ensure they have a unique, fun and relaxing vacation. Don't carry around your Lonely Planet like its a bible. Learn "hello" plus a few basic food words/questions in the local language and interact with some locals. Don't sit around the hostel all day talking with other travelers. (Save that for right before bed — can be a great source of other nearby hidden gems or special local events.) A smile goes a long way. Except in Russia, where "he who smiles without reason is a fool". Don't smile at strangers on the streets of Russia 😉

    Anyway, you descriped slow travel correctly but then lost me with your "Who Are These People?" paragraph. Where did they come from? Those types of are the exact opposite of slow travelers!

    Slow travelers DO NOT "work tradition jobs and have limited time to take the vacation of their dreams" and often times travel to places specifically so that they DO NOT have to speak/hear English. Slow travelers use as much of the local language as possible, and they tend to learn fast.

    Slow travel is essentially living as a nomad with no fixed dates, itineraries, plans or plane tickets. You just arrive, make local friends, find a random spot to rent learn the culture, and see where it all leads. Eventually you move on to some new place and repeat. This ensures a fully immersive experience that expedites learning of the local language and culture. A slow traveler could arrive in Indonesia "for a month" but then one year later he's speaking Indonesian, done a film there, ended up on a nationally-televised game show and then start speaking at public schools. (True story, my story.)

    A slow traveler does not book hotels in advance and never buys round trip plane tickets — hell never even buys a plane ticket until 1-3 days before the flight. Why? Because they've learned if they buy it too far in advance, something will come up and they won't make that flight. The best adventures are the unexpected ones, so always keep your schedule free and be open to new experiences with new people.

    A proper slow traveler almost always has the financial freedom to let a one month adventure turn into a one or five year RTW trip. (Being a broke backpacker sitting in countries for six months at a time until you can scrap together enough to buy a plane ticket to the next *does not* make you a slow traveler.) These are your digital noamds, tech-savy investors, brand consultants, corporate escapees, early retirees, even widows/widowers eager to make the most of the time they have left. And yes, sometimes there is that occasional backpacker who has been managing to live off $4/day for the last few years by doing volunteer work and making local friends.

    Don't be fooled by other travelers who fit the basic demographics of slow travelers but who are not really in it for the cultural aspect. Gap year travelers come to party and sure they will be right there with the budget backpackers taking (hungover) selfies at the nearby obligatory tourist spots. But these party animals won't learn much, if anything. Couples, although enthusiastic at first, tend to fade fast as one or both cannot hang with the "making it up as we go" freedom that comes with slow traveling. Hardcore yoga and spiritual peiople "super in touch with nature" tend to find their own personal Mecca and settle down, rather than just rambling on in the wind like other slow travelers.

    Speaking of rambling, wow……that could have been a full blog post hahaha 😉

    Derek Freak recently posted…First Impressions Of Finland: A Friendly But Puzzling Land…give them some Luv!My Profile

    • Reeses Road Life Reply

      Hey Derek! 

      Firstly thank you for your education and informative reply. To be honest it’s a subject that I wrote on also to try to understand more. As I said in my post there was an article ( http://www.independenttraveler.com/travel-tips/specialty-travel/the-art-of-slow-travel ) that I referenced that really bothered me the way that they portrayed “Slow Travelers”.  

      I then went to other slow travel bloggers sites and seemed to get much the same impression. So clearly there was a bit of misunderstanding on my part. My comment “who are these people” was referencing “who are these people that travel without regard or interest for the culture of the country they are in”,

      Again, you helped me to better understand the topic. What do u think of that article? 

      Sorry for the fast reply. I’m on my phone 

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