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What is slow travel? Experts explain how the movement is changing the way we switch off

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 6 days ago Megan C. Hills

a lake with a mountain in the background: (Photo by Simon Migaj on Unsplash) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited (Photo by Simon Migaj on Unsplash) While many of us plan our trips with a Trip Advisor checklist and turn on alerts for the cheapest commercial flights, there’s a growing trend in travellers making the most of slow travel.

As part of the growing ‘slow movement’ which has touched everything from fashion to food, ‘authentic’ travel experiences are gaining popularity - usually with an eco-friendly focus.

Although the idea of slow travel can conjure images of month-long journeys most of us don’t have the annual leave to indulge in, The Idle Traveller author Dan Kieran says it’s not about the time frame but the journey itself. “For me slow travel is actual travel,” he says, “Most of us don’t travel, we only arrive. For me the joy is the journey just as much as the destination.”

For Kieran, the term “slow” doesn’t necessarily mean booking a year long holiday around the world. He elaborated that it was more a “state of mind” while Niquesa Travel CEO Luigi De Simone Niquesa calls it an “appreciation of authenticity”. Marcelo Novais, the Managing Director of safari specialists Ker & Downey Africa added, “A slow travel experience naturally involves fewer destinations, longer stays and meaningful experiences.”

“Slow travel encourages the modern-day traveller to turn down the tempo, practice being present and to enjoy the luxury of time. It’s not about arriving at a destination and rushing through a checklist of experiences and sites in a blurred flurry, but rather taking the time to connect to the destination, taste the local food, experience the culture and wildlife and return to your home country refreshed,” he says.

a close up of a hillside next to a body of water with Douro in the background: Douro Valley in Portugal (Niquesa Travel) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited Douro Valley in Portugal (Niquesa Travel)

Tourists often feel the pressure to pack in as many sights into the space of one holiday, with Leo Trippi CEO Oliver Corkhill noting that a lot of travel nowadays felt “rushed”. Novais mentioned that “tourist burnout” was a big reason why he believed slow travel was becoming more appealing to travellers, as he said it allowed people “the time to relax and refresh your mind” and Niquesa also explained that people were “embracing a mindset that rejects traditional ideas of tourism” - which naturally leads travellers to “remain open to new experiences”.

Travel and lifestyle YouTuber Erik Conover also pointed to the fact that working habits had changed, adding that there was more of an opportunity for people to indulge in slow travel while paying the bills. He said, “More and more people can work remotely now via the internet.”

a close up of a snow covered slope: (Leo Trippi) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited (Leo Trippi)

Many also pointed to a growing desire by holiday makers to escape daily lives and immerse themselves in a new culture - disconnecting from their own life while connecting to the lives of others. The phrase “the experience economy” is one that has become an increasing consideration in all aspects of life for the luxury consumer and particularly when tied to travel, with a study by Global Web Index revealing that 3 in 10 luxury buyers were “much more likely to have purchased an experience”.

Over 12 months, they found that 36% of regular luxury buyers and 30% of less regular luxury consumers had spent on expensive travel experiences with first-class flight tickets cited as an example.

For the likes of Novais and Corkhill, it’s clear that the experience economy has affected the way they approach their business. Novais called it a “pivotal part of why [Ker & Downey Africa] do what we do” and Corkhill said that they had “become much more focused on experiences and the overall theme of the holidays we create”.

a group of palm trees next to a body of water: (Photo by Rolands Varsbergs on Unsplash) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited (Photo by Rolands Varsbergs on Unsplash)

Kieran also felt that social media had put pressure on people to have the “perfect” holiday and it appears that slow travel may be a response to move away from the curated perfection of an Instagram feed.

He said, “In the era of everyone instagramming their perfect holiday with their infinity pool etc we all feel we have to live up to that ideal, but it’s not an ideal. It’s a fiction none of us have any hope of living up to.”

That isn’t to say that social media hasn’t been inspiring people to slow travel, however. Conover said that on YouTube that there is “100%” an appetite for slow travel content and continued, “People want to be travellers, not tourists.”

(Photo by Christine Roy on Unsplash) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited (Photo by Christine Roy on Unsplash)

Novais additionally explained that slow travel was “more meaningful” in that it allows people to “form genuine connections with the locals, learn the intricacies of their culture, savour the flavours of the local cuisine and more”.

Sustainability has also become a hallmark of slow travel. Corkhill said, “As you immerse yourself and connect with an area, you are more likely to care about it and perhaps give back.”

Kieran also noted it was “impossible” to travel slowly without considering sustainable travel, calling it an “access point” for many to even consider travelling slowly. He did however warn against “false” slow travel, saying, “It’s interesting to me that the more expensive the holiday the less you have to do for yourself. And that’s the crux of the problem. If you don't contribute to your own experience, and the only local people you meet on holiday are the ones serving you, then it stands to reason you will have a false experience. Because it is one.”

a person holding a bunch of food on a table: (Photo by Avel Chuklanov on Unsplash) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited (Photo by Avel Chuklanov on Unsplash)

To that end, select luxury travel agencies have taken it upon themselves to curate trips designed with the intention of allowing travellers to discover authentic slow experiences, with a focus on the local community. Rather than hitting up TripAdvisor’s top 40 hits, Corkhill explained that he had adapted his business to become “more focused on experiences and the overall theme of the holidays” - likening them to a “narrative”.

For avid slow travellers with Leo Trippi, Corkhill explained that the agency would create opportunities and encourage “a certain mindset through the people they meet at different stages during the trip”.

(Mekong Kingdoms) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited (Mekong Kingdoms)

Niquesa also emphasised that arranging slow travel ‘meet cutes’ with locals was at the heart of its bespoke journey planning services, explaining that they worked to provide “exclusive access to amazing people and places”.

Ker & Downey Africa, whose safaris support conservation areas in the region, also added that sustainable tourism was “a driving force in the luxury travel industry” with travellers desiring “purposeful travel experiences which contribute to the sustainability of our planet and its people”.

a group of people sitting at a fruit stand: A market in Port Louis (Ker & Downey Africa) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited A market in Port Louis (Ker & Downey Africa)

In fact, a recent survey commissioned by Old Mout Cider revealed that Britons are becoming more interested in travelling sustainably. According to their data, as many as one in ten Brits had chosen this summer to opt out of zipping around in a plane - instead choosing an “alternative eco-friendly route” to diminish their carbon footprint.

And it paid off, as the survey predicted that this year the UK will have as a result reduced its carbon dioxide emissions by 9.1 million tonnes.

a group of people standing on a lush green field: Rovos Rail, a train safari from South Africa to Victoria Falls (Ker & Downey Africa) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited Rovos Rail, a train safari from South Africa to Victoria Falls (Ker & Downey Africa)

Some sustainable ways to travel slow include taking sleeper trains such as Switzerland’s Glacier Express - a form of transport Kieran said “forces you to acclimatise to your destination in a way that’s impossible on a plane” - as well as turning to options including luxury overnight river cruises by the likes of Mekong Kingdoms, which take guests in an exclusive cruise from Laos’ Luang Prabang through to Thailand’s Chiang Sen in the Golden Triangle over the course of four days.

Kieran advised potential slow travellers “not to take photographs”, telling people to write about their experiences instead. He said, “You are recording something you didn't even experience at the time you took the photograph, because you were too busy taking a photograph to actually be where you were when you were taking it. This is why no one wants to see your holiday pictures. Because you don't even know what you were trying to capture in the picture because you weren’t actually there when you took it.”

a man sitting on top of a snow covered mountain: (Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited (Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash)

He continued, “If you find yourself instagramming your holiday then you are not having a good time, you are trying to show the people who follow you that you are having a good time. That is not the same thing. No. Forget pictures and take a notebook instead.”

“Your thoughts and ideas when you are away are what will bring your trip back to you years later. Your thoughts and ideas have value. They are worth recording,” he finished.

As slow travel continues to surge, Kieran said it’s worth starting to practise it closer to home. “Just explore your surroundings in a new way. Try and get lost in a place you think you know. The mindset will soon appear like a metaphysical breath of fresh air… Most of us don't even give time to where we live. We’re too busy rushing through it on our way to somewhere else to get to know it.”

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