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What is slow travel and how can I embrace it?

Slow travel is a trend growing in popularity. It’s where we travel to a destination at our leisure, while immersing ourselves in the landscape and culture. If we reflect on the holidays of early 20th century Britain, Victorians would travel to the coast via slow train or horse-drawn carriage, often stopping several times along the way. Slow travel is a similar concept, although arrived at by choice rather than necessity.

Interest in slow travel may come for a variety of reasons:

  • you may want to experience a county’s culture in more detail;
  • you may wish to avoid busy destinations or means of transport;
  • you may have the luxury of more time on your hands and wish to maximise it;
  • you might desire the experiences only available when avoiding tourist hotspots;
  • or you may be seeking ways of travelling that are more sustainable, or kinder to the planet.

Whatever reason(s) you have to consider slow travel, we have put together the following short guide. It will help you start to explore the idea and plan your own slow travel trip.

How to experience slow travel

Think about your mode of transport

Your holiday starts from the moment you lock your front door. So, turn to a mode of transport that allows you to reach your destination with ease. To avoid flight disruptions and large crowds, opt for coach or train travel. Or, plan a self-drive holiday across Europe. If you wish to have a canine companion on your trip, a self-drive holiday across Europe could be your best option.

Ski enthusiasts may find this to be a good option too as access to the slopes will often involve road connections. If you prefer to take your own gear, you can avoid the hassle of boarding bulky equipment too.

Travelling by car allows you the flexibility to plan your own route. Rather than going straight to one destination, you can stop off anywhere you like along the way. Your mileage may go up, but so too will your enjoyment of discovering hidden gems along the way.

Whether you travel by car, coach, or train, you’ll have time to admire the country. You travel through the landscapes, giving you a connection to them you can’t have if you fly above them. Also, your carbon footprint will be reduced – especially if you opt to travel by train or coach.

slow travel with a dog

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Extended trips

Another way of taking slow travel is to throw off the shackles of taking a one- to two-week trip. If you can, why not spend longer in your destination of choice and fully immerse yourself in the culture? Perhaps a month or even two to fully cover everything the area has to offer.

Often holidays can feel like a taster menu in a restaurant: you can enjoy just a bite or two of each item. An extended trip gives you the freedom to choose your favourites and indulge in them further.

There are plenty of benefits to having more time on your travels, as detailed below.

Live like a local – by talking with the locals

Talking with locals is one of the best ways to get to know an area and its culture. Not only will you pick up tips for things to do, but you’ll also learn more about local customs and traditions. You can start by simply visiting places where locals are likely to be – such as a pub or bar – and soaking up the atmosphere.  Visiting a convenience shop, bakery or grocery store will give you an insight into how locals buy essentials. These can be ideal places to ask for advice on transportation and attractions.

One good tip is to learn some of the language before arriving at your destination. It is sure to be greatly appreciated by those you meet. Even if all you can do is introduce yourself and use basic phrases like ‘thank you’ or ‘please’ it shows that you respect the culture of the place you’re visiting.

talking with the locals

Visit farmers markets

An interesting topic of conversation could be to ask locals about traditional farmers’ markets. Typically these host small vendors rather than big supermarkets, giving unique experiences and cultural insights that tourists would otherwise miss out on. You may even learn local recipes and source the ingredients for them at the same time.

To give just one famous example, The Hague in Holland has over 500 stalls where you can buy just about any local produce. Yet, the market flows across two districts – the Transvaal and the Schilderswijk. So, you’ll meet a multicultural population and come across a mix of street entertainers, pavement artists, and photographers at the same time.

visiting a farmers market

Step outside your comfort zone and say yes!

During your visit to the market, ask a producer which restaurants/cafes buy from them regularly. This might help you discover the top cafes and restaurants in the area. You can tuck into the fresh produce you’ve sampled again too.

It’s easy to choose a familiar chain restaurant when visiting an unfamiliar country. It can feel comfortable with little chance of surprises. However, eating in one does little to aid understanding of the area.  With lots of review websites available like Tripadvisor, you can check customer feedback before you go to reduce the uncertainty – and still step out of that comfort zone while supporting the local community.

hidden cafes found during slow travel

Help a local community

When you choose independent businesses and local community outlets over large chains and multinationals it is only positive for the community. It sustains the local economy as it keeps money and tax revenues within the region and benefits local suppliers. Additionally, it is often these small-scale businesses that are the champions of culture. They often pride themselves in connecting travellers with real experiences, such as traditional music performances or historic marketplaces.

Generic chain restaurant meals can sometimes be pre-made or frozen upon arrival. On the other hand, individual cafes, bars and bistros are likely to offer fresher ingredients in more interesting local dishes. Likewise, independently-run stores tend to feature a selection of locally made products. These range from artwork to clothing and provide travellers with an even wider range of authentic souvenirs. All while supporting local artists and creators.

Overall, doing something new and saying yes to experiences outside our comfort zones is how our brains rewire themselves. From this respect, there are many things that slow travel can do for you and your mental well-being on holiday.

The lasting benefits of slow travel for you

1:It is beneficial for our mental health

Investing our time in planning a holiday can be almost as good as experiencing it. So, get the maps out and plot the route to your destination beforehand. Also, note the pit stops. There is a wealth of information online to help you pinpoint local shops, pubs, and communities on your  route. Many will have reviews or guides to help you focus on where you may like to go. They might not all work out, but the chances are the positive experiences will outweigh the negative by some margin.

2: While away, travel burnout doesn’t exist

Travel burnout is when we try to see and do as much as we can during a trip. We can end up running out of time to pause and reflect upon our new surroundings. It may be tempting to tick off as much as possible on a trip. However, focusing on one destination and exploring it in depth can be more rewarding and meaningful.

Before embarking on a journey, it can be rewarding to research the destination as much as you can. Reading travel books – as well as building excitement for your trip – can be a great place to begin. Look for those written by people who have spent extended periods in the area. These can offer a level of insight that can’t be experienced from travel guides or tourist information. They are sure to uncovering details about the destination that may otherwise be unknown – and set you up for rewarding travels.

solo traveller

3: Make your money go further

If you have time to take a trip for a couple of months, it need not cost a fortune. By booking cheaper long-term self-catering accommodation, combined with some of the foody insights above, you may be surprised to see how far your money goes. There are many short- or medium-term rental websites available that can help you find some. Also, some websites suggest unique experiences that you can discover at your chosen destination. Each is organised by the locals, such as bike tours, workshops, and foodie walks.

Free Spirit’s favourite slow travel holidays

Slow travel is a topic we’ve touched upon in previous blogs. So, here are our slow travel holiday examples for you to consider.

10 Top Slow Travel Examples

  1. The best carefree train holidays in the world
  2. 6 Top European Festivals for Free Spirits
  3. Top Greek Island Holidays for a Great Getaway
  4. What can we learn from a Country’s National Dance?
  5. 8 Top picnic destinations from around the world
  6. Top World Heritage Sites to Visit in the UK
  7. Where can I find the most scenic European River Cruises?
  8. 10 Top Farm Stays to Create a Great Spring Break
  9. The Festive Wonderland at Europe’s Christmas Markets
  10. 7 Top Cycling Holidays across the UK and Europe


Travel Insurance for slow travel

Wherever in the world, you embrace slow travel as an adventurer travelling solo or with companions, do so with confidence by taking Free Spirit Travel Insurance.

If you want to explore a destination for more than 94 days, please contact us for a travel insurance policy to meet your requirements. On the other hand, if you wish to plan an extended trip for up to 18 months and you’re 75 or under, we suggest Longstay & Backpacker Travel Insurance. For self-drive holidays in Europe we can also provide European breakdown cover from Euro Plus.

seniors embracing slow travel

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