Thanks to flights taking off and landing in airports all over the globe, the world can now feel like a small place. This level of convenience is excellent for people who wish to see more of what the world has to offer, but we must also consider the impact this level of travel has on our planet.
Pollution from travel is high and in Europe it’s estimated to contribute approximately one-quarter of the continent’s greenhouse gas emissions. So does this mean we shouldn’t travel and explore new things, or does it mean we should find a different way? Slow travel is an emerging trend for environmentally-conscious travellers, and here is how you can embrace this popular way to explore.
What is slow travel?
Slow travel is the concept of exploring at a leisurely pace, without rigid schedules or time constraints. Rather than rushing from one tourist attraction to the next, slow travel is about fully immersing yourself in the experience of a particular place, spending longer in each destination, travelling via more eco-friendly modes of transport and making deeper connections with local people and culture along the way.
The slow travel philosophy is a sustainable and mindful way to experience the world. It stands in contrast to many quick-paced, checklist-style vacations that have become popular in today’s world. For slow travellers, the journey is just as important as the final destination.
Set the right mindset
To get the most out of your slow travel experience, start by cultivating the right mindset. Leave behind schedules and deadlines – set an open-minded and unhurried intention for your journey. Rather than a list of must-see attractions, focus on learning, discovering and connecting with the places you visit.
Avoid overplanning to leave room for spontaneity, and give yourself time to stumble upon hidden gems or linger longer in places that capture your interest. Remember, slow travel is not about crossing off destinations – it’s about the process of getting there.
Funding and planning your travels
While the goal of slow travel is to go with the flow once you reach your destination, it still requires some planning and financial commitment beforehand. Planning a slow travel adventure in an ethical, responsible way involves conscientious decisions around funding, itineraries and experiences.
The simplest approach is budgeting your regular earnings to set aside a portion each month towards a slow travel fund. But also consider freelancing, online surveys, market research studies, website testing or other jobs that generate extra cash quickly without major commitment.
For those nearing or in retirement, your pension savings present an opportunity to finance travel adventures. Releasing pension funds allows you the freedom to embark on meaningful trips focused on learning, volunteering and cultural immersion.
Do research on locations of interest and options for eco-friendly transit between them. Choose locally-owned accommodations, tour operators and activity providers whenever possible, supporting companies that give back to the community and minimise their environmental impact.
Choose eco-friendly transportation
A core principle of slow travel is reducing your environmental impact and carbon footprint. The modes of transportation you choose are a key part of this. Rather than flying between destinations whenever possible, opt for lower-emission options like trains, buses, cycling or walking.
Travelling by train is a great way to see the countryside at a leisurely pace while avoiding airport hassles, additionally, many scenic rail routes in Europe offer panoramic views and an experience in themselves. Buses and coaches are also more sustainable alternatives to flying, especially for shorter trips.
If you have time, cycling or walking are ideal ways to immerse yourself in the landscape. Cycling tours are popular in many European countries, allowing you to explore regional wines, foods and scenery. For walking holidays, you can follow long-distance footpaths through stunning natural environments.
For longer distances, consider ridesharing with other travellers or eco-friendly car rentals. Car sharing schemes make renting vehicles more convenient and budget-friendly while reducing overall emissions. Some rental companies offer electric vehicle options as well.
Travel light and green
Packing efficiently is an important step towards sustainable travel. The more you pack, the more weight you have to transport and the greater your environmental footprint. As a slow traveller, aim to pack light but smart, choosing versatile and eco-friendly essentials.
Pack clothing that can be layered and reused, with natural fabrics such as cotton or hemp. Include items with multiple uses – like a scarf that doubles as a wrap or towel. Keep extra shoes to a minimum and consider collapsible options.
Bring reusable bags, bottles and containers. Carry a refillable water bottle, coffee cup and food containers rather than purchasing disposables. Use sustainable toiletries and consider bar soap, shampoo and toothpaste tabs.
Savour the local cuisine
An important part of the slow travel philosophy is connecting with the local food culture and embracing the concept of slow food. The slow food movement is a global initiative promoting local food traditions and encouraging leisurely enjoyment of meals. Emphasis is firmly placed on sustainability, locally sourced ingredients, and a conscious connection to the culture and people behind our food.
It’s all about taking the time to appreciate meals as an opportunity to understand regional flavours, ingredients and cooking techniques. Support small eateries, family restaurants and food markets where traditional specialties are made in-house from fresh, locally-sourced ingredients.
Seek out dining options popular with locals to sample authentic dishes at a fair price. Chat with owners and staff to learn the story behind unique regional recipes and flavours. Wander through open-air markets and grocery stores to peruse the variety of native produce, spices, grains and more.
Engage in meaningful activities
Take time to engage in activities that allow you to connect with the location in an authentic way. Rather than just passing through, experience each place you visit on a deeper level.
Explore the local food, music, culture and art. Try regional specialties at family-run eateries, visit local craft breweries and observe traditional music or dance performances. Check schedules for concerts, gallery exhibits, or regional festivals and events.
Meet locals and fellow travellers. Strike up genuine conversations to learn different perspectives and share experiences. You could travel somewhere with the goal of learning the language, from practising your language skills over coffee to making local friends and developing your speaking skills further.
Reflect and be grateful
Upon returning home, set aside time to reflect on your slow travel experiences. Look through your photos, re-read your journals and recall the details of your journey that left the deepest impressions. Appreciate how places and encounters have contributed to your growth.