Imagine living for a week in a little French cottage, buying fresh vegetables from the farmer's market every morning, sipping cafe au lait on your favorite sidewalk terrace, and taking leisurely day trips to neighboring villages and chateaus. Sound appealing? That's the magic of slow travel, where the emphasis is less on manic sightseeing and more on taking in your surroundings at a relaxed pace. This is no "four cities in seven days" tour of Europe -- instead, you'll see new places and explore new cultures in a way that's less stressful for you, more respectful of the locals and easier on the environment (and maybe on your budget as well).
What Is Slow Travel?
Slow travel is an offshoot of the slow food movement, which began in Italy in the 1980's as a protest against the opening of a McDonald's in Rome. The slow food movement aims to preserve regional cuisine, local farming, communal meals and traditional food preparation methods. This cultural initiative has since burgeoned into a whole way of life known as the Slow Movement, which emphasizes connection -- connection to food, connection to families and, in the case of travel, connection to local peoples and cultures.
Slow travel is not so much a particular mode of transportation as it is a mindset. Rather than attempting to squeeze as many sights or cities as possible into each trip, the slow traveler takes the time to explore each destination thoroughly and to experience the local culture. Per the slow travel philosophy, it's more important to get to know one small area well than it is to see only a little bit of many different areas -- that way you'll have something left to see on the next trip.
Slow travel can mean renting a cottage or apartment for a week at a time and exploring your immediate surroundings on foot or by car. It can mean taking a bike tour from one village to the next, or driving along back roads instead of taking the highway. It can mean crossing long distances by train instead of air, so that you can see the scenery along the way. But no matter how you do it, the key is slowing down -- and making the most of each moment of your vacation.
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Benefits of Slow Travel
Traveling more slowly allows you to form a stronger connection to the place you're visiting, and you'll feel much less rushed. With a "slow" itinerary, you won't experience the stress of attempting to knock out every site in your guidebook. Instead, you'll stay in one place long enough to recognize your neighbors, shop in the local markets and pick a favorite coffeehouse. Few societies move as quickly as Americans do, so slowing down in other countries not only allows you to escape your own stressful day-to-day life but also to slip naturally into the pace of another culture.
Another less obvious advantage of slow travel is that it's generally much easier on the environment than other types of travel. While airplanes have been pinpointed as major contributors to global warming, trains are a much more eco-friendly alternative -- as are bikes and, of course, your own two feet! And even traveling by car becomes less damaging to the environment when you're only driving short distances.
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Slow travel is often kinder to your budget as well. Staying in one place for a week or more at a time reduces your transportation costs, and vacation rentals are often more cost-efficient than hotels since they allow you to cook your own food instead of eating out for every meal. If you choose a home exchange instead, you'll save even more.
One thing to keep in mind: While the pace of slow travel may be leisurely and laid-back, getting up close and personal with a new culture is much more challenging than just breezing through the major tourist sites. Part of the reward of slow travel is overcoming language barriers, differences in customs and other potential stumbling blocks to make connections with the new people you meet.
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