Slow travel is getting more and more popular… But is the concept really clear to most ? Not so sure !
At the age of 30 I realized that hard work and materialism hadn’t fulfilled me the way it was originally advertised. I dropped out of the rat race, and refuted the egoistic lifestyle centered on appearance and useless acquisitions I was so addicted to. Climbing the social ladder had lost its appeal, it was time to get my feet back on the ground, slow down, and downsize to a mindful minimum. Some twenty years ago, the slow movement was barely a thing, but it had already made its mark on my future: Looking to spend less time at work and better focus on what surrounded me, I ended up quitting my job, moved out of my apartment, gave away a lot of stuff I no longer needed to people pretending to be friends, and started over on a slow journey away from consumerism.
That “downshifting” philosophy, where you aim for a voluntary simplicity, has since been applied to most aspects of my life, including travel.
Slow Travel is officially defined as :“an opportunity to become part of local life and connect to a place and its people”.
It is that simple !… And sufficiently vague of a proposition that it intelligently gives ample leeway to be understood the way you see fit, as opposed to many other new age dogmas with strictly defined commandments and their hordes of zealous preachers/enforcers, constantly monitoring, comparing and judging the purity of your commitment to their freshly embraced cult.
Why vague ? Well, because it all depends on how the two key words “Opportunity” and “Connect” are interpreted and implemented. Forget dictionary definitions here, when it comes to travel, it’s all too personal to fit in an universal answer. Most people will focus on the term “Slow” instead, and that’s where trouble arises. Don’t get me wrong, “slow” matters, as it is always easier to seize an “opportunity” to “connect” when you take the time required to make it count, but the overall idea has to go far deeper than a speed ratio, if you want to be fulfilled.
To grossly illustrate my point, let’s follow a guy named Rick, who flies to “quickly” reach a popular touristic destination for a short break, as most people do. Once there Rick decides to interact genuinely with the local population. It’s his “opportunity” to “connect” with them, while learning about their culture, their food, their traditions, their environment, etc, and everything else that makes them who they are. He takes the time to listen and exchange on subjects that really matter to them and him. Builds relationships that are meant to last, making his quick trip a lifetime experience.
Let’s now meet Dick, who “slowly” walks all the way to a distant impoverished place seldom seen by most, documenting his journey via his Instagram feed with pictures of himself, between few random scenic images shot from a safe and isolated view point, remaining in the process completely disconnected from those places and their inhabitants, all the while he spends a few weeks there.
Please tell me who is closer to the goals set by the Slow Travel philosophy ? Rick who spend is short but valuable time connecting with locals and their environment, or Dick (and his social media friends) who, since his return, have been quick to judge Rick, deeming him not “pure” enough of their own “vision” of a “true” Slow Life ?
Off course, I’ll agree it’s even better if you can reach your chosen destinations via a sustainable way, but again, as clearly stated above, what foremost matters is successfully immersing yourself in a place, spending all the time you can with the locals in a meaningful way, offer them your knowledge and skills when needed, etc… Not pretending to scoring the highest on a bogus righteousness test because you went green in some poor country !
Slow travel ain’t about a label or a certificate. By embarking on this journey you’re not pledging to be accepted by a new tribe. You’re simply trying to open your mind and exchange in a meaningful way with what surrounds you… Or as we like to say it “appreciate nature and people, rediscover the diversity of cultures, the treasures of certain traditions, folklores or gastronomies that make a place truly authentic. Embrace novelty, welcome difference, build bridges…”
Happy “slow” travels…
Cover picture by Ryan Al Bishri found on Unsplash.com