Travelling with purpose

The growth of the slow travel movement

In recent years, lifestyle trends have emerged that support an overwhelming desire to lead a quieter and gentler lifestyle. More and more are seeing the benefits of what has been termed the ‘slow movement’, abandoning elements of the fast-paced, high-convenience, ‘always on’ world we live in for a slower, more traditional approach to life, taking time to connect, be ‘in the moment’ and build more meaningful and richer experiences.

This movement towards a slower and more thoughtful lifestyle is also increasingly impacting our travel choices. While keen to make the most of precious holiday time, many feel the ‘see everything, do everything’ getaway is at odds with our need to unwind, recharge, and refresh, ready to return to face the stresses of modern life. There is a shift towards a gentler and more purposeful approach to holidays- one where time is spent immersing oneself in local culture and history, with fewer but more meaningful experiences. This trend for ‘slow travel’ sees attractions typically associated with mass tourism spurned in favour of time spent in places off the beaten path, taking time to connect with the local environment and community, and adopting a more relaxed and spontaneous approach to travel.

The origins of the ‘slow movement’

The ‘slow movement’ is said to have had its origins in 1980’s Italy, where, in response to the opening of a McDonald’s branch near the Spanish Steps in Rome, there was a backlash as locals protested against high-convenience, fast-food by highlighting the importance of traditional and local cuisine with an appreciation fresh local ingredients. And so was born the ‘slow food movement’. As more and more recognised the benefits of a more thoughtful and more connected approach to everyday aspects of life, as a reaction to the frenetic, consumption-driven lifestyle we have become used to, interest in the movement grew, expanding into many areas of our day-to-day lives from parenting to work.

The growth of ‘slow travel’

Although the ethos of slow travel can be traced back to the start of the slow movement in the 1980’s, interest in the concept has gathered pace in recent years. Underpinning our desire to embrace a more meaningful and connected approach to travel are a number of consumer behaviours, the growth of which have been accelerated by the pandemic. Well-documented is an increased awareness of our overall well-being and self-care to protect our mental health. Given this, it makes sense to prioritise relaxation and connection over hectic itineraries and crowded tourist spots. As we emerged from the pandemic, increased value was placed on experiences over material possessions. This lead to the growth of ‘experiential travel’, where you look to experience a destination by actively and meaningfully engaging with its history, people, culture, food and environment, rather than just visit it. This immersion into the soul of a destination, is the essence of the slow travel movement.

Benefits of Slow Travel

More authentic experiences

A slower, more mindful approach to travel, where time is spent away from overcrowded tourist attractions, provides the space and time to immerse yourself in local communities. These more authentic travel experiences allow you to develop an understanding of the local lifestyle, culture and customs. It provides the opportunity to shop in local stores or eat in neighbourhood restaurants, eschewing global chains often found in mass tourism areas. Spending more time in each location allows you to develop deeper connections and build a greater understanding of the local community.

Ideal opportunity to recharge and refresh

Slow travel rejects the idea that holidays should be spent at soulless transport hubs waiting for onward connections or queueing for hours at tourist attractions. The pressure to pack as much as possible into your travels can be stressful and risks leaving you more exhausted than before you left. Slow travel promotes a calmer, more spontaneous approach to travel, where you are guided by where the mood takes you. Nothing is rushed. Peace and connection are prioritised, and you return refreshed and recharged.

Friendlier to the planet

No longer driven by an obsession with getting from A to B as quickly as possible or crossing destinations off your bucket list, slow travel allows us to make more sustainable travel choices as we choose more environmentally friendly trains, buses, and biking over carbon-intensive flights. By choosing to spend time off the beaten track, we are helping combat the negative impact of overtourism, such as economic degradation and the associated strain on infrastructure. By spending time immersed in local communities and supporting them by shopping at local markets and family-owned businesses, we are contributing directly to the economic prosperity of the local community. Jobs are created, and the cultural heritage is preserved, all of which are vital to the livelihoods of residents.

In a world obsessed with speed and efficiency, embracing a slower approach to our travels offers a refreshing alternative—one that encourages us to embrace the beauty of the journey, one meaningful moment at a time. It allows us to be kinder to the planet, and to ourselves. So let’s embark on our travels with mindfulness and purpose, and savour the richness that slow travel has to offer.