The Rise of Slow Travel – Could Travel Once Again Be About the Journey?
According to the World Tourism Organization, global arrivals have been on a steady rise since the 1950s, reaching 1.5 billion in 2019. It was a record-breaking year, with a 4% increase from the year before. The same was expected of 2020. Then the great pandemic pause came, and the numbers plummeted by 73%, below 1989 levels. The shift was abrupt, both to the industry and the travellers’ mindset.
The future of travel as we knew it became one big unknown, and not only because ever-changing testing rules, entry requirements and flight schedules made it difficult to indulge our globe-trotting binges.
What came to the forefront, loud and clear, were the good things that happen when we refrain from overdoing travel. In tourist hotspots like Dubrovnik, locals raved about having the city back to themselves; the photographs of fish in the canals of Venice whizzed around the globe as fast as travellers once used to. Reports of 2020 carbon emissions finally in line with the 2015 Paris Treaty flooded the media space. “This time has really called into question whether people should be travelling at all,” says JoAnna Haugen, founder of Rooted, a solutions platform at the intersection of storytelling, sustainability and social impact. “And if so, how they can do that in a more mindful way. This seeds the conditions for slow travel to become more commonplace”.
Slow travel is not a novelty. Riding on the wave of the slow food movement that emerged in the late 1980s in Italy, slow travel started as a quest for low-carbon alternatives to flights and drives. But as the bucket list chase overtook mass tourism, it evolved to also mean slower consumption. “The heart of slow travel is really in the words themselves – literally slowing down by taking more time to get to know destinations, not rushing from place to place, and prioritising what to do instead of trying to do it all,” Haugen explains. “But it is also about intentionally taking time for self-reflection and critical thinking about the act of travel”.
Charlie Brown, a freelance writer who is now a permanent slow traveller, agrees that “slow travel is more a mindset than anything else”. In October 2020, Brown and her husband sold the wine business they’d run for eight years to become a part of the world’s growing digital nomad community. “We like to spend at least a month in each place,” says Brown. But the pandemic kept the Browns in Spain for five months, and in Croatia for three.
During their stay in Croatia, Brown took part in the first-of-its-kind, month-long Digital-Nomads-In-Residence project in Dubrovnik, where she participated in a series of workshops. The idea behind these was to define ways Dubrovnik could become more digital nomad-friendly, and also to diversify its tourism offer. “We were lucky to meet people who live and love Croatia and could show us the country for what it’s really like. But we also met a thriving nomad community”. The benefits of slow travel, Brown finds, are not dependent on the timeframe. They include putting fewer planes in the sky and adding value to local communities by living somewhere rather than just holidaying. “It’s about taking the time to get to know a place. To get under the surface, to slot yourself into a community, even if just for a short while, and contribute while there”.
Nowadays, the added value of slow travel includes pain-free travel logistics. But even though global tourism numbers for 2021 remain closer to the slow 2020 than to the hasty 2019, Haugen cautions: “While there are many people eager to embrace slow travel in the near future, there are just as many jumping on the revenge tourism wagon”.
Before booking our next flight, Haugen advises we take some time to ask ourselves why we want to go somewhere and how we can create the conditions for more space and time. “The most memorable travel moments often aren’t the ones built into a packed itinerary. They’re the unexpected conversations, the unplanned wanders, and the new people travellers meet because they have the time and space”.
When you take time to travel slowly, travel becomes about the journey. A journey that is rewarding not just for you but also the places you visit, the people you meet and this wonderful – and only – planet of ours.