Slow Tourism: An Immersive Travel Experience

Have you ever landed back home after a break, put some laundry on, sorted through the mail, got half way through making that cup of coffee in an effort to fight the jet lag and thought, “I need another holiday.” Well, I think there may well be an antidote to this and it’s something you may have heard of, slow tourism.

We travel for so many different reasons, however I would hazard a guess that for many of us it is to disconnect from the daily grind for a while, reset from the manic nature of work and household chores and return refreshed and ready to take on your life again. Realistically though, I find this doesn’t often happen and I can come home having had an amazing time, but somehow forgot (or ironically, didn’t have time to) chill out and actually relax.

This bugged me, but you hear lots of people saying it when they return from annual leave, so I just thought it was normal. However, there were a couple of incidents that made the penny drop and made me think that there may be a different way to travel.

The tipping point was when I was issued with a work trip itinerary. It was a sixteen day trip out to the Far East in which I would take nine flights, visit six countries and didn’t have a single scheduled day off (my choice). It was half the length of my last trip’s itinerary. I decided it was probably a good idea to evaluate my approach to holidays going forwards.

Slow Tourism for a More Immersive Travel Experience: Deserted beach in Turkey

Reevaluating My Trip Planning

I did just that and concluded I was a bit mad. We got up early, went to bed late, spent lots of time travelling and moving hotels (as staying in one location was not “travelling”), crammed in all the “must visit” attractions, while balancing them with some lesser known things to do, ate out every night; high end restaurant one night and beach shack the next to get a sense of “range of cuisine” etc etc etc. I am exhausted just reading this. Oh my god and then there is the planning. It would take MONTHS.

However, I am not alone! Those of you that love travel and experiencing different cultures, are more Type A than Type B and have limited annual leave, I can virtually guarantee have had trip like this at some point.

Do not get my wrong, I loved those holidays and I would get home and feel a sense of achievement that I had genuinely made an effort to DO AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE and therefore had “travelled”.

Beach in Southampton New York

However, there was a bit of a problem with this. I was still tired. My jobs have always been (relatively speaking) demanding and not taking time to decompress from that is a mistake.

I would land on the Sunday ready to return to work the following day (I couldn’t come home on the Saturday because then I would be “wasting a day”) and by 11:00 am I would be overwhelmed and confused as to why I felt the exact same way as when I left.

Not a single day of my annual leave was ever taken just to have a “chill day.” 90% of them were spent abroad and the rest were spent at events such as weddings. I was not relaxed.

Sun loungers by the sea at the Chedi Muscat Oman

Definition of Slow Tourism

Also know as slow travel, immersive travel or relaxed travel, they are all referring to the same thing; the art of spending more time in one location in order to have a more rounded and valued travel experience. It’s about having time to reflect and make a more meaningful connection with place you are in.

Here’s the thing, how much are you really absorbing on a three hour guided tour? Immersive travel is all about taking the time to really understand the place you have travelled to and there is no shortcut to that, it takes time.

Slow travel is about quality over quantity; it involves interacting with the local people, eating traditional foods and supporting the local economy. The longer the amount of time spent doing this, the more meaningful the experience becomes, rather than just travelling around the country you are visiting like a whirlwind.

The personal impact of travelling like this also increases the likelihood that you actually relax and become more open to the experiences around you.

Slow Tourism for a More Immersive Travel Experience: A local food market
Image courtesy of Pexels

Where Did Slow Travel Originate From?

Slow Travel is an offshoot from the Slow Food Movement that started in Italy in the 1980s. The founder, Carlo Petrini, is credited with leading the resistance against the rise of fast food and supermarkets out of concern that their traditional Italian approaches to both food and the purchase of it (direct from the producer) were at risk. It is a movement that is still thriving to this day, with hundreds of thousands of supporters all over the world.

Realistically, I think travelling slower is not a new form of tourism and probably existed before that, however Petrini’s cause gave it an identity. I don’t think it is any coincidence that as our lives have sped up, so has our desire to try and take some time to do the opposite, which has breathed life into the every growing popularity of this concept.

St. Peter and Paul Church Kraków

Why Choose A Slower Travel Experience

Now that I’ve thought about it and tried it, I can’t actually think of a reason why you wouldn’t incorporate at least some of the concepts of slow tourism into your travel experiences.

Related Post: The Future of Travel After Quarantine

It’s Cheaper

Let’s start with one of the most important factors to most people, cost. Staying in one place is much more cost effective as you won’t spend so much on travel. Staying at locally run accommodations (see the tips section below) will also be easier on your wallet.

A More Sustainable Way to Travel

This one’s a double hitter, as relaxed travel is better for both the local economy and also the environment.

By choosing locally run tours and shopping in the local markets, rather that eating in a big hotel chain or opting for a global tour company, your money stays in the local economy and supports in the preservation of local culture.

On the eco front, there’s the obvious related consequence to the point above, less travel means better for the environment. Slower travel can also often mean spending time in less popular tourist destinations, which alleviates the problems over tourism can bring and helps to more evenly distribute the benefits that visitors can bring to a country.

The Blue Mosque, also known as Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul Turkey

A More Culturally Immersed Experience

For those that love to experience new cultures, this is a more sustainable way to do it with a more positive impact. While visiting the the top ten sites listed in Lonely Planet has its place, I think it is debatable how valuable the experience is when you are there with sometimes thousands of other people being provided with a cookie cutter tour.

However by spending time with locals and taking the time to really understand the destination, you can have the more culturally immersive experience you are looking for.

Slow Travel is Relaxed Travel

You get to actually chill out and get off the hamster wheel, rather than just packing it in your suitcase and bringing it with you. You still get to broaden your horizons and become more culturally immersed, but do it on a less travelled path.

I’m all for the culture, but forget about that for a second and think about how you would spend your perfect relaxing day. Is it reading a book, walking on the beach, watching the sunset with a glass of wine (my personal favourite)? Whatever the activity (or non activity), not being at home is the best opportunity to have a day where you do nothing but genuinely chill out. It will energise you like nothing else.

I personally think that slow travel is as much about having the opportunity to refresh and renergise yourself so you are in a position to better manage the chaos and pace of your daily life back home, as much as it is about having a more immersive cultural experience.

Slow Tourism for a More Immersive Travel Experience: Lavender fields at sunset
Image courtesy of Pexels

How I Started Travelling Slower

After my little epiphany following that work trip, I realised that there was actually one holiday a year where I did come home feeling refreshed and reenergised, my annual trip to New York.

Those of you that are regular readers will know I have family there and spend a couple of weeks every summer with them. While we generally do spend a couple of days in the city, most of it is spent out east on Long Island in the lovely seaside town of Southampton.

We don’t do anything particularly special; catch a yoga or Soul Cycle class in the morning, go grocery shopping, lie by the pool, walk along the beach and then spend our evenings cooking (we have a rota!), drinking wine and making s’mores on a fire on the beach. It is total bliss. And I tell you what, that is the only trip I ever used to come home from and be ready to take on work with a more refreshed and composed mindset.

Slow Tourism for a More Immersive Travel Experience: Bonfire on the beach
Image courtesy of Pixabay

Relaxed Travel to Disney

So I started applying this to some of our other trips. We went to Orlando in Florida after Christmas in 2017 for a couple of weeks. On my last two trips there we had stayed at the Grand Floridian in the Disney resort, but the prices were crazy, $800 a night. It was definitely peak time, but having stayed in that hotel before, yes its nice, but for me, it is nowhere near worth that amount and I just wasn’t paying it. So, I booked a villa about half an hour’s drive away instead.

There was a rather nice side effect to this too, we spent less days running round Disney and more exploring Orlando. Now I love it there, but I don’t think anyone has called it a relaxing day out, ever. We decided to do a “one day on, one day off,” approach whereby we would plan activities on one day and just chill in our rather lovely villa the next. I loved it.

The Devon coastline at sunset

Slow Travel to South Africa

In a couple of weeks we are going to South Africa. My previous trip there was wonderful, but gruelling. In just over two weeks we did safari, had a road trip along the Garden Route, visited the wine lands and did city breaks in both Johannesburg and Cape Town. We were constantly moving and living out of a suitcase and for me, that is not relaxing.

This time we are doing the total opposite. We have rented a house in the beautiful seaside town of Knysna on the Garden Route and I am researching grocery stores, bakeries and hiking trails, rather than top ten things to do.

Best Destinations for Slow Tourism

Here’s the good news, you can travel more slowly anywhere, as it’s more of a mindset than a list destinations. However, I think there are some places that are more conducive to slowing down than others.

I would avoid big cities as I have yet to go to one that makes me want to slow anything down.

Try and go somewhere that isn’t packed with tourists, it will dilute the experience and if you find large crowds half as irritating as me, it again won’t help you with your efforts to chill out.

I think the best places are somewhere reasonably close to a town where there is access to amenities such as grocery stores, places to eat, exercise classes etc if you are that way inclined. Living as the locals do is the ultimate way to have a more culturally immersive experience.

Luxury Hotel Review Six Senses Kaplankaya in Turkey

Tips on How to Travel Slow

Don’t worry, if you identified with some of the themes of this post but are worried about the FOMO, start sloooowwwww!

  1. Choose a few days (I would say you need a minimum of three, but ideally more if you can swing it) at the end of your next big trip and half a day for a mini break. Why the end? It gives you the best chance of taking the benefits home with you.
  2. I think accommodation is key when it come to a more culturally immersed experience, a 400 room hotel by a global brand isn’t going to work. Choose a villa or a small boutique, locally run hotel so you are more likely to get more genuine interaction with the people that live there. You could even do a homestay, however with my travel tastes on the luxury side, this is something I personally am unlikely to do.
  3. Keep plans to a minimum and opt for more cultural experiences run by locals; food or wine tours are always great as I find they are a more social experience.
  4. Be open to spontaneity, you never know who you might meet or what might come up while you are there.
  5. Take some time to relax, be by yourself and enjoy where you are. And I mean properly, scrolling through your phone while lying down doesn’t count.
Interior of Hagia Sophia museum in Istanbul Turkey

Final Thoughts: Slow Tourism for An Immersive Travel Experience

This has personally been a bit of a game changer for me. I haven’t embraced it exclusively, however we now always dedicate a minimum of five days on big trips and half a day on mini breaks to a slower pace of travel.

I was a bit dubious as to whether I would be satisfied carving out half a day on city breaks, however it turned out that one of my best memories on my recent trip to Kraków was spending an afternoon reading, people watching and drinking coffee (and wine) in a couple of cafés.

As people become more aware of the impact of over tourism, this concept may become more widely embraced as people search for more meaningful travel experiences and continue to look for ways to travel more sustainably.

However, slow tourism is not about saying that you shouldn’t visit the most popular tourist attraction in your chosen destination to visit, but more to consider how you could make the experience less generic and try and have a positive impact on the community while doing so.

This is definitely something I consider more now when booking tours or activities, however I can’t say I always achieve it, for a variety of reasons. If I’m honest, it’s generally because I couldn’t find a suitable alternative, or I didn’t have time to.

I am also not totally done with my previous way of travel, or “fast travel” if you will, as my natural instinct is to “cram”. I have a trip planned to Las Vegas next year where there will be zero culture (unless you count casinos and bars) and I will not stray from the main strip. However, I have recognised the benefits of slower travel and it definitely has it’s place in my travel plans.

What do you think?

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  1. Francesca
    January 15, 2020 / 3:30 pm

    I am 100% the person who crams in a ton. I’ve learned now though to plan a few more chill days on vacations. You need it when traveling! One of my favorite things now is to chill at a sidewalk cafe and people watch with a glass of wine.

    • Rachael
      January 16, 2020 / 7:54 am

      My first instinct is to cram as well! With you on the wine and café, no better way to do it 🙂

  2. Meghan Emcee
    January 15, 2020 / 3:54 pm

    I couldn’t agree more! Slow travel is the way to go, I just got back from spending a month in Barcelona and don’t know how anyone can do it in less time! I got to see so much more and appreciate the different things that I wouldn’t have been able to if I was only there for a few days

    • Rachael
      January 16, 2020 / 7:56 am

      Totally agree with you, I find it a bit frustrating sometimes that I run around a city like a mad thing for three days and still don’t feel like I’ve scratched the surface of the place; I do really need to calm down a bit! Sounds like you had the most wonderful time in Barcelona 🙂

  3. Emma
    January 15, 2020 / 4:07 pm

    I agree, slow travel is so wonderful because it means you can experience more than just top things to do. Some of my favorite parts about traveling are people watching, comparing similarities and differences in cultures, and learning new languages – these aren’t possible if you’re traveling fast! I much prefer to spend longer time in one area than to hop around 5+ cities.
    From my understanding, slow travel can also be about the journey as well – taking a slower method of transportation (train, bus, etc) to a closer destination to where you live. Good points & thanks for sharing!

    • Rachael
      January 16, 2020 / 7:59 am

      Totally agree, I am actively trying to keep myself in check when planning travel now and not try and visit loads of different places. My next step is to try applying a bit of slowing down to my journey, I still go for the speed option!

  4. Aswani Kurra
    January 15, 2020 / 9:55 pm

    Love all the tips! It is a challenge for me as I barely get enough vacation at work! Trying to get better at it though!

    • Rachael
      January 16, 2020 / 8:02 am

      That is tough to balance the two, I was always quite lucky with my vacation time and I know they are quite generous with it in the UK compared to some other countries, so everyone has to do what fits best with their situation. At the end of the day, if you love to travel, you’re going to do it however you can manage it!

  5. Michele
    January 16, 2020 / 10:10 pm

    This is a post that I needed to read. As a travel blogger myself I tend to do the same thing….cram, cram cram. My husband and I took an Alaskan cruise last May that began in Seattle Washington. We crammed in Seattle for the three days we were there. Did all the excursions on the cruise, and crammed some more back in Seattle when we returned. I got home feeling frustrated because I felt just as stressed when I got back. It had me pondering why I never feel refreshed after returning home from a “vacation”. I think I will take your advice and start adding a few relax days so that it is truly a vacation.

    • Rachael
      January 17, 2020 / 6:29 am

      It was a bit of a revelation for me when I combined the “cramming” travel (because that is always going to the my first instinct) with a bit of slow travel as well, weirdly that frustrated feeling completely disappeared. Good luck, it’s a bit weird the first time you do it if it isn’t the way you usually travel, but I hope it works for you!

  6. Jessica Pascoe
    January 17, 2020 / 5:02 am

    I literally couldn’t identify with this post more! As crazy travel planners 2020 is the first year where aside from one weekend away with friends in a few weeks, we have absolutely zero holiday plans, just bits of leave booked in where we’ll see where we end up. It’s tough for me to not have a plan but I’m quite excited to just relax and enjoy slow travel up the coast of Australia where we live, or maybe NZ or even a week or so spent totally relaxing in the South Pacific, who knows! Thank you for the tips xxx

    • Rachael
      January 17, 2020 / 6:33 am

      It’s easily done isn’t it! Both sound like wonderful trips, I hope you have a fabulous relaxing time! xxx

  7. Kelsey
    January 18, 2020 / 10:39 am

    I LOVE slow travel! I used to be the run around 24/7 type, but now I much prefer to only have one or two activities planned each day and let the rest of them just happen. That way I’m not rushing trying to see everything! I also much prefer staying in one place for longer rather than splitting my time between three different places. Loved your article and totally identified with it!

    • Rachael
      January 21, 2020 / 7:09 am

      I’m so pleased you enjoyed it! Totally used to be like you as well, but it has totally changed what I get out of travel now I’ve slowed it down a bit. I’m now ok whenever I miss things out!

  8. April
    January 18, 2020 / 1:38 pm

    What an enjoyable post to read! Reading the first part of the post, I was like, “YES, that was me, too!” Planning took months and I crammed as much as I could into a day. There wasn’t a minute left unscheduled. And I would come back on a Sunday (why indeed waste a day?) and be exhausted all week at work while I got over my holiday. As I’ve traveled more and gotten older, I’ve appreciated the slower aspect. Finding local gems. Interacting with locals. Having free time to do whatever. And its made me appreciate and savor my travels even more. Like you, I’m not 100% yet, but in a few more years, might just be there.

    • Rachael
      January 21, 2020 / 7:12 am

      I’m so glad you enjoyed reading it 🙂 it’s so great to just “let go,” but like you, I’m not there yet on all my travels (and maybe never will be!) and I do make myself think a bit more about whether I can cut things out when I’m planning my trips now.

  9. Coni
    January 18, 2020 / 4:31 pm

    I couldn’t agree more, for all the reasons you mentioned! Being sustainable while traveling is super important and most still don’t see it. Besides, if we have the luxury to travel, it’s such a shame we might not enjoy it! Immerse in the moment, and enjoy the destination, don’t rush through it!

    • Rachael
      January 21, 2020 / 7:14 am

      Great quote, we can sometimes just take travel for granted and we shouldn’t, definitely one of life’s privileges.

  10. Katherine
    January 18, 2020 / 5:06 pm

    These are great tips! I’m so terrible at slow travel though, once I get to a place I just want to see everything. I need to slow things down a bit.

    • Rachael
      January 21, 2020 / 7:16 am

      Yep, that’s my natural instinct as well and probably always will be! I only worked out the joy of slow travel when I was revisiting places I had already been to so felt less of the pressure to “see everything” and I found that made it easier to do on other trips as well.

  11. Yina
    January 19, 2020 / 2:51 pm

    Excellent post! This is something I try to explain my parents who also travel often. We have different ways of traveling, I enjoy the slow travel after been in so many hectic trips with them. I often ended up mixing places and things as everything became a blur for me!

    • Rachael
      January 21, 2020 / 7:19 am

      Oh yes, I’ve done that too, especially when you’re city hopping! I find the older I get the less stamina I have to do these jam packed trips as well, your parents are clearly very young at heart, not sure I could keep up with them!

  12. Shafinah Neville
    January 19, 2020 / 3:48 pm

    omg one of the things i really wanted to this year was embrace the art of slow living, and this was such a refreshing article to read! really lovin’ this! ❤️❤️

    • Rachael
      January 21, 2020 / 7:19 am

      Thank you, I’m so pleased you enjoyed it!

  13. Krystianna
    January 19, 2020 / 6:11 pm

    My first taste of travel was last spring while I was studying abroad, and because of that, I only had limited time to travel or at least dip my feet into some countries. I’d love to go back to the places I visited and travel more slowly. I think it could really help me take everything in and immerse myself a little better. Thanks for sharing!

    • Rachael
      January 21, 2020 / 7:22 am

      You’re very welcome 🙂 if you’re struggling with time and in a new destination, I totally get why you’d want to see as much as possible, I’d be the same!

  14. Maria
    August 23, 2020 / 12:39 am

    My partner and I love slow traveling. Meeting locals is our favorite part of it. We’ve definitely had fomo in the past and it’s not great. Thanks for sharing!

    • Rachael
      August 24, 2020 / 9:28 am

      It’s great isn’t it! Getting over the FOMO is hard, but so worth it 🙂

  15. Maria
    December 4, 2020 / 1:45 pm

    Fantastic read!
    We spent a lot of miles going quickly before finally getting the taste for immersive travel. We can ever imagine going back now.
    To get into the head for it we do the same thing every time.
    1. Learn the land on a map before going.
    2. Learn the same phrases in the language we will need. Yes, No, thank you, 300 grams of sliced ham. (trust me, we needed it more than you could ever imagine.)
    3. Try make a connection on Insta to someone who lives there.

    Once there we are then free to explore as we know it. Can politely interact with locals who know we haven’t mastered the language and have a guide for the local, tourists never know things.

    • Rachael
      January 26, 2021 / 12:24 pm

      I love these tips, super helpful?. I second having local guides as well, nothing beats seeing or experiencing something that is off the usual tourist track.

  16. Lisi
    March 24, 2021 / 10:30 am

    Great blog post. Thanks for sharing! I love slow traveling, I can not always do it but If I rush through places I realize that it is too exhausting to me.
    I remember being in Budapest on a city break with a friend. We were on a free city tour but after half an hour we walked the streets at our own pace, sat in a cafe and just enjoyed the atmosphere of the city. That was in the summer of 2018 when the city was very touristy. By exploring outside of the famous places, we were able to avoid the tourist crowds.
    But for more relaxation I am with you, I would stay in small towns.

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