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How to Master Slow Travel and Kiss that Tiny Two-Week Vacation Goodbye

I have a confession to make… My “travel” feet are itching again. As wonderful as Antigua Guatemala is, I can’t envision living here the rest of my life. At least not yet. But I’m glad I’ve lived here for as long as I have (over a year), learning about the place, its people, and customs. But I can’t shake the feeling there’s more waiting out there for me to discover. Not because you or I need to be the first ones to discover a place, but because each place, its people, will have an effect on you if you stay long enough to let them.


This is what “slow travel” is about.


What is Slow Travel?


I’ve talked often talked about location independence and minimalism, which are tied in to the concept of “slow travel.” In Western culture, “slow” is often seen as negative adjective. People don’t prepare meals as much anymore as just “nuke” stuff on the microwave or get it from a “fast” food restaurant. Computer taking more than 10 seconds to boot up? We’re already thinking about shopping for a faster computer. Long phone conversations? No way. Texting is much faster.


I’m here to tell you slow is way under-appreciated. But first, a little background history.


The Slow Movement, which “slow travel” is a subset of, was born out of a rebellion against the fast food culture. In 1986, Carlo Petrini began a protest against the opening of a McDonald’s restaurant at Piazza di Spagna (Spanish Steps), in Italy. This was the catalyst for the birth of the “slow food” movement. This movement seeks to encourage people to consume regional produce, enjoy traditional foods of the region, develop sustainable farming practices, and at its basic level to appreciate the food you’re eating. Exactly the opposite of grabbing lunch from the nearest fast food place and eating it at your desk (or in the car), all in the name of productivity.


El Paredon Guatemala


The slow movement attempts to recapture life as it is meant to be enjoyed. It’s about engaging with your surroundings. It’s to pause and reflect on the idea that a large chunk of our lives is not what happens to us, but what happens around us, and about turning our gaze away from ourselves towards the world outside.


Slow travel is based around similar goals. Travelers are encouraged to explore an area fully rather than following a guidebook’s “must see” checklist. Even better if it’s done on foot and using public transportation to reduce the environmental footprint. Out the window go tightly scheduled travel itineraries. Local neighborhoods are explored leisurely instead. Engagement with the local culture becomes important. Rather than hitting all the well-known restaurants in the tourist trails, slow travelers seek to find the best representation of the local cuisine. Many slow travelers choose to engage in short-term projects to help the community they become residents of.


What are the Benefits of Slow Travel?


Recently, a well-known blogger I respect completed the amazing feat of visiting every country in the world. Was this a worthy pursuit? That’s not for me to say.


I believe everyone should have an overarching, grand goal they think is worth pursuing. For me? I’d like to live in every region of the world for at least a year. Only time will tell if I’ll accomplish this goal, but it’s something I think is fun to think about and look forward to.


Too often, rushing from landmark to landmark, collecting airline miles, and getting to know which lobby from which airline has the best perks is what passes for travel these days.


Cerro de la Cruz Antigua Guatemala (10)


Slow travel is the opposite of the “jet-set” mindset. Instead of trying to cram as many “highlights” as possible on one trip, you give yourself time to explore places locals enjoy. Instead of meeting other tourists, take the time to get to know the locals. If language is a communication barrier, you can immerse yourself in the best environment possible that is conducive to learning their language. You can shop where they shop, eat where they eat, and slowly begin to see the world through their eyes.


What Do You Need to Begin Slow Traveling?


Money. Lots, and lots of money.


Ha! Just kidding. In fact, slow travel is the cheapest, most affordable way to travel you’ll ever find. I pay less to live in Antigua every month than someone who stays here an entire week at the cheapest, most flea-infested backpacker hostel.


Antigua Mercado
I love buying fresh, local produce at the local market and finding tiny, hole-in-the-wall places that will never rate a mention on TripAdvisor.


Guatemalan Tortillas


You can start preparing for a life of slow travel wherever you are, whatever your financial situation. Here are five things you can do to gear up for slow travel:


  • Redefine travel: Travel is not about collecting selfies so you can brag to your friends back home that you’ve “been there, done that“. It’s about engaging your brain with your surroundings.


  • Rediscover your exploring skills: We all were explorers and highly curious when we were young. Rediscover that. You don’t have to travel to a far away place to become an explorer. You can start exploring right where you live. Ruth at TanamaTales.com is an excellent travel blogger who does an excellent job exploring her local landscape.


  • Adopt minimalism: Extended travel is infinitely easier when you leave your mental and physical baggage back home. Trust me, it’s for the best.


  • Engineer your work for travel: The most common obstacle to extended travel is developing an income that will allow said travel. Think about what type of work you love to do and get creative about how to deliver it online.


  • Keep an open mind: When traveling, accept that not everything will be exactly like it was back home. If you stop to think about it, life back home was never perfect anyway. We just like to think it is when things don’t go our way. Write down the reason you want to travel and refer to them from time to time to remind yourself why you do what you do.


Are you ready to begin your own slow travels?

What is your biggest obstacle to getting started?

About Rich Polanco

Fan of dogs + all things tech. Love a great pizza. My goal is not to travel to every country in the world. I only want to get to know my favorite ones REALLY well. Check out the big bio here. Follow @RichPolanco and connect on Facebook.
Currently exploring: Guatemala.

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