Over the decades of my adult life, I’ve been practicing a thing I did not even know that I practice, that I now call “Slow Tourism”. Slow tourism is a different approach to travel that detracts from the traditional short-duration, high energy and expense style of exploring our world and all that it offers that many of us practice. Instead slow tourism is the practice of extended stay tourism where one genuinely experiences life as a local in order to develop a nuanced understanding.
For me, this thought took root when I was a boy during one of the many times we kids were required to sit through a slide-show of photographs taken by our parents or their friends in their travels.
In this specific memory we were viewing photos my parent's honeymoon tour of Spain, France, England, and Germany taken during the summer of 1968. In our darkened living room, with the projection screen providing the only illumination for the haze of tobacco smoke emanating from a guest, I remember that my father was attempting to fix a jammed slide carousel that normally sat atop the family’s slide-projector that usually cycled to project the next photo-slide at the press of a button.
He joked to me that he did not remember much more of the trip beyond taking photos and fiddling with the ancient and entirely manual Pentax 35 millimeter format film camera that he gave to me when I started university more than a decade later.
With a wink he suggested that when I am older and go to travel that I simply leave the camera at home and rely on my memory of the experience, that it might be more real feeling for me. He certainly seemed to have thought this would bring him closer to the places, cultures, and things he visited. In retrospect I think his assertion was right, and it is something I’ve taken to heart without really understanding it until much later.
From my initial experiences traveling as a solo adult, I often ventured out on road trips to different parts of North America. I immersed myself in the local pub, club, and cafe culture, spending several weeks in each location to truly get to know the place and the people in a more meaningful way. This approach allowed me to establish deeper connections than the fleeting “single serving friends” as described in Chuck Palahniuk’s insightful commentary on the social aspects of travel.
In my later 20s, after a decade of traveling around North America, I was given the chance to spend a year working in Sweden for my employer, along with shorter business trips to other European cities and countries. I accepted the opportunity without hesitation or much planning. That experience and all that I have learned helped shape my approach to Slow Tourism and led to several extended trips to other countries around the world over the past 25 years. Through this journey, I’ve had the privilege of spending 6 or more consecutive months in a total of 13 cities across 7 different nations, with plans for more in the future.
Some key aspects of slow tourism include:
- Living like a local: This means staying in a local neighborhood, not the fancy hotel. It means participating in daily activities, such as shopping at the local market and learning about local foods and customs.
- Learning the language: This is important for communicating with locals and understanding their culture. Language drives thought and perspective, without this you will often find yourself on the outside looking in with a confused and misunderstood look on your face.
- Experiencing the culture: This includes visiting local festivals and events, attending cultural classes, and participating in local customs and traditions. This also means partying and recreating like and with the locals. Do the things, build a shared context, make new friends and discover new fun things to do!
- Eating local food: This is an important aspect of slow tourism, as it allows you to experience all of the flavors and traditions of the local cuisine. All people eat and the sharing of food is a common tradition in all cultures for building connection. Plus you get tasty new things to try and you might make a friend or two.
- Traveling with less impact: This may be the least visible aspect of slow tourism. When we take short trips we spend a very large amount of energy in a short period of time with results that vary due to a multitude of reasons. Slow tourism allows us to spread that energy spend out over a longer period of time, enabling you to compensate for poor planning or other things outside of your control, giving you the ability to experience all that you want to with less chaos, a more relaxed pace and a significantly lesser impact to our environment.
Benefits of Slow Tourism:
- Slow Tourism enables you to shed your cultural blinders, by forcing you to wear another culture’s. This adds additional cultural fluency to your life, and will enable you to not only understand other cultures, but aid your interactions with anyone you meet in life.
- Slow tourism is an economical way to travel and immerse oneself in different cultures and lifestyles. By living like a local and experiencing daily activities, customs, and traditions, you can save money compared to traditional vacation and holiday travel. According to statistics, the average European spends €2500, North American $2000, and Swedish counterparts spend a staggering €5000 per person per week on their annual vacation and holiday. In contrast, the average monthly cost of living in the 10 most expensive cities in the world is less than half of this, averaging at $2800 per month. This makes slow tourism an excellent option for those looking to travel while keeping costs low.
- Slow Tourism expands personal perspectives, breaking down stereotypes and prejudices: Slow tourism allows travelers to interact with locals on a much deeper personal level, which can help to break down, confront, and fix internal biases and other isms that hinder us.
- Enhancing communication and language skills: Learning the local language and being able to communicate with locals will absolutely enhance your travel experience and open up new opportunities for interaction and cultural exchange. The added long term benefit of learning a new language is that in addition to providing additional ways to describe and understand concepts is that it also aids in cognitive flexibility as the brain ages, helping stave off dementia.
- Creating meaningful connections: Slow tourism allows travelers to create meaningful connections with locals, giving them a deeper sense of belonging and connection to the place they are visiting and their world. We are only as good as the people we surround ourselves with.
- Personal growth: Slow travel allows travelers to step out of their comfort zones and try new things at a relaxed pace, which can lead to personal growth and development in an unstressed environment. I do not know how many times I have heard people say “I need a vacation from my vacation” due to the hurried pace in which they tourist. This is the opposite of that.
- Encourage sustainable tourism: Slow tourism allows travelers to support local economies, reducing their impact on the environment, and encouraging sustainability. Slow tourism implies fewer flights, longer stays, use of public transportation, and a lower impact on our environment and resources.
In general the benefits of slow tourism go far beyond cultural exposure and provide a sustainable more authentic and enriching travel experience.
Despite that there are some drawbacks of Slow Tourism:
- Slower pace: Slow tourism often involves a slower pace of travel and may not be suitable for those who prefer a more fast-paced itinerary, or those that simply cannot pick up and change city/state/country.
- Limited time: Slow tourism often requires more time than traditional tourism, which may not be feasible for some. To overcome this, travelers can do this in hybrid-mode, Planning a larger slow tourism trip to an area, and adding shorter travels to nearby destinations, or focusing on specific aspects of the country or culture that you are immersing yourself in.
- Costs: Living like a local can be more expensive than staying in a tourist-oriented area. To overcome this it is suggested that you do your research for budget-friendly accommodation options prior to starting your journey and making use of public transportation.
- Language barriers: Slow tourism often involves immersing oneself in a culture where one may not speak the language, which can offer a range of experiences from challenging to downright bewildering. To overcome this, travelers can learn basic phrases before their trip with applications like DuoLingo or utilize a translation app on their phone.
- Culture shock: Being immersed in a new culture can be overwhelming and may lead to feelings of culture shock or homesickness. To overcome this, travelers can research the culture and customs of the destination beforehand and be prepared for potential culture shock.
- Difficulties in planning: Slow tourism may require more planning and research than traditional tourism, as travelers may need to find visas, accommodations, employment, and transportation that align with their goals of immersing themselves in the local culture. This can be immensely difficult if you do not already speak the local language. To overcome this, travelers are suggested to utilize online resources and travel forums to gather information and plan their trip as best they can. It is advised to be flexible, for you often find the magic outside of your default comfort zone.
- Safety concerns: Being in a new place and unfamiliar with local customs can make travelers more vulnerable to crime or other safety concerns. To overcome this, travelers should research the destination’s safety guidelines and be aware of their surroundings, ask locals for their perspectives.
- Impact on local communities: Slow tourism can also have a negative impact on local communities if not managed responsibly. To overcome this, travelers really must make an effort to support local businesses, be respectful of local customs and traditions, and minimize their impact on the environment. Be present and aware, you are a guest and your respect goes much further than your currency or arrogance.
In general, slow tourism can be a more authentic and enriching travel experience, but it also comes with its own set of challenges that travelers should be aware of before embarking on a trip. By being prepared and making an effort to overcome these challenges, travelers can have a more enjoyable and memorable experience.
My own experiences have not been without challenge and culture shock, for often different perspectives are alien and simultaneously alienating, not only does it take exposure to understand those differences, but it also takes exposure to overcome them and also to genuinely understand what aspects are and are not for you.
I do understand that this concept of slow tourism requires a radically different and seemingly un-rooted approach to life, or a remote job that may not appeal to some or be possible for others. I don’t have all the answers, though I am happy to discuss this with those seeking them, this is meant as inspiration for those who desire to experience the wonders, joy and beauty of our world in a more sustainable and culturally appropriate way.
In conclusion, Slow Tourism is different approach to travel that prioritizes the authentic experience via immersion in local cultures, language, and customs. By living like a local and experiencing daily activities, customs, and traditions, not only do you create a more accurate world view, you also create meaningful connections with local people, customs and traditions in a way that is more environmentally sustainable with a lesser drag on your wallet.
This is an excellent option for those looking to travel where the current configuration of their life does not permit it as widely as they would like, simply shift your life to be a part of the travel and build accordingly. I find that this a way to travel that can be both economical and fulfilling, and it is something that I highly recommend to those who are looking for a new and meaningful way to explore the world while pursuing careers or studying.
I hope to post more with updates on this as it develops in my life.
Berlin, January 2023.
Note: the imagry was produced by Dall*e by OpenAI