A Beginner’s Guide to Slow Travel | How to Travel Slowly and Reasons Why You Should

Since The Virgo Voyager is, first and foremost, a blog focused on slow travel, I’d like to define what exactly slow travel is, and why it’s beneficial – to you and to the rest of the world. In this beginner’s guide to slow travel, I’ll share why this movement became important to me in the first place, how to travel slowly, and a few of the reasons why you should.

First, I have a question for you. When you think of tourists, what are the first images that pop into your mind?

tourist: one that makes a tour for pleasure or culture


Personally, I see selfie sticks, big tour buses, and people hunched over their maps or phones, buying cheap souvenirs and eating at restaurants that are as close to the restaurants they have at home as possible.

tourists taking pictures

My first taste of tourism was at the age of 15, in the form of a trip to Italy in 2007, and it resembled the above in a lot of ways. I remember jumping from monument, to museum, to church, and back to the hotel, day after day. I was devastated that most of our meals were pre-selected for us. All I wanted was a plate of classic Italian spaghetti, and I had to wait for the one night we were given a voucher to go eat at one of a select few restaurants that accepted it to finally order a plate.

I had dreamed of going abroad since I was young, and I’ll admit, I was a bit disappointed in my first taste of it as I did not experience many moments of true pleasure. Don’t get me wrong, watching the floating city of Venice appear out of the early morning mist is an experience I’ll never forget. Seeing Michelangelo’s unfinished statues at the Accademia, never to be fully carved out from the marble and revealed as he envisioned them, will always be a moment that stays with me.

But overall, I didn’t feel connected to Italian culture. I was envious of the chaperones, my art teachers, who got to spend a night wining and dining in Tuscany while we stayed at the hotel. My only interaction with locals was with our tour guide. By the time we got to Rome, after Venice and Florence, I barely comprehended the Colosseum or Sistine Chapel. The only thing I remember is being very annoyed at all the other tourists taking photos with flash in the Sistine Chapel, when it so clearly said that would degrade the artwork over time.

Slow Travel: What Is It?

Skip forward 10 years to when I really started making travel a part of my life, and there wasn’t a single trip I took where I didn’t wish I could stay longer. Since my job only provided 2-3 weeks of vacation a year, I would usually hoard all my time to be able to make 1-2 trips a year last as long as possible rather than squeezing more trips in by making them shorter.

The adventures I loved the most were the ones where I felt solidly immersed in the culture. I wanted to taste the local dishes, observe the people who lived there going about their daily lives, and explore neighborhoods off the beaten tourist path. Sure, I enjoyed some of the sightseeing destinations in between as much as the next person, but I preferred being able to pick and choose what activities would mean the most to me, rather than be at the mercy of some internal voice telling me what I needed to do for my trip to “count.”

Slow travel puts priority on connection – with local people, food, culture, music, art, etc. Just as the name suggests, it’s about slowing down, and taking the time to have an authentic experience, rather than an exhausting mad dash to check things off your list.

To put it in the simplest terms, slow travel is less like a vacation and more of a genuine life experience. It’s not about escaping your life, it’s about finding and savoring the little moments that make life worthwhile. It’s a mindset that prioritizes quality over quantity.

As much as you may be tempted to plan out every detail of your trip, know that in your quest to not miss out on anything, that’s exactly what you’ll be doing. Slow travel allows for flexibility, which in turn, results in pleasant little surprises you would have otherwise overlooked.

The Benefits of Slow Travel

Avoid the burnout.

Have you ever come back from a trip feeling more worn out than when you left? It’s likely because you were pushing yourself to see a place so thoroughly that you wouldn’t have a reason to feel like you missed out on anything. Rather than approaching a destination as a “one and done” experience, try instead to find reasons you’ll want to come back.

While it may feel satisfactory to scratch items of a to-do-list (believe me this is one of my favorite feelings in the world), the locations you are visiting, and the people who call it home, deserve more than that. Look for experiences to love, not experiences to simply complete and never have to do again.

Spend less.

Less movement automatically means more money in your pocket for your current and future adventures. If you are staying in places longer, you likely won’t be spending as much on transportation or accommodations. For example, Airbnb’s typically offer discounts the longer you stay and you’re paying less for those dreaded cleaning fees.

You’ll be doing more exploring on foot, which will not only give you more contact with locals and access to inexpensive and delicious local food, but will allow you to see places you otherwise might have driven past. You’ll be taking trains and buses more often than planes, which is not only more cost effective, but…

It’s better for the environment.

So many amazing places on Earth have been almost destroyed due to over-tourism. Look at Maya Bay in Thailand, which has had to fully close multiple times, sometimes for years, to recover from the damage caused by too many visitors. To protect it going forward, Thailand has had to restrict the number of visitors per day, and you can no longer swim there.

Maya Bay in Thailand, white sand, turquoise water and tall cliff faces
Maya Bay, Thailand

Other countries have also had to put restrictions on tourism because quite simply, it’s degrading the natural beauty of these places, especially when people don’t show any sense of respect. This is a major problem with bucket list style travel and the rise of “Instagram worthy” locations. Entire experiences and cultures with so much to offer have been reduced to one photo.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t go to any of those “dream” destinations. I definitely want to go to Cappadocia in Turkey and Chefchaouen (The Blue City) in Morroco. My point is, truly getting to know a place for its history, customs, and culture, creates a more profound sense of appreciation and respect than simply getting that perfect photo.

Slow Travel Tips

Travel during the off season.

Less crowds, lower prices across the board, and more unique viewing experiences are the top reasons which immediately come to mind when I think of the benefits of traveling during off-season, but there are so many more that go far beyond you.

By contributing to the local economy, you are helping to sustain the local population through the low season when they are likely struggling due to decreased wages. Also, since they aren’t completely burnt out, locals are more likely to be relaxed and willing to talk with you.

There are also environmental benefits. Low season is when the local ecosystem has time to recover from all the compounded traffic and trash pollution which accumulates during the busy months. Valuable resources like water won’t be spread as thin. An example of this is in Hawaii, where year-round tourism has resulted in the local population being forced to conserve water, yet hotels are still able to keep their pools filled.

Unfortunately, mass exploration of the world is also a contributing factor to its destruction. Spreading out the flow of tourism is one small way to be cognizant of this issue.

Stay longer.

Understandably, this is what most people probably think slow travel is referring to – and that may turn some people off. After all, most people have limited vacation time…

While staying longer is advised for many of the reasons listed above, it’s not a requirement. You can still apply the principles of slow travel in a trip that only lasts a few days.

Live like a local as much as possible.

This one is simple. Go beyond the typical tourist experience. Shop at markets, eat at street food stands, walk through neighborhoods instead of the main strip and make an attempt to learn certain phrases in the local language (at least learn “hello” and “thank you”).

If you will be staying awhile, try to book accommodation with a kitchen so you can cook at home instead of eating out for every meal. It will be good for your budget, and helps teach you how to be more self-sustaining while in a foreign place.

Don’t over plan, but do your research.

Slow travel provides so much flexibility, but that doesn’t mean you have to go in blind. Carefully researching the activities available to you in a certain place allows you to make considered decisions on where to spend your time and energy, and leaves you time for the unexpected (good and bad).

By taking the time to do research, you will find blogs and lists curated by like-minded travelers who can suggest hikes, food stalls, and other hidden treasures that you may not have found if you only looked at the top ranked posts on Google. You will also inadvertently discover ways to be a more respectful and conscientious traveler (i.e. don’t ride elephants in Thailand and take your shoes off before entering most shops and residences and all temples).

Choose the right means of transport.

Slow travel by nature encourages modes of transportation like walking, biking, train or buses – all of which expose you to more than flying or going by car would.

If you can take a 1 hour flight, or a 14 hour bus ride, I’m not saying you always have to pick the bus. Sometimes, depending on schedules, it simply doesn’t make sense to forego a quick flight. But if possible, choosing an overnight bus or train saves you a night of accommodation cost, and you don’t miss out on any valuable travel time.

If you are visiting a decently walk-able city, by all means, walk! It’s good for you, the environment, saves money and exposes you to more. I usually find my favorite places by exploring on foot.

Be curious.

It sounds like a cliche, but keep your mind open and get out of your comfort zone. So much of our existence is based on learned behaviors, and learned reactions. Especially coming from the U.S., there are a lot of everyday conveniences that you will have to forego in other countries. It’s not the end of the world.

There will be public bathrooms with no toilet seats or toilet paper. You’ll get used to squatting and drip drying. The shower won’t always have great, or any, water pressure when you shower, and it might be lukewarm at best. Accept the discomfort and adapt in whatever way you can to move past it.

Once you get that out of the way, there are so many new things to learn. Ask questions. Write them down so you remember them later. Ask the locals how to pronounce something in their language.

I’m very introverted and shy, and this can sometimes be hard for me. But human interaction is the spice of life and adds an incalculable richness you don’t want to forego.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for taking an interest in slow travel. I hope this introduction has been helpful for you and will give you inspiration and encouragement to approach travel with a different mindset. In a fast paced world with a preference for immediate gratification, slow travel can seem like a foreign concept, or even inferior to the glamorized version of travel you often see on social media, but I promise it’s worth the extra time and effort.

Worried about how to pack for longer trips? Get minimalist packing tips here.

Having trouble getting out of your comfort zone? Read about the benefits here and how to adapt when you’re feeling overwhelmed here.

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