How often are we told to ‘take it slow’?
Modern life often has us hurtling through tasks at one hundred miles per hour with no time to pause in between. And sadly, this way of being has filtered its way into our travel habits. When we pack our suitcases, and head to the airport, we all have that idyllic vision of a relaxing break in the sunshine where the hardest decision we’ll make that week is whether to sit by the pool or the beach. Yet nowadays, the reality is trying to cram in as many tourist attractions as possible, while reaching our next destination using the quickest mode of transport – with no thought to the environmental cost of doing so.
Slow food movement
This is why the term slow travel comes as a refreshing break (literally) to our current vacation style. Inspired by the Slow Food movement, which began in Italy in the 1980s as a protest against the opening of a McDonald’s in Rome, it champions local farming, regional cuisine and communal meals. According to them, slow food is ‘concerned not just about our own wellbeing, but also the wellbeing of the planet’. They ‘want to contribute to just causes, while also satisfying our desire to slow down, our need to reconnect with ourselves and our communities through meaningful experiences.’
Michele Rumiz, the international project manager at Slow Food explains more. “Thirty years ago the world was pretty different – a lot of food habits and traditions were getting lost. Back then, the more artificial food was, the better. We wanted to counteract that. Fast food generates pollution, unhealthy habits and unfair economic relationships between the producers and middle man. Food should be good, clean and fair – for everybody.”
So how does this relate to travel? The slowing down of food has evolved to become an entire slow movement. It’s a cultural initiative that wants to address time poverty, with a focus on making connections with people and places. “The slow movement can be applied to anything,” adds Michele. “As we can make a parallel between fast food and slow food, I think tourism also comes into this. Slow tourism should be tailored to the local people and feeding the local culture – rather than consuming it. The connection between food and tourism has always been there.” And when you consider the environmental impact caused by global travel, it’s about time there was a shift in the way we holiday. “From our perspective, we hope tourism can become a way to help the sustainable development of food cultures and agriculture.”
And increasingly more tourists are seeking this alternate way of travelling in a bid to escape the frantic rhythms of daily life. Especially as the environmental implications of travelling by plane are becoming harder to ignore. So, if that means travel by boat or train then so be it.
Simon Wrench, head of marketing at Inntravel agrees. “Naturally any form of travel does have an environmental impact but certainly choosing to take the train instead of flying will help. Many of our holidays across Europe can be reached by train, either in one day or by using stopovers.” This conscious attitude doesn’t disappear when you reach your holiday location, either. “At your destination, choose to take local buses rather than hiring a car and buy fresh produce at local markets, too.” This low impact attitude is even echoed by the bus industry itself, who are seeking to help address the severity of the climate crisis by reducing carbon emissions by up to half a million tonnes per year. They are committing to purchasing only ultra-low or zero emission buses and coaches from 2025 (The Confederation of Passenger Transport’s).
Off the beaten track
Simon adds that where you visit is important as well, especially given the impact on the environment of over tourism. “We take people off the beaten track – even in some well-known areas. Slow travel extolls low-impact tourism and yet can still play an essential role in helping to maintain rural economies where depopulation is an ongoing challenge. Inherently, the accommodation used is often small family-run guesthouses or hotels. Our hoteliers are often very enterprising too, incorporating local produce on their menus and Rpolicies for energy conservation.”
Slow travel doesn’t just make sense for the environment either. It is actually beneficial for your wellbeing, too, as you will feel more relaxed. “It doesn’t mean that you can’t be active, as it isn’t about stopping. But it does mean that you can enjoy your discoveries and often unexpected moments without the stress that other ways of travel involves,” Simon explains.
Royal seal of approval
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have recently announced a sustainable travel initiative, too. After facing criticism for embarking on four trips taken in private jets in the space of just 11 days, the royal couple launched Travalyst – ‘with the ambition to change the impact of travel for good’. It’s partnered with popular travel websites including booking.com and TripAdvisor to promote schemes worldwide that have the ability to preserve destinations, wildlife and the environment.
The final word
Want to give slow travel a go? Simon recommends going at your own pace. “Not travelling as part of a group is best. The ultimate slow holiday would be a self-guided trip on foot, following detailed route notes. It’s low impact and gives you the time to really enjoy the scenery. Similarly going by bike is another option, which gives the option of extending your range. Otherwise exploring a region, country or countries by train is a great option. There are some wonderful towns and cities that can be explored on foot using some detailed insider knowledge.” Bon voyage!