The Never Ending Voyage Slow Travel Manifesto

Slow travel is about experiences over sights. It’s the participation in ordinary daily activities to learn how people live: their food, culture, language, the quirky details that make a place unique, and the similarities that weave a common thread through humanity.

Jetty near Kheng Hock Keong, Yangon, Burma

Commuters at the end of the day at a busy Yangon jetty, Burma

Slow travel is an in depth style of travel. It’s about getting to know one place well, focusing on quality rather than quantity, and connecting with a place and its people.

It’s about discovery. A new destination can be chaotic and confusing, but slow travel encourages you to see through the cultural haze and try to make sense of your surroundings; to develop an understanding of how things work, why they are the way they are.

It’s about taking the time to observe, to be in the moment and take pleasure from simple things.

It’s about pursuing personal growth and immersing yourself in new experiences; using travel to challenge yourself in the knowledge that the most uncomfortable encounters are often the most rewarding.

It’s about searching out the best of humanity—finding people who really care about what they do, are proud of their homes, their culture and their heritage.

It’s not that you can’t visit tourist attractions but go because you want to, not because you think you should. There are no such things as “must-sees”.

Who Is Slow Travel For?

Us taking part in the Yee Peng lantern festival in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Us taking part in the Yee Peng lantern festival in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Slow travel is for people who want to step out of the backpacker ghettos, chain hotels, and the well-worn trail of sights in order to discover their own paths. It doesn’t mean you have to visit a remote village in Burma; it can be done just as easily by strolling through a vegetable market in Rome or wandering down a random side street in Paris.

For digital nomads slow travel is essential. To really create and move your business forward, you need to slow down and have some semblance of a routine.

For long term travellers slow travel will preserve your energy. It’s too easy to get caught in the trap of trying to see everything there is to see; going through the motions but not really absorbing anything. Slow travel will keep things fresh and prevent the burnout that is inevitable when you are on the road for months.

But slow travel is for everyone, even if you only have a week’s holiday. We share some ideas below on how you can apply the slow travel philosophy to short trips.

Why Slow Travel?

Simon chatting to a local in Bagan, Burma

Simon chatting to a local in Bagan, Burma

  • Meaningful Memories—you’ll likely remember these experiences longer than those where you visited the same tourist attractions as everyone else.
  • Personal Growth—by getting out of your comfort zone you’ll become a more confident person. You may well learn new skills like languages too.
  • Increased Awareness—by meeting people around the world and learning about new cultures you’ll be better able to challenge stereotypes.
  • Social Consciousness—it’s a more sustainable way to travel as you use transport less and support local businesses.
  • Save Money—it’s often possible to pay the same per night renting a comfortable apartment for a month as for a hostel room. Slow travel experiences are often free or cheap as well.

How to Slow Travel?

imon toasting a successful Japanese cooking class

imon toasting a successful Japanese cooking class

We’ve been travelling permanently for two years and eight months now and our pace has slowed dramatically but slow travel is not a measure of time, it’s a measure of impact.

Here are some things you can try on even the shortest trip.

  • Stay in one place rather than trying to see as much of the country as possible. A week renting an apartment in the Italian countryside could well be a more enjoyable experience than a whirlwind tour of Venice, Florence and Rome.
  • Visit local markets.
  • Eat street food.
  • Take a cooking class and try out the recipes afterwards.
  • Learn the language. Even a few phrases can go a long way.
  • Wander aimlessly. Turn down any side street that takes your fancy.
  • Spend a morning people-watching in a local cafe.
  • Have a picnic in a park.
  • Seek out a local restaurant with no English menu, maybe even no menu at all. Order something you don’t recognise.
  • Couchsurf or, if you don’t want to stay with strangers, attend a couchsurfing meetup.
  • House sit.
  • Take a course—painting, scuba diving, salsa dancing, whatever you are interested in.
  • Volunteer.
  • See a local band.
  • Attend a gallery opening.
  • Visit a festival no one’s heard of.
  • Go to a football game (or the popular local sport).
  • Cycle around different neighbourhoods or through villages in the countryside.
  • Ask a local for their favourite restaurant.

Some of our favourite slow travel experiences this year have included:

  • Renting an apartment for a month just outside Montecarlo in Tuscany, a tiny village that even most Italians haven’t heard of, and stumbling upon random local festivals every Sunday.
  • The daily trip to the bakery through the hilly cobbled streets of Alfama during our month in Lisbon.
Our street in Alfama, Lisbon

Our street in Alfama, Lisbon

  • Drinking passionfruit and mango smoothies from our favourite stand in Chiang Mai where we lived for five months (our longest stay yet).
  • Developing a routine of work in the morning, pool in the afternoon and sunset walks along the beach in Koh Lanta.
  • Regular visits to our favourite wine bar in the village of Spello in Umbria, discovering new cheeses and wines each time.

Read more of our favourite slow travel experiences and see the Slow Travel Pinterest Board.

Next time you are planning your travels—whether it’s a week in Spain or six months in Asia—consider the slow travel philosophy and think how you could include slow travel experiences to make your trip more rewarding.

Trail Wallet

Are you a fan of slow travel? Leave a comment and share your favourite experiences.

74 thoughts on The Never Ending Voyage Slow Travel Manifesto

  1. This is actually a really inspiring article! I haven’t been in the travel game long but I have done two study abroad semesters and I think the outcomes can be really similar. I know that after even my 7 months in New Zealand I still felt like I hadn’t been able to soak up all that I wanted to and see all that I wanted to see. It’s intoxicating sometimes, but I like to leave places with the thought of mind that I feel as though I’ve conquered it to the extent that I want to and it’s time to move on to the next step.

    Thanks for writing this piece! Touches home quite close!

  2. Brilliant-this is how we have enjoyed Spain and Italy so much, we sit with some locals and pretend we live there; I even do it in England-loving food and drink helps with the old blending in!

  3. Amen to everything you wrote here! Before we set off on our own long-term trip, we had all these grandiose plans of all the things we would see and the breakneck pace we would keep. It took us less than a month to realize that we couldn’t sustain that kind of travel, nor was it going to be most rewarding. It’s so much nicer to take your time and really connect with a place and the people around you. Because in the end, as much as it is nice to see the world, for us, the best part of traveling has been the people we have met… when you race through a place, it’s possible to have a good conversation or two, but it’s not the same as really getting to know people.

    • No long term traveller ever does everything they plan to do! Or else they do and drive themselves crazy (we’ve met some of those). Sounds like you are having a much more rewarding trip by taking your time.

  4. Have to say I’m a slow travel convert :) Spent a year travelling Oz and a year travelling NZ. Now I’m tackling Thailand for three months rather than cramming in a host of SE Asian countries. So many of the reasons you mentioned are why – I need the time to process, both my experiences and my photos, and I find travelling slowly to be so much more rewarding :)

    • It can be so tempting in places like SE Asia to go everywhere but each country deserves so much time that we find it more rewarding to slow travel there. We’ve spent over a year there in total on two different trips and have only made it to Thailand, Laos, Malaysia and Burma. It’s an excuse to keep going back!

  5. This is great and I totally agree! We love to travel slow too, having spent 6 months out the last 10 in Mexico alone, gradually making our way around! We still have so much to see there too!
    Right now we’re back in Colombia for the second time and we are working hard on our online projects. We desperately need the routine after so much travel…even if it was slow! We intend to do some travelling here again…but we’re slowing down even more if you can imagine!

  6. I’m not sure why more people who aren’t [officially] slow travelling but are spending an extended period in a region don’t apply these techniques to their everyday lives -
    ie Taking the time to really look and take in their idiosyncratic local culture, foods, people, as one does when one is officially on the road -

    I think if we applied and did what you recommend on doing on a short trip but on our own home turf everyone’s lives would be so much the richer -
    How often do you stop to speak to a ‘local’ when you’re at home?

    Sadly people seem to think they have to go somewhere else to embellish their lives with cultural richness that if you look around, surrounds us no matter where we are :)

    • I’m not sure who, but someone told us that we have to been doing something all the time, we have to produce something or we are going to be nothing for the society, and I don’t know why most of people trust it, so if we stop just to see how some kids are playing, or to talk with a group of teenagers amoung smilins about the boys or girls they like, or whatever. People run and run and after read this letters from someone who is old and sik, that saids “If I would born again I would spent more time with people and I would tell them that I love them, bla, bla…” And I think “don’t sent this to me, just don’t wait to born again and do it, start to live and don’t think just about how much money have anybody to be your friends circle”
      The way you walk across the Street respecting the people with whom you cross, bearing them in mind or not, the form in which you travel, learning and sharing experiences and not trying to teach the others because your way of life is the correct one,… is the way you live your day by day. The people do not change only for taking a plane.
      In any case, thank you for sharing your experiences, I would like to have the possibility of travelling slow during much more time, even if for my every day it is a trip

  7. Great post. When I need to try to travel more slowly. How long do you try to spend in one place. I usually try to spend one month at least in a country before moving on. But I am always zooming around the country trying to take in everything I can. I should try house sitting and stay in one city for a longer.

    • It really depends. We like to spend a month in one place, but in expensive cities like Rome we stay for a week. We’ve stayed in quite a few places for 2 months too and the longest was 5 months in Chiang Mai. It is tempting to see as much as you can in a country but we can’t keep up that pace anymore.

  8. I love this! I actually have a post in my drafts about slow travel because I’ve realized just how much more enjoyable it is to slow down the pace when I’m traveling. You can’t relax and soak up the atmosphere if you’re running through 5 cities in a week. Wonderful advice and great reasons for trying slow travel!

    • Travel can be really stressful if you try to do everything can’t it? I think most travellers realise eventually that slower is more relaxing. I hope you’re able to try a month in a place soon!

  9. Hi. I love slow travel…in 2010 my hubby and I spent 2 months in northern Italy and another 2 months in France. In 2011 we spent 3 months in Venice, Italy. Renting an apartment by the week or by the month is definitely the way to go!
    People often ask–how can we afford to be away for so long each time…my hubby is a very talented singer and he busks in the streets in the different places we visit. This earns us enough to keep us going.
    So let me ask you (and your readers)…how do you finance long-term travel? An a non-EU national, I cannot legally work. Do you save up beforehand and travel until the money runs out? Do you work while traveling (legally or otherwise?)…please share your secrets!
    Thanks for the great article!

    • Hi Rosie,
      How cool that you can fund your travels by busking!

      We are digital nomads so we work online doing web design, app development and running this website. We are registered in the UK but can work anywhere we have internet so it gives us a lot of freedom and we just enter countries on tourist visas as we aren’t working for clients in the countries we are in.

  10. We never intended to travel quite *this* slow, but it’s definitely cheaper. Not per city, but per month. It’s looking like we might end up with a total of one year in Mexico before we move on!

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  12. As Ali mentioned, we are definitely embracing more and more the slower aspects of travel. Even years ago I took a week long trip to Italy in one city to learn Italian. It wasn’t a sightseeing tour, but living in apartments and it was great. We have done the speed trips too, but prefer the slower ones. Months in a place, here we come.

    • Isn’t Italy just the perfect place for slow travel? I’m looking forward to seeing you transition to even slower travel (although being an expat is about as slow as it gets :) )

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  14. Slow travel is the best way to enjoy not only travel but the company of people. I have been out in the Philippines over 5 years but even going to the next town you find things are very different.

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  19. This is the advanced stage of travelling (:

    I’ve always been a traveller without a map, wandering wherever the winds and my feet wanted to go, but when I was younger I was always on ffw-mode and I thought I was being so spontaneous running here-and-there. Now I realize I was just young and had a skewed perspective.
    Now I slow travel and explore. I’m fully immersed. I don’t ‘check places out’, I settle in them.

  20. What you have written about here is my dream, but I never actually put the name “slow traveling” to it. I am about to graduate from college in May and want to take at least the summer to slow travel before I begin my job search in the fall. My question for you is: how do you fund this dream? You mentioned work in the morning. During your stays do you find temporary jobs? If so, how do you do this when staying for shorter periods of time? I am eager for feedback and commend you for doing what so many are afraid to do.

  21. Wonderful manifesto guys. We’ve made Food & Travel | Slow & Low both the tag and the mantra of our trip. To us, pace and depth are the difference between vacation and travel. We spent our first month in Playa Samara, a beach village in Costa Rica, to set the slow & low tone, and can’t imagine having started the trip any other way. We’re currently in Panama and looking forward to reading your South America e-book—something tells me your favourites will become preferred places of ours too! Keep up the good work, and maybe our side street paths will cross.

  22. I love this – thank you for putting it so well :-) I’m trying to put together my own thoughts on slow travel for my website (about slow travel in China), and came across your site during my research. Very happy to hear that going slow is working for you both!

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  26. Great site. Hope you don’t mind my sharing with you a new initiative I’m lunching called ‘Tubespiration!’ – how to get brilliant ideas from the inspiration of the London Underground and am promoting ‘Thinking Thursdays’ – where just 1 day a week people don’t use their headphones or computer games on their way to work to free time to ‘Think’. Further details are at http://www.tubespiration.com Hope you don’t mind my promoting this here. Thanks

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  28. Hello! I’m considering becoming a slow traveler. I do not have expertise in digital design, so I would like to finance my way by teaching. I’m a certified English teacher in New Jersey (USA). I have over 15 years experience in rural, suburban and urban schools. I’ve worked in both middle and high school as well as in assessments, adult learning, and have consulted and provided professional development for teachers in the New York City Public School System. Is there any websites or organizations you can recommend for teaching abroad? Thanks so much!

    • As a certified teacher I’m sure you’ll have lots of options. I don’t know much about it I’m afraid. There are site’s like http://www.eslcafe.com/ but they are more aimed at people just with a TEFL certificate. I’m sure you’ll find something on google. Good luck!

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  32. Just stumbled upon your blog, and I really love this manifesto! I haven’t traveled much, only a few countries since I began a yea ago, but I’ve become a huge fan of slow travel. Even though I’m the first of my family to travel, and I have the urge to see it all, I still have come to love being able to soak in a culture. I’ll be moving to Thailand to teach English, which I feel will be amaIng to slow travel through SE Asia.

    Great tips at the end, thank you!

  33. I’m all about seeing and understanding cultures instead of bragging about the # of countries I’ve seen. I think the norm. of measuring travel of # of countries is a horrible way to do it.

  34. Your blog is awesome! Cheers to you both being able to travel the world together in all its beauty! Thailand, Japan, and India are def. places my beau and I would like to travel to as well. Have you all been to Cambodia? That would be my cultural background, and I sadly have not been yet – but will be in the future! Safe travels, and well wishes to you both!

  35. Hello! I´m from Buenos Aires, Argentina. I don´t know if you have been here already but I want to tell you are welcome to visit me, I can offer you a room with all the need only in change of some good storys you have to tell. I would love to meet you. My dream is to travel from here to Alaska :) I found your website really interesting. Good luck!

  36. Hi Simon and Erin, Neil and I are on our third house sit with one lined up for the spring. We love long stays. In fact, our short travel time will be a month in Bali and a month in Thailand. We have a lovely traditional home rented in Ubud for a month and two stretches in Thailand, a home stay in Chiang Mai and a funky beach stay in Koh Lanta. We are really enjoying your posts! Our site is beginning to develop more and you inspire us to write about more things. Happy Travels! Laurie

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  40. This is great. I often read articles that talk about slow travel, and by slow, they suggest 2 weeks! We have travelled ‘fast’ in the past, and now we like 2–3 months in a place. I’m starting to learn though, that some places won’t need that much time, and so I think making the call with respect to each destination is most sensible. I agree with your routine. Work out of the way in the morning and the afternoon to live! I will eventually head home and I’m hoping that I might still be able to keep the same routine!

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