Slow travel, what is it?

In short slow travel is a state of mind, which allows travellers to engage more fully with communities along their route, spending more time in particular areas and engaging more with the local people and culture.

slow travel

In my lifetime I have lived in six different countries. At the age of 18, I decided to go to school in Ottawa, 5 hours away from my hometown of Mississauga (you probably have never heard of it and yet it’s the 6th largest city in Canada!). From Ottawa, I moved to Paris when I was 20 for a year to study in Paris. From there I traveled all over Europe and properly caught the travel bug. From there I moved to Panama City for three months for an internship in 2010 and returned in 2012 to do my scuba diving Divemaster certificate in Bocas del Toro. That same year I moved to Santiago de Chile where I lived in my first South American country for a year.

In June 2014, I moved again, this time to Brussels with a little over 3,000 CAD and absolutely no plan. I had no jobs or contacts, only a friend of a friend who had graciously offered me a spot on their couch while I job searched. It worked out: after two months of intense stressing (what if I can’t find a job!), some hustling and a splash of luck, I landed a job.

My Belgian job allowed me to travel to Paris for the Lido and China for the Han Show.
My Belgian job allowed me to travel to Paris for the Lido and China for the Han Show.

It’s been 7 months since I landed in Brussels. So the question is: am I done moving? Nope. I actually prefer slow travel. Why? Well here’s why….

Language.

People always tell you that if you truly want to learn a language, there is no better way to learn it then to fully immerse yourself. And that is exactly what I did. Although I studied both French and Spanish in university, I became (some-what) fluent when I moved abroad to Paris and Panama/Chile. If you really want to become proficient, all you need is a boy/girlfriend who doesn’t speak a word of English – now that’s some immersive language learning!

slow travel

Living la vida local.

There is nothing better than learning how to live like the locals. Expats usually try to group together but I always try to find locals to befriend. In Chile, I lived with my then-boyfriend, a Chilean-Brazilian, in his apartment located in a somewhat poor area 20 minutes from the centre. I would get weird stares daily and I was the only fair-skinned person that I ever saw in the area. It was an intimidating and yet incredibly authentic experience that I would never trade for anything. In fact, every time I travel somewhere I want to try and live like a local as much as possible – eat the food, learn the traditions, interact with locals. It enriches my experience and provides me with unforgettable memories.

slow travel

Authenticity.

Slow travel allows me to take time and discover the bumps and ridges of each place I live in – I learn about the quirky bars, local markets, best shops etc. etc. Spending that extra time in a place can transform your disdain for a place into love. Brussels, for example, is renowned as an uneventful and boring city. If you had asked my opinion seven years ago, I would have agreed. Three days of rain and grey made me hate Brussels. Even when I was moving here my friend, who lived here during the winter months, told me wasn’t the ideal place to move. Guess what, BRUSSELS IS NOT BORING. Yes, it’s small but it has so much going on. Vintag, and parties… the list goes on. But if you stick tourist spots: Grand Place, Delirum, St. Géry and Manneken Pis, then you are missing out on the real Brussels.

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The People.

What’s not to love about having friends all over the globe? Slow travel allows you to create strong friendships as you are probably around more than a couple of days. Some of these relationships can last a lifetime, even if the friendships you forge are not with the locals. My friendships span the globe, from my Ottawa girls back in Canada, to my USA bestie I met in Santiago and my host family in Panama City – each person has touched my life in a special way and I am glad that I was able to create unforgettable memories with each and every one of them.

slow travel

In short, slow travel allows me to totally immerse myself in another culture – I learn its secrets, meet its citizens (and visitors) and in the end, I always take a part of it with me when I leave.


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13 Comments

    1. Completely agreed. Love your post and understand everything you said. I’m doing it the same way and enjoy it so much. I did an internship in Argentina, studied in the UK, worked and traveled in Australia, worked in Ecuador and now in Mexico. I love this way of traveling, it gives you so much more than just rushing from place to place.

    1. This is pretty much what my parents did for most of their adult lives. There was an eight year break from travelling when we needed to go to local schools. I know my dad felt it was the only way to live

    1. I think the idea of slow travel is brilliant, and I wish I could do it. maybe when my daughter is older I’ll try living in a place for a while. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    1. I agree. To get the true story of a country you have to stay a while, mix with the people, observe and learn the culture, food and habits.

    1. So very true. We’ve met so many travellers who don’t ‘like’ somewhere and it transpires they spent one day there. You can’t get a feel for the place in that time. Don’t even speak to me about languages, we’ve been to Spanish school but they can’t understand our attempts through our Scottish accents!

    1. Wow! You are probably making the right decision. We are on a “slow” travel too. I think we have a lifetime to see the world, We cannot do long-term travel because we are worriers but I think we can still see and savor the world what it really is. Luckily, we are expats.

    1. This is very inspiring. I completely agree with you that getting to know locals gives you a completely different perspective on a place. While I’m not in a position to take the multi-month or year-long plunge that you’ve taken, I try to work in different countries and so spend several weeks in a place, working alongside locals and getting to know my students. Very inspiring post!

    1. After many years of living an extremely fast-paced life I completely agree that slowing down and enjoying the journey is the only way to go. Hope you have many, many more slow travels.

    1. I have always traveled at breakneck speed due to limited time off but now I’m starting to slow down the pace a bit.

    1. My husband and I, along with our daughter are planning a full-time travel life this July. The big reason for this change is we’ve always lived a super fast-paced, very stressful life and although we traveled, we never had enough time to travel slow enough. Great to see someone as you as yourself really pushing the envelope on life.

      1. Thank you so much for the kind words Brenda. I hope you have a great time traveling with your family and please let me know how it goes!

    1. I lived in Germany for 3 years while I was in the Army, which really allowed me to learn about Germany, and Europe in general. There are so many benefits to slow travel!

    1. Thanks for this great post, Yvonne! I’ve travel to many places but never longer than 3 weeks. I’d like to go back to France and stay there longer than 5 days. My neighbours backpacked Europe over 6 weeks.

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