When asked why I started Be Local Explorers and why I decided to embrace slow travel and make it the cornerstone of our tours, I naturally reflect on my travel experiences to find the answer. All my best travel memories have 2 things in common: I did not try to see and do everything and I came across locals that made the trip unique. This winning formula has worked anywhere, from Guatemala to Portugal and Japan. In some cases, I saw more than others but I never rushed, tried to cover entire countries and was never led by a desire to tick boxes, but to fulfil my curiosity at my own (and my companions') pace.
So, what is slow travel?
It is complicated to come up with one definition as with many other concepts. As a matter of fact, it is even a bit pretentious, as we are really only bringing back to light something we have done for generations but we have forgotten because of our hectic and crazy lifestyles. However, I recently came across a definition in “Guidelines for the development of the Slow Tourism project. Workshop with the stakeholders and the operators” by Dall’Aglio, S., Nazzaruolo, A. and Zago, M. (2011) that encompasses what us at Be Local understand by Slow Travel:
"Travel that allows to get possession of time again, relieves anxiety and stress caused by hectic paces, allows the guests to be back in tune with themselves and whatever surrounds them, creates a new form of awareness thanks to a deeper and involving experience and thus emphasizes sustainability, responsibility and eco-friendliness”
Why Should I try it?
Because you are always rushing. A big chunk of your life is dictated by all the things you have to do and you spend a lot of time running and struggling to fit them all so you still get some time for yourself. Do you really want to do something similar when you are on holiday? Do you want to be running from place to place ticking boxes just to say you have been there? Or would you rather take the foot from the gas, slow down a bit and get to enjoy and understand the places you are visiting?
Also, slow travel will minimize your negative environmental impact, as you will be avoiding domestic flights and you will hopefully be using public transportation (if available). You will also be spreading income across regions, as you will spend more time in one location and seeing more of it (which might also help avoid over-tourism problems in tourist hotspots). As you can see, it is a win-win situation.
What is the best way to do it?
There is no better way, just different ways. If you have enough time and confidence, just pick a destination, do some planning, leave shyness at home and start exploring and talking to the locals. Locals do know better, they have been there most of their lives, so ask them for advice (please make an effort to learn some basic words and phrases, you are the one visiting their home). If this seems a bit daunting or time is a bit tight, let others plan this for you. Have someone local organize a tour that shows you the highlights, the common little things and the hidden gems. This way you will still have an authentic and enjoyable experience and contact with locals (and you will be supporting them). Either way, take your time, be present and enjoy the ride!