Slow travel is a luxury. The luxury in this case being time—a precious commodity in our time-scarce society. To those who can find the time, it’s a way of travel that opens up a gateway to a world unseen by tourists on a timetable.
To truly relax on a vacation requires non-attachment to plans. Having time to spare makes it a lot easier to relax and opens up a new way of thinking. The whole idea of getting lost translates to exploring and finding something new. Missing a bus means getting to spend another day in the beautiful spot you’ve originally chosen to spend time at.
Slow travel is a way of life as much as a way to travel. It’s a shifting of perspective from point A to point B thinking to one of point A is all and everything—living in the present as if nothing else mattered. By experiencing a place and its culture in this way, you experience life. You live life. Travel is just a reflection of your own experience opening up to a new personal reality.
The tendency is to think that doing more actually means “doing” more. That’s rarely the case. Sure, buzzing around to a number of sites yields more sights seen, things done, but taking it easy and relaxing opens up opportunities to immerse in the local lifestyle. Without the pressure to visit attractions, days can be taken off to do nothing at all. And coincidentally, in doing nothing at all, sometimes the most eventful things happen. You may just be sitting in your front yard and you’ll meet neighbours who invite you over for tea. In general, your continued presence in a neighbourhood means more locals will trust you and open up to you.
Cultural immersion takes time. It’s one thing to ask a tour guide why cows are sacred in India, but it’s something else entirely to observe locals’ daily interactions with cows. Seeing them honk and swerve around them on a busy road, watching women take them out for their daily walk and petting them as if others would pet their dogs. Learning about the jail time someone would get for killing a cow, then watching locals chase neighbours’ cows out of their gardens by whipping rocks at them, opens up a box of puzzling contradictions to ponder.
Settling into a vacation home with a kitchen inspires you to engage life as a local. Going to the market to shop you meet people, learn about their foods and pick up on local customs. By cooking in a new place and buying new vegetables you’ve never seen before you’re also more likely to want to learn how to cook the local cuisine, prompting you to take a cooking class.
It takes time to appreciate a new place, particularly big countries with diverse cultures and ancient histories. A couple of weeks in India is more likely to result in a bucketful of questions upon leaving. Not that spending a lot of time in one place doesn’t generate a lot of questions—in some cases more—but it’s a lot easier to be at ease knowing you’ve experienced a culture even if you don’t understand it fully, because you’ve lived it. You go through a full cycle of ups and downs, pleasures, frustrations, curiosity, boredom. It’s an acceptance that comes through living. An acceptance of reality rather than vacation. In this way, slow travel is much more than a form of travel, but a way of life.
image: Captain Kimo (Creative Commons BY-SA)