Slow travel is catching on

It means visiting fewer places and taking the time to experience and understand their significance

Magazine editor Anshika Sharma tries to stay off social media while travelling. Sometimes, she even leaves her phone behind. (Above) From a trip to Sri Lanka.

Initially touted as an antidote to our fast-paced lives, travel has now turned into a rushed, chaotic experience for many. Vacations and trips are all about cramming as many tourist spots as possible into a packed itinerary and rushing through it.

The rise of slow travel aims to put an end to this. It is mindful, sustainable tourism where you take your time to explore a place. 

 “I have always believed in exploring fewer places to my heart’s content instead of being in a frenzy to tick the touristy spots off from my list and eating only Instagrammable
foods,” says Priyanka Sharma, a PR professional.

During her latest visit to Maafushi Island in Maldives, Priyanka explored the places at her own pace, savouring every aspect like the stay, food, heritage, culture and people. 

 “The whole essence of slow travel is spending more time in a place so you can go beyond mere glimpses,” explains Rahul Singh, co-founder and CEO, Ithaka, a travel planning company.

“The downside of the way we plan our vacations these days is that we go by checklists or pre-planned itineraries. We check-in, have lunch, rush to a few tourist sights, have dinner, sleep and set off to the next place. We don’t explore but rather tick the most-visited places off the list. Slow travel turns that on its head. You take a few days to meet the locals, stay in smaller towns and villages, and really experience what drew you there in the first place,” he says. 

Anshika Sharma, who works with Harvard Business Review, does exactly this. 

Though she reads up about the place she is planning to visit, she does not have any plan or schedule fixed. “It is a big change for a compulsive planner like me. My trips earlier, though wonderful, were quite exhausting. But I don’t want my vacation to be as planned and stressful as my regular day. Now, when I am travelling, I do what I feel like. If I wake up and feel like walking about a bit, then I do exactly that. But if I get tired and want to come back to the hotel for a nap, I allow myself the luxury of doing that too.”

When she visited Goa with a friend, Anshika spent an entire day exploring the property she was staying in.

“We made friends with the chef, who took us to his village outside Goa the next day. We had Konkani and fish delicacies, spent a long time exploring the tiny hamlet and watched the sunset from a tiny fishing boat deep in the ocean. No planned visit could have matched this,” she says.

HK Sriharsha, freelance assistant director, production manager for documentaries and a seasoned traveller, also does not visit places with a plan or aim in mind.

“I reach the destination and talk to any guy who runs a tea stall. Based on what he says and the places he talks about, I plan my next move.” 

On a trip to Spiti Valley, he decided to follow the advice of his driver and visit a place called Kalpa, famous for its apple orchids and view of the Himalayas. “I went there, though it was quite late, and started looking for a place to crash. Along came a guy who started talking to me, listened to my travel story and invited me to his house, right amidst the apple orchids. I ended up staying there for three days. We are still good friends,” he says.

He recommends not staying at a hotel and asks people to try everything from travelling on tractors and lorries to staying with the locals and even experiencing local agricultural practices. 

Myths about slow travel busted

It is not more expensive: With slow travel, your cost comes down substantially. It is actually cheaper because you have fewer flight tickets to book, fewer hotels to check into and so on, points out Rahul Singh.

It is not long duration: “Slow travel has nothing to do with the duration of the stay. It is more about the pace of travel and the immersion in the local culture. Instead of covering, say, five cities in a week, travellers explore one or two destinations on a deeper level in the same duration,” says Sunil Gupta.

Slow travel is not physically travelling slow: “It’s about travelling at the right speed based on the travel potential of the destination,” says Varun Chadha, adding that it is also not anti-technology as many believe.

Why is it important?

Slow travel values a connection with local culture

“Nowadays, travelling is a way to rejuvenate and recover from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Slow travel is gaining prominence among travellers as they are looking for more engaging holidaying experiences, where they can identify with the place they visit,” says Sunil Gupta, MD and CEO, Avis India, a car rental company.

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