Why You Need to Slow Down When You Travel

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This summer, the "flygskam" movement has spread rapidly across Europe — gathering momentum on social media and flooding column inches in more traditional press outlets. The Swedish term translates as “flight shame” and with the help of spokespeople like the passionate environmental activist Greta Thunberg, it’s made many people stop and think about the way they take their vacation.

Previously, many of us have given little consideration about the impact of jumping on a plane for our week in the sun. A bit of carbon offsetting has assuaged our consciences, but in reality, we haven’t thought to change our behavior. But there’s another reason why we should think about ditching the plane. Switching to an alternative form of transportation such as a train, bus, or even bicycle can enhance your travel experience. Not yet convinced? This is why you need to slow down when you travel.

Tågskryt

Credit: Marius Dobilas/Shutterstock

In marked contrast to the stress of passing through an airport and the discomfort of taking a long-haul flight, rail travel is a pleasure. It’s relaxing, restorative, and even romantic. The Swedes have a word for that too — tågskryt, meaning "train brag." But you shouldn’t take the train simply to boast about it. Instead, embrace slow travel for its effect on your soul. Take your head out of your phone for a few hours and gaze at the world you see from your window seat. Watch cows grazing on lush trackside pastures, ocean breakers crash onto deserted beaches, and city dwellers cooking dinner oblivious to the momentary intrusion as the train passes illuminated apartment windows. It’s a treat — such guilt-free voyeurism. Tågskryt, like the wider concept of slow travel, is better for the environment and usually for your budget as well.

Warning: Slow Travel Is Addictive

Credit: Raphael Rivest/Shutterstock

The trouble is, once you discover the benefits of slow travel, it’s very hard to go back to rushing around. Almost a quarter of a century ago, I made my first visit to Peru. For six weeks, I ambled around the southern half of this fascinating country absorbing its rich historical and cultural heritage. But I’ll let you in on a secret — my favorite place in the country wasn’t Machu Picchu or even the dramatic Colca Canyon. No, the spot I yearn to go back to can be found inside the Santa Catalina Convent in the beautiful city of Arequipa. There’s a couple of chairs in a small courtyard tucked right around the back. In the afternoon, the sun reddens your face if you drag one out from beneath the frangipani tree and settle back to feel the warmth of the wood against your neck. I’ll go back to Arequipa one day and when I do, that’s where you’ll find me.

You see, the very best travel experiences don’t involve ticking off famous sights and listening to guides who, if we’re honest, bore us to tears with endless details about ancient paintings and museum artifacts. I’ve listened to a ton of those over the years and the vast majority of such facts have been confined to the dustbin of my brain. Rushing from place to place in a manic fashion won’t provide you with meaningful, lasting holiday memories. Sure, you can take another look at that selfie you snapped, but in years to come, that will remain all it ever was — a fleeting glimpse of a place you never took the time and trouble to get to know properly.

Slow Travel Is About Making Connections

The Great Wall of China at sunset
Credit: zhu difeng/ Shutterstock

Slow travel is about taking the time to absorb the nuances of a place, to learn about its culture, to meet its people and find out what makes them tick. It’s about hanging around long enough to explore, while allowing yourself the freedom to be spontaneous. It’s a way of dealing with stress and building in time for reflection. In that sense, it’s indulgent. In our busy everyday lives, we often don’t have such a luxury, but it’s a good thing both for our mental health and our physical wellbeing.

So next time you’re planning a vacation, think about not only what you need now, but also what you’ll appreciate later on. Be bold in your choices and replace hurried sightseeing with travel experiences. Swim in a warm ocean. Hike a woodland trail or kick autumn leaves in a park just for the hell of it. Find someone to teach you how to make pasta or dance salsa. But above all, learn to make your heart sing.

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