The Power of Slow Travel

Have you ever wondered why people keep revisiting the same place over and over again when there is a whole world to travel to? I’m not talking about a cabin in the woods where you don’t leave the place once. I’m talking about people who revisit a city or a country so many times that it feels impossible that they haven’t seen everything that place has to offer. I’m going to tell you they probably haven’t. Even if they are adventurous and explore outside their favorite spots, there is so much life to be found on remote farm roads and down dark and dingy alleyways; it is impossible to see it all in one trip, let alone two or three.

One of my favorite YouTubers, Paddy Doyle, has recently discussed how we travel is broken in his travel vlog Next Level Adventures. He talks about how some of the most beautiful palaces are overcrowded to the point that we hate the place or the tourist part of it, at least. Part of the problem with overcrowding and tourism (pre-Covid) is that as travelers, we seek out all ‘go to’ places jumping around a city or country without spending quality time in that place. This type of travel is less about experiencing cultures and more about a checkmark on a travel itinerary. Fast pace travel leads to overcrowded destinations, which often ruins the whole travel experience.

The longer I’m in Korea, the more I agree with him. To be honest, I am writing this the day after I got back from my second trip in two months to Jeju, South Korea. This trip really helped me change my travel mindset to traveling slow.

I was surprised when my plans for Cheosuk, The Korean harvest festival, fell apart, and I felt nothing but excitement for traveling alone at my own pace. Although I have yet to travel outside of my province and the Province of Jeju in the 8 months I have lived here, It didn’t really cross my mind to go anywhere besides Jeju.

On my first trip there, I learned to scuba dive, and I hit some of the hotspots on my bucket list, but this time I chose to forgo jumping around the tourist sites and only see what I could between hiking and diving. 

I know what you’re probably thinking “Madeline diving is really not seeing a place and hiking what you’re just going to see some trees. that’s not really experiencing a culture.” I thought the same thing too, but as a new diving friend pointed out, diving allows you to explore parts of places few people get to see. She was right! I saw three different islands with unique and different underwater habitats; I hiked parts of the Olle trail, which took me through farms, forests, quiet communities, and even a few must-see places. Lastly, I got to see Jeju from Hallasan, the highest point in South Korea. By slowing down and revisiting Jeju, I felt like I got a sense of the island and what daily life there was actually like, which I had missed out on the first time with the travel agenda I had.

Next time I go back, I want to backpack the island going as far as my own two feet can take me each day, slowing down, stopping when I want without worrying about adhering to a schedule. I think I’ll be able to see the magic Jeju has to offer by taking a slower route.

Jeju made me realize how much we are stuck in this mindset of traveling fast, seeking only the best experiences to have the best vacation ever. Not only has this mindset broken the joy of traveling, but it’s wrong.

Wrong? You ask. How can wanting the best vacation ever be wrong? Although wanting the best holiday is not bad, it’s how we seek this ideal, and the reality of life makes it wrong. Life is never smooth, and it’s never how we envisioned it, which makes our perception of a perfect vacation a hefty and often unreachable goal.

We expect our vacations and time spent traveling to never reflect the struggles of our daily lives, but it does. Travel plans always fall apart, the weather doesn’t cooperate, someone gets hangry, you get lost, and your car breaks down. All of this is inevitable, just like sleeping through your alarm on a busy workday. Instead of getting angry or fighting these moments that can ‘ruin’ our trip lean into them and discover what’s around you. 

It’s in these moments of disappointment that I find a coffee shop hidden down an ally or a local restaurant that I can sit and wait out my troubles. The truth about traveling is it’s these small moments that make traveling so magical. 

For me, the easiest way to find these moments is to slow down and plan on doing less. Planning to do less allows time to discover places off the beaten path, which brings more joy than another long travel day with hanger and stress just to spend an hour or two at another tourist spot to capture a photo or make a check on a list to remember it by. 

How do I slow down? How do I start making moments into memories instead of another checkmark or a photograph? 

How I Plan on Traveling Slow

  1. I plan on revisiting places and/or try to spend more than 1 or 2 weeks in an area. I understand this may be almost impossible for many of us in workplaces that don’t like giving more than a week off at a time. However, we have to demand the ability to take vacation how we see fit. Let me tell you, if no one has told you before, you are OWED vacation. You, who give a better part of your life to a company and have no guarantee of retirement after years of hard work, are owed vacation, just as much as you are owed a living wage. To put it in perspective, to take care of your mental health and to live a fulfilling life outside of the grind means you need to have the ability to take time off when it’s convenient for you, not your employer. Period.
  2. I’m going to start picking a different route and mode of transportation. I’m going to choose to take the scenic route and the slower way to get around. This means; taking a train instead of flying, a bike instead of a car, or my favorite, the slowest one of all, my own two feet (or wheels). By taking the shortest and fastest routes, I often miss the hidden gems in a place. It’s these gems that bring the most joy when I travel. 
  3. I’m going to choose to go to fewer places. In a week of vacation, I want to spend half or less of my time going to famous sites or Instagramable hotspots. Slowing down will give me more flexibility to enjoy my trip and stop at places I would usually skip because of not having enough time.
  4. I plan on stopping and turning around. So often find myself passing by places that look interesting because I have too many places to see or a tight timetable to keep. I know that these places can hold the best adventures if only I would turn around and stop at them. 
  5. I plan on continuing to lean into the hard times. Traveling isn’t easy; it isn’t always glamorous, but there is growth and joy to be found in struggles. Accepting the dissapointments and delays will allow me to stop and experience life around me instead of waisting my days on things I can’t fix. Even if stopping means catching another beautiful sunset.

I know this is cliché, but in my experience, the most joy, the best adventures, the best memories are made during the journey, not at the destination.

How do you plan on traveling slow?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: