Are we really seeking adventure or are we just here for the attention?
Our inclination to share, influence, create content—whatever the motive— leaves us with a one-dimensional acquaintance to lands far far away. Travel is one of the most life-changing, soul-stirring things we can do. But only as long as we have the proper priorities.
The preservation of moments has evolved from relic-worthy photo albums to fleeting social media feeds. We have opted for filtered highlight reels, the perceived value of which is directly assessed by the number of likes each photo receives. Forget the enriching imprint it may have left on our lives.
We validate the trip as one that was well traveled as long as it looked the part. And this provides us enough return on our investment to satisfy our criteria for a great trip.
Selfies against panoramic destinations serve as proof enough for participation and the likes gained from them are sufficient souvenirs. We plan our itineraries in terms of their photogenic potential, shuffling to the next Instagrammable backdrop as soon as we have the perfect shot.
Profound experience is forfeited to impress a fleet of cyber friends, whose attention we only ever win for a half a second while they idly scroll past our photo. We trade depth for acclaim, conning ourselves out of enrichment, out of extrinsic and intrinsic discovery, byproducts that were formerly inherent to traveling.
Disconnect to Connect
The more we connect to the cyber world, the more we disconnect from the real one. We would rather share our photos, rarely the experiences behind them. Travel is not simply a tool to curate a better feed. Rather it is a tool to embark on an adventure that leaves you a better person.
Slow travel prioritizes the paused, the pondered, the savored moment. It pities the surface experience. Slow travel says “don’t just dip your toe in, jump in! The water’s just fine.”
Slow travel leaves us physically and mentally open to the unknown. It allows flexibility for spontaneity and opportunity for serendipity.
Traveling slowly is deliberate, immersive, and pivotal. These are the adjectives we strive for when embarking on a journey. These are the words that make an experience life-changing instead of just pretty or fun. It is okay for a place to be pretty and fun but these are simply surface traits. These are traits that may entertain your mind, but they rarely set your soul ablaze.
Seeking these feelings is paramount to the reclamation of the experience of travel rather than just the appearance of it.
How to master the art of slow travel
I am not trying to scorn the convenience we have been afforded by the technology age. I just hope that we can beware of passively engaging with our immediate reality. This is not a lecture on why we ought not to document or share at all. Instead, we should approach it with a lower rank of importance.
Try trading your phone for a camera. Cameras require a certain degree of effort and careful attention. You approach a traditional shutter with a different consideration and poise. A phone with all its convenience will leave you with 37 of the same drive-by shot. Surely there will be at least one winner to slap a filter on.
Our phones are also wrought with access and temptation. They are attached to our hands no matter the roaming charges or battery drainage. We get anxiety at the threat of temporary disconnection. We are under a constant baseless pressure to keep our followers tuned into our life in real time.
This obsession has made many of our experiences stale and posed. We can’t take a bite of a sandwich before it has first been shared across all social media.
Remember to give yourself a first-hand perspective.
In the digital age, many of our memories are set within more of an indirect context than a tangible one. We default our interpretations of that which is right in front of us through a lens rather than our own eyes. We see life from behind a lens and then look back over the memories after they have been filtered and cropped, leaving us with a skewed reality.
The pressure to extensively document these experiences has a side effect of experience-detachment. This detachment demotes our own perspective to our own lives to a vicarious role.
Try to come up for air. Perhaps try to wait until your trip is complete before streaming each photo to their place on the social feed. Experience first and fully, then once there is time to engage later, have at it.
An organic perspective of the world is fresh and raw and so worth it. In our hyper-visual/digital world, we have lost out on the magic of storytelling. We can just hand someone our phones and let them flip through our pictures, perhaps providing them with a verbal caption here and there. But to be able to paint a picture without pictures, to captivate someone with the color of your spoken words, provides them a unique access to your mind’s eye.
Try meeting a local
You truly meet a city through its people. Locals are better sources of information than any Wikipedia article or travel guide. They can give you access and secrets to a world unknown to the average traveler.
Befriending someone in the area can be one of the most meaningful assets to your whole journey and one of the most memorable chapters of your life. Sharing time in another human’s story often leaves the greatest lasting impression upon us. A relationship transcends your trip long after the jet lag has worn off.
They can show you the life away from the resort—their own life in fact. And whether you see them again or not, there are few things in life that leave us better off than human connection.
Trade a hotel for a home
We have an abundance of newfangled options for homey travel. With services like Airbnb, Home Away and Couchsurfing, gone are the days of tourist-filtered resorts. We are able to take up residence—authentic, culturally accurate—residence, providing us with a unique axis upon which to orient our new experiences.
Now you can become a neighbor rather than a tourist. You can explore from a perspective formerly exclusive to the citizens of your destination.
When we live in a home rather than stay in a hotel, we can ingrain ourselves into a different way of life. We are inclined to take up a temporary routine and employ new customs under the influence of this temporary lifestyle. Discover and frequent the coffee shop downstairs before strolling down the street to your favorite boutique. Chat up the owner of that bodega before settling on an increasingly familiar park bench with your go-to sandwich to people watch.
Leave your comfort zone
Try to find something that will take you out of your element. Introduce yourself to uncharted territory. Discomfort is one of the primary ingredients for growth. And a trip that leaves you changed is a trip well traveled.
Try to find at least one thing, planned or unplanned, that you have never done before. That conquest of discomfort will anchor you to this location for the rest of your life. It will be the place you did that thing for the first time. It will quicken your heartbeat every time you affectionately look back at that moment.
This instance will link you to this location in a way that can never be matched by anyone else, anywhere else. You and this place will have your own secrets, your own emotions, an intimacy that is unique the world over.
The best way to thoroughly experience a neighborhood is by foot or bike. These methods, although less efficient in time, are more efficient in discovery. When you are speeding through a town, restricted to paved streets and GPS directions, you can miss all of the nooks and crannies. The enchanting unexpected is left with little chance to catch your eye, entice your curiosity, and provoke your spontaneous side.
When exploring by foot, if anything draws you towards it, you are completely free to decide to answer its call. You are able to notice, to stop, to ponder, to proceed at a human pace. The simplicities of life, the butterfly kissing a tulip, the couple intertwined on a park bench, the chirping of birds. It is about as scenic a route can ever get.
Embrace quality over quantity
To slow down your journey, learn to embrace quality over quantity. Try ditching your itinerary.
The urge to see a lot in a little time leaves us in a whirlwind of exhaustive and superficial experiences. We tend to overbook ourselves, trying to cover as much ground in as little time as possible, leaving us at a loss for the deep connection to the people and the world right within reach if we would just slow down enough to notice.
A strict itinerary is prohibitive towards improvisation. Rerouting our mindsets from the fast lane to the scenic route enables us to find the magical authenticity hidden right outside of our itineraries. Ditching the schedule is a travel technique that can make for some of the best experiences.
-Or make a flexible itinerary
If you don’t want to go completely rogue, plan your days according to neighborhoods. Head out to a specific part of town for the day and just wander your way through it. Pinpoint a couple of top destinations or places you’d like to see but don’t tie them to a time.
You don’t have to completely forego your research or swear off touristy destinations. Just don’t overschedule your time so that you end up governed by a clock, rushing in and out of experiences so that you can get to all the places in time.
Tool through streets, stumble upon unique shops, people watch. These are where you find a city’s true and unmatchable charm. This is how you come to understand a collective experience of a people and a town who are unlike anywhere else in the world. People going about their day as they always do.
Don’t fear that you are missing out on something. You don’t have to travel like you’ll never be able to come back again. If you love a place, you’ll make a point to return. It’s okay to save some things for next time.
Eat and shop local
Try to avoid common experiences and chains by seeking out local flavor. Find out what the town’s signature is. Boutiques, shops, and restaurants are the composition of a city but if you eat, drink, and shop the same way that you do at home, well, what was the point of leaving then?
Local eats, crafts, and businesses are where you find the heartbeat, the can’t-find-it-anywhere-else-in-the-world, parts of a town. Sure there may be coffee everywhere, but perhaps this shop has a special recipe or that charming barista or a funny tip-jar. It may not be the recipes or the atmosphere—many times the details hold the authenticity you seek.
After your trip, don’t just jump immediately back to your reality. Reflect on those moments you created. Savor them mentally. Many times we forget to transition our bodily experiences into mindful ones.
Try keeping a travel journal. Or sit and meditate. Play your memory reel on repeat. Start a photo album. Printing your photos adds a tangible essence to your time spent in a different way than posting them to inevitably get buried at the bottom of your social feeds.
Do you use any of these slow travel methods on your vacations? What’s your favorite way to savor your trips?
Also published on Medium.