Slow travel guide

The way we travel has changed immensely over the last 75 years, and not always in a good way. Journeys that would have taken days or weeks now take hours on the assumption that saving time is always a good thing. But actually, this pressure to keep moving faster leaves us tired, stressed and always thinking about what’s next instead of what’s going on right now.
Taking your foot off the accelerator and lightly tapping the brake makes for a more relaxing, sustainable and meaningful holiday.
Slowing down and enjoying an adventure at a leisurely pace is better for the environment, it is better for the communities we visit, and it is better for us. Taking the time to explore more carefully, forge deeper connections and understand different ways of life ensures that our holidays are immersive, enlightening and satisfying – the very essence of responsible travel.

Find out more in our slow travel holidays guide.

Slow travel is...

about connecting with local communities, landscapes and culture. It is intrinsically linked with responsible travel.

Slow travel isn’t...

a new concept, but it is growing in importance as more of us come to prioritise self-care, mindfulness and sustainability.

What is slow travel?

Slow travel is about fostering deeper, more meaningful connections with the places we travel to, the communities we visit and their environment and culture. We often fail to make these connections if we’re just passing through, ticking landmarks and experiences off our personal bucket lists as fast as we can. It is an offshoot of the wonderful slow food movement, which originated in Italy in 1986 as a backlash against overproduction and food waste, and specifically the arrival of a McDonald’s franchise near Rome’s Spanish Steps.

The era of super cheap flights is already behind us, and increasingly recognised as misguided and harmful. It’s certainly true that budget airlines have made travel far more accessible and opened many destinations where tourism has created new opportunities. But that has come at significant cost to the environment and the notion of travel as something to be savoured rather than consumed.

Travelling more slowly is more sustainable as well as more enjoyable. It allows us to relax more, to notice things we might not have otherwise, and to have a greater positive impact on a destination. That can range from eating at local restaurants for instance, to visiting the studios or workshops of local artisans.

It also means that our holidays tend to have a smaller carbon footprint. That’s because slow travel frequently makes use of locally sourced seasonal food, as well as overland travel and public transport like trains.

Jim Louth, founder of our partner Undiscovered Destinations, has designed some of our most exciting long-distance rail journeys. He believes that slow travel provides the space to appreciate the contrasts – for instance, in our rail holiday from London to Morocco, which crosses from Tarifa to Tangiers by ferry.

“It’s only a 90-minute journey from Europe to North Africa,” says Jim, “but you arrive in the port and everything is different. You get the smells, the hustle and bustle, everyone approaching you offering guide services – exactly what you’d expect. You don’t get that striking contrast with air travel so much. It’s more gradual on the Trans-Siberian Express, where people noticeably change from Asia to Central Asia to Europe and you experience these subtle differences over the course of the journey.”
As well as being low carbon, travelling slowly increases the opportunities for adventure, exploration and discovery. So it’s a win-win for nature and for the person doing the travelling.
– Julie Gough from the John Muir Trust
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Slow travel or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.

Types of slow travel

Rail holidays

Sleeper trains are poised to make a comeback. Several of our partners now offer long-distance rail holidays from London to countries as far-flung as Georgia, Iran, Morocco, Sweden and Cairo. It can be a slower way of travelling to your holiday – or the journey itself can be the holiday.

“I think we’ve lost the joy of travel, through the hassle and no-frills functionality of low-cost flights,” says Jim Louth, from our partner Undiscovered Destinations. “We used to look forward to the journey itself and I think long-distance rail holidays recaptures that. And obviously, it’s better for the environment too.”

Travelling by train, whether it's the Far North Line calling in at remote stations through the Scottish Highlands or epic rail and sea journeys, is a far more pleasurable experience than flying. It lends itself perfectly to making conversation with a rotating cast of fellow passengers and absorbing the changes of scenery through the window.

“Something I love about slow travel by rail is that you’re not confined to big cities,” says Jim. “You’re passing through small towns and villages where you can always get off and spend a few nights if you want. We intentionally choose hotels a short walk from the railway stations. It’s convenient and a great way to get your bearings and a flavour of local life.”

Small ship cruising

To travel by boat is to entrust your schedule to the weather and the tide, taking each day as it comes and happily accepting the need for flexibility in your itinerary.

Languid small ship cruises along Croatia’s Dalmatian coast seek out deserted bays and harbours even in peak summer and slip into Dubrovnik when the cruise ship crowds are long gone. In Scotland, onboard chefs prepare meals from fresh produce sourced from the country’s great ‘natural larder’ while cruising the Small Isles off the west coast. On the River Nile, you can follow in the wake of the ancient Egyptians and sail aboard a traditional felucca, your schedule dependent on the wind and with plenty of time to appreciate life along the riverbanks.

The captain will always have a route in mind, but it will be dictated by sea conditions, as well as their passengers’ interests. A small ship means less impact on the marine environment, less commotion in the communities you moor up to explore, as well as greater opportunities to get to know your crew and fellow passengers.

Food & cooking holidays

Exploring regional cuisine is an easy – and appetising – route into the local culture. Often, you’ll encounter recipes for dishes that have been passed down through generations, travelled from continent to continent, or been adopted and then adapted by different communities.

Many dishes and delicacies have a story behind them, such as the humble origins of the pizza which became a favourite of royalty, the many Vietnamese dishes that speak to years of colonisation by the French, and the Caribbean cuisine that arrived in the UK with the ‘Windrush generation’ in the mid-20th century.

Slow travel means the chance to really dig into local cuisine. That could mean farm to fork tours in Greece or browsing a floating market in Bangkok before a cookery lesson. There’s also the chance to share meals with your hosts while getting to know their customs – in Indonesian hill tribes, Italian mountain chalets and Mongolian yurts.

Walking holidays

Walking is the slowest form of travel there is, and the most immersive way to experience a destination. Tailor made tours allow you to determine the pace, so you can linger wherever you want. It’s easier to hear the unusual calls of birds in the trees or to appreciate the way the sun turns the rocks pink when you slow down.

Hiking is also an easy way to find relief in more crowded destinations. In the spectacular Cinque Terre, for instance, you can head up into the hills for clifftop views along much quieter paths. In Croatia during summer, trekking inland national parks is far more tranquil than life on the coast.

Slow walking holidaying typically offer small hotels, inns and B&Bs owned or staffed by local people. They’re always ready with a recommendation on where to eat that night or what not to miss along your route the next day.

On small group walking holidays you will be accompanied by a local guide able to pass on valuable nuggets of information on everything from flora and fauna to local traditions and beliefs. You’re not rushing around, but at the same time groups do need to move as one in order to keep to a fixed itinerary.

Walking can also be combined many other activities that deepen your connection to a place. Try Spanish language lessons in the Picos de Europa, cooking in the Italian Alps, with yoga in Austria with wine tasting in Tuscany.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: angela pham] [Intro: Luke Bender] [Is/Isn't: Jonatan Pie] [Julie Gough quote: Tyler Nix] [Rail holidays: Jack Anstey] [Walking holidays: Martin Hanker]