The Health Benefits of Slow Travel4 min read
My first overseas trip was a 10-day jaunt to the UK in my third year of University. I went with a friend who was a few years older than me and, I assumed, wiser because she had already spent several months backpacking around Europe.
Based on her recommendations, we planned an ambitious itinerary: a night in Newcastle, a night in York, a “restful” three days in London before a hungover train ride to Oxford for a night. The remaining three days were split between Canterbury, Cambridge and a final night in Newcastle before flying home.
The trip was amazing, but by the time I got home, I felt like I needed two weeks off to recuperate.
It’s been over ten years since that trip, but I never stopped traveling. I backpacked around the world and became a digital nomad—working online while I travel.
I pretty quickly came to realize that I prefer a slower pace of travel. Not only is it easier to work when I’m not rushing around to a new city every few days, but I’m a firm believer that slow travel, whether it’s a short holiday or an extended trip, is better for your health.
Slow Travel Reduces Stress
One of the greatest benefits of travel is that it reduces stress. As the study “Is Travel Better Than Chocolate and Wine?” points out, travel is good for our health, in general. Yet, too much long-distance travel can have a negative impact.
Travel is good for your health and reduces stress, but if half your trip is spent running with an oversized backpack trying to make a flight, those stress levels will come right back up.
Slow Travel Gives You Time To Build Community
We’ve heard again and again how important community is to our health. If you stay in the same place for a few weeks or even a few months, it gives you the chance to immerse yourself in a local community. You can make friends and pick up a healthy habit or two from the people around you to take home!
Slow Travel Is Good For The Environment
It’s no secret that jet setting around the world is bad for your carbon footprint. If you stay in one spot for longer, you can reduce air travel. Focus on the joy of learning a new public transit system in a foreign language or try taking shorter trips by train, car or ferry. A healthy environment means clean air, clean food and clean water so helping the environment may be one of the greatest benefits of slow travel!
Slow Travel Boosts Creativity
As many healthcare professionals are starting to learn, creativity has a positive impact on health and healing. And travel can help boost creativity. It’s no wonder us writers, musicians and artists are often transient. However, it’s not just any type of travel that helps. According to Adam Galinsky, one of the lead researchers on travel and creativity, being immersed in a local culture helps build new creative connections. Creativity is all about seeing things differently. What better way to do that than to get the perspectives of people from all sorts of different cultures?
Before the COVID-19 lockdown, I spent a couple of months in Vietnam. I met a history major and tour guide with a passion for music, two school teachers who served meat soups on their lunch break and loved taking selfies with me, and local and foreign writers performing poetry readings in grungy bars with no address. If I had spent only a couple of days sightseeing in Saigon, I wouldn’t have forged as deep of a connection with the Vietnamese culture and art world.
I now often describe myself as a “lazy” traveler to people who are considering going abroad with me. When a friend joined me in Ecuador last year, they wanted to book tours and do activities every day. But I get more joy taking a long morning walk on the beach, spending an afternoon in a café in the mountains with thick hot chocolate, going to a Spanish conversation lesson with local teachers and having the neighborhood arepa shop know my order. I’ve already forgotten the museums I saw in Quito and the monuments in Guayaquil, but the slow travel experiences that allowed me to relax, immerse and create will stay with me for years to come.