Traveling slowly is a special pleasure—and you should do it. Next time you have to drive long-distance, take an extra two days and go slowly through the backroads. Or take a train across the country instead of flying. Or best of all, spend a few weeks cycling or walking somewhere. The slower you go, the better.
I love traveling slowly. At least once a year for the past few years, I’ve embarked on a deliberately slow trip. The kind of trip where the whole point is the journey and the stops along the way, not the start or endpoints. I’ve walked 250 miles through rural Spain, sailed 700 miles along the European coastline, spent three days in a train crossing the 2250 miles from Chicago to Portland, and driven more miles than I can count through mountain roads and country towns.
Each one of these trips has been incredible. I think about them far more frequently than any luxurious beach vacation or city break I’ve been on. Here’s why.
You See More
Traveling slowly gives you time to take things in. If you fly across the continent at 500 miles per hour, you see nothing. Big cities and mountain ranges flash by below. Even on an interstate, you don’t see a lot—driving at 70 mph surrounded by 10-wheelers takes focus. You can’t look around and appreciate what you’re passing through.
The big sights you see when you arrive at your grand destination are all well and good, but I’ve found the small, random things I’ve experienced along the way to be much more memorable. Sure, going up the Empire State Building was cool, but it’s got nothing on weathering the tail end of a hurricane in Mobile, Alabama, or the beer I had after trudging 20 miles in the fog through Spanish mountain passes.
Traveling slowly also lets you go deeper. When a friend and I took his classic Mustang along the Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland, we averaged well under 100 miles a day. We stayed in small Irish towns and ate in rural pubs. By experiencing five towns and 20-odd pubs over a few days, we were able to really get a feel for the West coast. If we’d just stopped in Galway and called it done, we’d have missed out on so much.
You See the Changes
And it’s not just the things you experience that are great. It’s the transition between them.
On my train across America, I saw the Louisiana swamps turn into the Kentucky countryside, and the Big Sky country of Montana slowly give way to the mountains of Glacier National Park. On the road trip in Ireland, we saw cow fields become bogs become rugged, rocky, un-farmable coast. In Spain, we walked from the Atlantic Ocean through the Andalusian mountains to the ancient pilgrimage site of Santiago de Compostela.
On every trip, seeing the ground slowly change beneath my feet was incredible. Mountains started as a dark haze on the horizon and over hours grew in size until we were staring up, or even standing on, their peaks. It puts things into perspective.
You Get Bored
Being bored occasionally is a good thing. Constant stimulation is draining. Non-stop excitement leaves you just craving more. It’s why games like Candy Crush and social media like Facebook are so addictive.
Traveling slowly is a great way to get a bit bored. The slowly changing landscape is incredible, but it’s not exciting. Awesome views are interspersed with long periods of very little. In an age of constant entertainment, traveling slowly is a wonderful reset.
And when you get a bit bored, you start thinking. It’s the perfect time to ponder what you want in life and whether you’re on the right track. You can’t help but turn the big questions over in your head.
That is unless you’re talking to your travel companions. When you have hours together, you really get a chance to talk. You get past pleasantries and generalizations to the deep, uncomfortable, honest talks.
You Appreciate Distance
For thousands of years, distance was one of the most important factors in human existence. Lots of people never went much further than a few hours walk from their home. Generations of Irish people left to sail across the sea to America, searching for a new life knowing they’d never be able to return. Now, I can fly from Dublin to New York in six hours.
Covering a long distance slowly gives you a real appreciation of what a barrier distance used to be. On foot in Spain, we were walking between 15 and 20 miles per day. On an interstate, your car covers that in less than 15 minutes—a plane does it in less than two—but it took us six to eight hours.
Traveling slowly like this makes you realize what a significant undertaking everything from the Roman Empire to the California Gold Rush was. Cheap Ryanair flights to Rome don’t have the same effect.
It’s All About the Journey
It’s a bit of a trite cliché that life is about the journey, not the destination, but, at least when it comes to slow travel, it’s true. Where you go is a lot less important than how you get there. The people and situations you encounter along the way are what make the trip memorable, not your eventual destination.
You don’t have to go for long. Even a 200-mile loop over two days in your car will give you enough time to start to see the places you’re traveling through. Though, if you can go farther, slower, it’s even better. It took us three weeks to walk the 250 miles. It’s an experience I’d repeat tomorrow.