Slow Travel

Demetri in Naxos

I’ve toyed around with the term “slow travel” on Twitter to describe a few tips and insights, but it’s a vague and trendy-sounding term without a clear definition.  Wikipedia says:  “slow travel is a state of mind which allows travellers to engage more fully with communities along their route, often favoring visits to spots enjoyed by local residents rather than merely following guidebooks.”   Hmmm … is it okay to fly from California to Papa New Guinea to visit their local dive bar?

The traveling community needs a few principles similar to those of the slow food movement.  Here are a few ideas that cross over directly to travelers for starters:
– developing public policies that preserve the environmental health of the community
– lobbying the government to fund sustainable development practices
– educating citizens about the risks and impact of the tourism
– encouraging ethical buying in local marketplaces
– preserving traditional guest houses

In the meantime, we’re spending as much time with the locals as possible.  We try to respect their culture and values, and tread as lightly as possible.  From a behavioral standpoint, we’re trying to:
– Form meaningful relationships with locals
– Understand local values and customs
– Speak basic phrases in the local language
– Respect cultural boundaries, norms & values
– Travel and explore by foot, bike, and public transport
– Eat at local restaurants
– Buy local food and crafts from local markets

We have countless stories of being pointed in the right direction by new friends.  Most of the time, their insights haven’t yet been commoditized by the guidebooks.  In Greece, a hotel manager in Naxos offered us a personal tour of the island on his day off.  We visited the local monastery and spoke with the monks; stopped and picked fresh figs and cactus fruits off the side of the road; talked with some local farmers; and had lunch by one of the main rivers on the island.  Young tourists zipped past us on 4 wheelers as we chatted about the culture, ecology, and history of the island.