How slow family travel can be the most enriching and less stressful way to travel with the kids.
Travel presents us with a world of possibilities which, whilst exciting, can be a double-edged sword. Arriving in a new country, fresh off the flight with a bucket-list waiting to be ticked off, the urge to dive straight in can be overwhelming.
Regardless of whether your trip is one week, one month or one year, you eventually reach a tipping point and you need to slow down. Even though you’ve seen and done everything on your list, there’s a nagging feeling that you’ve not truly experienced anything.
Home life can be stressful, busy and tiring so the first few days of a trip are often spent decompressing; before you know it, the online check-in reminder arrives in your inbox and it’s time to head home.
So what’s the solution? How do you make the time to fully appreciate your travels without feeling exhausted by the end? Welcome to the world of slow travel…
What is slow travel?
Slow travel is all about taking a more leisurely approach to travel, with a focus on a deeper and more immersive experience. But what does that actually mean for your trip?
Families who travel slowly tend to spend more time in one location, perhaps renting an apartment for a month and placing a greater emphasis on quality over quantity. They may begin to feel that they’re living in a place rather than just visiting.
The idea of jumping on internal flights to tick off every region in a country, or taking every available excursion, will be a thing of the past. Instead, slow travel is more about overnight sleeper trains, gentle afternoon strolls around local neighbourhoods, three weeks on a deserted island, or multi-day hikes.
Our experience of slow travel
Slow travel is something we’ve embraced over the years and it’s been a hugely rewarding experience for the whole family.
We’ve spent four months living in Morocco, based mainly in the beautiful port city of Essaouira. We still managed to visit other parts of Morocco during our trip but the opportunity to live in one place for so long allowed us to understand and fall in love with Essaouira.
We also travelled around Southeast Asia for ten weeks, putting our slow travel tips into practice by taking the foot off the accelerator in Cambodia and avoiding a overland dash to Laos, which was the original plan. The change of plans gave us the chance to relax in Siem Reap, spend more time at Angkor Wat, and allow the kids to recharge and refresh in the hotel swimming pool.
Benefits of slow travel
Still now, we need to remind ourselves not too pack too much into a trip.
Even on our recent trip to Andalucia with kids, I had to really pull myself back from squeezing Cordona into our itinerary between Granada and Seville. The temptation to fit as much in as possible is strong! But I resisted and I’m so please we missed it off. Whilst, I’m sure, it’s a beautiful city, it would have made our itinerary too full and rushed.
But the benefits of slow travel aren’t just about making sure you don’t feel rushed on holiday. In fact, slow travel takes it further to ensure you have multiple unplanned days in just the one destination.
Indeed, slow family travel can be far more enriching that a jam-packed trip. Here are some benefits…
1. Costs savings
Travelling quickly usually means your family travel budget takes a hit. If your itinerary includes something in every corner of the region you’re visiting, it’s likely you’ll need to book expensive internal flights or lose the flexibility of off-peak travel.
Slow travel allows you to save money on how you travel, whether that’s a cheaper overland journey or avoiding a busy time of year when everyone else is trying to move around, and transport fares head through the roof.
Accommodation is nearly always cheaper when booked for longer periods. Sites such as Airbnb sometimes offer 50% or more reductions if you book for a month and hotel owners tend to be happier to negotiate if you’re planning on a longer stay.
2. Relaxed parents means easier parenting
A crowded bus station or airport aren’t many parent’s idea of a happy place. It’s an unfortunate side-effect of travel that interconnecting journeys themselves can be a stress. If you’re trying to fit several locations into one trip, you’re increasing the proportion of your trip time spent battling this stress.
A relaxed parent makes for easier parenting and once you’ve found that happy place, embrace it and stay for a few more nights. It’s tempting to imagine the grass is greener but don’t underestimate the benefit of standing still for a while in a place you know is working, rather than constantly wondering if the next destination will be better.
3. Allows kids to find their own pace
Kids do love routine but that doesn’t mean travel is off the table. Routines can develop when you’re away but they’re easier to establish if you’re not constantly on the move. Kids might take longer than adults to establish themselves somewhere and feel comfortable; spending a few extra nights or weeks helps to achieve this.
Listen to them as well, if they love a place and have started to make friends or feel at home, slow travel allows you to change plans and setup camp for a few weeks. A happy kid usually makes for a happy parent which always leads to a better travel experience.
4. Strengthen family bonds
Once you get used to the slower pace of travel, we’ve found we get on better as a family with the extra time allowing stronger bonds to develop. At home, life is busy with school, work, clubs, life admin etc and if your travel adventure is busy as well, there’s no time left to just be with each other.
We spent a slow ten days at beach resort in Cambodia during our Southeast Asia trip and discovered the joys of family scrabble games, journal time, leisurely lunches and relaxed dinners. The knowledge that we had days ahead of us doing the same added to the sense of relaxation and family time, something we’d have lost if we were only staying for two nights before racing off to the next adventure.
5. Deeper connections with a destination
Every destination has its list of highlights which people scramble to complete to be able to say ‘we’ve done X’. That’s all well and good, but there’s something to be said for getting under the skin of a place and discovering things off the top-ten list.
That might be an invitation to dinner at friends you’ve made at the playground, or a visit to a hidden church; you stand more chance of discovering more about a place the longer you stay. This is particularly true if you visit out of peak tourist season, when the lack of other visitors makes it easier to meet locals and observe the place acting more like itself.
6. A focused learning opportunities for kids
One of the great benefits of travel for kids is the opportunity to learn about new places and cultures. There’s no doubt this can be partly achieved with a short trip but they’ll get even more out of an extended stay in one place.
The place we talk about the most as a family is Essaouira, with its call to prayer, medina, beach, and warm, generous people. It’s no coincidence that this is where we’ve spent the most time as a family and the boys often speak about the people we met there, or the things we did. By spending more time somewhere, more of the place soaks in and leads to a greater understanding. These aren’t things you can learn from a guidebook.
Perhaps it’s because occasionally kids take more time to assimilate and settle, or maybe they respond better to slow travel, but our favourite family destinations are always the ones we’ve spent the longest in.
7. Time to connect with other families
We can’t think of many downsides to long-term family travel but if there was one, it’d be the lack of opportunities for the kids to make new friends. Travel by nature tends to be transient and this is only heightened when you’re trying to travel at pace, with only a night or two at each destination.
Slow travel lends itself to a more sociable lifestyle where the whole family are more inclined to look to make new friendships. If you’re really planning to stay still for an extended period, you’re more likely to investigate worldschooling and digital nomad options, both of which will put you more into contact with other like-minded families.
8. Better for the environment
Fast travel tends to mean more journeys and more time on an aeroplane, both of which are of course bad for the environment. A slow overnight train journey beats a quick flight, and opting to move between two cities in a month rather than ten reduces the amount of strain you’re putting on the planet.
Overall, the more relaxed pace of life lends itself more to climate-friendly choices, not just with transport but also in eating more locally sourced meals which you cook yourself and spending more time walking around a town rather than jumping in a taxi because you’re in a mad rush.
Final thoughts on slow family travel
We’re big supporters of slow family travel. It feels like it fits well into our ethos, and we’ve had some magical times together as a family when we’ve slowed down and spent longer in a favourite place.
It’s very rare for us to regret staying somewhere we’ve loved for an extra week, and there’s been more than a few occasions where we’ve pressed on, only to regret it later.
We know that time is the most valuable resource families have, so an extended trip isn’t always an option but even a short trip can benefit from some of the tips here.
By embracing slow family travel, you’ll create a deeper love of a country and build up memorable experiences which count for so much more than a completed bucket list.