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  • Writer's pictureLexi Kassler

Is Slow Travel a Sustainable Solution to an Unsustainable Industry?

Every year the travel industry grows and with it the question of its impacts on climate change. Is Slow Travel a more sustainable solution?

Rocks in the ocean

If you’ve been keeping up with the news this year and you have concerns about our planet’s health, you might be wondering what you can do to limit your impacts on climate change.

As avid travelers, we know the personal and economic benefits that travel can have for ourselves and communities at large. It’s a great way to shift our perspectives, be more mindful and empathetic, and there are many communities around the world and even entire countries that rely on tourism as a primary contributor to their GDP.

palm tree lined street

However, travelers are also increasingly aware of the negative impacts tourism can have. I have written blogs about some of the cultural issues surrounding tourism in Mexico as well as the impacts of overtourism in Amsterdam and other cities around the world.

Sustainability is also a major concern for many who work in the industry as well as consumers. According to new research from MMGY Global, travelers are looking for more sustainable options In their recent survey, more than 81% of travelers would consider choosing more sustainable options for travel!

However, the area of greatest concern for climate impacts in the tourism industry is something we can’t just do away with - transportation, (I.e., airplanes, long-haul ships, cars, buses, etc.) While there are some solutions in progress, solar powered airplanes and wind-powered cruise ships are unfortunately a long way off from being a reality.

So what can we do TODAY to be more sustainable and more eco-conscious travelers? How can individual travelers offset climate impacts?

The answer is, of course, Slow Travel!

kayaker on a lake

Slow Travelers are like the hipsters of the eco-conscious travel world. We were sustainable before it was cool 💁🏼Kidding (mostly)!

But in all seriousness, there are many benefits of Slow Travel and facets of which that are sustainable (such as eating and shopping more locally). However, the best part of Slow Travel’s sustainability benefits is in the use of transportation, or rather how you don’t use it as much when you Slow Travel!

Here’s how it works: by moving more slowly in our travels we will tend to use more sustainable modes of transportation such as walking, bicycles, buses, and trains.

bus seats

That’s it! That’s how we can use Slow Travel to be more sustainable travelers.

Here are a few real life examples you can try that are literally slower but also more sustainable travel options:

  • Instead of taking an Uber to downtown Panama City, rent a bike or walk along the coastal causeway and enjoy the ocean views

  • Instead of taking an airplane from Rome to Milan, take a train or a bus and see the beautiful Italian countryside

  • Instead of boarding a cruise ship to explore the mediterranean, charter a sailboat tour of the Adriatic coast (spanning Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Albania, Montenegro, and Greece) or just explore using the extensive European train system

  • Instead of taking the train to Macchu Picchu, hike to the incredible Inca Trail

While there are some situations and destinations where it is simply not possible to travel sustainably (the USA is notorious for this) there are still alternatives to consider for these locales!

Say you want to explore the US western coastline, while the west Coast is infamous for its truly awful public transport, there is now a train from Los Angeles, California all the way to Seattle, Washington called the Coast Starlight with Amtrak. The train does take a long time but that’s the beauty of it! There are stops in many iconic locations such as the beautiful Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Portland, Salem, and Seattle.

ocean coastline

For other locations around the world with not so great public transport, I recommend sitting tight once you arrive and really getting to know that place. Slow Travel is all about authentic, local experiences and there is nothing better than staying in one place for a few weeks and beginning to feel like you’re really getting to know the area and becoming a local yourself!

Here are some destinations that I personally find to be great Slow Travel destinations:

  • Rome, Italy

  • Mexico City, Mexico

  • Bangkok, Thailand

  • Barcelona, Spain

  • Puerto Escondido, Mexico

  • Jaco, Costa Rica

  • Panama City, Panama

And you might wondering, “How long should I stay in these places??” For most people, unless you can remote work from abroad for longer, two weeks is a reasonable amount of time. And YES you CAN Slow Travel for just two weeks!

marketplace selling fruit

This is a fantastic amount of time for sustainable travel as well.

Imagine how many flights and buses and cars you would have usually used going to and from other locations in this time frame. With Slow Travel, maybe you take one flight (possibly with some layovers) to your destination and one flight back. Maybe you’ll do some local travel with local transfers or buses, but nothing as impactful as airplanes.

Yup! This is just one way Slow Travel is a solution for more sustainable travel. What do you think? Can you travel more sustainably following some of these Slow Travel principles?


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