slow travel in belize

Slow down on your travels, and fully embrace your destination. (Photo: Lebawit Lily Girma)

Tips + Trends

Taking Pause: How Slow Travel Is Changing the Way We Explore

Twelve years ago, I vacationed in Jamaica for six weeks. I was a burnt-out corporate attorney in need of rest, a change of scenery and a prolonged escape from the rat race.

Within the first few days, I’d connected with a small community of locals and snowbirds in Negril. I spent days journaling by the Caribbean Sea, shopping at the bustling market in nearby Savanna-la-Mar, catching sunsets and contemplating the starry skies while the local peanut vendor’s cart whistled down the neighborhood streets.

Other days, I’d head to the island hills for a cool river swim, hunt for roadside snacks — from peanut porridge to pepper shrimps — and go on a slow coastal drive from Negril to Kingston, through Ocho Rios. I didn’t realize it then, but that experience shaped the way I planned subsequent trips: a summer in Paris, two months in Grenada and winters in Belize.

slow travel biking in barbados
The author explores on two wheels in Barbados. (Photo: Lebawit Lily Girma)

Redesigning Our Day-to-Day

Today, deceleration has inserted itself into our lives. Many of us have transitioned into working from home. Our tendency to rush has morphed into a need for balance as we redesign our days.

We’re spending more time with our immediate families. We’re cooking and going on long nature walks. As we start dreaming of travel again, we want to hold on to that renewed consciousness and apply the lesson we’ve grasped during this time — that wherever we go, the magic of life lies in mindfulness of our day-to-day experiences.

Bucket lists and overseas weekend jaunts have lost their luster, as Mother Nature restores herself in our absence and reminds us to reduce our environmental footprint. We’re eager to pause, immerse in and appreciate the places we visit on a deeper level in the future.

We dream of staying long enough in one spot to experience the rhythms of the day to day, to have meaningful exchanges with locals and to learn about places and people in a thoughtful, deliberate manner.

slow travel jamaica road trip
Take time to dig deeper into a destination on a road trip. (Photo: Lebawit Lily Girma)

Embracing a Different Kind of Travel

This desire for slow travel isn’t a new phenomenon. The recent wave of digital nomads, coupled with the sustainable travel movement, has pushed to the forefront the value in cultural immersion and in changing the way we explore for the sake of our planet, the communities we visit and our personal growth.

Today, more Americans are working remotely, adding to the rising number of those who transitioned to doing so in the last five years. We can bring our laptops on the road without guilt and post epic landscape photos captioned “my home for the month.”

Whether you’re choosing to spend four weeks in Costa Rica, rent a villa in Spain, escape the winter in Barbados or immerse yourself in California’s coastal scenery, the opportunity to stay longer while combining work and exploration is here. Doing so opens the door to seeing places and experiencing cultures in ways that may have eluded you in the past while becoming a more mindful traveler.

tortilla making class in belize
Learn local traditions while taking a class, like tortilla making in Belize. (Photo: Lebawit Lily Girma)

The Power of Slowing Down

Nothing throws us deeper into a new culture and environment than when we stay long enough to come face to face with local produce at the market in Bali, when we learn the local dialect in a Southern Italian town, and when we take an artist-led Taino pottery class or a tortilla-making lesson we might have skipped for a Caribbean beach in the past.

Daylong, crowded tourist excursions give way to self-guided outdoor exploration, from biking daily to hiking and picnicking. Oral history from locals we meet at the neighborhood park or dinners at a family’s home replace cursory tours of temples or former plantations. Weekends turn into adventures to see a new side of the destination, deepening our knowledge and sense of place.

Perhaps the greatest gift of slow travel is the serendipitous people-to-people encounters that occur when we stay long enough for our face and name to become familiar. A feeling of trust emerges with the recognition that we chose to stay in the country long enough to dig beneath its surface.

man diving from lighthouse
Jump into your travels. (Photo: Lebawit Lily Girma)

With each long-term stay, we witness our positive impact on the destination when we’re not zipping through it and our dollars trickle further down the local economic chain. Our individual and collective power to shape and improve the world, one place at a time, becomes clearer to us and makes us lifelong advocates for conscious, decelerated tourism.

Slow travel isn’t the latest fad. It’s the new self-care, and it’s our most powerful tool for understanding each other, for broadening our global perspectives as we embrace our differences and celebrate our uniqueness.

It’s the natural next step in satisfying our wanderlust while caring for our planet. The good news is that it’s easier than ever to make it a reality, whether you leave work behind as I did 12 years ago or bring it with you.

Lebawit Lily Girma is an award-winning writer and photographer specializing in sustainable travel and the Caribbean. She is currently based in the Dominican Republic.