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Life in the slow lane: how slowing down helped me see more

What does slow travel really mean?

What does slow travel really mean? Tilly-Jayne Kidman reflects on how slowing down and adopting a more relaxed attitude to adventure can open your eyes to the beauty of Mother Earth and the ability to create a more meaningful connection.

I used to be an organised traveller with an almost-military agenda. A three-night city break in Europe usually consisted of a long list of sights to rush around and tick off, with a few Instagram snaps in-between and a tired boyfriend whose willingness to become part-time photographer would wane around lunchtime on day two. Since the pandemic (a word that will hopefully soon become obsolete from our vocabulary) hit, travel either changed or grinded to a halt for many of us. For me, it made me slow down and stop to truly take in my surroundings. Whirlwind weekends to Italy and Copenhagen were swapped in favour of five days meandering around the Jurassic Coast. It taught me a new way to travel, slow travel.

My newfound love for slow travel has been partly aided by the purchase of a campervan, my trusty noble steed, Elvis. Older than I, a little bit rusty here and there, but solid as a rock. Elvis has forcibly pushed me into the world of slow travel, seriously, I can barely get above 50mph. Apologies to all other motorway drivers. It’s all part of the fun though, as I’m a firm believer that the journey is just as exciting as the destination, and Elvis has only confirmed this for me.

I’d never grown up camping, in fact, my first overnight stay in a home on wheels was in California 2017. At this point, I was unaware of the van-life movement, and was simply looking for an affordable means of kicking back in San Diego and Laguna Beach for as long as my paid leave could allow. I decided I’d had enough of the 9-5 office life and organised a temporary breakout for one month in the sunshine state. It was here I got my first taste of slow travel and living for the small moments. Slow travel does that to you, it encourages you to seek out the simple, yet beautiful life snapshots. Watching the sun go down from the roof of your van, stopping to admire the beauty of a flowing stream on a walk in the wilderness, and wrapping up for an evening of toasting marshmallows around a campfire, getting to know the new faces you’ve met on your adventure. When I first experienced my month of slow travel, I felt that I could finally breath.

Before I knew it, I was back in the office and sat at the desk I’d abandoned for thirty blissful days. Watching the clock tick by and heading to the watercooler just to break up the afternoon a bit. My month of freedom over. Morning breakfasts by the lake swapped for the sound of my alarm, wild swimming swapped for an overflowing inbox. Of course, life can’t always be beach days and BBQ’s but all of a sudden, I felt presented with that feeling of suffocation, yearning for that slower pace of life and freedom once again. Unfortunately, my mortgage wasn’t going to pay itself so I kept my head down and carried on working away, recuperating my savings, whilst simultaneously dreaming of a life outside of the society I’d grown up to believe was my only option.

I think that the past couple of years has spurred a spiritual shift in many of us. Suddenly, everything we knew turned upside down. For me, it gave me the push to realise that there are no guarantees in life, and as cliché as it sounds, I had to pursue what my soul had been craving. That’s why I went freelance and that’s also why on one sunny May afternoon, I found myself hastily calling up a mobile number left in the window screen of a campervan I’d happened to stumble across on my daily walk. It was a fortuitous sequence of events, and the very next day I handed over my hard-earned savings in exchange for Elvis.

The months that followed created memories that will be cemented in my mind for many years to come. Slow mornings winding around country lanes, pulling over in a random layby for the sweetest strawberries I’ve ever tasted, stopping to admire scenery and wildlife, almost not making it up a steep incline in Dorset, enjoying a spontaneous stopover in Winchester, and seeing where the road takes me. I never made a to-do list, I didn’t Google ‘best beaches in the UK’ or ‘what to do in Dorset’, my inner-organised traveller was gone, and there was new girl in town.

A few years back I was passed a book by a family member “the things you see only when you slow down”, of course, at the time, the notion of slowing down was somewhat incomprehensible. I was a busy twenty-something, life was chaotic. I was trying to build a freelance business, renovate a house, and maintain somewhat of a social life. Now? I get it. The pages of the book now make perfect sense to me. I’ve allowed time for my mind to disconnect from the grind and discover what truly sets my soul on fire. Those long weekends and weeks in Elvis taught me that I don’t need to have a regimented checklist, the beauty of slow travel is enjoying the journey, and taking each day as it comes.

Of course, there are many benefits to slow travel and I admit that I feel relieved of some traveller’s guilt when I’m heading away in the campervan. Let’s face it, flying isn’t good for the environment, but if you are going to fly, then spending longer in a destination and hopping on public transport to get to your next location can really help to reduce your impact. Sure, my van still has a carbon footprint, but I tend to park up and immerse myself into my destination much longer than I would than if I were organising a city break. Choosing to walk or cycle in your destination, and having the time to do so, will also allow you to discover more and keep your footprint low. Alongside the eco benefits, heading away by van or train also allows you to discover beautiful landscapes that simply aren’t an option when you’re 30,000 feet in the air. Spending more time in each destination and opting for quality over quantity. You can also indulge in time to connect with locals, form stronger connections with the destinations you’re visiting, enjoy a more flexible travel itinerary, and soak up your travels whilst also managing to relax.

With travel returning to normal, the temptation of a city break here and there is surely inevitable, but my heart now belongs to slowing down and soaking up the journey without rushing to the destination. My strict itineraries have been replaced by an easy-come-easy-go attitude to adventure, taking a step back to admire the little things, the things you see only when you slow down.

Feeling inspired? Check out Tilly’s top recommendations for slow-travel, van-life accounts to follow on the gram:

  • @parkingonthewildside Laura and Aaron’s dreamy self-built van will have you packing your bags and heading out into nature in no time.
  • @overlandingsophia Follow Chesca and Ben’s adventures in the UK, Europe and beyond with their two beautiful dogs, River, and Scout, in tow.
  • @nicroams With four years’ experience living life as a travel nomad on the road, Nic can teach you a thing or two about van-life.
  • @kingingit YouTubers Craig and Aimee document their adventures in their impressive converted bus, Custard.