This is a guest post by current gap year traveler Ella Clute. It forms part of our blog series “A New Age of Travel: How to Navigate Travel in a Changing World” which supports our #TravelReset movement.
Slow travel is a more thoughtful and ethically-aware way to explore the world around us. It is based on connection, whether that be to the local people, the culture, or the surrounding landscape. It allows for us to learn and grow in our travel experiences and take away meaningful life lessons. By choosing to slow down, you’re also choosing to be more sustainable and have a positive impact on the environment. This form of travel requires time, and a willingness to immerse yourself.
However, the concept of slow travel is evolving, especially through the lens of a worldwide pandemic.
Living in Puerto Rico during these covid times has given me firsthand insight into how slow travel is changing. For example there are now increased barriers to cultural immersion. In “normal” times, participating in gatherings, festivals, events, etc. was a key part of experiencing somewhere new. In the current state of the world, large gatherings are banned in most places. Festivals are low key, celebrated indoors, and immersing yourself in the local traditions is more challenging. Here in Puerto Rico, partying and dancing is completely on pause. There have been days when miles of beach are occupied by only one or two people. This makes slow travel a lonelier and more introspective experience, with the usual opportunities for human connection significantly reduced. Places that were once bustling with energy and interaction have been reduced to ghost towns.
Another aspect that leads to a feeling of disconnect is mandatory mask usage. Masks are crucial to keep both ourselves and others safe, but they also remove key aspects of communication across language barriers. When traveling, many people rely heavily on facial expressions to communicate. A smile can convey warmth and help you to feel seen, but masks remove this aspect of nonverbal communication. I myself have struggled with this. Puerto Ricans speak Spanish quickly – without the ability to lip read, I have found keeping up with conversation difficult.
Budgeting for accommodation has been impacted by the pandemic as well. Opportunities such as homestays, hostels, and workaways are no longer easily accessible. People live in fear of the virus, so inviting travelers into their home is something that many people are understandably putting on hold. This may impact the total cost of your travels, as other accommodation options can be more expensive. There have also been fluctuating food prices in many areas across the world due to the virus. Public transit is another aspect that you can no longer depend on, as many places have completely shut down public transportation services. It’s also important to consider traveling in a way that reduces exposure of yourself and others to the virus, such as renting a bicycle or moped. However it is critical to remember is that whatever inconveniences you experience as a traveler will be having a larger impact on the daily lives of the local people around you.
In order to engage in slow travel during the pandemic, we must ensure we have both the time and willingness to work through the challenges brought up by the pandemic. Showing respect to local people by practicing social distancing, mask wearing, and sanitization is crucial. You must be sure that you have the patience and financial ability to meet the extra challenges. Traveling in itself is a privilege that many do not have during this time, so keep in mind that this is not a reality that is in reach for everyone. If it is within your reach, understand that not everything will look like it did a year ago, but that slow travel can still be an experience that will challenge you to live life outside your comfort zone and dive deep into the unfamiliar.
Ella Clute is from Boulder, Colorado. She is an aspiring travel writer who is currently on a gap year experience in Puerto Rico. She is passionate about ethical travel, outdoor adventure, and creative writing. She hopes to share her experiences through written word and inspire people to live a life of fulfillment and adventure.