The Slow Movement and Privilege

Deborah at Sustainable | Slow | Stylish raises a great point about Slow and its painful relationship with privilege.  And boy does she nail it on the head:

One of the most troubling problems in the slow movement is its lack of diversity. People who are talking about applying slow movement ideas to various disciplines – or who talk about environmentalism, or bicycle infrastructure advocacy, or any of a number of similar topics – are mostly over-educated white people like me. […] The term slow travel is mostly being used by young people who travel – often college kids with the resources to travel around the world, or digital entrepreneurs who can work while travelling. […] Even minimalism, the most diverse of the related topics, is essentially a philosophy born of privilege – “too much stuff” is the ultimate first-world problem.

Speaking specifically of Slow Travel, I couldn’t agree more. Slow Travel nowadays seems to fall into two narrow categories of travelers: the privileged young travelers who have the money to jet around the world for a year, or the idle rich, who can afford luxury cruises that go on for weeks or months.

I’m guilty of this myself. What ultimately got me to understand and embrace Slow Travel is an abundance of money and time. Does this mean Slow Travel is only for the rich and/or idle? Well, I hope not. I wrote The Way of Slow Travel in large part because I believe Slow Travel can benefit everyone regardless of their amount of free time or their income level. On this blog, I wrote about Slow Travel on a tight budget. But Deborah makes me wonder: is it enough? How can Slow enthusiasts reach out to a more diverse community?

Problem is, Slow is about time, and time is a precious commodity in our day and age. People like my friend Manick in Kolkata do not have the luxury of pondering how to spend their days. Closer to home, millions of North American workers are so caught up in making a living that they can’t afford to slow down on their days off.

It makes sense that Slow Travel appeals mostly to the privileged, because they’re the ones with enough time to waste some experimenting. Which makes it all the more critical for them–us–to share the results of our experiments with the rest of the world. But we need to adapt our discourse to the larger majority.

Here’s a modest proposal to Slow Travel bloggers and writers: let’s stop making everyone else feel guilty for not emulating our lives of adventure. To say that “everyone can save up and travel” is a lie. By “everyone,” we mean everyone like us, with the income level to save up and do nothing for a while. Let’s start to think instead of those who do not have the time or money to travel extensively.

I sincerely believe everyone can benefit from the lessons of Slow Travel. The question, then, is: how?

About Daniel Roy

Daniel is a writer, backpack foodie, slow traveler, and endurance runner. He is the author of the upcoming book, "The Way of Slow Travel: A Hands-On Guide to the Best Travel of Your Life."

2 comments

  1. Daniel,

    In a way, you are right about the fact that time is of essence in Slow Travel and most of us don’t have the time. However, My husband and I have been slow travelling in whatever time we could manage to take out for a trip; even a weekend. We believe Slow Travel is about an attitude and if you have that you will ultimately end up implementing the principles that define Slow Travel. For example, we always take to the streets on foot and explore the neighbourhood first in any new destination we may be in. We normally stay in less touristy parts and are happy missing out on the “must see” attractions, over, say, having a leisurely beer in the neighbourhood pub and as a result, be part of the local life, even for an hour. We may be covering less destinations and less of a particular destination this way, but then we get a much richer perspective of that place, which is what we feel travel is all about.

    As for money, we can actually save much more travelling this way because we do not take expensive hotels in touristy areas, but hotels or lodgings that are farther from the centre and are more affordable, yet with a whole lot of character. As we use public transport wherever we can, we can save up a lot on cab expenses and car rentals. Ditto for eateries. We seek out the local hang-outs which turn out to be much cheaper than the ones in the touristy centres.

    So, I believe that Slow Travel can actually be very relevant to people on a time and money budget.

    • Hi Indrani!

      I have one question… Are you me? 😀

      What you described is exactly, down to the last detail, how my partner and I travel. So yes, I definitely agree with you!

      In this blog post, I was asking more whether an abundance of time and money is what leads us to Slow Travel. You are 100% right, Slow Travel is feasible on a budget and/or with a short amount of time, but I wonder if it takes some “practice” to get there first. It’s a bit the same with Slow Food; yes, everyone can eat fresh and local within modest budgets, but it’s usually leisure time to cook, and some disposable income, that leads people to explore local options.

      Anyway, if you’re interested, I wrote two blog posts that address the issues of time and money. You will see that I definitely agree with you in either case!

      http://www.thewayofslowtravel.com/2013/06/26/quick-and-slow/

      http://www.thewayofslowtravel.com/2013/07/10/slow-on-the-cheap/

      Here’s hoping we meet in a local pub somewhere interesting. 😉

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