The Budgetary Case for Slow Travel

slow travel

If you hear a lot of talk and read a lot of articles about slow travel, you might think it’s kind of a woo-woo thing.

The phrase might not be as popular as slow food—as in 5.2 million search results instead of 14 million—but it also refers to savoring the experience rather than going for convenience and speed. Quality over quantity. Local instead of globalized.

When it comes to specifics, the slow travel movement generally refers to spending more time in a few places, or even just one. Taking your time instead of rushing around like a mad tourist checking things off a bucket list. It means experiencing the things that locals do and being in their neighborhoods, eating at their restaurants instead of at Señor Frogs. It’s shopping outside the tourist zone, visiting places that aren’t peddled by touts in your hostel, and getting to know a destination well instead of just seeing a blur from the windows of a vehicle. Serendipity over a parade of planned selfies.

Just adjusting your pace can make a difference. There’s a lot of talk about biking, walking, and just sitting for a long time in this slow travel podcast episode I was on recently. Other times it’s just a matter of resisting the urge to fill up the entire schedule.

slow travel Peru

All this is gratifying, enlightening, and good for your stress levels, but there’s also a monetary reward for not moving quickly.

Saving Money by Slowing Down

In short, the more you move around, the more you spend. Shoestring travelers quickly discover that if they keep track of their expenses, transportation can end up being the biggest line item. If they kick back on a beach for a week, their daily budget average plummets. If they hit four places in four days, it skyrockets.

Not only does the intercity or inter-country flight/bus/train cost money, you often also have local bus or taxi costs on each end of that to reach where you’re spending the night.

Before I put out The World’s Cheapest Destinations in its very first edition at the end of 2002, I spent a lot of time on the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree message board to see what kind of information people were asking about. All these years later, travelers are still posting crazy itinerary plans that try to cram in way too much in the space of a 12 or 18 months. Here’s one I just found today:

We’d like to visit:
South America (all countries, incl. trekking in Patagonia, Machu Picchu)
Central America (Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatamala, Belize, possibly Mexico – Yucatan)
Hawaii (Big island – diving and volcano)
Pacific islands (at least 2 stops, preferably 3)
SE Asia (a little more off the beaten track – PNG, Timor Leste, Indonesia (West Papua, Sulawesi), Borneo, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar – other parts of SE Asia possibly)
China (Shanghai, Beijing, Xian)

Even for a year and a half, that’s just nuts. They’ll spend as much time in transit as they actually spend in destinations.

Here’s another, titled “Europe in 90 days”:

Do you think this itinerary is a lot with the # of days I’ve allocated for each country? I am a fairly fast and efficient traveler, but would love your advice in regards to travel time, etc.

Finland 4 days
Sweden 3
Denmark 3
Germany 12
Belgium 3
Netherlands 4
Czech Republic 4
Austria 4
Hungary 3
Croatia 5
Turkey 5
Greece 8
Italy 16
Switzerland 4
France 13
Spain 8 (Barcelona, to Madrid, then down to south of Spain where I will ferry to Morocco)

The answer to “Do you think this itinerary is a lot” is not just “Yes.” It’s “Good God yes!” That makes me exhausted just looking at it. That’s a race, like something out of a reality TV show. Only there are no prizes. Just bad health, frayed nerves, and a depleted wallet. It’s also a very fragile itinerary. One missed plane or train throws the whole thing off.

biking in Portugal

If I just randomly went in and cut the number of countries in half, doubling the time in the ones that were left, I could probably also cut the person’s budget in half. It depends on whether he/she is actually capable of taking a breath though. If the person just ping-pongs around 8 Greek islands in 16 days instead of 4 islands in 8 days, same effect. Some nuts can’t help themselves.

What’s the Real Cost of That Moving Around a Lot?

slow travel in Europe

What’s the rush?

To put the savings in perspective though, look at these transportation costs and how they relate to what you actually spend in that location.

Overnight bus from Lima to Cusco – $36
Train from Machu Picchu to Cusco – $77
Hostel bed in Cusco – $10
Typical local set meal in Peru – $3

So a day of intercity travel in Peru can easily cost two or three times what a day of staying in Cusco will cost. You see the same thing in other destinations:

Train from Hanoi to Hue in Vietnam – $38 to $54
Bus from Nha Trang to Saigon – $17
Private bath A/C hotel room for two – $20
Four large beers in a bar – $4
Admission to a typical museum – $1.50

Bus from Mexico City to Oaxaca – $26 to $42
Flight on same route- $69 to $150
Admission to Monte Alban in Oaxaca – $3.90
Admission to the Anthropology Museum in the capital – $3.90
A big plate of tacos with rice and beans- $4
A local city bus – 50 cents
Hostel bed in Mexico City – $9 to $18

Getting to know Oaxaca or Mexico City well is inexpensive. Traveling quickly around Mexico is not.

The other advantage of this is you accumulate strong, deep memories and can savor the time instead of killing time. If you do it right, adventure travel can alter time.

Unless you only have six months to live, save some things for the next time you go traveling. If you don’t try to cram everything into one packed adventure, you can take more trips on the same budget.


  1. Libertad 06/24/2016
  2. Rob 10/07/2017

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