The Art of Slow Travel: Discovering The Middle Moments

The Art of Slow Travel

By: Michael Youngblood, Co-founder & CEO, Unsettled.

 

A few years ago, a participant on an Unsettled Bali trip opted out of what I thought was the masterpiece of the entire month —a hike to a secret beach; just us and nature.

Initially, I was puzzled by her decision not to join us on this hike, but I soon realized there was wisdom in her choice.

She was protesting against the relentless pace of the world—a refusal to rush on to the next thing, to buy something faster, newer, more productive. She didn’t want to move on to the next thing before finishing the present. 

She was finding joy in just being present at our villa in Ubud. 

On Unsettled’s 30-day trips, I’ve witnessed an interesting shift, somewhere between weeks 3 and 4. 

Travelers begin to put aside their work To-Do lists—and more surprisingly to me—they don’t substitute it with a bucket list of things to do before leaving somewhere like Bali. 

No, they replace this “go, go, go” mentality altogether. 

It’s in these “middle moments,” where we find the true lessons that travel offers us. This is when someone goes to a cafe with a notebook and no computer. Or they strike up a conversation with a stranger and find as much meaning in that momentary exchange as in a book of prayers. They walk instead of catching a motorbike taxi. 

It’s in these tranquil spaces, away from the noise and distractions, that true transformation begins to unfold.

More recently, I’ve seen this slowing down become a form of resistance—a way to reclaim our humanity in a world that values speed above all else. 

Capitalism doesn’t want us to slow down. It’s not investing in slow travel, slow ads, or slow news anytime soon. If it were up to the handful of the largest corporations, our attention would always be on their product or stream of media so we receive as many ads in as little time as possible. 

This is the source of our narrative of productivity that permeates our lives beyond the workday. “Do, do, do”, “consume, consume,” and “go, go, go.” It starts in our work lives and slowly spreads through every aspect of our existence, leaving little room for rest, reflection, or genuine connection.

It’s even in the outdoor adventure space, “let’s just bag another peak” like the mountain that has stood there through a million years of earth time is another bucket list of things to brag about.

Another example: when was the last time someone told you how many countries they’ve been to? As if the number of political borders we’ve crossed is an achievement because you’ve gone further and more often than the next person. 

Slowing down is as much about breaking free from the constraints of routine and expectation—as it is about embracing uncertainty and ambiguity. These are integral parts of the human experience.

It’s about putting our phones away and allowing our attention to wander—to the natural beauty, cultural richness, and supernatural wonders that surround us.

I think it’s in these moments of stillness and solitude surrounding and even grappling with a busy world, where we get in touch with ourselves.

Solitude from our devices: something so rare these days.

When was the last time you went 48 hours without social media, email, and the news? 

Are we as a species building better connections with Apple, Meta, and Tiktok, but not with each other? And at what cost?

When I see someone step into this intentional “slow travel” phase on Unsettled retreats—usually in the middle of someone’s trip—I’m reminded that maybe this is today’s ultimate Hero’s Journey. 

It’s as if we must go on a Hero’s Journey to another world, as Joesph Campbell describes it, to be reborn a better person in this world. First, we must escape the rush of life; the capitalism of it all. According to Campbell’s model, this adventure requires us to meet a mentor—which by today’s standards is probably some experience away from our screens, and moving much slower.

When we pay attention to that natural pace of life—the lizards on the walls, the pace of our breath in yoga, or the paper pages of a book slowly turning in a cafe for a few hours—it begins to sink in.

Let’s not travel the same way we work.

Let us travel to find new ways to live and work when we get back home.

Hopefully, a little slower, and more present. Like Unsettled participants have taught me with their choices. 

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