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Guide to Slow Travel in a Camper Van


Gone are the days of rushing from one tourist destination to the next in an effort to see and do everything. Instead, many modern adventurers are choosing to trade a whirlwind style of traveling for a more relaxed approach. Enter slow travel. 

The benefits of this philosophy are numerous, from getting to feel more fully immersed in a place to reducing carbon dioxide emissions and saving money. Plus, camper vans are perfectly suited to the slow travel lifestyle. 

Whether you live full-time in a van and are thinking about staying in each place for longer or are considering renting a van for a relaxing road trip, you’re curious about #vanlife slow travel. Below, we’re sharing the “what,” “why,” and “how” of slow travel in a camper van. 

Photo By @StoryTellerOverland

What is Slow Travel?

As the name suggests, slow travel is a mindset of slowing down and enjoying a location fully. The philosophy focuses on the connections you can make with people, places, and cultures when you aren’t rushing to check things off of a packed itinerary. 

Practically, slow travel usually means choosing to see fewer places and spending a longer time at each one. Picture the difference between staying in a few small towns in the South of France for two weeks versus trying to visit all the tourist hotspots across Europe in the same amount of time. In the slow travel option, you get to understand the local way of life more and have experiences that simply wouldn’t be possible in the faster-paced tour. Slow travel can also mean doing fewer activities each day. This gives you time to savor home-cooked meals, meandering walks through beautiful neighborhoods, the peace of nature, and impromptu conversations with strangers.  

Camper vans are the ideal mode of slow travel transportation and accommodation. You can stay in a variety of places while enjoying the complete comfort of your home on the road. The cost of staying at expensive hotels might encourage you to cram as much as possible into each day. On the other hand, free or affordable campgrounds allow you to stay in a place longer, reducing that feeling of time pressure. Vans also allow their owners–or renters–to be more spontaneous, which is another ingredient in the slow travel recipe. 

Why Slow Travel?

We highly recommend slow travel as a way to become more immersed in the destinations you visit. You’ll get a tantalizing taste of the local experience and make memories that last a lifetime. Staying in a location for longer also allows you to form deeper connections with people, whether they be welcoming locals or other road warriors you meet at your campground.  

Have you ever come home from a trip feeling more tired than when you left? The whirlwind style of travel often leads to exhaustion. Slow travel, on the other hand, sets the stage for a vacation that is actually relaxing and rejuvenating. If you’re traveling full-time in a van, slowing down can also be a vital way to reduce burnout. 

Plus, switching locations less frequently will reduce carbon dioxide emissions from driving, making slow travel a more eco-friendly approach. With the price of gas these days, your wallet will thank you too. Slow travel can be more affordable in general because you’ll be focused on seeking out the simple pleasures of a place rather than exclusively hitting the pricey tourist traps. 

Photo By @StoryTellerOverland

How to Travel Slow in a Camper Van

Now that you’re sold on all of the benefits to slow travel, you may be wondering how to implement the philosophy in your own van adventures. If you can swing it, the single most impactful thing you can do is to simply plan a longer trip. This works best for people with flexible or remote work, which many van dwellers already have figured out. Staying in a single place for anywhere from a week to a month is a good rule of thumb for slow travel. 

If you can’t plan a longer trip, subtract the number of destinations and activities from your itinerary. This can feel scary because you want to make the most of your time, but we promise that your trip will feel as full–if not more full–of enjoyable and memorable experiences if you take the slow travel approach.  

Once you’re there, don’t be shy about chatting with locals and asking for advice. Residents can often recommend amazing favorite spots you’d never find through online research. When you slow down and focus on making connections, you might even be invited for dinner in someone’s home or an impromptu surfing or rock-climbing session with new friends. If you don’t have a jam-packed schedule, you’re more likely to be able to say yes to a spontaneous hangout. 

In general, aim to seek out unusual activities to see different sides of a place. This can include volunteering to pick up trash by the river or going to a live music event at an intimate venue. Instead of just researching the best things to do when visiting a place, also look for event listings that cater to locals. You’ll gain a richer sense of the place and get to meet interesting people along the way. 

You can also make connections and have some lighthearted fun by checking out your hobbies in a new place. For example, head to a beach with volleyball nets and ask some other players if you can join in for a game. For tips to meet other van lifers on the road, read our post on the subject.

Most importantly, shift your mindset from “go, go, go,” to “go with the flow.” Then relax into the experience and embrace your new surroundings. 

If you’re considering making the switch to slow travel for good, buying a camper van might just be the best investment you could make. To browse our selection of new and used camper vans from industry-leading brands, visit Rec Van. Want to get inspired by some of the dreamiest destinations in nature? Check out “10 Off the Beaten Path Destinations for Summer 2022.”