Is The Slow Travel Experience For Me?
It’s easy to write off the slow travel experience as something that’s only possible when you have bags of time. But that’s not the whole story. It’s true that the more time you have, the more you can benefit from what slow travel offers. But you can still enjoy these upsides on a shorter trip.
The reason being, is that the slow travel experience is as much of a mind-set as it is a way of travel. It’s about seeing travel as less of a tick-box of “the things you must see/do” and more about exploring what’s around you, taking the time to notice the details. Really getting under the skin of where you are.
I’ll happily admit, when working flat-out during our FIRE journey, we would often succumb to the ease and convenience of an all-inclusive somewhere gorgeous like Mexico or the Caribbean. Brain-dead and in need of a serious time-out, we’d eat, drink and slumber our way through two weeks with ease. Sometimes that’s just what you need.
Likewise, our first ever RV trip on the east coast of the US was a 4,000 mile, 3 week pack-filled agenda. Trying to see so much and not really seeing anything at all. We still loved it but we came back exhausted and ready for a holiday. Not ideal!
But as we progressed and the pressure let up, we started to view travel as more than simply a chance to recover. We wanted more out of our time away. More stimulation, more real experiences, culture, food. To feel immersed and part of life – not on the sidelines. We were ready to try a different way.
So since I retired early at 43 slow travel has quickly become pretty much the only way for us. In no particular order, here’s our top five reasons why we love it so much. I’d be surprised if you don’t think you’d enjoy some of these..
1. Greener & Cleaner
S on our very expensive (£5) bus trip from HCMC to Can Tho..
Upper & lower decks, free water, air con, tv, leg room…
If my daily commute had been half as comfortable I might still be working!
If you’ve read about what I do and don’t miss about no longer working, you’ll know I have a bit of a thing for the green agenda. It’s important to us. We have solar panels and a groundsource heat pump in our self-build. We try and walk the talk.
So it’s always been on our minds when we travel to keep our carbon footprint down. Balancing that against our (mine….) apparently insatiable desire to explore. Paying the carbon off-set is one way but it often doesn’t feel like enough.
So the huge upside of slow travel for us is that it’s all about staying in one place for longer. Not dashing from one end of the country to the next. Our travel these days (pre-Covid!) are usually one long-haul flight into wherever we’re headed. From there we tend to now use local trains, buses, whatever to move on when ready. Less flying, more travelling.
It can be a little unnerving at first when starting out. And it would have been near impossible back twenty years ago when internet still wasn’t really a thing and information was much more limited. Yes, I feel very old writing that but it was true, back then it was a travel agent or a Lonely Planet guide as your two extreme options.
Now though, I have a ton of useful websites and travel resources that I use to help plan out a route that meanders through places we’d like to see. Often able to reserve seats in advance. It might not be sexy / spontaneous but it works for us. And more importantly, it works better for the environment.
2. Stress, What Stress?
Plett Bay beach in South Africa…
Despite how empty it looks – this is pre-Covid!
Always got to have time to paddle in the Indian Ocean 🙂
How many times have you heard someone say they need a holiday when they get back? Or said it yourself after your two or three weeks of activity-packed days, cramming every experience you can. Determined to return with trophy pictures of all the “sights” to show friends and family, proving what a great holiday it was.
Sigh. Sounds pretty exhausting just writing that tbh! One of the big upsides of the slow travel experience for us has been just how much less stressful it is. When you know you have plenty of time to explore, you don’t feel the need to run round with the proverbial clip-board and camera.
Even on a shorter break, it’s far more meaningful to explore one place or attraction properly than it is to ‘bag’ the Top Ten. What’s the point of saying you’ve been at Angkor Wat at sunrise if the whole time you were worrying about making it back in time for that floating market cycling tour you signed up for last night?! And no, that wasn’t us!
Holidays are in a large part for most about a time to unwind. Literally a break from your usual routine, none of those demands for your time. So it seems slightly crazy to me now that you would spend those precious weeks as busy as you can. I do understand the pressure to feel like you “get the most out of a place”. The slow travel experience is a different way to do that.
It’s a classic example of less is more. Funnily enough these days we end up enjoying the non-tourist places and sights as much if not more than the places you are “supposed” to see. But either way, by staying in a place for longer, you can take your time and explore slowly. It makes a huge difference to the experience.
3. Cheaper On The Wallet
Ah…….Turkish Lira was never the same after they replaced it in ’05
The fun of being a millionaire, haggling in the local markets..
Only to realise you were debating 20p and instantly just paying up!
Travel is often seen as a luxury, something expensive. Or at the other end of the scale, the classic cheap back-packer experience. Younger folk, often on gap years. Happy to stay in shared dorms, shared bathrooms.
Both styles exist and deliver to their intended market. But the third way , the middle way of the slow travel experience, is far less talked about. And I believe that’s in large part down to companies not figuring out how to market it yet. Yet.
Slow travel by and large tends to be more independent. You pick a place you want to explore. You find a flight. Some accommodation. It’s rarely a package deal thing. So you can cut out a lot of the middle man wrapper cost.
Plus if you are able to travel for a few months at a time like we do with our part-time digital nomad lifestyle, the savings can really start to add up. A lot of places will offer some surprisingly large discounts for long-term stays. Which usually means 4 weeks if using sites like AirBnB.
Plus you can be so much more flexible when you aren’t on a tight schedule. Changing things by a few days either way can have a big impact on cost. Does it take time to play around and make it work – sure. But I love it, there’s a ton of helpful tools online these days. I’ve saved us thousands compared to similar package deals – it’s practically my perfect job!
So next time you think you can’t afford to visit somewhere, think about it from a slow travel experience perspective and you may be surprised.
4. Softer On The Body
This is the kind of thing we do, take pictures of things that make us smile..
Found this one in Prague. We couldn’t decide if the stickmen were being helped…
Or if they were being tortured?!
Ah, the ‘joy’ of getting older. There definitely comes a point in most people’s lives when it takes longer to recover from physical exertion. Even though we are fitter now then before retiring, the lure of a comfy bed is higher than it used to be!
The slow travel experience is just more relaxed. It’s about taking your time exploring. Not rushing from place to place. There’s time for long hikes, gentle walks. Long lunches in the sun. It all adds up to being much better for your health.
One of our early ‘explore’ type holidays was an epic road trip from Cape Town to Johannesburg. Going via the Garden Route and heading up the Wild Coast to Durban. Heading inland through the Drakensburg Mountains onto Kruger park before finally hitting Jo’burg after 2100 miles in the three weeks we had.
An attempt to see a bit of everything. It was a fantastic trip but it was exhausting. Living out of a bag, moving every other day. We fell in love with the country but not the style of travel.
Since then we’ve back several times, but on a slow travel style. Spending from a week up to a month in each place, taking 2-3 months overall. Having the freedom to travel like this was always a big motivation for our FIRE journey. Slow travel suits it perfectly.
5. The Real Deal
We try to do as the locals do when on our slow travels..
This is how takeaway coffee is ‘done’ in George Town, Malaysia. Plastic bag with a string – genius.
I’ll warn you – it’s very very addictive stuff..
Saving the best for last, this is probably our favourite reason for the whole slow travel experience.
By staying put in one place, you get to really get under it’s skin.
To experience real life and understand more about the country you are visiting. To have the time to get behind the obvious, to delve deeper.
You shop in the local supermarket. You find your favourite coffee shop on your morning walk. Your favourite watering hole for later in the day. People start to recognise your face and chat as they see you are sticking around. You get adopted as part of the community.
It’s just a totally different experience to turning up to somewhere for a day, two days. Clicking the camera, posing for the required ‘been there’ shot and moving on. We’ve unearthed so many cool experiences, often costing nothing, just through the virtue of having time to explore.
We’re also big hikers so having time to actually get some decent walks in is perfect for us. Without feeling like you are compromising on giving up something else. Staying in one place for longer just lends itself so well to a deeper, richer experience.
Since we’ve learnt about and experienced slow travel, it’s hard for us to now do anything differently. Our days of packaged holidays worked fine for what we needed at the time but once you’ve moved on, it’s hard to go back.
We actually now struggle to go anywhere for less than a week, even for a city break. All pre-covid obviously. Obviously we are lucky / have worked hard to create this lifestyle for ourselves. But the big story here is really that the slow travel experience works regardless of trip length.
It’s about using your time to maximise the experience, not the number of things done or seen.
It makes a huge difference to both your own quality of experience as well as that of the place you are visiting. More money into local pockets. Fitting in to what’s there already, not demanding those strange put-on displays of local traditions.
In a world where travel was becoming a problem for many places, Covid has had something of a pause effect. Letting countries reconsider how best to balance the money versus the negative impact on local lives. It will be interesting to watch how it develops as and when the world starts to open up again. And I just hope that the slow travel experience is something that more people can embrace.
How about you? Is slow travel something you have tried and love already? Or are you now tempted? What do you think the ‘new’ travel world will look like going forwards? Let me know!