Sometimes you meet them on the road – the anal retentive travelers. These are the people so obsessed with schedules and making sure they see everything that they spend more time charging around than actually looking. They dash around to make sure they see every sight and get home more tired than they left.
I don’t blame them. Some people need that kind of thing. They’ve got to be in control and a schedule worked out to the minute makes them feel that way. It’s great that they found enough reasons to travel in the first place.
Still, I would never want to be (with) one of them. For their way of travel is no way to travel. Of course, this is particularly true when you’re freelancing from the road as you need time for your work. But even if you’re just traveling without a worry in the world, slow travel is absolutely the way to go. That’s how you find happiness
Why? Read on.
Slow travel is more environmentally friendly
Slow travel is better for the environment. Taking buses instead of taxis, trains instead of planes and staying in one place instead of shooting off to the next one means that your trip is going to be that much less harmful for the environment.
And that means that your journey will less of a scar and that more people will get to enjoy what you just did. That has to count for something. After all, as a species we’re already leaving our children a world that’s going to be worse off than ours was.
Do we really have to add to that as individuals as well?
That’s not the only environment that ends off better off either. Slow travel also means that you get away from the chains and the international businesses and instead go more local. You start buying, staying and eating more with the people that live there.
All of which means that your money ends up in the pockets of those people, instead of a bunch of foreigners who decided to build a resort and employ a marketing team.
Slow travel is cheap travel
It always surprises me how people yell about how they don’t have a budget to hang out long in places even while they spend a wad of cash on taxis and chop off an arm and a leg to get a hotel in a central location.
Here’s an idea. Don’t take the taxis. Take the bus and the foot wagon instead. It’s both better for the environment and the bottom line.
Sure, it will take longer, but in many cities public transport is an awesome way to see the city. You don’t just get to see the sights, but you also get to find out how the people in the city actually live. You get to listen in on conversations and find out what worries are in the forefront of these people’s lives.
You get to taste the culture and to touch their lives.
Oh, and while you’re sampling the way they live, go into every hotel you find that looks like you might want to stay there. Ask them about their prices and to see their rooms. I do this everywhere I go. In the process, I almost always find hotels that are far cheaper and nicer than what’s online. And that will save you a fortune.
What’s more, the better you know a place, the cheaper it becomes. You start venturing forth from the tourist traps and out where the local people eat, drink and buy their groceries. And that will cut your expenses in half right there.
In other words, slow travel will actually allow you to see and do much more for the same amount of money. (When you do have to travel fast, check out my tips on how to fly for less).
In fact, one of the biggest money-savers I can advise is to rent a place instead of staying at a hotel. Often you can get a nice apartment for a month for the same price you can get a crappy hotel for one or two weeks.
You don’t even have to stay the entire month if you don’t want to. Pass it on to somebody else halfway through and get some money back.
Sometimes I even rent bigger places than I need on purpose. Then I sublet the other rooms to other travelers. Often you can cover the entire cost of the place you’re renting and meet people besides.
That brings me to another point.
Building relationships can’t be done on the fly
Sure, the sites are nice, but the thing that makes or breaks a trip, what you’ll remember five years down the line, is the people you meet. And if you’re rushing around from place to place, how are you ever going to get to know everybody? It takes more than an evening in the bar to build up a friendship.
It takes hanging out. It takes long conversations. It, in other words, takes time.
And you know what? Building up relationships with other travelers is so worth it. As a group, they’re more open-minded, more adventurous and more interesting than most of the people you’ll meet back home.
Plus, they’re an invaluable source of knowledge and information. They can tell you where to go next, what to do when you get there, who gives you the best deals and what places to give a miss. In fact, I’ve traveled without a travel guide for years now, relying only on what I read online and what the people I meet tell me.
That allows me to:
Get away from the tourist trail
A place is a little like a lover – you really don’t want too many people to have gone there before you.
For when the busloads of tourists begin to arrive the magic hightails it out of there. The prices end up distorted, the friendly locals get overwhelmed, and the sharks move in to fleece the many clueless tourists.
But how do you find out about where to go? Yup, you guessed it. Slow travel. You hang out, listen to travel stories, tell your own and take notes. Then you follow those from the people that you feel really know their stuff.
Sure, sometimes it’s a miss. That’s life.
Sometimes, however, you get incredibly lucky. Sometimes you find a place that hasn’t yet been overrun. There the locals still want to talk to you about their lives. The children still smile instead of trying to apply shoe polish to your flip flops. And the view hasn’t yet been destroyed by neon signs and puking tourists.
There another great thing about slow travel comes to the fore. Instead of having to rush off again to the next destination on your list, you can decide to stay a while. Truth be told, it’s the hidden gems and not the planned destinations that I remember years later.
And I would never have found them if it wasn’t for slow travel.
Leave home behind
In fact, we travel to discover and find ourselves. And to really achieve that, you’ve got to leave home behind. You can’t do that, however, if you’re not to some extent creating a new home on the road.
And as you’ve probably guessed by now, that’s hard to do if you’re rushing around and not really getting the feel of a place and building relationships with the people that you meet – be they locals or travels.
So if you really want to find out who you are, slow it down so that you can build a relationship and get to know what’s going on.
After all, the sights (and the thronging tourists that come with them) will still be there a few weeks from now. The chance to really leave home behind, however, might not come around again.
All of this can be summed up in one word: Immersion.
Slow travel allows us to immerse ourselves deeper into the cultures and places we visit and damage them less as a result. It allows us to find new places that we otherwise wouldn’t, and get a better understanding and connection with the people that live there.
There is no way around it. Serious travel is slow travel.
To travel any other way is to miss out on everything that makes a trip worthwhile. You won’t meet new people, savor the cultures you visit, find the hidden gems that haven’t yet been overrun, or manage to leave your life back home behind.
And if that isn’t going to happen, then why travel in the first place?