Slow travel basically means staying at a single location long enough to savor it, whether that be for one week or three months. It means experiencing all you want in a place, at the comfort of your own pace. Often, it is as much about the journey as it is the destination, making adventuring by train, boat, bus, or motorbike just as valid as by plane.
Mostly, though, slow travel is the antithesis of seeing 10 cities in 14 days, which can be very exciting, but not very restful and not always fulfilling. Here are some of the advantages afforded by traveling at a less hurried pace.
#1 Cost Savings
The number one advantage, as any budget-wise vagabond knows, is cost! When you stay longer, rates for lodging, transportation, and more drop, often dramatically. Weekly rates are better than daily rates, and a monthly rate will see a huge discount. Houses and apartments we’ve stayed in via Airbnb.com often cost the same if we rent for two weeks vs. one month. We also find we have more leverage to negotiate prices when we can commit to a longer stay.
Homes and apartments also come with kitchens (unlike hotel rooms), which means you can save on occasional dining out costs.
Car and motorbike rentals also have weekly or monthly rates that favor the long-term traveler.
If you’re at a location long enough, you can also buy items for cheaper than renting them. In Spain, we bought three used bicycles to ride for the month for less than it would have cost to rent them for two days! At the end of our stay, we returned them to the shop where we bought them. Recycling feels good!
#2 Living Like a Local
Staying longer means getting to know your location better. There’s time to find out where the “big” grocery store is (and not just the pricier mini-mart around the corner), how the local buses work, and the best places to eat, drink, or rent bikes. You can visit a favorite cafe or bistro as a matter of habit, getting to know its staff and patrons, or sign up with a local fitness club.
There’s also time to get a local SIM card for your smartphone so that you can more easily arrange tours or trips, and to connect with locals or expats you meet. You might also have time to learn a few words of the local language, which can open you up to a whole host of experiences.
#3 Getting Involved (or Immersed)
Want to take a yoga class in Bali or learn to speak a little Spanish while in Spain? Or drop your kids off at the local play center a couple of days a week? Or sign them up for a drop-in art class or martial arts practice? If you have sufficient time, you can enrich your travel experience by participating in activities and events in which you’re interested.
You can also make time to give back, or learn and grow from your experience. While visiting Vung Tau, Vietnam, I heard a fascinating story from an expat about a woman who was adopted as a child out of Vietnam after the American war to return 30 years later and find her birth mother. Now, My Huong Le was doing amazing things at the local orphanage. I just had to meet her!
I dragged my whole family to the orphanage with me, writing a story about her, and collecting donations on her behalf. My Huong ended up showing us around town for a couple of days, and I now consider her a friend. This would not have happened if I had to rush off to the next destination.
You also have more time to play outside your comfort zone: go ahead and try a motorcycle taxi in Bangkok, eat those fried worms with soy sauce, sign up for surf lessons. It’s about quality over quantity, it’s about what you get out of the experience, it’s about how you feel.
#4 Having Meaningful Connections with People
When you stay in a place long enough, you will have the opportunity to really get to know its people, both locals and expats. Just by staying open and friendly, you meet them, and they’ll tell engaging stories, give you valuable tips and advice, share their traditions and cultures with you, and invite your family to meals in their homes. You’ll gain the kind of depth to your experiences that makes for lasting memories.
In Hanoi, the family who rented us one of their apartments invited us to their home for a few dinners around the TET Lunar New Year holiday. Not only did we learn a lot about Vietnamese food and traditions, as we got to experience those firsthand, but we made lasting friendships. Our kids played basketball and legos with their kids and cousins almost every day. And now the mom and I stay connected via Facebook. We will never forget this special family!
During our month-long stay at a condo in Bangkok, I got to know some of the other moms–mostly expats, but also Thais–who would meet every evening with their kids by the pool. I loved hearing their funny stories about Bangkok while our kids played together. Our four-year-old made good friends with one little girl in particular and today still plays Barbies with her occasionally over FaceTime. This is the magic of making friends on the road. It only becomes sad when we have to leave.
#5 Making Hidden Discoveries
Locals and expats have a wealth of knowledge about what you can or should see or do in an area or country, from sight-seeing to restaurants. They also have inside knowledge on how to handle certain situations.
If it wasn’t for an expat, we wouldn’t have found out about the free art classes at Colors of Cambodia, which our daughter Lily loved. A local university student told us about cave tubing in Gua Pindul outside Yogyakarta, Indonesia. From our local friend, An, in Saigon we were introduced to the BK6 Rooftop Bar and the new, modern Streetfood Market. In Koh Samui, Thailand, a woman who spoke not a single word of English showed me how to use the self-serve blood pressure machine that’s part of the required check in process at the public hospital, where I went to get stitches removed (from a mole removed earlier in Bangkok).
#6 Staving Off Travel Burnout
Have you ever gone on vacation and come home feeling exhausted instead of rested? In your excitement, did you see or do too much? It happens.
Long term travelers get tired too. It’s thrilling to get to a new location, unpack, and discover and absorb everything about a new place. But it requires a lot of energy and after a while, perpetual change can get, well, wearisome. When you feel travel burnout approaching, that’s a good time to stop for a while, take a time-out, a break.
This is what slow travel allows for, whether you’re on a one-week vacation or a long-term round the world trip: REST. Find one place you’d really like to visit; make sure the place has everything you and your family want or need, such as a walkable downtown full of cafes, easy access to outdoor activities, a waterpark nearby, whatever; and then plan to settle there a while, doing only what you feel in the moment. Catch up on reading or have a movie marathon or ride bikes into town. Mostly, rest, whatever that means to your family.
We have been traveling for almost 17 months now, spending the last seven months journeying throughout Southeast Asia. We’ve loved every minute of it (even when things didn’t work); however, as we sit in our gorgeous house in north Bali, Indonesia, looking out over our garden and pool to the sea beyond, my husband and I agree that we’re feeling a little weary lately. I’m having the urge to actually hang clothes up in a closet instead of pulling them out of organized plastic bags from a shelf. My husband is tired of leaving a place as soon as we’ve figured out everything about it.
This is a burnout coming on, and we recognize it. We are starting to look beyond our time in Asia for a place we can hang for a few months instead of a few weeks, a place we can use as a “home base,” at least until our feet itch again. Which leads to the final point…
Slow travel can allow room for spontaneity and flexibility. You don’t have to be locked into a place you don’t want to be, and you can stay longer at places you like. You can take on tips from other travelers to visit places you didn’t originally intend, and you can change your mind and jump to another continent. It’s all part of the adventure.
We often mix slow travel with fast travel, staying in one place for one or two months, followed by a month of touring different locations. That’s the beauty of this kind of travel: you create your own trip, you set your own rules.