For Amazing, Affordable Vacations, Travel Slowly
Many years ago, a friend and I were planning a three-week vacation to South Africa.
"Ooh! I'd love to see the gorillas in Rwanda. Ooh! and Victoria Falls (in Zimbabwe) too," she said enthusiastically of this continent we'd never visited.
I pulled out a map. None of those places were remotely near to one another, but they all shared one commonality — they were all very far from home, and we weren't sure we'd ever get a chance to return to Africa (in general), so we wanted to make the most of the trip. (See also: 10 Painless Ways to Save for Vacation)
I started to envision our three weeks. In criss-crossing the continent, I saw endless airports, slow bumpy car rides, and unforeseeable delays that would almost certainly happen. I saw the trip passing us by, and I became exhausted just thinking about it.
"But, what about South Africa?" I said. "Don't you want to see the country we initially planned on visiting?"
We decided that instead of trying to "conquer Africa" in our relatively short trip and doing a mediocre job of seeing everything and nothing, we would focus all our efforts on South Africa alone. Or decision to travel slow was the best decision we could have made.
Slow travel is not necessarily about the physics of going slowly from A to B; it's about narrowing your focus and being open to the opportunities that arise. (Forget B....stick with A!) It's cheaper, results in a deeper cultural experience, and ultimately it's more rewarding.
Here are a few of my favorite things about slow travel.
Take Your Time
If you're planning a trip to Southeast Asia, you may be tempted to make the most of your long-haul flight and traipse from Thailand to Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, and beyond — to and through these closely-knit countries.
But racing from one destination to another means you'll be overwhelmed with itineraries, you'll never get a chance to unpack (or do laundry!), and most likely, you'll return from your vacation needing a vacation to recover.
Not only that, but years later, you'll likely forget the character and flavor of any one of the countries you visited; it will all be a blur.
Under the premise of slow travel, you choose one destination — and do it well.
Immerse Yourself in Culture
By taking the time to "just be" and enjoy your destination, you'll gain a better sense of the culture and flavor of the country. You'll feel the pace of life, you'll get to visit special weekly markets you didn't know about, and you'll stand a much better chance of making new friends, since you're not always leaving for the next place.
Taking this example to extremes, some fellow full-time travel colleagues of mine cited a year-long house-sitting gig they did in Asia. They drew great inspiration from watching the local farmers plant — and later harvest — their crops. They slowly gained recognition from local market-owners and enjoyed local prices. And they made local friends, and were invited to weddings and celebrations — a cultural boon for any traveler. When they left that country, they really felt they knew it well, and understood some of the (seemingly illogical) cultural practices.
The more you're on the move, the more you'll spend. Buses, trains, taxis, and planes all cost money. Plus, the longer you stay in one place, the bigger the discount you'll likely receive on accommodations. (And the more time you have available to dedicate to one place, more free accommodation options will avail themselves).
Boost Your Business or Your Career
Every seven years, designer Stefan Sagmeister closes the doors of his business to enjoy a one year sabbatical. Although you'd think taking a year off would be business suicide, it has turned out to be quite the opposite. (You can watch his TED talk on the topic here).
We don't all have the luxury of following in his footsteps, but he's not the only one to purport the benefits of disconnecting for a time. And if you do have the time and resources, you can engineer your own sabbatical.
Discover More Through Serendipity
Even if you're on a short vacation, not every day has to be jam-packed with activities. In fact, the less you plan your trip, the more opportunities tend to present themselves.
In 2010 I started my European vacation with a one week volunteer gig in Spain (something anybody can do). I met so many amazing people in that one week, that I spent the next three months enjoying the hospitality of my new friends all over Europe. If you don't have three months to spare, you'll most certainly have some new pen-pals and future offers of places to stay whenever you return. Either way, keep your dance card open.
Since then, I often arrive at a destination without any specific plans or trips booked. I have ideas of what I'd like to do, but almost without fail, I learn of better alternatives to my guidebook inspired ideas once my feet are on the ground.
The more flexible you are with your plans, the more you can take advantage of opportunities (and friendships) you couldn't have predicted would be available.
Keep It Slow!
Regardless of whether you have a week or two, a month or two, or a year or two, the slower you travel, the more rewarding (and less costly) your travels will be.
How do you prefer to travel? Fast or slow?