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.

Save Money

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?

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Additional photo credit: The Professional Hobo

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Guest's picture

I agree. Traveling and vacations seem to fly by as it is but if you are constantly trying to get to the next place, you'll be home before you know it. I enjoy slow traveling. I will always pick one or two things I must see that I feel like I can't live with out, but before and after I see them, I like to walk around and explore the area and see what opportunities present themselves.

Guest's picture

Wow, excellent advice. We often get so caught up in trying to visit all the places out there that we forget to actually relax and enjoy them. This was a great reminder to let a vacation be a vacation and to soak in one place at a time.

Guest's picture

Wow! I have to say that I struggle with this. I am an explorer and an adventurer, and I'm not independently wealthy, so I always try to make the most out of my trips by seeing as much as possible of the area. I want to see every place and culture on earth! But I married a guy who is a SLOW traveler (as we discovered on a pretty crazy trip to Europe last summer that he hated because of the pace... :/) so I see some slow travel in my future. Which isn't all bad, and I have tons to learn from him! Thanks for the insight. I can see there is tons to value in slow travel as well, which is encouraging! :)

Guest's picture

South Africa? What an awful country now. The rate of violence and rape there is catastrophic.

Guest's picture

Your totally right here if you can take your time when travelling or vacationing you do not have to fit everything in to 2 weeks and you adapt your way of living for such a longer time length so you spread the cost out and keep expenses to a minimum. I much prefer it like this because you get time to indulge yourself in wherever you are and get a real feel for a place.

Guest's picture

Slow travel is a great idea and my preferred way to go. I'd love to do some hiking in South Africa. It's so beautiful there.

Guest's picture

I agree with this! It's something I had to learn from experience traveling through Asia. Unfortunately I rarely have long stretches of time to spend in one place, but when I go to a country now I at least try to remain in the same city. It sometimes takes so much time to for inner city travel that transit time eats up all your trip. However, a plus side is that you may get to see a lot of the inner regions and rural areas on bus and train rides!