What is Slow Travel? And why it’s how we travel
We often get comments from people who don’t understand how we travel.
“You were a month in Brno?! Why would you do that?”
Slow travel means exactly that: travelling slow. For us it usually means staying 1 to 3 months in one location and using it as a base to explore a city or region. We both love seeing different parts of the world – but seeing the sights comes 2nd to the experiences we have when travelling slow.
Slow travel means (hopefully) connecting to people in the places we visit. When you’re somewhere a month you’ll see the same people: at the grocery store, at the local café, at the gym. Your neighbors. It gives you a chance to talk. And people are often curious about strangers in their midst. It’s incredible how good personal experiences with locals help shape your opinion about a place.
Slow travel means new, often challenging experiences. I get a lot of satisfaction being able to go somewhere and learning how to “get things done”: navigating the public transport system, buying groceries at a farmer’s market, learning a few words in the local language. It can be stressful and awkward at times. But when you’ve figured it out and feel that you’re actually ‘living’ somewhere – and not just a stranger in a strange land – it fills you with a sense of accomplishment and comfort.
Slow travel means getting to see places off the beaten path, something most visitors to a place don’t have the luxury to do. Tourists all visit the same things. It’s understandable: you’re somewhere for 3 days so you want to see all the things that a city is known for. Nobody is going to go to Prague without seeing the Charles Bridge. But when you slow travel it means you have the time to see other things besides the Charles Bridge. Maybe, for example, we’ll discover a lesser known part of the city where there are fewer tourists or have quirky experiences that most people don’t have the time for (like doing Muay Thai in Thailand, dressing like a Geisha in Japan, or shooting automatic rifles in the Czech Republic).
Slow travel lets you be spontaneous. Or lazy. We’ll do things when we feel like it because we have the time. If there’s a torrential rainstorm I’ll cancel the hike that I had planned. Maybe I’ll do it next week. Or maybe we’re just tired (nobody wants to admit it but travelling is exhausting) and want to relax in the apartment. If you’re on vacation there’s no holiday from your vacation: you get somewhere, you drop your bag in the room and you’re out sightseeing. You’ve probably got a long list of things that you have to see within a few days. Slow travel lets you see things at your pace.
Slow travel is less expensive. Our lifestyle is actually cheaper now than when were in living in Montreal. We do this by renting apartments by the month (usually on Airbnb) and visiting destinations that are not too expensive (although there have been a few exceptions).
Slow travel allows for a healthier lifestyle. Most people gain weight when on vacation because they’re always eating out, don’t have time for exercise, and probably don’t get enough sleep. When you travel slow you can take better care of yourself (we try to join a gym everywhere we go). We’re in the best shape we’ve been in a long time.
Why do WE Slow Travel?
As digital nomads and full-time travellers we almost have to Slow Travel.
– Until early 2019 (when Lissette lost her job) she worked full-time. So we needed stability. We don’t go sightseeing every day and we do all the normal things people do in a day: grocery shopping, gym, laundry etc. In many ways we live the same lives we did at home but now get to do that in different places around the world.
– Renting an apartment (on Airbnb) for a month is much cheaper than for a day or week. When you book for a month you often get anywhere between 30-50% off the nightly rate for your stay. So for us travelling slow is really cost effective. See my Airbnb tips.
– The 1st year we travelled full-time we got fat. When we started our 2nd year of full-time travelling (in 2015) we decided that we’d take better care of ourselves. We try to join gyms wherever we go and we look for health food stores when we arrive somewhere new.
– Being in a place for a month really allows us to get to know a place.
– Slow travel keeps us from burning out. Someone asked us recently if we ever get bored with travel. We don’t. And that’s because of the way we travel. When Lissette has a vacation we’ll have a traditional 10 day holiday somewhere, ie. travelling “fast” between our longer stays. But we don’t do that very often. It’s mostly long stays where we have a base. We wouldn’t travel any other way.
But you don’t have to be a digital nomad or a full-time traveller to Slow Travel. Even if all you have is a 2 week holiday you can still do it differently.
– How about taking cooking lessons somewhere? Or a language lesson? (Like ‘Master of None’)
– How about this (a suggestion from one of our readers): base yourself is a small city or town in a popular region and do some cycling day trips?
– How about doing some animal volunteering? We met a lot of people in Thailand volunteering to help out in elephant sanctuaries.
There are lots of options.
Our Slow Travel Highlights?
– For me it was our 3 months spent in Cape Town. We did tons of hikes, a few wine tours, and had a few extreme experiences (I paraglided off Lion’s Head, Lissette bungeed off the Bloukrans bridge – the highest bridge bungee jump in the world).
– For Lissette it was our time in Croatia. We stayed there twice for 2 months and liked it so much that we applied for a 1-year temporary Visa. We spent all of 2017 in Croatia. We were just happy to settle down for a while and have a base. We made Croatian friends and visited much of the country. And I did lots of hiking.
– In Chiang Mai, we did a month of Muay Thai training and got in great shape. We met young people who had dropped everything to come to Thailand for the sole purpose of training in Muay Thai. Some of them had done it for 6 months and were even fighting professionally. It’s something I wish I had done earlier in life.
Have you experienced Slow Travel?
Related: Thoughts on the freedom of being a nomad…
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We’re 2 months into our slow travels in Chiang Mai. We also took a ‘vacation’ trip to Malaysia and Phuket for a few days each. Now I’m itching to leave to our next destination. 🙂 I’m beginning to learn that 2 months max is prob my limit for slow travelling. Or maybe once I find the “perfect” place, I may stay for longer??? It’s all learning about your surroundings and yourself. 🙂
Yup, 2 months about does it. We loved our 1st month in CM and did Muay Thai which gave us a goal. But when we came back after having toured Malaysia we were bored and looked forward to getting out. Exactly, just about finding the right fit for you.
Lisa and Robert
We used to be fast travelers. Back in the day, nearly every minute of our vacations were planned to get the most out of them. And, then we would come back home absolutely exhausted. Now that we have retired, slow travel is largely where it is at, although for us that means 2-3 weeks in one place. There is nothing quite like sleeping in and deciding that the day will be filled with nothing more than a long walk and cold beverages at a local cafe. That said, sometimes, we move a bit faster. E.g., we are going to Sukhothai soon (which is how we found your blog so thanks for the advice on Sukhothai!), and that doesn’t seem like a place we want to spend 2-3 weeks, so we are only spending 4 nights. Sometimes, you just have to be flexible.
Totally agree with all you say. We also used to travel “fast” and would come home from vacation exhausted as well.
Some places are not meant for slow travel – Sukhothai for example. But we’ll use a base, Chiang Mai for example, for excursions to places like Sukhothai or Chiang Dao etc.
Thanks for taking the time to comment. Are you guys full-time travellers?
Lisa and Robert
Yes, we are currently full-time travellers. Left the US in May and plan to travel for as long as we can — or at least until we can no longer resist the idea of having a dog again!
I’ll make sure to have a look at your blog.
Frank, you guys have perfected the art of “slow travel” . I like your style of travelling, it would suit me well. My husband on the other hand prefers to keep our home in the UK and travel for few weeks at a time and return home. We have only just taken early retirement, so I guess we are still experimenting with what will suit us best ?
Ha. It’s not for everyone Gilda. Sometimes Lissette gets upset that she can’t have all her nice clothes or 5 pair of shoes. Travelling like this makes her feel like a bum sometimes.
No problem for me. I’ve got one pair of shoes, one pair of pants, one pair of under…ok, just kidding.
Over 90% of my travel is slow, sometimes too slow and my feet start itching to move on faster than I thought they would 😉
You mean like getting somewhere and not wanting to leave the hotel room and just wanting to order in all your meals and alcohol requirements?
I’m kidding but there are a few places I’ve been where that’s all I’ve ever wanted.
On the start of our travel career, we were fast travellers. We had two fast trips, but we didn’t like it, and now, we take only slow travels (it isn’t a month in every place as you do, but at least 10 days). We savour every trip.
I enjoy every your post, Frank.
Thanks for the feedback and kind words Victor!
Hi Frank….a well written piece on the slow travel philosophy…..a couple additional thoughts. For me slow travel is about immersion, having a more enriching experience and an opportunity to learn new things such as local languages, handicrafts, etc. Another thing is that slow travel is very compatible with doing volunteer work through platforms such as Workaway.info, Workingtraveller.com and wwoof.net….. these are sites that facilitate connections between volunteers that carry out out a specific activity in exchange for a free place to stay. For example you can stay on a farm in Austria in exchange for practicing English with the family’s kids. Or work in a pub in exchange for a room in the adjoining hotel. Or renovate an old limestone house in Croatia in exchange for a place to stay…..there are many variations. Overall, a great concept mostly appealing to the younger set. cheers from Tallinn!
Great comment, thanks Don!
i hope some day to be able to try it. In the long run, slow travel is much more sustainable!
It is Andy. We couldn’t afford travelling a few days here, a few days there. The cost of accommodation would be much higher (and we’re too old for dorms).
Different circumstances lead to different kinds of travel styles. We used to have 2-4 weeks of vacation/year so we used to splurge on hotels. Now we’re digital nomads so this is the best and most affordable way for us. Who knows what the future holds.
For long term and full-time travelers, slow travel is the only way to go because, as you pointed out, travel really can be exhausting! Tourists and vacationers have a limited amount of time to cram in all the things they want to see and do while slow travelers can use time to their benefit and really experience many of the off-the-beaten-path places a city has to offer. People often forget that full-time travelers have daily chores to do like laundry, paying bills, house cleaning, grocery shopping, etc. and setting up temporary homes in new cities gives a traveler a sense of the familiar along with a chance to explore new sights and cultures at a much more doable pace.
I remember you mentioning that you found travel exhausting when you were taking your bike trip through SEA. Maybe we’re just getting old Anita 🙂
But even for those young full-time bloggers, it must be very difficult to be moving around every few days. I couldn’t do it.
It’s something we know we’ve got to do but find it very hard. I guess the key is to go to a new place, .i.e. not one you already know, as that gives the option of getting out and about when you feel like it. Travelling is exhausting, I’ll happily admit that, and it’s especially true the older you get! We need to take a leaf out of your book!
I don’t know how you guys do it. It’s been what, 8 years that you’re travelling full-time? I think we would have killed each other a long time ago.