We didn’t know at the time, that in the travel community lingo, this was slow travel.
Staying longer in one place, spending time with the locals, understanding their way of life, eating the food they eat. Exploring the place on foot, for as long as you desire. No agenda, no itinerary, no to-do list. No FOMO.
Why slow travel?
When you slow travel, any place in the world can feel like home
You walk to the local market. Navigating the many aisles, you go straight to your regular old lady. You buy your daily veggies. Pay her the money. She doesn’t have the change. No worries, pay me tomorrow, she tells you.
When you do these “routine” activities in a place, you start belonging to the place and it starts belonging to you. Every mention of its name brings to mind how you felt there – walking through the nameless streets, waving to the old man sitting at the corner, going for a daily jog with the others, maybe even petting someone’s dog every morning.
It reminds you of how it was being one with the place and its people. And it makes you smile thinking how the place – halfway across your world – had become home.
Calling any place home is one of the biggest privileges of travel, and slow travel makes it possible.
When you slow travel, even touristy places can give that “immersive” experience
A place studded with “must dos”, “must haves” and “top attractions” can, in reality, make you feel uneasy. Everyone is a tourist, just like you. Shiny brochures are in your face. Everyone wants a piece of your money.
But a place, even the mega-popular ones like Paris or Machu Picchu are not just museums and monuments. Real people live here too! These tourist “infested” places too, can reveal a story – a unique one – to every visitor.
But you have to look.
- What if you skip the top attractions on the first day? Just walk around in the bylanes. Maybe take a bus route that only the locals take?
- Or sit in a cafe and sense the beat of the place. Talk to the waiter or the guy who comes here for breakfast every day. Why not ask him what he does on his weekends? What’s his favourite museum/garden/palace/church?
We were greeted with an Incan extravaganza in Cusco. We skipped all the historic museums. Instead, we happened to walk in a textile museum-cum-workshop of the present day artist Maximo Laura. His modern-day interpretation of the Incan culture in the form of fluid painting like tapestries blew our minds. This colourful art of Maximo Laura, the “National Human Treasure” of Peru is our lasting impression of Cusco.
When you slow travel, potential mishaps turn into opportunities
Because you are not travelling with a set itinerary, when things don’t go as per plans (and they sooner or later, won’t!), it’s not a big deal – because no plans are cast in stone.
- Weather could be a spoiler. You could be on a tropical island, excited about the beach, snorkelling and the treks. And just when you are there, the island could face its fiercest rainfall ever.
When we got stuck like that on Ilha Grande, the most beautiful island we have been to, off Rio de Janeiro we spent the afternoon chatting with fellow travellers. Being cocooned in the hostel like that helped us connect and become friends. The next day we all went on a trek during which it was decided we would cook an Indian meal for all. The island had plunged in darkness that night. Someone got some wine, someone played the guitar and in candlelight, we wowed eleven fellow travellers of seven different nationalities with some piping hot chicken curry.
- Buses could break down in an unknown city. You might not find tickets to your next destination. What better chance to explore an unknown place you (and other travellers) otherwise wouldn’t bother visiting?
When you slow travel, you are being a responsible traveller
Since you are not running from place to place trying to see it all, chances are you are not whizzing past in taxis and flights. You are most likely using the public transport.
- Public transport means you are not putting that one extra car on the road.
- Travelling like the locals do, you understand better certain characteristics which, from the outside, might seem baffling.
- Spending time in public transport means more conversations with the locals. This is your chance to gauge what they think of you, the traveller community. They could open up about traveller habits they find annoying or bothersome. This perspective could help you become a better traveller.
- The locals are the ones to first warn you about tourist traps and frauds. They could also suggest genuine markets to eat and buy local stuff. You then know for sure that you are adding to the local economy.
When we travelled through the Amazon in cargo boats, we knew we weren’t adding any commute footprint. Spending days on end with the Amazonian locals, over the river, in the boat – there couldn’t have been a better way for us to experience the Amazonian life.
When you slow travel, you get to be in the moment
Some days are for doing nothing. For believing like you have all the time in the world. For just sitting with your thoughts. For just being in the moment.
And what better place for doing all this “nothing” in some beautiful unknown corner of the world?
Slow travel lets you travel to little towns and villages, with no list of attractions. All you can do there is – just be.
Tempting smells wafting out of a home? Stand by the window, imagining a hearty meal.
Want to keep walking down the road? Nothing’s stopping you from going on!
Like the lake/beach/cafe? Stay on!
Imagine the feeling of not having to do anything. Or doing anything you wish. Imagine no rush. Imagine how wonderful, peaceful this feeling is!
Isn’t this what being in tune with yourself is all about?
And yes, when you travel slow, you also travel more
Hooked on to the idea of slow travel, but worried this might cost more?
Contrary to what “slow travel” might imply, slow travel is actually the most budget-friendly way to travel. Besides being a richer experience, it is also a cheaper one.
- When you stay longer in one place, you can negotiate on the price and push for a better deal.
- You are more aware of not falling for the tourist traps.
- Many attractions have a free visit day, you can schedule your visits around these free days.
- You save money on taxis by using public transport, cycling or simply walking.
When you have to book a flight, you can be flexible on when and where to go. A nearby airport might have a cheaper ticket. Or tickets just the next day might be the cheapest deal of the month. Apps like Skyscanner and Kayak are brilliant for finding such deals.
- Sometimes, going to a place via another is cheaper than going there directly. In turn, you also get to see a new place. Like, when we were booking our return tickets out of South America, tickets to Bangkok were cheaper than anywhere in India. Well, why not visit another country, especially when there was a possibility of getting a visa on arrival? So, our five month trip in South America ended with a ten-day visit to Thailand.
When you slow travel, the possibilities are endless!
When people hear of our long-term and slow travel stories, we are often asked questions – how do we plan, what do we plan and for how long do we plan. And when we say that we don’t really plan anything at all, more questions follow. We have always said that serendipity is a big part of our travel and we let the road lead the way.
We are starting this series on Instagram ( from our first long-term trip (well, it wasn’t THAT long but for us, at the time, it was! ) – our 3 months in the Himalayas(Follow hashtag #LongTermTravelWithSandeepaChetan). We won’t talk much about the place and our experience but about how did we decide the next destination, how we moved ahead and how the decision panned out. We will just “write out loud” what was going on in our minds. We hope this series throws light into the psyche of long-term travel and acts as a guiding tool for future aspirants.
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