Some argue that there are two kinds of people in this world; introverts and extroverts. Introverts (of whom I am definitely one) are supposed to focus inwardly, on the self. For these people it makes sense for a trip to be more about the journey than the destination(s). Hence, fast travel.
|My legs, floating on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala|
However, extroverts focus outwardly, on their surroundings, other people, cultures and so on. For the extrovert, taking the time to rest, let out a deep breath and take in your backdrop is always very important. Hence, slow travel.
Likewise, if you’re a travel writer, your readers will expect not a self-indulgent On the Road or Fear and Loathing-esque journey, but insightful observations, correct facts and an in-depth study of one particular place, be it a continent or a particular hotel.
In order to do this – become the expert on the place in question – you have to take your time. You’ll need time to observe, time to make notes, time to re-think your original biases, and, depending on the length of the piece you’re writing, time to discover and experience your own story there.
It’s not enough to have had an impression or an overview as you passed through. You have to verify your facts, learn the names of the things you see, discover the historical and political reasons why they’re like that in the first place.
But the best thing about staying in each place for longer is you don’t just get to know the place really well, but also the people. Although you’ll meet people travelling anyway (the backpacker circuit can be like a small village in its own right) it’s never as rewarding as being welcomed into the local scene.
So, now that you’re convinced (or not), here’s my advice: my 5 top tips to make the most of your slow travelling experience:
1. First, when planning your trip, pick your destination(s) based on your own personal interests and passions. Make sure they’re not fleeting interests but have plenty of depth to plumb. You’ll thank yourself later…and remember, if your head can’t decide, always go with the heart.
2. Hop a narrowboat! – Though a typically British phenomenon, designed for the particularly small locks of the old, inland canal system of Britain, this could just as easily apply to the barges of France, Germany or elsewhere in Europe, a cruise, or the waterways of Vietnam, Indonesia, etc … though probably not to a gondola in Venice (I doubt you’ll be able to relax that much when paying by the minute). The point is, narrowboats are notoriously slow, giving you as much time as you need to take in the scenery, reflect on your travels and on the nature of life itself, and even stop of at the pub from time to time when you get bored. Just make sure you bring someone to steer the boat for you.
3. If you’re not lucky enough to be in a country where travel by water is common, there are plenty of other options to slow down the pace of travel, such as walking and cycling holidays. Hitchhiking will mean that your pace is controlled by your environment and that every mile you cover will be in the company of a local (or long distance trucker…or another traveller with a rental car). Likewise, choosing local buses over long-distance, international coaches will add a unique dimension to your trip. When you’re travelling, it can be tempting to crawl exhausted onto a night bus and sleep away 15 hours while the landscape outside passes you by in the darkness. Though I’m actually quite fond of this, just think about what you’re missing. Stopping off in every little town along the way will give you a unique insight into the destination and the lives of the people who live there. It’ll also ensure that you’re experiences are far more diverse and shall we say ‘genuine’, than those who simply jumped from point to point on the backpacker trail.
4. Learn a language! It goes without saying that if you’re looking to learn everything there is to know about a country, and ultimately reach the point where you feel you belong there, first you’ll have to learn the local language. In fact, because culture is so intimately tied to language, you’ll find that by learning a language abroad, you are also learning about the people, the place, and their history in far more depth than you otherwise could.
5. Finally, it’s a matter of money. While we all (travellers, that is) have vastly different budgets and every country has a very different cost of living/travelling, the basic principle is (almost) always the same. You make money, and as time goes by, you spend it. So it’s in the interest of every traveller to cut costs, and one way for the slow traveller to do these is to capitalise on the fact you’ll be in one place for a while. Make a deal with an hotelier/hostel owner, or find a place to stay that specifically offers long stay accommodation, such as the West Beach Hotel in Brighton.
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Anyway, keep calm and carry on travelling slowly…