When you go on a trip, what are your goals? To create lasting memories, get some relaxation in, or spend time with loved ones? To come home feeling refreshed and inspired?
What if you were in a foreign country, and in spite of differences, little details seemed oddly familiar? You could pick out some words in conversation. You saw a certain food and have actually tasted it before. You go to the local bar and vaguely recognize one of the songs played by the band. So you get excited, and strike up a conversation about the song you recognize, or to ask what spices are in the food you’re eating.
By slowing down your travel style, you allow familiarity to build over time. Not only does it simplify your decision-making, it also opens you up to notice details. Of course, to slow down a trip is relative to how you normally travel. Just like ‘busyness’, it can be different for everyone. Here are a few ways to slow down your travel style!
Travel Local for Longer
We often reserve local trips for a weekend away, but what if they were a week or two? I grew up going on week long camping trips with my family: we would stay in one campground, get set up in a few hours, and the rest of the time was left to enjoy with other families that went. Us kids would get together each time to play cards in the dining tent for hours. Later on, I went on a 10 day camping trip with my best friends, playing charades and Risk and all the rest. It didn’t take much to have fun: we knew we were all set up, we were outside, and all that was left was to have a good time.
I try to observe new versions of slow on each trip I take. In Dublin, having a job kept me in the city and forced me to make friends- even though I was feeling homesick and antisocial for the first few months. I made friends out of necessity, whereas if I wasn’t committed to the job, I would have probably travelled around- and missed out on relationships that have since lasted over 10 years.
For the last 3 months of my year in Europe, I did travel. I backpacked for 9 weeks with a good friend and we used a Eurrail pass. This was another great lesson in slow travel- going overland allows a smoother transition from country to country. My memories from that trip were finding ways to pass time on trains, and working together to navigate our journey and meet people.
In Benin, I walked 20 minutes to work each day. Since it was so hot, I would leave early, and walk slow. The first month, I took many different routes. Then, I selected one and stuck to it. On the way to work, locals were setting up their storefronts. As I learned more of the typical greetings, we got to know each other day by day. Although superficial, it led to funny interactions first thing in the morning, stopping in after work, and even a few friends by the time I left. Reliability is an incredibly interesting travelling mindset: how can I become reliable to locals here?
Slow Travel and Planning our Year Off
Lessons from slow travel all fell into place as we planned our year off. The first decision was relatively easy: to limit flights as much as possible. Over the span of the year, we took a total of 4 intercontinental flights and 1 regional flight: less than some people fly when they’re living at home!
- Go local for longer: In anticipation of the year off, we knew that we would need to be somewhat in shape for multi-day backcountry hiking in New Zealand- very different terrain than the Canadian Prairies! So, we started doing day hikes, and trying out backcountry trips. It built our confidence so much that swe continued in the back country in China and once back on our road trip in Canada.
- Overland Travel led to hitchhiking in New Zealand, overnight trains and busses in China- (I’ll never forget the longest bus ride of my life: 200 km for 8 hours of travel, with Kung Fu movies and Tibetan music videos), and road tripping across Canada. Taking longer helped to notice differences and exposed us to locals, even if it was at times less convenient or comfortable.
- Seek Routine: Although the year off was very nomadic, we did set up 2-week periods where we stayed in one place. We lived with a Japanese family on a rice farm, took Mandarin lessons, found a housesitting gig in New Zealand, and rented an Airbnb in a random Quebecois neighbourhood. In each case, it was so, so nice not to have to re-pack, and to stick around to get to know people better.
Slow Travel Now That We’re Home
Now that we’ve been home for 2 years, what we’ve learned continues to apply to our lifestyles at home. As I continue travelling at home and away, I want slow travel to be in all areas of my life. I can find relationships via routine and commutes here at home. I can go on a road trip to new Mexico. I can commit to activities that expose me to a whole new set of people and culture. I can go on incredible backcountry trips in my own country.
There are many opportunities to slow down our brand of ‘busy’ and savour slow travel- even at home.