Slow travel is more than just a buzzword, it is a way of travel, a way of life. It is a way of slowing down on your gap year and enjoying the journey as much as the destination.
There is always a temptation when travelling the world to stuff your itinerary with as much as possible, to try and take in as much as you can in as quick a time as you can. I get it, I really do.
Planning your first gap year or backpacking adventure is exciting. There is no feeling like it. There is always just so much you want to see and do. The promise of the ultimate freedom, the thrill of adventure, the excitement of seeing new places. It can often overcome you and you can very easily get swept up in it all. You can very easily get carried away and make the same basic mistake that the vast majority of first time backpackers make.
Trying to fit way too much into far too little time.
It happens all the time. Backpackers set off and try and fill their itinerary full to bursting. They will hop off a plane, leave the airport just long enough to get the stamp in their passport and then they will consider that country ‘done’. They may only have a month off, but they’ll still try and fit an entire round the world trip into it.
Sure it’s possible to travel the world in a few months. Phileas Fogg did it in 80 days, right? But you’ll only ever see a snapshot of each country or continent you visit, you will rush through the places you do see, and will spend half of your time in transit or exhausted. You may see a lot, but you will miss a whole lot more.
“On average I only ever suggest spending one month minimum, and I do mean minimum, per country.”
Most traditional round the world routes will take you to one country on each continent on a pre set route and this is the mindset that a lot of backpackers have been programmed into by the gap year industry that sell the backpacking experience as a package.
A very typical route involves flying to one country in the Middle East, one city in SE Asia, Australia for a bit, then onto LA and back home within a year. There is nothing really wrong with this of course if this is what you choose to do, and technically yes this is ‘round the world’.
There is a better way.
The benefit of hindsight is a wonderful thing, and experience has taught me that you really don’t have to try and fit everything in.
‘Round the world’ does not have to be taken as gospel, you don’t have to take it literally. Not everyone can travel for long periods all the time and that is okay too. You can take those short weekend breaks, you can take the week to sit by the pool, that’s all good,we all need a holiday to rest and recharge our batteries, but you can’t say that you have seen a country if all you do is catch a glimpse of the airport or the beach resort. If you want to explore a country properly then do it properly and take the time. It is often much more preferable to explore one continent or region well than it is to get snapshots of every continent.
You can still have travelling the world as an ultimate ambition, but think of it as something to do over a lifetime, in bite size pieces.
On average I only ever suggest spending one month minimum, and I do mean minimum, per country. Some places such as Brazil or Indonesia are so vast they require even more time. To try and see them in less time than that is impractical at best unless you limit yourself to one or two towns, cities or islands within that country and accept you will not see it all.
In practice, that means if you have 6 months or a year to travel, you should limit yourself to 6 or 12 countries at absolute maximum, one or two less if possible. Just give yourself time to relax (it is still a holiday remember) and see and take in some of the amazing places you are visiting.
This way you can enjoy the journey as well as the destination, because that is what backpacking is about too.
Slow travel is a wonderful thing.
You can take your time and relish the people you meet and the experiences you have along the way. You can travel slowly between town to town and discover new places that aren’t in the guidebook. You can immerse yourself in different cultures and truly see and learn about the countries you are visiting. Most of all, your overriding memories of your trip won’t be which airport was the nicest!
And slow travel is good for your health too! Rushing round from destination to destination is all well and good, but your body needs rest. It needs to sit back, relax and recharge its batteries from time to time. Slow travel gives you the opportunity to do that. Feeling tired? There’s no need to feel guilty about having a lie in or a lazy morning people watching with a coffee. Feeling ill or run down? Get a private room and take a couple of days to recover.
You have probably dreamed about seeing the places you are visiting for a long time, had prolonged daydreams of experiencing the culture, the food or the people. You probably have a long list of things you would love to see and do. So why rush through a country and barely do any of that?
Give the countries you have longed to visit the time to appreciate them properly. Stop to smell the roses once in a while. Take time to simply watch and experience the culture you are visiting, explore the countries you are passing through much more thoroughly. You will find that when you do this, each destination will open itself up to you so much more, each place will reward you with far greater experiences that go beyond the usual tourist highlights and bestow on you an infinitely deeper knowledge and understanding.
Of course that means you won’t pick up as many stamps in your passport, but it also means you will get to explore the countries that you visit fully, you get to see the whole country and really get a feel for the place, get a deeper understanding of the people and the culture and see sights that most tourists never do. You will be a traveller, a backpacker, not a tourist.
So remember this when you are planning your trip. I know it is tempting to try and squeeze as much in as you can, but there are always other trips! Backpacking is not a once in a lifetime deal anymore!
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