Slow travel is more than just a buzzword, it is a way of travel, a way of life. Slow travel connects you with the journey rather than ticking off a list of destinations. It makes travel deeper and more sustainable, emphasising local connections, cultures and reducing the time spent in transit. Slow travel is a way of slowing down on your gap year and enjoying the journey as much as the destination, and here is why every traveller should learn to travel a little more slowly..
There is always a temptation when travelling the world to stuff your itinerary with as much as possible, to fit in as many must see sites and 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 Far 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, see an attraction or two 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 or city 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’ travel. But ask yourself what are you really seeing by travelling in this way? Is a week in one country, a few days in the next, a quick stopover to see that iconic temple you have always wanted to see and then a month bouncing around a few islands really a good experience?
Well yes it is in a way, all travel is good travel, any travel is beneficial and not everyone has the time to devote to travelling long term without a plan, but that doesn’t mean that it is an optimal way of travelling 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 rather than in a single trip.
On average I only ever suggest spending one month minimum, and I do mean absolute minimum, per country. Most countries will require double that to really crack the surface and 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 to 10 countries at absolute maximum, one or two less if possible. That way you can give yourself time to relax 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.
Travelling slowly is about more than just spending longer in a destination, it is about taking the time to stop and smell the roses too, to really relish each and every experience you have along the way.
Instead of flying from one country to the next you can make use of overnight buses and trains instead, which is obviously much better for the envioronment and reduces your overall carbon footprint for the trip, but it also means you can travel slowly between town to town and discover new places that aren’t in the guidebook. You have the time to take a detour to that small village or island that another traveller told you that you just have to visit while you are here, you can fall in love with a destination and decide to spend a little longer there. 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. There is no rush at all, and that is the point.
You have probably dreamed about seeing the places you are visiting for a long time, had prolonged daydreams of experiencing the culture and food or getting to know 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 in a short period of time, 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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Brilliant advice! And I read this just at the right time too. I’ll definitely take this into consideration when I’m planning my trip, I think I’ve already fallen into the trap of trying to fit too much in. I do want to see all the places on my list, but I don’t want to miss out on everything by rushing through them and I want to relax a bit too.
Well travelling slowly is the best way to achieve that Paul! Thank’s for the compliment, I’m glad you found the article useful.
Such good advice – I completely agree! At the start of our five month trip I tried to pack in so much of Colombia and Peru that by the time we reached Bolivia I was completely exhausted. Since then, we’ve been travelling slowly and trying to see more of less places – it’s much more relaxing and I feel like we’ve really experienced more of each country, even when we’ve been to less of them!
Thank you Emily. I think we’ve all done that at some point though, tried to see to much in too little time. Travelling slowly is something I learned to do over time.
To be honest though I don’t think it means we go to less countries, I just think it means we have more of an excuse to keep travelling for longer! ;D I may not have hit every country on the planet before I hit 30, but I have explored deeply the ones I have visited, and I have the rest of my life to get round to the rest because I am never going to stop travelling! ;D
So I’m leaving for South America 10/3, arriving in Lima, and leaving from Buenos Aires sometime early December, so basically about 2 months trip. Would you say for four countries, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, that’s enough time or should i attempt to extend the trip to arrive back just before Christmas?
Perfect example of what I was talking about in the article. I would definitely extend it if you can or even better just pick one country if you want to travel slowly as the article says. Each one of those countries needs at least a month, and you still won’t see everything in that time.
Let me guess, you ‘walked (slowly) through the Darien Gap’ too?! This sounds like a similar pretentious load of….. We travel slowly, but sometimes logistics make us cut through countries for only a few days. You can always go back, it’s not always plausible to spend a month. Sometimes, you just don’t like a place and want to get out. ‘You will be a traveller, a backpacker, not a tourist’ seriously? You sound a bit up yourself. If you’re the normal traveller and backpacker I’d sooner be a tourist.
There is a vast difference between travelling fast and logistical layovers, and a huge difference between travelling slowly and counting any quick airport stop as having ‘done’ that country. Don’t worry though, you sound exactly like the tourist you seem to want to be. 🙂