The purpose of this post isn’t to knock anyone’s travel style or to contribute to the traveler-vs-tourist debate. What I want to do is make a case for slow travel.
I spent 6.5 years traveling around the world. I could have visited over 100 countries in this time. Instead, I chose a slower journey.
Others go to as many places as they can. Racing to collect passport stamps. Striving to see as much as they can before they go home. Checking off all the sites and attractions on the list.
I don’t always stay in every place I go to for long periods of time. But when I meet cool people or like the vibe, I linger. In these cases, I’ll rent an apartment and get a local number. I’ll frequent a cafe or two and walk around the same park a couple times a week.
I’ll make an effort to make friends. I develop a routine. I pick up on the rhythms of the place. I discover the intricacies that make it special and unique from all the other places on earth.
There are some places that seemed to fit me at the time, like Melbourne, Bogotá and Medellín. Some drew me in because they were what I needed at the time, like Puerto Rico, Ecuador. In Quetzaltenango and Christchurch, I stayed because of the amazing people I met.
Some places are pure vibes. They will feel vibrant, exciting, alive. Others won’t. Maybe it’s my mood or maybe it’s not what I need. But I invite you to take your time and discover the places that hold more for you than museums and ruins.
Become a Regular
No matter where we live, we find our favorite spots to go. In Miami, we have our favorite Italian restaurants, brunch spots and happy hour places.
When I lived in Melbourne there was this cafe a couple blocks from my house off Chapel Street in Prahran. There was a tiger’s head that covered one of its outside walls. I had a particular table I always sat at and ordered the same coffee every time. I would bring a book or my notebook and write and read and observe. I became part of the fabric of that cafe. I became a regular.
It’s a simple thing. But the simple things can reveal a place’s complexity.
If I was traveling through Melbourne, allotting 2-3 days to see it, I might have stopped in the cafe. Once. I wouldn’t have noticed the other regulars in the cafe. I wouldn’t have known whether it’s a place where people met up with friends or people went alone. Did they hang out in the cafe or grab something to go? Is the cafe more popular during the day or at night? What are the most popular coffees that Australians order? What does the staff talk about between customers?
Slow travel gives you the time to observe the little curiosities that reveal the underlying currents of a culture.
Make Real Connections
The best part of slow travel is developing relationships with others. Going to tourist attractions and natural sites is great. Who doesn’t want to see the Eiffel Tower or witness the beauty of a New Zealand glacier?
But what makes a place is the people. An otherwise great city with all the vibes you want can be the loneliest place on earth if you don’t meet anyone. And an ugly city with bad food and no attractions to speak of can be the best place on earth if you make a few friends.
Blowing through a place like a tornado dancing over the Midwest plains doesn’t allow room for deep bonds with new people. Sure, you might have a nice conversation with the driver of the double decker sightseeing bus or meet a friendly concierge who gives you the local scoop on where to eat. But are you gonna follow them on Instagram or invite them to look you up when they’re passing through your town? Probably not.
I understand the desire to move through as many places as fast as you can so you can try to see it all and do it all. I get it. There is so much to see on this planet and nobody will see it all (though they try).
But if you’ve ever felt that nagging feeling after several days of sightseeing that you’re missing out on something important…
Consider traveling slower. Instead of a two-week trip through five countries in Europe, why not check out one city? Get to know it on a deeper level. Hunt for the best cafe instead of the best museum. Sit on a park bench instead of on a sightseeing bus. Close the guidebook and wander. Make some friends. Go to the same bar twice. Dig a little deeper.
The other places aren’t going anywhere.
Do you prefer visiting as many places as you can or taking your time? Tell me about it in the comments.
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