Everyday Life Becomes More Interesting During Slow Travel

At the tender age of 16, I played summer basketball in the Netherlands and Belgium and resided in places like Amsterdam, Bruges, and Antwerp.

My first-time exposure to new cultures was an opportunity I’d never forget. Over the next 15 years, I dreamt of reliving that experience but I could barely find time for a 1 week get-away, at most.

Nowadays I’ve re-design my life so I can immerse myself in an adventure by embracing the Art of Slow Travel.

Slow travel bases me in a new location for one to six months. This is enough time to connect with the locals which I find enriches my experience in a country. Don’t get me wrong, the tourist activities and selfies still get done but they’re not the focus in the beginning.

When I slow travel, the first thing I do is observe the new culture.

That’s it…

It doesn’t matter if what I’m observing is good, bad, or mundane. Any judgment or comparisons are held back for at least eight days. I’ll mimic what I see to get a feel for what is normal.

How do locals interact with each other?

How do locals interact with foreigners?

Is the culture high context or low context?

Are prices negotiable?

What is the best way to get around?

Which taxis overcharge?

Do couples show affection in public?

Where do the locals prefer to party?

Are the police trustworthy?

Observation lets me trust my intuition instead of relying on questionable advice from internet forums. The richest English speaking countries are low context countries where saying what’s on your mind and providing details is expected.

However, most of my time is spent in high context countries where speakers don’t give detailed explanations and the listener is left to make assumptions. As you can imagine, this difference is the source of much confusion.

The locals may receive a poor reputation on travel forums because people find relief in complaining about everything. I wouldn’t put much stock in their opinions though. My feel for the culture, learned through observation, lets me know where my individuality can shine best.

I’ve learned that slow traveling is the way for me. Here’s why:

Avoid Tourist Burnout

Visit the countryside and scan the scenery—check

Book a hotel in the tourist district, see everything—check

Head to the beach and do more outdoor activities than I’d ever do in 6 months back at home—check

Do it all in 4 days—check

I’ve met people who enjoy this tempo but I’m falling apart by Day 3.

It’s too much.

I don’t mind letting a picturesque bus ride be the highlight of my day. Or, sleeping in to recover from a night of partying.

Many times I don’t arrive somewhere because another opportunity presented itself – and that’s ok.

Elevated view of a beautiful forest
The tour bus horde can’t be found here. It’s a peaceful escape from the madness.

Live Like a Local

I prefer accommodations in middle-class neighborhoods or near universities. These locations usually have excellent restaurants, goods, and services priced for the local community.

Walking streets in the White City, Popayán Colombia
Walking the streets of the “White City” Popayán, Colombia

Make Connections

If the culture isn’t relaxed about meeting strangers, then I spark most interactions. People from non-touristy places often want to know why a foreigner is visiting so I use this as a sure-fire conversation starter.

Common local phrases such as “yes”, “no”, and “thank you” come in handy everywhere.

Most of the world doesn’t speak English as a first language so communication can be rough on occasion. I get around the language barrier with google translate, images, and gestures to offer a better context.

It takes a few weeks for language classes to pay off so I remain calm and put in the effort to communicate. People are willing to help when you’re cool about it.

Save Money

Hotels can be the most expensive cost during a trip. Luckily, there are less costly rentals available for long-term visitors. I know many travelers who choose to stay in a hostel because of the cheap rates and social atmosphere.

I don’t stay in hostels because I value privacy, cleanliness, and sleep – and because of my introvert ways.

The best discounts come with a lease of a month or longer. For example, my ideal living arrangement is a one bedroom furnished apartment with a king-sized bed, functional kitchen, and a balcony to watch the sunset.

In Chiang Mai, Thailand, a similar arrangement can be had at $7-10 per night. The best deals aren’t found online but through visiting the property.

Depending on the country, an owner may ask for a one year contract, credit check, or co-signer. I recommend directing their focus away from those requirements and negotiate based on prepaid terms and deposit amounts.

The idea is to strike a balance between what you’re willing to pay upfront and assuring that you’re a trustworthy renter.  

New Modes of Transportation

The United States is a car culture and it’s normal for teenagers to drive their own cars at 16 years old. Yet, in many countries, public transportation is the most sensible way to move around.

For example, Mexico City and London have underground train systems that connect the entire city. Anyone can get anywhere in predictable manner by paying a cheap fare.

I’ve sat in VIP buses, boats, ferries, kart-like contraptions, motorcycles, taxis, trains… you name it. When I lived in America I wouldn’t have considered any of these options as the car is king.

Red Motorbike
One of the many motorbikes I’ve rented in South East Asia for about $80 per month.

Be Healthy

What I like most about renting an apartment is having a private kitchen. Cooking keeps my weight under control. A good balance for me is preparing two meals at home and saving lunch, which is cheaper, for indulging at a local restaurant.

I love how my body can pack on lean muscles with a little exercise. On the flipside, I can get plump even easier. It’s not hard to combat that, however.

Monthly gym passes cost a fraction of the price back home and the gyms don’t peddle long-term contracts that no one wants. The workout video shown below was filmed in Cali, Colombia.

My experience with medical treatment has been pleasant in every place I’ve visited. In most cases, my healthcare providers were US or UK trained and spoke good English. I even felt comfortable with Spanish speaking medical staff and health insurance agents.

I will continue outsourcing my medical needs, as costs continue to climb in the United States.

Slow travel enriches my life by letting me keep personal routines and accept an adventure at a moment’s notice. It’s the best of both worlds.

If you’d like more information about slow travel, drop me a line in the comments below.

Freedom is a Choice,

Lee Miles

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