At the tender age of 16, I played summer basketball in the Netherlands and Belgium and spent weeks at a time in places like Amsterdam, Bruges, and Antwerp.
My prolonged exposure to new cultures was an experience I’d never forget. I spent the next 15 years hoping to recreate that experience, but I could only find time for 1 week at most.
Now I can immerse myself in months of 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.
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 internet forums because people find relief in complaining about everything. I wouldn’t put much stock in their opinions though. My feel for the
I’ve experienced huge benefits since becoming a slow traveler. Here are a few things that I’ve learned:
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 activities than I’d ever do in one month at home—check
Do everything in 4 days—check
I’ve met people who enjoy that constant activity for years, but I’m going through the motions 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.
Live Like a Local
I prefer accommodations in middle-class neighborhoods or near universities. These locations usually have restaurants, goods, and services priced for the local community.
If the culture isn’t relaxed about meeting strangers, then I start most interactions. People from non-touristy places often want to know why a foreigner is visiting. I use this as an easy 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 it can be hard to communicate at times. I get around this issue with google translate, images, and body gestures to get my point across.
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.
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 I enjoy my introvert ways.
The big discounts are available with a lease of a month or more. For example, my ideal living arrangement is a one bedroom furnished apartment that has a king-sized bed, functional kitchen, and a balcony to watch the sunset.
In Chiang Mai, Thailand, this kind of arrangement is available for as low as $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 showing that you’re a trustworthy renter.
New Modes of Transportation
The United States has a huge car culture, and it’s normal for teenagers to begin driving at 16 years old. Yet, in many other countries, public transportation is a legit, and even popular, way to get around.
For example, Mexico City and London have underground train systems that connect the entire city. Anyone can get anywhere by paying a low 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.
One of the things I like about renting an apartment is that it has a kitchen. That helps me keep my diet in check. A good balance for me is 1-2 meals at home and saving dinnertime for indulging in the local cuisine.
I love how my body can pack on lean, mean 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 are usually cheaper than back home and don’t need a contract.
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 still have an adventure at any moment. It’s like having the best of both worlds.
If you’d like more information about slow travel, drop me a line in the comments below.