We slow travel and wouldn't have it any other way.
Have you ever heard someone bragging about how many countries they’ve been to? They’re your typical Instagram junkie hitting all the major tourist attractions, snapping a photo, contributing to over tourism and could care less about responsible travel.
Let’s break this down. If you want to visit 100 countries and spend a week in each country, it will take you two years. I just had an anxiety attack at the thought of it. Traveling is absolutely exhausting even when things are going right.
Trying to “experience” a country in a week and being constantly on the move is a recipe for either travel burn out or a nervous breakdown.
The truth is “country counters” are rarely ever in a country long enough to learn anything about it. They just want to add another number to their tally. They get a few photos with major tourist attractions and move on to the next country. Even worse, I have spoken with travelers that even include airport stopovers as visiting a country. Really?
The comparison game is real. Why does the number of countries we have visited make us a better traveler? Why does an Instagram photo have to prove we were there?
Why aren’t the memories of our own experiences good enough anymore?
Traveling isn’t a competition. It’s a personal journey where we get to see the beautiful and not so beautiful parts of the world. Travel lets us experience different cultures that shape the person we are. Where we learn that our own countries way of life isn’t the only way. Where we start to remove the brainwash that our own governments and corporations have instilled in us. To see this truth, we need to slow down our travels, take it all in and learn from immersing ourselves in a culture.
Counting countries won’t bring joy, experiences will.
What is Slow Travel?
Slow travel is taking the time to explore a destination at a relaxed pace that allows one to immerse themselves fully in the daily life, traditions and culture of the location.
For each person slow travel can look different but the main ideology behind slow travel is to experience more than the main tourist attractions. This doesn’t mean skipping them but going beyond them. The main tourist attractions are carefully curated and developed to show the best parts of a destination. They are packed with tourists, overpriced and do not represent the true culture of the location.
For example, we are currently spending two months in Hoi An, Vietnam. Our experience looks very different as slow travelers.
Most tourists come here for on average 1-2 days. They walk through Ancient Town which is an UNESCO world heritage site. They then have an outfit custom made for a great price by one of the hundreds of tailors in the area. In the evening they float a lantern on the river before taking a stroll through the night market to sample the street food. Then it’s off to the airport.
There is no doubt everyone has a great time in Hoi An, but for 99% of visitors all they do is sample the tourist attractions within a two-block radius. All of those are curated for mass tourism at inflated prices. It’s an assembly line of tourism every single day. Just like you ticked off another destination on your list, you were just another tourist to them.
We did all of the above in our first couple days and loved every moment, but we knew there was more to this gorgeous town then two blocks of mass impersonal tourism.
For our first month we stayed in a hotel that was just outside the crazy tourist areas. The price was incredible, and they honestly treated us like family the entire time we were there. Due to our longer stay, we were invited to two different staff functions they had.
We had the chance to hang out with 25 Hoi An locals for two traditional Vietnamese street parties.
We sampled traditional street food the way locals eat it. We sang Karaoke, learned about their families and became friends. It was an experience I will never forget. They bought us handmade gifts even though their income levels are very low. They even prepared my wife Kashlee her own special dinner as she doesn’t eat pork or beef.
We weren’t just tourists to them, we were friends. We added value to their life by helping them with their English. They added value to ours by giving us a window into how the Vietnamese people celebrate and by just being our friends. They gave so much more than a tour could ever teach us about locals. They gave us more than we could ever give back.
For our next month we stayed in a Homestay that was surrounded by other local traditional homes. The location was the best of both worlds.
It gave us the chance to experience living among the locals but was super close to all the great restaurants and markets.
The hosts treated us like family and even invited us to dine with them as locals. In the evenings we walked around to see how the locals spend their evenings. They leave their front doors open at night while sitting in front of the TV supporting their national soccer team. It was amazing to be in a traditional Vietnam community, not another commercial tourist development.
Locals Treat Slow Travelers Different
The personalities of the locals towards us changed after the first week. Instead of being sold to, we started to get friendly “hellos” and smiles.
We formed relationships with the people that ran the establishments we visited frequently and even started paying local prices. Let me just say you would not believe just how different the prices can be. We learned which establishments were family run and which were just tourist traps.
We took rides out to the countryside and tried a restaurant among the rice fields that had some of the best healthy food we’ve sampled in all our south east Asia travels.
We learned about what the locals earned, how they made a living, what they did for fun and how tourism has changed their town.
It was an immersive experience in Vietnamese culture that we could’ve never had in just a few days.
Slow Travel is Different For Everyone
Not everyone has months to spend in a destination, but slow travel is what you make it. Instead of cramming so much into a one-week vacation try slowing things down.
Rushing from one tourist attraction to the next just to end up completely burned out by the end your trip isn’t worth it.
Prioritize which attractions you want to see but also think of ways you can immerse yourself in the culture of your destination. Slow travel will give you the opportunity to stay more relaxed and enjoy the moments of your trip.
Slow travel isn’t for everyone but if you find yourself with travel burn-out or playing the comparison game, it might be time to slow things down.
Soon you may just find yourself counting the amazing experiences you’ve had rather than the countries you’ve been to.