Slow Travel – Defined
What is Slow Travel exactly? Per theartofslowtravel.com the answer is rather simple…
“Slow travel is not so much a particular mode of transportation as it is a mindset. Rather than attempting to squeeze as many sights or cities as possible into each trip, the slow traveler takes the time to explore each destination thoroughly and to experience the local culture.”
Slow travel, or wandering, is a way of traveling while living as a local. It means to experience the specific flavor of a destination by engaging in certain activities. Eating like a local – savoring local market delicacies, cooking with the food available and eating in typical fashion of the culture is crucial. Living like a local in an apartment, AirBnB, as a guest in someone’s home or in a hostel avoiding the luxury hotels with room service is also part and parcel of slow travel. To utilize transportation like the locals while you are there – walking, taking the chickenbus, shuttle or uber (if that is the common mode of transport) is part of the experience. This allows you to become worldly in a way that the tourist experience won’t allow. Slow travel is to experience a place as a local NOT as a tourist. It provides a way of traveling and living life less expensively because you are not flitting from place to place. You are savoring the experience. There’s no living out of a suitcase planning your departure to and from the next destination endlessly. You make friends. You enjoy the culture. The best part? It costs less if you choose your location well.
Considering Slow Travel in My Own Life
I have always been a restless person. Moving constantly while I was young, I lived a sort of nomadic life where my parents uprooted our family regularly. I once went to a school for 3 days before my parents realized their error and moved us back to the town we just moved from. Who knows why. Unfortunately, I’ll never know because my parents are no longer living. As a child, I embraced change and flowed easily to one school or the next. I said goodbye to friends as easily as I said hello. I was not terribly sentimental. I was a good student which generally allowed me to fit in. I got used to the chaotic dysfunction that was my parent’s life.
This changed with the final move of my youth. My mother, originally from Georgia, wanted to return to the “sunny” South. Although not planned by my parents, as they were the opposite of racists, my family settled next door to my uncle. I was uprooted and moved into a community where racism and bigotry were the norm. My parents quickly bought land. The decision irreversible. Moving had ceased to be fun.***
I spent four years in a high school torture chamber. I made sure that I slowly but surely built a life of independence. This is when I first became aware of my restlessness. Later, I liked to move a lot along with job hopping. I got bored easily. I thought there was something terribly wrong with me. Finally, I realized that I was comfortable with chaos and dysfunction in my life. My choices reflected this.
When I “grew up”, I attended college, got my degrees at age 30 and 39. Throughout my early nursing career, I invited chaos into my professional life but began to remove it from my personal life. I chose to work in emergency medicine. It was “good” chaos for a lot of years. There was crappy stuff to deal with to be sure, but I had great stories. My career took off. I began to make decent money. I enjoyed collegial relationships with excellent physicians and talented mid-level providers. I enjoyed working with the nurses who were frequently much more like me but sometimes even “crazier” than I. To this day, it is rare that I meet an ER nurse with which I don’t have instant kinship. I think you have to be a little nutty to be an emergency room nurse. That’s not a bad thing. You have to be comfortable working in cuckoo-land. This requires a certain personality profile. It has something to do with being comfortable in chaos, being able to shift, adapt, stay flexible and remain unflappable.
I think this is why the concept of slow travel is so attractive to me. It’s not the exotic experiences, so much (although it is badass, isn’t it?) as it is being comfortable with not knowing what’s coming next. The ability to remain calm and focused, moving through changing landscapes is key to enjoying slow travel. Not knowing exactly where I’ll be in a month or next year….well, I just love that. It fits extremely well with my personality and my need for freedom from boredom.
Is Slow Travel for You?
Slow travel works best when you attain a measure of financial freedom. However, I have met many fellow wanderers lately that think differently. Several have surprised me with their willingness to embrace slow travel with little regard for a long term financial plan. They are slow traveling but have not achieved financial stability let alone financial freedom. Some travelers are young. Some are in their 30’s and 40’s. They decided to live life differently. Some take advantage of a change in life circumstance or a thrown curveball. They jump at a chance to take a break from the expected.
There are the stereotypical “gap year” types — the youth typified by recent graduation from high school or college with no strong pull to get a job, make a living or live in one spot. Their freedom frequently comes from family financial support. That’s a wonderful gift. Tasting freedom early is a blessing. Maybe this one taste will propel them into a life of well timed sabbaticals and world travel that will sustain them through the dreadmill of work. Perhaps, it will keep work from being a dreadmill. They won’t burn out, as I did, because they are able to refresh and rejuvenate themselves at regular intervals.
Others yearn for anything other than normal, rejecting the lives of their parents. They wander to new places, experiences and adventures staying as long as they can keep their boredom at bay. They don’t want to live a life like any other and cannot be compelled to do so. They appear restless. At times, they may appear unmoored. These wanderers move from one place to another because of circumstance or boredom. I am a little bit this.
Nomads may choose a life of slow travel from the get go. Some are educated, have a profession and they have location freedom and independence. They are lucky, skilled and in demand. They have jobs they can take on the road. They parlay their skills into freelancing. They work their own schedule. They only require secure WiFi so they have assured income…”let’s work a little and slow travel a lot, baby”.
Some embrace living on a shoestring. Living life on the “edge”, they figure that it’s better than being chained to anything. These nomads are working, making a little money here and there, making and selling jewelry, trading time for room and board, settling into a job at a tourist bar or guiding hikes on volcanoes. They don’t mind uncertainty.
Some wanderers play the game for years. Patiently trading time for money, they finally achieve enough financial freedom to live life on their own terms or at least take an extended break. They hurl themselves into travel because it’s new, exotic and it smells a lot like freedom from the dreadmill to which they were chained. I am also a little bit this.
My Decision to Slow Travel
Knowing that I had a few years before I became “stale” and less marketable, the time was nigh. I could go back to work if I wanted to but I had a window NOW to make my slow travel dreams come true. I have the knowledge and security of knowing I can obtain another position in my chosen field if I want. Alternately, I have the freedom after saving sufficient assets to reject a similar job. I can change fields completely if I desire it. I recently met another slow traveler wrestling with career decisions and continued marketability if she stayed on the slow travel path. Her story resonated deeply with me because I have the same thoughts and concerns about choosing my future path.
“Elle” is my age. She’s a professional engineer in Germany. She is 54 years of age, youthful in appearance, physically fit, attractive, vital, intelligent and restless. After being downsized, she began entertaining other job offers (as I did). None “floated her boat”. After a gentle nudge from a friend, she jumped at the chance to roam the world and took a long sabbatical. She’s been on the road for a while. India, Mexico, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Columbia, along with some European counties – these were checked off the bucket list. Now, she’s a little panicky–feeling the pressure to go back to work. Her slow travel time is drawing to a close. She said to me that within the year, sustaining career marketability or becoming “stale” will be realities for her. She hasn’t saved enough to never work again. Slow travel has ignited a fire of curiosity, freedom and independence. She’s unable to muster the desire to return to work. Slow travel has made returning to work even less attractive. She must work until she’s 65 to obtain her country’s version of social security. She is wrestling with her situation.
On the Road to Slow Travel
It may take years to achieve the financial stability that allows the jump off the dreadmill to take time out to try this lifestyle. Slow travel is not expensive but the time off IS. Unless you have a relatively high income, your savings rate likely won’t allow you quick exit from the dreadmill. You must plan it if you want security, otherwise there’s no easy entrance into the world of slow travel. Living on a shoestring, banging it out on the odd job here and there, living a life of nomadism is unthinkable for many, including me, because there is little security in this existence. Security requires planning. A nomadic life, without financial security, can be stressful. It can produce a lot of anxiety. I already have enough anxiety in my life. I’m not built to withstand more of it. Hand to mouth living and/or working on the road is not for me.
I’ll be facing the marketability issue soon enough. In two years, I’ll also be “stale”. I have been trying to think of palatable ways to re-join the work force later because having another job I hate is not an option for me. Another two to three years of high income would assure more comfort and alleviate any possible uncertainty about the future. My nest egg would then be more than I could or would ever want to spend. The issue is that I simply can’t stomach another dreadmill job. I could live on shoestring in exotic lands and never earn a paycheck again but I’d be tracking spending scrupulously and be limited to countries with a low cost of living. Latin America, Southeast Asia and/or housesitting gigs in Europe would be my only options for the foreseeable future. There would be stress and anxiety because I would still budgeting and frugaling every day. Slow travel outside of these countries would risk running out of money.
Other Slow Travel Considerations
Family and Friends – It’s important that should you have a partner, he or she is on board and you share the same goals. My partner and I are in agreement. You also need to consider your child(ren). Certainly more than my parents did. My grown child, having finally achieving adulthood with a career to match in the last two years, no longer needs me to guide her or subsidize her life. She is independent and makes all of her decisions. I have no say. It is the way it should be. I declared my independence last year when she turned 30. I believe I was a successful parent. I raised a productive member of society with minimal scars.
Also, a sign of success is that we are dissimilar in many ways. I never endeavored to burden her with my happiness. Now that she’s an adult, her happiness is her own responsibility, too. She is non-adventurous and non-contrarian by nature. She likes the 9-5, teaching in a public school, the stability and security of everything, having summers off, consumerism and routine. Her life is much more about things than experiences. She doesn’t have a restless bone in her body. I jumped through every hoop possible to make sure that her life remained as stable as possible. I tried to give her what I didn’t have.
Sometimes, I think I did too much in that regard…but that’s another story. She has expressed that she wishes I’d stay put. She doesn’t really embrace my desire for slow travel and a life abroad. Occasionally, I must remind her that my life is my own as hers is her own. When people find out my daughter’s age, they ask me about grandchildren and I honestly, don’t think grandchildren would change my mind about needing to stay put either, to my daughter’s chagrin. This may be a major consideration for others so I mention it, but I have never had a particular desire to have grandchildren. People always say that when grandchildren are born, this will be different. I wouldn’t know so I can’t predict this. It’s not my decision to make and if my daughter decides to procreate, I wish her the best with that decision. But then again, freedom is my jam. Not hers.
People ask about friendships. The friends that matter stay in touch no matter the distance. I have a few close friends that I actually only talk to a few times a year, otherwise, we write or send messages. I have a few from high school with whom I stay in touch. I’d probably see my friends more if I built a life in another location – all the better that it’s a bit exotic. It bears mentioning here that I am an INFJ. I have few close friends. I have many acquaintances. I have always been a bit solitary, likely because of my upbringing. I definitely have become more introverted over time. I prefer deep connections to shallow ones. I find friendships are fleeting at times because unless someone is equally committed to staying in touch with me, I lose interest. So, as far as friends go, the close ones will always be in my life. We are kindred and our feelings reciprocal.
Technology Changes Everything – The next consideration is technology. Being tech-savvy keeps you connected. You can change a sim card and suddenly you can text anyone anywhere from What’sApp. You can stay in touch via Instagram and FaceBook. You can start a blog and people will know exactly what’s going on with you. SKYPE or Facetime can be the next best thing to hugging your loved ones, whether you are in Atlanta, Athens or Anchorage. No, it will never be the same as being “face-to-face” but I’m not really “face-to-face” much with anyone but my partner anyway. There’s no reason to be isolated when slow traveling. You can easily maintain important relationships.
Additional Financial Planning – Lastly, if connection is important, build into your financial plan some consideration for helping others come visit. Be flexible and adaptable. You can always plan a visit home. You can always invite people to come to stay with you. Likely if you can provide a bed, you have alleviated a major cost of the vacation for them. You can always plan a meet up at the beach by building reunions into your budget. You can sign up for newsletters (Scott’s Cheap Flights is a must) for finding unbelievable fares to parts unknown.
Do you have any other considerations for slow travel or wandering? Did I miss anything big? Is slow travel for you or are you content with vacations? If you suddenly met your financial goals for independence, would travel be at the top of the list? I’d love to hear what your motivations are for slow travel. Thanks for reading.
Republished with permission from Lean Fire ATL