The #1 Reason Why I Love Slow Travel

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I’ve been in Panama for about a month now, with a few weeks left to go. As usual, I haven’t “conquered the country”, in an attempt to cover all the tourist hot-spots (although I suspect in the coming weeks I’ll do my best). Instead, I’ve done something else – something that few tourists ever get to do, but something that feeds my consistent desire for slow travel year after year.

Let me explain.

Slow travel rocks! Here's why. #slowtravel #longtermtravel #fulltimetravel #travellifestyle #TheProfessionalHobo

This post was originally published in 2013. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.

When I first arrived in Panama, the drive to my home-to-be from the airport was full of wonder. Everything was different. Nothing was familiar. I was completely overwhelmed, and thus transferred my overwhelm to anybody who would listen with a barrage of questions.

Where does this road go?

How do I buy fruit at the market?

Is this beach safe?

What happens if the police pull us over?

How do I catch a bus?

Where can I buy a SIM card?

…and any other random musings that arose as I tried to take it all in, knowing that in just a day, my local guide (being the homeowner) would be long gone and I’d be on my own to figure everything out.

That scares me a little.

Being supplanted somewhere totally foreign is not natural. It’s difficult. Suddenly the daily functions of life are challenging because you don’t know how or where to accomplish tasks that are done differently at home. If language is a barrier, now your local intellect is reduced to that of a toddler as you struggle to communicate and understand even the most basic things.

But then something happens.

You lean into the discomfort. You go out every day – often out of necessity, discovering one tiny new thing; a side street that leads to something interesting; a local ceviche restaurant, the pet store (to get supplies for the dog), the petrol station, the licensing station in town (to pick up new plates), and other places of either interest or errands.

One day, you realize something has changed.

That initial overwhelming drive from the airport feels like it was years ago. People in the area now recognize you and wave. You know what’s around the next corner. You have more courage to get lost searching out new places. You acquire enough basic phrases to get the message across and even inject some humour into it.

making a new friend in Panama, one of the benefits of slow travel

And then you feel proud.

You feel proud of this new place you’ve “discovered” (and for having acclimatized to it), and you want to show it off to friends and family. Hey Mum! Look where I live!

This place that was so incredibly foreign when you arrived starts to feel like….home.

Of course it’s not home, nor are you a local after just a few weeks (or even years) of being there. But you’ve conquered the discomfort, and turned the unfamiliar into the familiar. You can actually say you’ve “lived” there (for a while).

A formerly foreign and exotic locale is now a place where you have friends, routine, and comfort. What a transformation!

That moment of transformation; the regular pangs of wonder that this place is your back yard (for a time); and the constant state of discovery.

This….this is why I love slow travel.

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12 thoughts on “The #1 Reason Why I Love Slow Travel”

  1. “One day, you realize something has changed. ”

    Exactly! The first time this happened to me was staying for the winter (and spring) at Chamonix. Slow travel is my preferred modus operandi.

    It usually means you contribute more to the local economy, become more respectful of local culture and don’t consume as much as other forms of travel too. Win, win, win!

    Reply
    • Hey John,
      You pinned it! Not only is slow travel more immersive and rewarding (for me, anyway), but it’s also a key reason my travels are financially sustainable. Win, win, win – win!

      Reply
  2. You’ve hit the nail on the head, I really enjoyed your take on the slow expanding of your boundaries. I often liken it to the old maps in the computer games I played a kid – they were black except for the places you’d explored and the darkness would recede the more you wandered – it’s wonderful adding streets and names and foods to your own real life map and letting in the light. We’re heading to Panama ourselves and will keep this handy!

    Reply
    • Thanks, Dave – and great analogy! And the more little spots in the world we can illuminate, the smaller the world gets! Enjoy Panama; what will you do here?

      Reply
  3. You’ll get no argument from me Nora, on the sublime merits of s.l.o.w. travel. It’s simply the BEST (and why I lived in Vietnam for 2 full years, using it as a base for exploring most every blessed country on this side of the globe).

    But I must say – it seems to me that there must be some magic schedule of wander (no doubt different for each of we nomads), because…

    Just as moving too fast is fraught with superficiality, exhaustion, blur, apathy, and sheer dizziness of pace – likewise too slow can feel dull, bland, unchallenging and tiresomely comfy.

    For I actually relish that “…now your local intellect is reduced to that of a toddler” feeling of arriving in a wholly new place with nary a clue as to how you’re going to wrangle a tuk-tuk to find a bed. It’s like an adrenalin junkie – the challenge of feeling utterly out of control and blindly wending your way through a mine field of strange new sights, sounds, customs and gibberish.

    So I guess each of us must find just the right balance. For me that seems to be a 3-3-3 formula. Settle in somewhere for about 3 months, travel hard to neighboring land for 3 weeks or so, then find another new place to hover for a few months. Rinse and repeat.

    Reply
    • Hi Daynne – You’re on it! I think the best balance is different for everybody, but I like your style; you can see a lot in 3 weeks of traveling hard, and have lots of time to recover and prepare for your next bout in three months. I generally find after three months in one place I get itchy feet.

      Reply
  4. I love this post. It encapsulates what I hope to achieve by traveling. Not just “seeing the sights” but really experiencing a place. I got to spend 5 months in New York and there’s something about the little things like grocery shopping, taking transit, aimless wandering and really getting to make friends with locals. They take you out of tourist mode and into something more. I want that feeling of living in a place, not just passing through.

    I wonder, Nora, in your travels… it seems that fast travel — spending a week or two in a place — is more normal. Do you encounter many slow travelers?

    Reply
    • Hi Chris – There are more and more slow travelers out there; anybody who makes a lifestyle of travel (or who travels long-term) learns pretty quickly that fast travel isn’t sustainable. We slow travelers are a growing bunch!

      Reply
  5. This post was made years ago but the truths embodied in it haven’t changed. I love exploring your website, Nora. My sweet spot is 1 to 6 months. Less than a month and you’re a tourist.in Oops, sorry for using the T-word on your website. I agree with you that 3 months is just about right but I leave that 6 months there for those worthwhile gigs that pop up periodically. My goal is always to “disappear” within hours and be native within weeks.

    Reply
    • Hi Ken,
      I like that: to “disappear” within hours and be native within weeks. Ha ha! Well put. Glad you discovered this oldie-but-goodie of a post! 🙂

      Reply

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