As a family that is about to clock up 900 days on the road travelling Australia, without yet completing a full ‘big lap’, I think we can safely say we’re pretty well the embodiment of the ‘slow travel’ concept.
For us, travel has always been about the journey rather than the destination. We spent six months backpacking through Southeast Asia on our honeymoon. We travelled around Europe for four months in a beat up old Ford Transit van. And when we finished working and studying in Denmark and needed to make our way back to Australia, we did it by travelling overland from St. Petersburg to Hong Kong.
It’s always worked for us because let’s face it, it’s the cheapest way to travel. You spend far less per day driving around in a van than you do on an organised tour, or staying in hotels. And the overall experience is second to none.
Why travel slow?
Really, the question for us is why not? And we know what you’ll say – in today’s fast paced world of instant gratification and very little vacation time, you want to pack in as much as possible, and tick as many items off your bucket list as you can. We get that. Hey, we also did a 45 day Contiki tour of Europe that whisked us around 17 countries (and incidentally is how we met). We’ve done the fast paced, bucket list thing. And to be honest, it’s exhausting.
You get home and find you need another holiday to recover from your holiday. Slower travel is about relaxation, connection, and quality over quantity. It’s about really getting to know a place, and the people who live there, and potentially exploring places closer to home. And while it may not be for everyone, for us it’s just right.
Pros and cons
The main thing stopping people from travelling slower is time. They have limited time away, and they want to see as much as possible in the time they have. So the first thing we would ask you to consider is this: can you get more time? Time after all is that most precious of commodities that you simply can’t get back, particularly with growing children. So, can you tweak your lifestyle to find more time? Can you work more flexibly? Do you need to do the continual 9-5?
Perhaps instead of taking a week to fly overseas and pack in a whirlwind, could you instead take three or four weeks, and explore somewhere closer to home in more detail? Or better still, can you hit the road for a long term family trip like we did?
Chances are you’ll spend a similar amount of money now you’ve ditched those international flights and organised tours. Particularly if you’re travelling independently in a caravan or a tent. And therein lies one of the biggest pros for us – cost.
As a general rule, slow travel will cost a hell of a lot less per day. Not only that but the money you’re spending often won’t be going to third party tour operators or travel agents. It will be going direct to the source. And if you’re hitting an off-the-beaten-track place, and spending some time there exploring it in depth, then your tourism dollars are going to be very welcome indeed.
Which brings us to another huge pro – avoiding the crowds and finding those hidden gems. If you’ve got limited time in one place then you’re going to be hitting up the popular tourist attractions, those big ‘bucket list’ items. Unfortunately however, so will everyone else. And in our experience those big ticket places can often be a little overrated.
Now don’t get me wrong, we love ticking off a big bucket list item as much as the next person. But you know what we love even more? Having extra time to find those awesome little hidden gems that every man and his dog doesn’t notice while they’re rushing past. And often having them all to ourselves.
We also find we tend to meet a lot more people – particularly local people – making the experience a great deal more authentic. And by taking more time we get to know those people a whole lot better, we form more lasting connections. For example, the people we met while working and travelling through the UK 14 years ago, are still our close friends today. And by travelling slower, perhaps stopping to work or volunteer, perhaps staying in local accommodation, you get to know a place on a completely different level. And meeting locals means gaining local knowledge, helping to find those hidden gems we talked about earlier.
Plus, by going slow you’re also going green. Slow travel is generally more environmentally friendly. Taking the time to travel overland across a continent instead of flying from stop to stop, particularly if you’re using public transport options like trains, will result in far fewer carbon emissions. And even if you’re driving in a private vehicle like we are currently, by taking your time you’ll be driving far fewer kilometres a day. Believe it or not, we’ve averaged a similar number of k’s per week on this trip as we did at home driving two cars to two different jobs.
We have so many great stories to tell as a result of travelling slow. Like the time we were on a Russian train travelling through Siberia and met two Russian soldiers who spoke not a word of English (and us not a work of Russian) but we all managed to speak fluent vodka. And on that same trip where we arrived in Lake Baikal, the largest freshwater lake in the world, and watched it literally freeze over in front of our eyes.
Or that time when we wanted to visit Edinburgh for Hogmanay (Scottish New Year) but all the budget accommodation was already booked, so we just moved to Edinburgh instead, living and working there for six months (and yes, had a great New Years!)
Or when we flew to Vietnam for our honeymoon with nothing but the first night booked and didn’t return to Australia until six months and five countries later. There was even that time we were on a bus for 24 hours travelling from Hanoi, Vietnam to Vientiane, Laos (ok, maybe that bit wasn’t so great!).
And that time we travelled around Scandinavia on the trains in the middle of winter, then jumped on a slow ferry up the coast of Norway and got to watch the northern lights from out at sea.
Or just last week when we met two other awesome travelling couples who invited us to come out to Steep Point with them as the third couple in their group had cancelled. We had no plans, and we have plenty of time, so we had the complete flexibility to say ‘ok’ and off we went (and it was fab!).
For us the way we travel has always been a state of mind. We don’t just want to see a place, we want to experience it. So we take our time, we often work as we go (gotta pay for it somehow), and we connect with the place, the people, and each other.
And if we don’t get to tick off that bucket list item this time… ah well, there’s always next time.
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