The Dream Of Slow TravelPosted on Apr 24, 2012 | 4 comments
Slow travel is my dream.
To be able to sit, enjoy, and explore without worrying about the the time of day - this is travel.
But right now, I'm not a slow traveler. I just don't have the time. Right now I travel fast. I travel with a fixed agenda. I try to squeeze out every last second of a week's vacation before I have to settle back into my daily routine. I don't like travel much right now, but that will change. In the meantime, I'll have to live a little bit through the slow travels of others.
My friend Emiel van den Boomen is about to embark on a slow, 6-week trek around Southeast Asia with his family. He is traveling without guidebooks and bucket list. All he wants to do is show up in India and see where the day takes him. I love it! And I can't wait to see where travel will take him and his family.
Before Emiel ventures off into the great unknown, I wanted to ask him some questions. Sort of do a before and after look into the experiences of a slow traveling family. So without further rambling from me - here is Emiel.
So, first, tell us the basics of the trip. How long? Who's going? Where?
We haven’t planned much yet (and there is a reason for that, but I will explain it later!). We know when we will board a plane and when we return to Holland. In July and August we will travel to India (2 weeks) and Thailand (4 weeks). Six weeks currently is the longest possible in our country. We have very strict Education Laws, so we are limited to travel in school holidays. We are a family of four and our kids are aged 8 and 10.
Next to India and Thailand we thought about continuing to Laos and Cambodia. But those ideas got us stressed already upfront! Although these countries are on our bucket list, we decided to take it slow. For the most part our trip will be unplanned, without a fixed itinerary. Why try to squeeze in many more places to visit? Why not take it slow and spend more time in one place and really get to learn the local people, culture and habits?
Now what brought on your desire to embrace slow travel? What is slow travel to you?
I have been thinking about that a lot. Let me explain a bit more about slow travel. To me slow travel is all about consciously staying in one place longer than you would normally do. Reasons can be diverse, but mostly it is about really getting to know a place: its local habits, people, events and differences. When you travel slowly you don’t tick boxes but also create time to experience lesser known places. Embrace “less is more” instead of a “fast is better” ethos. Enjoy the details (the hidden gems) instead of blurring past them.
I am not sure when the idea of slow travel hit me, but I believe it was always there, slumbering. I always wanted to wander through streets and alleys, just to watch life happening. Sitting on a bench or stairs and watch people. But we never took it as slow like we are planning right now, I can tell you!
Do you use guidebooks or book hotels and flights in advance? How much of slow travel is "unplanned" travel?
Of course we do book something in advance. We have booked our international flights and a train ride in India (you have to book train rides in India in advance otherwise they are sold out. Really, you don’t want to ride on top of the train!). Next to that we will book our hotels for the first 2 or 3 days after arrival.
Guidebooks will not be part of our luggage. First of all we have a great online social network of travel fanatics. Within minutes I can have suggestions for places to visit, it’s amazing how much expertise and experience is out there! Secondly we hope to learn on the road, let other travelers or local people tell us where to go.
We travel regularly with our kids since our youngest was 4 years and up to now we always booked the entire itinerary in advance: flights, hotel, transport and even excursions. Traveling slow for a longer period of time allows us now to book these things while on the road.
What are you looking to get out of your travel experiences?
Better understanding, totally merge into local life. In India and Thailand I hope to meet local families who show us their work, their school and their day-to-day rituals. In every single detail a story can be found. If you look at it that way, I’m searching for stories. Stories that we will share for the rest of our lives.
This search for local life experience has different faces. For example, I totally love subways. They are the veins of a city. I love to see the highlights of a country or city, but I always need some kind of glimpse into local life. Overhearing a conversation, watching guards at the museum changing and discussing this weekends sports game, observing groups of people and how they behave. I don’t mind if you call me a sentimental idiot, I totally understand, but I just want to live and breathe the destination.
But hey, slow travelers can also move very quickly! If some place is utterly boring, we have all the freedom to just move on to the next town!
How far can you take slow travel? What is the ultimate slow travel experience?
It is not a science, there is no definition where slow travel is distinguished from, let’s say, living in a place for 6 months. Slow travel is all about getting to know a country or culture and sometimes that takes time. But hey, don’t be mistaken as you can also travel slow if you have only one day to spend! If you are in Rome, Italy for example, you can decide to visit lesser-known parks and squares or just stroll around and see what comes your way. That’s slow travel too you know!
Next year we will take it slow again: we have planned a house swap where we will live in a local community for a couple of weeks. If we, as a Dutch family want to take slow travel further (like traveling for a year), we have to talk to the government to allow us to travel longer and to homeschool our kids. We have very strict Education Laws as I mentioned earlier.
We all know travel can take unexpected turns. I think many people get scared by travel because so often things do not go as planned. Does the slow traveler respond to surprises and the unexpected differently?
Great question, Justin! I believe a slow traveler is actually waiting for unexpected surprises to happen! Strolling the streets of an Asian city, the slow traveler waits for his moment of serendipity. To discover a yet unknown part of the Asian culture, a street food stall or a traditional event that is hidden to other tourists.
When you travel slowly you have the time to react to things unplanned. You have the freedom to stay a bit longer if needed, for whatever reason.
Do you think the way we travel can also impact the way we live?
Absolutely! If you travel around the world with nothing more than a backpack, I’m sure your needs back home will change. We travel to show our children that the whole world is not living in the same luxury as we do. Travel teaches them and in the end it will make them better people, more caring, more aware.
You can(and should) follow Emiel as he slow travels around the world at ActofTraveling.com. Beyond travel, Emiel has a flair for writing. His blog is always an insightful read for those who love to wander and explore the world. Thanks Emiel!
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