It’s not about how much you can see.
It’s about how much you can just be.
Slow Travel is a feeling more than a “thing”, a way-of-being, more than a way-of-doing. You’ll find your own slow-travel vibe, but here’s some touch-stones to start to show you the way:
Staying long enough to get bored: Boredom is what happens when our conditioned ways to spend our attention stop being able to distract us from the unfathomable reality of actually being alive. Deep personal insight and shifting of long-held paradigms can’t happen without enough down-time to integrate all your new travel experiences. Popping from exciting moment to exciting moment might be fun at first, but there’s some real magic available when you risk not shoving your nervous system full of entertainment for a bit.
Staying long enough to balance the budget: The biggest expense of a place is often getting there. Even if you travel-hack your way into award flights, ground transport between single-country locations may be one of the biggest line items of your spending. The other biggest line item, at least for me on this Bali trip, is accommodation. If you stay just 2 or 3 days in a place, you may very well have to pay full asking price, but if you’re staying for a long time, rates can often be negotiated way down.
Staying long enough to have your regulars. I love exploring new places, but there’s also something really special about having the staff at your favorite restaurant light up when you walk in the door… with having your weird special requests totally understood, and with feeling a familial bond with the people helping you survive in a foreign land.
Staying long enough to let your soul catch up. I’ve heard tales of mountain climbing sherpas, who, while exceptionally physically able, will sometimes just stop and set everything down, refusing to continue the climb, for reasons baffling to their foreign trail mates. In one case, someone asked the sherpas:
“Why have you stopped?”
“We were moving too fast” their leader replied… “we need to wait and let our souls catch up”.
I think there’s something to this.
So how do we do it?
Choose one place. Generally, we’re travelling with a limited amount of time. Whether that’s a luxurious few months, or the more American and Australian standard couple weeks a year, it’s going to go by fast. We’re conditioned by advertising culture to think we constantly need more, which leads us to instinctively try to “see” as many different places on one itinerary as we can. The unfortunate result is we end up frantically seeing this and that, and never getting to actually “be” anywhere. Slow travel is not about how much you can see, but rather how much you can be.
Face your FOMO. I won’t tell you you can’t do it all. If someone had said that to me a year ago, I would have said, “Oh yeah? Watch me”. Living for a while in a place like Ubud, where 10 awesome things are happening virtually every simultaneous moment, I really got a chance to practice looking for just the one path that is mine. Especially when we travel, we know we’re in places we may not be again. It’s natural to try to take advantage of opportunities that are explicitly short-term. Of course, we don’t want to be sitting at home on the couch later, regretting that thing we missed out on. So don’t regret… choose what you really most want to do, every moment, deep in your heart. If you try to plan your trip based on guidebooks and other traveler’s recommendations, and must-see lists, you’ll sacrifice your most valuable ally – your connection to your intuition. What happens when you really listen inside and do only the things that are FOR YOU?
Gradually Build your Location-Independent Income Channels. You can travel slow on a short trip (and I’ll write more on that later), but it’s much easier to find that groove with the luxury of time on your side. I hope that sounds matter-of-fact, and not smug. Please know I’m aware what a huge privilege this lifestyle is, and I’m grateful for it every day. My intention is to inspire others to find their own way to lifecation, on their own terms. I built a service business. Some people have capital to put into income-producing investments. Some people find a product they love and are in total bliss network marketing it through their social media. Some people get awesome jobs with kickass benefits and sufficient time off to keep their wanderlust happy, particularly if they roll over and save up vacation days. (You don’t have to be an entrepreneur. Think about it: Paid time-off is location-independent income).
I specifically say “gradually”, because I spent too long making myself suffer with “if I just work harder, I can get this thing built faster, and get on the road faster”… Why not practice slow-travelling through the journey to that point as well? This journey is all we have in life.
I know, I know. This bit is all easier said than done. But like any worthy undertaking, it’s a practice.
Find the Back Entrance.
When you stay in one place for a while, you’ll get to know people. Many wonderful, rich connections will form, and you’ll love them. I love the constant social availability of community living that you find in hostels and other cool living spaces around the world. But I have to be careful that I don’t misinterpret social availability as social obligation. It’s so lovely to sit and chat late into the night… unless what you really need that moment is to be alone and quiet. It helps to know how to sneak in and out of your place unseen, for when you need to go incognito for an afternoon (or a week).
Get lost on your first day or two. Even though we’re travelling slow, this is a great way to get your bearings fast. On the first day or two after you arrive, go for a long walk. Leave the maps behind. Get lost, find your way, and for the rest of the stay, you’ll totally know your town.
Carry snacks. Great for when you get lost in areas where food’s not sold, and for whiling away the hours in fascinating conversation with new friends.
Ground Yourself with Select Tasks of Daily Life. Slow travel and lifecationing are certainly not about spending all your time housekeeping. Don’t get me wrong. However, there is something so satisfying about returning to a simple, earthy, task after a few full days of exploring, when your system starts to reel from the constant hum of new stimuli. Feeling a little off kilter today? See how it feels to tidy up your room. Feeling a little disconnected? I’ve been amazed to discover that few things are as surprisingly satisfying to the senses as hand washing, wringing and line-drying my own clothes. Feeling the cool water, hearing the squish of wet fabric, watching the water turn all kinds of crazy shades of brown and gray from the Asian road dirt I’ve picked up, smelling the chemical sweetness of the detergent… I’ll avoid laundry as long as possible in “normal life”, but when I’m slow travelling, it’s one of my favorite meditations.
Rent a bicycle (instead of a car or motorbike). It’s still speedy enough to give you the freedom to go sightseeing about town, but you’ll actually be able to see the sights instead of just zipping past them as you go.
All other things equal, stay on the downhill side of town. This one particularly applies if you’re travelling by bicycle. When faced with a city like Ubud, where there are multiple pockets of really cool stuff going on, all set on a gradually sloping hillside, chose the downhill side for your home base. That way, you’ll tackle the uphill ride when you’re fresh and excited to get to some new place, and will be able to coast back home when you’re exhausted from adventure at the end of the day. This little tip might be the most valuable I’ve stumbled into, yet.
Stay hydrated. Because the Denpasar airport bathroom says so.
(Sloth photo: Wikipedia)