One of the toughest decisions when planning a trip is deciding whether to get to know one or two areas extensively, or pack in as much as you can at a rapid pace. As someone who has taken both types of trips, I can appreciate the benefits of each. It all depends on your travel philosophy and what you want to get out of your trip.
The Benefits Of Slow Travel
If you’re unsure of what slow travel is, it’s traveling slowly both in pace and in your mindset. This type of traveling involves taking your time to really appreciate your surroundings. The thinking is that you would rather get to know one place fully than more places a little bit. When you slow travel, you get a more in-depth knowledge about the culture. And for many people, gaining a broad understanding of a place and its inner-workings is more meaningful than seeing extra cities.
This thought occurred to me recently when I was at a BBQ with a friend of mine who has lived in various cities all over the world teaching English. When another attendee who was the same age as my companion began rattling off the over 150 countries he’d visited, my friend turned to me with a sad expression and said, “He’s traveled everywhere and I’ve only been to a handful of places.”Of course, the grass is always greener on the other side, and I had to explain to him that this person probably visited so many countries because he stayed in every city for a few nights, learning only surface information about the food, customs, language and daily rituals of the people.
I had my most memorable slow travel experience when I stayed in Ghana, Africa, for a month. I home-based in the village of Achiase, staying with a family and volunteering at a local orphanage. During the experience, I got to spend a lot of time with locals, learning about social etiquette, typical dress, how everyday foods were prepared and what kinds of topics the children learned at school. Because I also wanted to see some of the historical and nature sites outside of the village, I went on weekend trips to other cities via the tro-tro. Because of the pace I traveled at, I never experienced any travel fatigue, a common side effect of long trips.
If you are taking an extended trip and traveling slowly, I highly recommend doing a homestay, as that’s the best way to get to know the culture first hand. Moreover, don’t pack your days with endless activities. Instead, take it all in slowly and enjoy every second.
Along with the benefit of cultural immersion and less travel fatigue, it’s also easier on the environment and your wallet. Staying in one or two places means using less fuel, and overall just leaving a smaller carbon footprint. And, you won’t have to spend as much money on transportation and site entry fees.
While many people talk about slow travel on extended trips, it is also possible to travel this way on shorter trips. Again, try to focus more on learning and experiences and less on sightseeing. Your first step is to choose your home base. Try to pick a city that has much to do or an interesting cultural aspect, as well as one or two interesting day trips. If you have a laundry list of sights to see, cut it in half and fully experience just a few. Moreover, instead of staying in a standard hotel, try to stay somewhere where you’ll feel at home, like an apartment, short homestay or with a local on CouchSurfing. Cozy bed and breakfasts can also be a good option, especially if you spend time chatting with the owners.
Another good decision is to find one or two establishments you love and become a regular at them. Of course, eating at the same restaurant for dinner gets boring when on vacation; however, choosing a favorite coffee shop or ice cream parlor will help you establish a similar routine to that of a local.
If you have a specific interest, one idea that can be helpful is to choose a destination that caters to it and fully immerse yourself in learning all you can. For example, if you’re interested in wine you may want to head to Napa Valley, Burgundy or Mendoza, stay on a winery and get to know local viticulturists and what they do. Personally, I love giving myself missions like this on my trips because it helps lead to deeper discoveries than most tourists get to make.
The Benefits Of Rapid Travel
While slow travel wins the argument for cultural immersion, sustainability and budget-friendliness, there are many reasons to opt for a rapid travel trip. First of all, if you don’t get to travel very often, you may want to consider seeing as much as you can in one shot. Moreover, if you have a certain travel goal that requires seeing many different cities, like visiting castles, hiking various terrains or seeing historical sites, you may want to stick to an itinerary that allows for a broad diversity.
My favorite rapid travel trip was through Patagonia. I stayed two, sometimes three, nights in each city, making my way from Bariloche down to Ushuaia and over to Chile. The quick-paced style worked in this case because my main travel goal was to hike as many different landscapes as possible. And, because each area of Patagonia offers contrasting scenery, I loved being able to see as many as possible.
The truth is, not everyone travels to experience culture and to learn deeply. There are travelers who love city hopping, taking in the major sights and experiences and then moving on. If your restless legs start itching after a few days in one place, you may be better off with a rapid travel itinerary.
I will admit, this can be tricky. Personally, I recommend fast travel only if you’ll be somewhere for at least two weeks. That is, unless you want to spend most of your vacation on public transportation. However, it’s not impossible, and if you can plan a good route that doesn’t require too many lengthy train journeys, go for it. If opting for this, your best bet is to plan a detailed itinerary out in advance. Make sure all accommodation and flights are booked and that you know exactly what you want to do in each city. Once this is sorted, book any tours beforehand, or as soon as you arrive to the destination to avoid any time-wasting hassles.
Personally, I love both travel styles, and incorporate both into my trips. I often switch back and forth between slow traveling in one destination, then rapidly traveling from city to
city and country to country on another. It all depends on what you want to get out of your experience.