Scenes from the slow boat on the Mekong River in Laos
When I was a teenager and a babybackpacker in my 20s, I always wanted to cram as much in a trip as possible. From Kyushu to Hokkaido with two weeks in Japan? Bring it on! One week in Europe? Sure, I can visit France, the Netherlands, and the UK. Lonely Planet’s suggested three week itinerary? No problem, I can do that in a week and a half if I just cut a few nights in a few places. Seeing everything in a every city that I visited? Yes, please. When I was younger, I had more energy to move from place to place and constantly be on the go. But these days, I have learned to appreciate the merits of slow travel, taking time to properly explore a place (even if it means removing other places from my itinerary), and setting up shop to live the local life for a bit.
My budding affection for slow travel began when I moved to Granada, Spain to work from there for several months. Granada is not exactly a booming metropolis. The vibe is still very small town, and there is only so much to do in town. After I felt that I saw it all there, instead of packing up and moving to another Spanish town, I decided to remain in Granada. For the first time ever in my travel life, I learned to appreciate the simplicity and chill out for a bit. I also experienced a much more local and authentic side of Granada, as I was truly part of the community, not just a visitor passing through.
Recently I traveled for three months in Asia. In my 20s, if I had three months anywhere, I would have crammed in as much as possible, not taking the time to spend multiple nights in the same place. And I surely would have taken the dangerous speed boat on the Mekong to save time on transportation from Laos to Thailand. But this trip was different. For starters, I completely removed Indonesia and Vietnam from my rough itinerary, two countries that I had initially planned to visit for sure. Since I had already been to both of thee countries, and they were somewhat off my route, in the interest of time and not rushing, I made the decision to skip them on this trip. Because I had more time to travel, I went out of my way to try to avoid only staying in places for only one or two nights. Too much checking in and out of guesthouses, hauling my bags, and running around. On this trip, I mostly preferred to kick back, relax, and not have to worry about being on the move every day. And yes, I took the slow boat from Luang Prabang (Laos) to the Thai border. The two day journey down the Mekong was truly enjoyable and relaxing and so much safer. Traveling at a slower speed, yet at a comfortable pace for me, worked out really well.
My week plus long stays were some of the highlights of my trip. It was nice to kick back in the cafes of Chiang Mai sipping a latte working on my blog. I loved simply chilling on the banks of the Mekong in Luang Prabang, reading a book and watching the river life go by. As a younger traveler, I would have never taken out valuable time from my travels to… relax.
My other strategy was not to cram too much into individual towns and cities, even if I was only staying for a few days. For example, with only a few days in Yangon, I did not even attempt to see every single attraction. Instead I focused on a few things that I really wanted to see knowing that I would not go to every museum, temple, or site that Lonely Planet recommended. While I got to know Yangon, I did not exhaust myself there knowing that I had a full few weeks of exploring Myanmar.
Of course, I am not completely dismissing fast travel. From time to time I still really enjoy it. And there are many benefits of fast travel for the right type of trip.
For example, fast travel can be an introduction to a new place with a limited amount of time. Recently, I traveled to Sri Lanka with G Adventures on their week long Sri Lanka Express trip. Express it was! It was a jam packed seven days traversing the south of Sri Lanka, squeezing in as much as possible. Although I had a wonderful time, I fell in with Sri Lanka so much that I knew I needed to go back and see more. Because I had saved time running around all of Asia, I was able to budget the time to return to Sri Lanka on that same trip.
For my second stint in Sri Lanka, I worked a new friend and colleague who runs a local Sri Lankan tour company. Together we designed an itinerary with a little less running from place to place, focusing on the north of the country, which is a little more off the beaten path. The G trip was a great overview to essential Sri Lanka, but the slow travel focusing on a less traveled region was truly special.
There is also something to be said about spending a weekend in a new city and trying to see as much as possible. Last year, while I was living, working, and traveling in Spain, I booked a weekend trip to Porto, Portugal. That weekend I had the desire to see as much as possible, and I did. With only 48 hours in such a fabulous place, I didn’t have much downtime, but I saw so much of the city.
And of course, not every trip can or should be slow or relaxing. One of my most memorable trips was three weeks in Peru, a vacation from my day job, where you didn’t find me relaxing in a Cuzco cafe for too long. With just three weeks, I squeezed in as much as I could. Thankfully, relaxation was automatically built in during a four night stay in an Amazon lodge near Iquitos. Because without that downtime, I could have easily overdone it!
Recently I had a client who was going to Spain who wanted to visit no less than eight cities, in every corner of the country, in just two weeks. Thankfully, for her sake, I was able to talk her into cutting the list of places she wanted to visit in half. That way she would not be in transit all the time and she would be able to spend some time and appreciate the cities that she visits. Her trip wasn’t fast or slow travel. It was a happy medium, and sometimes that is the best too.
When deciding how you want to travel, it is important to think about how much time you have, how much you want to be in transit, and how much downtime/relaxation you desire. Everyone has different travel needs. I can help you plan an itinerary based on your individual style and necessities. There is no right or wrong way to do it, but I will be honest with you if I think you are trying to do too much as I was with my above mentioned client (who, by the way, had an amazing trip to Spain!).
My name is Karen & travel is not only my passion but also my profession.