In the past five years, I haven’t lived in one place for longer than nine months. For the most part, I’ve been migrating between Vermont, Maryland, New York, Florida, Italy, and Spain. I have four visas in my passport and I call wherever I’m sleeping home.
You might guess that I’m from a traveling family, or that I cut ties with my family altogether because of a troubled childhood. If you thought either of those things, well, you’d be wrong.
In fact, I’m very close with my family, and we rarely traveled together when I was little. Still, somehow I find myself living on an island thousands of miles away from the country I call home.
I recognize that luck has played a part in bringing me here, and for that, I’m incredibly grateful. It’s as though the stars aligned and the universe pulled me out into the world — all I needed to do was take a leap of faith.
The thing is, I’m drawn to exploration. I love seeing new places, meeting new people, learning new languages, and being outside of my comfort zone. At the same time, I discovered at a young age that I couldn’t survive in this world without creating space for stillness in my hectic life.
I first started intentionally finding calm in my life by choosing to sit alone on the school bus. I used to lie down on the seat so that people would think I was sleeping, and I’d look out the window at the trees passing by. While I had a rich social life at school and a loving home, these quiet mornings spent on the morning commute stand out as some of the most peaceful moments of my childhood.
Since then, I’ve continued to find new ways to create space for stillness. From taking the long way home from work to setting off alone on last-minute weekend trips, I’ve become quite the expert at staying zen in a fast-paced world.
More importantly, I’ve managed to create an entire lifestyle based on the principle of excitement-stillness balance.
It’s called slow travel. For me, it’s the perfect way to combine my two most important needs: adventure and zen.
I’ve traveled a fair bit, having visited 20 countries on four continents. I’ve done it in different ways, from luxury travel with my oldest sister to free camping with friends to hostel-hopping by myself.
What I’ve found from experimenting with different travel styles is that slow travel is the best for people who are seeking the same kind of balance that I’ve obtained in my life. Here’s why:
- It’s impossible to get a real feel for a place in just a few days.
In my opinion, it takes at least a week to get a feel for a new destination. In the first few days, the excitement of being somewhere new can be blinding. Only after getting into the rhythm of the place can you feel it for what it really is.
- You can explore at your own pace, without the pressure of seeing everything at once.
Have you ever been to a big city for a day trip and rushed from one attraction to the next, only to go home feeling over-saturated with experiences and not very enriched? Well, I certainly have, and I think that slow travel is the solution for that. Whether you’re visiting Tokyo or rural Slovenia, there’s no sense in rushing around sightseeing for the sake of sightseeing. A longer visit will take some of the pressure off of seeing everything, and you’ll leave feeling more enriched and less stressed.
- You’ll meet people who can give you insight into the local culture.
The longer you stay in a new place, the more likely it is you’ll meet local people. Locals can give you great recommendations and open your mind to new ways of thinking. Also, who can deny that it’s great to have friends all over the world?
- If you stay for a while, you might even learn the language!
It’s no easy task to become fluent in a foreign language (believe me; I’ve done it several times.) That being said, the best way to get comfortable with listening and speaking is by spending time in a country where they actually speak the language. I hate to say it, but a couple of days isn’t going to cut it, so try slow travel instead!
- You’ll get to know yourself better.
Spending time in a new environment is bound to push you out of your comfort zone. You won’t be surrounded by the people, places, or things that you’re familiar with. That means you’ll have a chance to reflect on your relationship with all of those people, places, and things. Give it enough time and you might find that you become more in tune with your values.
- It’s cheaper than fast travel.
This might seem counterintuitive at first. Stay longer, pay less? Well, think about it. If you have one month to travel, and you visit seven places, then you’re paying for transportation between each destination. If you visit two places, you have less transport to pay for, and you can look for longer-term accommodations that will be cheaper, too. As for food, cooking is usually cheaper than eating out. When slow traveling, you’ll have enough time to spend cooking without feeling like you’re missing out on the destination. Also, since slow travel means experiencing life like a local, it will allow you to find places to eat that are not overpriced tourist traps.
Side note: if we’re talking non-monetary costs, like costs to the environment, fewer flights also makes for a smaller carbon footprint.
- Slow traveling gives you time for activism.
Activism is a great way to contribute to the local community while meeting like-minded people and improving your language skills. Depending on where you go, one week can be enough time to pay a visit to an animal shelter. Shelters are always looking for volunteers, and walking dogs can be an enriching way to spend time on vacation. If you’re not on vacation, and you’re more of a life traveler like me and Nolan, then you’ll definitely have time to get involved with other kinds of local advocacy organizations.
- You can get a job.
Interested in traveling but don’t have the funds to support yourself for long? You’d be surprised at how easy it is to find part-time work while traveling, but you probably have to stay for longer than a few days. Teaching English (or another language or skill, for example, the guitar) and house sitting are both great ways to make money while traveling. People need to trust you before they hire you, and they’ll probably trust you more if they know you’re not going to be in and out of their community in a few days.
- Slow travel is about the experience, not the passport stamp.
I must admit that I get a little kick every time a stamp makes its mark on my passport at border control. Even so, I know that the experience of travel is much more valuable to me than any stamp, souvenir, or selfie. I’ve met people who’ve visited far more places than me, but who’ve only spent a day or two in each place. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. It’s just not the kind of travel that helps me maintain the adventure-zen balance I was talking about earlier.
- Slow travel is about quality over quantity.
Slow travel is a loose term. There’s no number of days that constitute a slow travel experience. Instead, it’s more of a mindset that focuses on quality and authenticity over quantity. It’s not for everyone, but if you’re looking to see new places, meet new people, immerse into local cultures, then I think it’s worth a try.
That’s all for now, fellow vegan travelers.
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