The Pros, And Cons, Of Slow Travel

01.July 2013

Our Journey

Good Morning Chiang Mai

Our favorite breakfast spot. You should go.

When we came up with our plan to live in the world at a very slow pace we were pretty sure that we were going to love being able to settle in a little more and really get under the skin of a place.

Our first stop, in Chiang Mai, Thailand, proved that we are, indeed, on the right track. We loved being able to live in an apartment in a regular neighborhood, find our favorite restaurants, and generally live a regular life in a non-regular place.

We definitely found that there were many pros to slow travel but, interestingly, we also found that there are some downsides.

PROS Of Slow Travel

One of the main benefits of slow travel is that accommodation gets cheaper as you amortize it over months rather than days. Finding short term, furnished, apartments was super easy in Chiang Mai and the longer the stay the cheaper the monthly rent was. I’m not sure if it will be that easy to find a place every where we go but I suspect that if there is an expat community there will be some kind of short term accommodation options available. I’ll let you know when we get to Mexico (yep, that’s a hint…not sure when yet but Mexico keeps coming up in conversation).

Having an apartment means that we can eat at home much more often. We didn’t have a full kitchen this time (although it’s definitely on the criteria list for next time) but we were still able to make coffee, have a light breakfast, bring in take out, and have a cocktail at home. This definitely makes life not only easier (I hate going out for breakfast every day…I’d prefer to lounge with my coffee and take my time) but also much less expensive. It also means we have to visit the markets regularly. I love markets and going every few days means that we get to find our favorite vendors and they get to know us also.

In fact getting to know the area is one of the biggest pros of slow travel. We weren’t always seeking a place to have lunch, or dinner, or coffee, or a beer because we got to know the area and regularly visited our favorites. We would still experiment and try new places but returning to a place meant that the staff would get to know us and we could feel more comfortable. It can get tiring to always be looking for somewhere to eat and to guess what’s good on the menu. This way we knew where to go if we wanted khao soi or steamed buns or nam prik or just about anything (in fact, if you’re ever in Chiang Mai drop me a line and I’ll tell you about my favorites).

Staying in one place for a while meant that we had plenty of time to explore the area and yet still had lots of time to relax and work. We weren’t always racing to see a sight or do an activity; we could schedule out what we wanted to do or see over weeks at a time. This made for a very relaxing time and we were able to get lots of work done (I told you about The Global Bookshelf, right? Have you checked it out?)

But, by far, the best part of slow travel was meeting people and making friends. We met the most amazing group of people during our time in Chiang Mai. It is a motley crue, to be sure, with varied backgrounds, differing goals, various travel schedules, and lots of personality but we really got to spend some time, share plenty of laughs, help each other, and really become friends. I looked forward to our workouts so I could chat before and after, we would have work sessions in local coffee shops, and share potluck dinners almost weekly; it’s a real community that came together because people were committed to staying for more than just a couple of days.

CONS Of Slow Travel

One of the biggest downsides to slow travel? Meeting people and making friends. I know, I just said that that was the best part of slow travel but, once you make friends and connect with people, it’s that much harder to leave and say good-bye. Just like leaving friends back at home the first time was hard, leaving new friends is just as hard. Although our time together was relatively short I had really grown to feel like part of the community and relied on my new friends for advice, companionship, and some kick-ass dinner parties. I’m sure we’ll find a new community wherever we end up next but that doesn’t make leaving any easier.

Having so much time to explore a place often means that we don’t explore as much as we should because we get into a routine. Workout in the morning, have breakfast, do some work, have lunch, do some more work, have dinner, relax and maybe hang out with friends. Probably sounds a lot like your days, eh? We found ourselves in a bit of a routine and would have to make time to explore a little farther afield. This is when meeting new people was good; they would come into town, be interested in seeing something new, and we would tag along. But we really should have made more of an effort.

And I guess that’s one of the biggest cons in my book. The extra-ordinary starts to seem ordinary. It often felt just like home, which is good of course, but we would often have to pinch each other and remind ourselves that we live in Thailand. Monks walking down the street? Ordinary. Gassing up the scooter in the shadow of an ancient chedi? Regular. Frogs stacked in the market? Everyday. I think this is good though. It made me see people as people and not as ‘Thai people living such a different life than I could ever imagine’. And that’s why I love travel; to find the ordinary and compare it to my own.

We stayed four months in Chiang Mai and it went by in the blink of an eye. We’re looking at 6 months for our next destination and I wonder if that will be long enough. I like to see the seasons change, notice how a neighbourhood evolves, and this time I’d like to engage more in the community. It’s a grand experiment and I’m happy to be able to do it.

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16 Responses to “The Pros, And Cons, Of Slow Travel”

  1. Ali Says:

    This all makes so much sense, and even despite the cons, you have me itching to plop down somewhere else for a few months. We tried traveling slower on this past trip, but a week in each place doesn’t really do it. If we end up in Thailand this winter I will definitely be emailing you for tips!
    Ali recently posted..Weekly Photo – Grand Place, Brussels

  2. Casi @HeyNoobz Says:

    It’s like I’m living your life as we speak. My husband and I are in Chiang Mai living in a rented apartment. Same ups and downs! It’s definitely going to be sad to leave our new friends and the comfort of feeling at home, but I’m excited to be a traveler again when we get back on the road soon.

    I’d love to hear your Chiang Mai favorites!
    Casi @HeyNoobz recently posted..Photo of the Week: Weeks 11-14 What We’ve Been Eating Lately

  3. Kim Says:

    Ah, I experienced all of these things living in Goa for those few months. But I LOVED it. I found (actually, I already knew this) that I thrive with routine but Goa proved “foreign” enough to keep me on my toes and to keep me inspired. Do you guys know where you’ll head next? Somewhere in South America?
    Kim recently posted..Dear life

  4. Katie Says:

    Even including the cons, these are all reasons I want to spend time living in other places! And, as I work and save money for long term travel, I try to actively battle the cons you listed above. I try to remember what an extraordinary place I live in, even though I have spent the majority of my life here (the San Francisco Bay Area), and I am really focusing on all of the wonderful sights, food, and friends that I have here before I leave them to explore the world.
    Katie recently posted..Pacifica

    Last Saturday was gorgeous, and then Sunday was rainy…

  5. Dawn Says:

    Loved this post! You point out all the pros and cons beautifully. Some of my favorite memories are when we rented apartments and really got to know where we were.
    Dawn recently posted..Find Your Appetite In Morocco

  6. Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) Says:

    I think on the sliding scale of how quickly we travel, Tony & I are still on the “fast” end of things, though we feel like we’ve struck the right balance for us, which generally means 3-4 days in smaller locations, maybe extending out to 5-6 for bigger ones, but of course it all depends on how we feel when we arrive (& is a case in point for why people shouldn’t plan everything about their trip when back home!). That said, there have been a few places where we’ve really settled in for a week (the scope of our trip doesn’t really allow for long, month-long existence in a place) when we need to recharge or just fall in love somewhere and it has been so nice for all of the reasons you mention. It’s amazing how stressful constantly having to source new restaurants or lodging can be, and it’s great to have a place where the people start to recognize you and have a smile (and maybe a few other perks!) for you with your purchase. We’ve also found that you can develop these relationships a lot faster than you think–sometimes just going to a place 2 or 3 days in a road and making an effort to connect with the people working there is all it takes!
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..Discovering the Quirky Side of Taipei

  7. Jessica Says:

    We travel slow 90% of the time, and I think you’ve perfectly described the pros and cons. Sometimes I have to push myself to check out attractions in our semi-permanent neighbourhood because I know I have plenty of time to see them, so I keep putting it off – that definitely never happens on a normal trip. But overall, slow travel leaves a bigger impact on me. I’ve never really felt changed by a place that I blasted through in a week or two.
    Jessica recently posted..Sunday Snapshot: Park Güell

  8. Nixon Says:

    It’s great to travel slow — to fully immerse in the culture and the society. Unfortunately, us working chump can only do it two weeks at a time. Wish I have the courage to do it your way. By the way, have you met these folks? http://8milesfromhome.com/. They are also in Chiangmai.

    • Gillian Says:

      I think that slow travel can be achieved even on a two week holiday. Instead of trying to ‘go everywhere’ and ‘see everything’ just pick one spot and spend the time experiencing the nuances. It’s a different holiday for sure but just as rewarding! I did not get the chance to meet the 8 miles folks while we were there but their images and videos are stunning aren’t they? Definitely worth checking out!

      • Nixon Says:

        It is such a toss up. The first time to a place, I always want to do all the touristy stuff and see all the sights. On subsequent visits, I like to chill and get to know the place on a more “local” level but I rarely go back to the same place more than once. There is just so much to see. The 8miles people definitely consolidate the idea of me retiring in Chiangmai. It’s just a matter of when. The whole Visa/Immigration process is quite unappealing though.

  9. Lauren @ AllThingsGo.co.uk Says:

    I stayed a little longer than usual in Taiwan and really loved having restaurants and cafes that I could become a regular at. I found it really comforting to see the same faces and be an appreciated customer in some quiet places that new friends introduced me to.
    Lauren @ AllThingsGo.co.uk recently posted..Some Downtime in Bangkok

  10. Arti Says:

    I love slow travel as it gives me a chance to explore a place fully without rushing. A very good read!
    Arti recently posted..Roads Untravelled: My Village Walk in Kannur, Kerala

  11. Pasture Braised Says:

    What a great post. Our motto for traveling has always been Slow & Low. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with the pros and cons.

    We love traveling slowly and staying in apartments in REAL neighborhoods (thank you AirBNB) but we also end up meeting less people, doing less, and getting into a routine. Which sometimes is great, but sometimes we will leave a destination feeling like we could have done more. We are heading into the second half of our RTW trip though and have been thinking on how to maximize our time and experiences places. We would love to hear more about your time in South East Asia, we will be heading there next December!

    Thanks for sharing!
    Pasture Braised recently posted..Borough Market, Haters Gonna Hate, Eaters Gonna Love

  12. nicole Says:

    Well, there’s always benefits and downsides. It would be impossible for someone who can only take two weeks of vacation to go slow and rent an apartment. Also, Chang Mai is less expensive. It would probably be pretty difficult to slow travel in a place, like, say Vancouver, when you consider the amount of money it takes to live there.
    nicole recently posted..Does “Off the Beaten Path” Even Exist?

  13. Rachel Says:

    I’m going to be in Chiang Mai for a few days this month. I’d love to hear your suggestions on good cheap restaurants or drink spots!