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.