At the present moment, my wife and I are on mini-sabbatical. We decided to hit pause on work and try out the ‘digital nomad’ lifestyle, so I’m writing this from a quiet apartment on the outskirts of Krabi, Thailand.
It’s not a particularly nice apartment. It’s a little run down, the chairs are a touch wobbly, and I can see a trail of ants emanating from the large bag of rice intended to last us the week(!)
Yesterday we wandered around Ao Nang beach, which was very tranquil. But as we watched the sun go down, I couldn’t help feeling guilty – were we splurging enough on exciting experiences and swanky hotels? I’ve always been a conservative spender, but wasn’t this trip supposed to be “once in a lifetime”?
I also pictured heading home and not having enough anecdotes to share with family and friends. Even while living a dream, FOMO towered over me like the formidable limestone cliffs all around us.
It was the right moment to remind myself of something. Before heading out, the intention was to do travelling in our own particular way – and whilst we wanted to create an impactful experience, we also wanted to do so authentically (and preferably without heading home broke).
I’ve come to understand that creating such an experience is just that – creative. There’s no single ‘right’ way to travel. Which is why I have a strong aversion to travel blogs/vlogs that enforce certain “must-do” activities, or showcase impossibly alluring turquoise (read: edited) waterfronts.
The Joys of Slow Travel
I think there are two polar opposite mindsets when it comes to travelling.
The first (and commonest) mindset involves gearing up for maximum speed/quantity. The aim? To flood your senses with as many experiences as possible, as fast as possible.
This is how I used to travel not too long ago. After completing my medical elective in Samoa a few years back, I met my wife in Auckland, and we proceeded to tour the North Island – and the East Coast of Australia – in just a few short weeks! It was enough to make our heads spin. And worse, we never truly connected with the people, places, or atmospheres around us – the impressions were all quite surface-level.
The second mindset is to optimise for slowness/quality. By really being wherever you are, and dropping into the natural rhythm of each environment, more becomes available in each moment.
I find myself resonating with this second route, a movement dubbed ‘slow travel’ or ‘slow tourism’. The idea is to emphasise greater connection to local people, cultures, food, and so on. The trip still has an emotional impact, but it remains sustainable for local communities, helping to combat consumerism.
For me though, slow travel is more than an environmental movement. It also means soaking up the atmosphere of a place fully, instead of filling it with excitement and novelty. In others words, simply noticing what is.
This can have interesting side effects. Maybe we intentionally opt for a shabby apartment in the suburbs, foregoing that glossy hotel in the tourist hotspot. Or perhaps we homecook most of our meals using fresh local ingredients. And when it comes to filling our time, maybe a simple stroll on a nearby hiking trail will create a longer lasting impression than jet-skiing or sky-diving ever could.
These experiences are both bland and yet vibrantly alive at the same time. It all depends on the quality of attention. Sitting in a cafe and watching the world go by isn’t exactly a heart-thumping adrenaline rush, nor is it a “must-do” bucket list item. It’s… well… ordinary. But in an extraordinary way.
I guess I had to fly 9,000 miles to realise the value of this extraordinary ordinariness. Because in their totality, it’s those small, seemingly unremarkable moments of awareness which add up to genuine joy and meaning – whether you’re at home sitting in front of the TV, or trekking around Peru.
Don’t get me wrong. Left unchecked, I easily fall into the more and faster camp – when the novelty bug bites, I become insatiable!
But left to mellow out and embrace the ‘slow travel’ mentality, I’ve remembered to fall in love with everyday experiences. I don’t need to hunt out the most beautiful waterfall in the region, climb the tallest mountain, or stay in the nicest villa. Sometimes the most enjoyable thing in the world is pitching up on the balcony and cracking open a good book.
And this applies to life as a whole. When I’m hungry for more, and I want it all faster, nothing is ever enough. I can fill my plate with activities, priorities, possessions, and even connections, but ultimately, slowing down and seeing what’s right in front of me is where the magic always unfolds.