Slow travel (extended travel philosophy)

slow travel

So what is slow travel? Or, as Dereck lovingly calls it, “extended travel philosophy”. Basically, it’s getting a true sense of the place you’re going to. You immerse your senses into the sights, the sounds, the tastes and the feel of the place. You try to blend in, to observe the culture in its true form, stripping away the airs locals often put on in front of tourists. Slow travel is experiencing a country the way a native does, almost as if you live there.

Slow travel is an active lifestyle while traveling, not just a mindset. We are always careful to remember that we are visitors in a foreign place, and we want to create as little stir as possible. We try to speak the local language, dine on the food most working class citizens eat, and stay in the type of places they could afford to stay. This brings us back to our Dirt Cheap Travel method, as it is almost always cheaper to travel slowly than to speed through a place following the well-worn tourist tracks.

The smell of Egypt

Valle de la luna, chile
A secret cavern in Valle de la Luna, Chile. Notice the stray dog who adopted us for the day.

One hot day in Egypt, Dereck and I were walking through the little town of Mut. As we strolled down the dirt road, which meshed seamlessly into the dirt houses lining the street, we mused that we were probably the only tourists in the town. Despite Egypt being so touristy, there are places that seldom see a foreigner.

Presently two women walked toward us from the other direction. They were almost completely covered, wearing full-length long sleeve dresses called chadors that left only the moon of the face exposed. We greeted them “salaam”, they replied, then hesitated and seemed to take an interest in us. They spoke no English, and we spoke no Arabic, yet we were both intrigued by the other.

They indicated to us to follow them, and we ended up staying a couple hours in their home, eating and conversing with them and their family. Using a mighty translate app on my phone, we managed to hold a basic conversation. One woman even taught me to wrap a hijab, which served me well for blending in the rest of the trip.

A young boy in Mut shares his lunch spread with us.
A young boy in Mut shares his lunch spread with us.

Just a fluke?

Had we been on a tour, or even simply had a tight schedule, we never would have encountered this valuable interaction. We were able to look at Egypt through a local’s perspective. We got their view on politics, divorce, jobs and gender, all without speaking each others’ language.

It was partly luck, that these two women opened up to us, but it was also time. In our travels, we allow ourselves the freedom to have simple exchanges such as this. We budget our expenses so that we can stay a while, and we have only a rough itinerary of what we’ll do in the country, because who knows? Sometimes we’ll want to stay longer than anticipated in one city, and shorter in another. 

Plan ahead without planning

Extended travel philosophy almost inevitably means budget travel, and therefore it starts from the moment we start planning our trip. We want to travel longer, so we have to travel cheaper. Our biggest expenses are initial flights, food, lodging and transport, and we can show you how to get the most for your money in each of these realms. Yes, you can do so by clicking on the links 😉 Slow travel also means being aware of our pace, both before we leave and during our trip.

There is no rush or no urge to be anywhere. We just go with our guts and on a given day, decide what we want to do. In layman’s term, it’s called freedom.

Choose a cheap country

country
There are so many regions in this world to explore!

Your travel destination sets the tone of your whole adventure, and you want it to be great! There are so many incredible places out there, and many are quite accessible on a budget. When choosing your backpacking country, consider what you want to get out of this trip. History? Culture? Food? Outdoors? These will help narrow your search.

For instance, a foodie wouldn’t have much interest in Bolivia’s unimpressive meals, but a mountaineer would thrive on the challenge of the Andes mountains in the same country. Think about what you really are interested in, and what you want to take away from your adventure. Also remember, any place can be interesting if you make it.

Next, compare the currency of the countries on your list with your own currency. Choose countries where your currency value is quite high. That way, essentially everything you spend money on will be cheaper than what you pay in your own country. To save more once you’re in the cheap country, check out our article on ways to travel cheap.

Finally, look at flight costs. Regardless of how cheap your destination is, getting there may negate all your savings. Nepal, for example, is super cheap, but if the ticket is $1800 on your desired dates, you may want to reconsider.

Flights

An airplane flies past a sunset
An airplane flies past a sunset.


This brings us to flights to the country. There are ways to get cheap flights, but it generally takes research. Luckily, there are search engines do some of the work for you. Sites like Skyscanner, Momondo and Google Flights are good places to start. Check out the prices, compare across sites, and be flexible with your dates! Sometimes flying just a couple days before or after your desire dates could save you a significant amount. Be sure to read our guide to finding cheap flights!

We understand that most people can’t just get up and fly when they want. We have schedules too, and we have to really research to find the appropriate travel time for us. This leads us to timing. 

Timing

It may seem like we are sometimes against setting a structure, but timing can be extremely important. Think about the season you’re traveling in, for instance. We really wanted to go to Pakistan for a few months, but the only months we had available were November-January, and the snow during that time in the country would have made traveling to some key parts nearly impossible. The opposite could be true, too. You may be really interested in spending a week in the Sahara, but when it is 45 during the day, you might be a little miserable.

Seize the moment

The same way, each country has its moment. Iceland, for example, is a country we wouldn’t recommend at the moment. It’s booming. Everyone wants to go and almost everyone is going. But Iceland is being overwhelmed by the sudden increase. Prices are going up, national parks ravaged by mass-tourism and accommodation is now so scarce you can’t get around without an RV.

At the opposite of the spectrum, some countries no longer are trending. Either due to political unrest, economic sanctions or simply media, real deals and gems are found here.

Egypt, for example, saw its tourism industry collapse after a revolution. Several years later, tourism was slowly starting to recover. Sites were often abandoned and devoid of tourists. Prices were historically low. For such a wonderful country, it was a steal. We packed our bags and spent two unforgettable months in the land of pharaohs. How much did it cost? A meager $400 per month at destination.

Timing is also important in regards to pace. As we mentioned above, slow travel means traveling for longer, but cheaper. It also means the length of time it takes to do certain things will be extended. Give yourself time to take a side trip to a neighboring village. Allow yourself extra time to find a hostel, so that you can check out several and pick the best deal.

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Timing in transport

Timing also applies to transportation. You are in one city, and want to go explore a village 100 km away. With a private shuttle, it will take about two hours direct on the sketchy roads, but those shuttles are expensive. If you really want to save money on transport, you may have to take 2-3 different public buses. This can take much longer to get there, and will likely be less comfortable.

Slow travel requires a certain mindset. Instead of thinking of the buses as just a means to an end, try to think of them as part of the adventure. Observe the people around you, maybe start a conversation, or find ways to make the process interesting, rather than irritating. Who knows? You may make a new friend. (Making friends is free, by the way.)

Lifestyle 

Oakshire public house
A flight of microbrews in Oregon, USA.

Being able to travel for an extended period of time affects almost everything you do while traveling, but particularly food and lodging. Learning how to find cheap places to stay takes a little practice, but once you get the hang of it, it can become a habit. Sometimes the cheap options aren’t obvious, but they are almost always out there. Check out various options, like private versus shared bathroom, or breakfast versus no breakfast.

In a similar way, inexpensive good food is usually out there if you know where to look. It’s a matter of learning the customs of the culture. Sometimes the local habit is to get cheap breakfast on a street food cart on the way to work, and sometimes the places to find cheap breakfasts are in little hole-in-the-wall huts, off the streets.

Delicious brunch spread in India.

This is where slow travel comes in handy: you will have time to explore and study culture. Walk around the town with no particular aim but to learn a few things about the habits of locals. Maybe the town shuts down every afternoon for a siesta. Perhaps locals gather at cafes to smoke shisha every evening after work. Maybe a milk-man walks through the neighborhoods delivering fresh milk each morning.

Egyptian father and daughter in Luxor stop for juice every morning commute.
Egyptian father and daughter in Luxor stop for juice every morning commute.

A life of travel

These are things you may not notice if you are rushing through a town searching for all the tourist attractions, but they can be equally intriguing to someone interested in the way other cultures behave. Basically, travel cheap and have a rich experience

Given the choice, we’ll always try to extend our stay in the same country. Many would call it counter-intuitive. To us, it’s the opposite. Have 2 months to travel? We’re not going to do a rush through Europe visiting 10 countries in 8 weeks just so we can brag about it.

Remember, this extra time allows you to venture off the beaten path and truly thread your own way.

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Slow Travel: the art of traveling like you live there.

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