I don’t do slow traveling; not that I don’t want to, it’s just that my current situation doesn’t allow such a luxury. I have a regular nine-to-five job, which means I cannot go whenever I please and I have to seek approval from the powers that be before I go on a holiday. The duration of my absence is also based on leave credits and in our company, you have to collect it; meaning we earn a total of 1.5 leave credits by the end of the month. I used to carry the wrong notion that if I go out of town or to another country and I don’t subject myself to the rigors of going to one tourist spot to another for photo ops (a.k.a. evidence that I’d been to those spots), the way most tourists do, then I am doing slow traveling. Wrong. Slow traveling, I have come to realize is much more complex than I thought, one that definitely takes time, which as I mentioned I don’t have in abundance.
First, let us define slow travel. According to the owner of the website, slowtravel.com, Pauline Kenny,
“Slow Travel is a way of slowing down your vacation by staying in vacation rentals, spending one week in a place and seeing what is near you. This gives you the time in one place to experience it in more depth.”
Vacation rentals? I stay in hotels or hostels.
One week? The longest I stay in a place is 4 days.
A time to experience it more in depth? 4 days is not gonna cover it. What I could get, at best, is a glimpse of what a certain place is about.
What happens when you travel short? It’s not going to be as life-changing as when you do it for long, but I would argue that it can be just as enriching. There is a trick to it though. If you just move from one destination to the next without doing anything other than take pictures, chances are, you are not going to have an appreciation of that place. But if you go there and eat their food, talk with some locals, take a stroll, maybe have a coffee, or just sit in one corner and observe, you are still bound to learn something and make the trip a little more interesting.
Are you unable to do slow traveling at this point of your life? Don’t worry, it’s totally fine! Here are the things that I do make my “fast traveling” meaningful:
Focus on what’s important
Because I don’t have a luxury of a time, I’ve learned to narrow my focus on what’s important, meaning the things that I want or deem to be worthwhile. I’m not gonna go somewhere that doesn’t interest me no matter how famous it is. Many times, when people learn I’ve gone to a certain place, they’d ask me about the most popular destination or points of interest in that area. Many times, they’d look at me, baffled when I tell them that I didn’t go. Yes, I take lots of photos when I travel, but no, I don’t go there just to take pictures. I don’t need to prove to people that I’ve gone there; when I go somewhere it’s because I want to.
So don’t go through the motion of going to tourist destinations unless that is your thing. Go, only when you want to. Do not get pressured by the societal expectations of having a photo in a tourist spot that you don’t find to be interesting. Remember that your vacation time is short, so spend your time wisely. It’s the quality of the travel, not the quantity that you should go after.
Eat the local food
I would subject myself into a strict diet at least 2 weeks leading to my trip because I have a no-diet policy when I travel. I like sampling the local cuisine and I always ask my friends for food recommendations. You won’t find me in the most popular restaurants though, I am more into street food. I like eating where the locals go. If a certain food is a local’s favorite then I should eat it too. Some of the best that I’ve tried are the tamilok and the crocodile sisig in Puerto Princesa, the iced coffee in Vietnam sold by a street vendor, the torched beef, calamari, and pepper pork bun in Taipei, the poqui poqui in Ilocos, the batil patong in Quirino, and of course the ramen in Osaka.
So unless you have an allergy or any other dietary restrictions, I highly recommend that you go out and sample the local cuisine as this is one of the best ways to really get to know the place that you are visiting. Find a restaurant or better yet, dine on eateries, small restos, or try street food. You can also ask the people where and what to eat; the locals know best. [Read: Taiwan Must Eat: Diet Another Day]
Stroll around the neighborhood
Most of the time, we just leave our bags to our hotels then off we go. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but I suggest that you find some time to stroll around the neighborhood in which you are staying. The first time I did this was in Bohol with a former colleague. We spent a few hours just walking and checking out the nearby area from our hotel. It was totally relaxing and made me feel like I was living there. Since then, I make sure to spare a few hours in a day for some neighborhood exploration. It’s through my aimless wandering that I found this charming cafe along Pub Street in Cambodia. It’s when I stepped off the hostel that I found the El Union Coffee in La Union. And it’s through my decision to kill time and take a stroll that I stumbled upon the Daan Forest Park in Taipei. [Read: Cafe Central, a Lovely Cafe at the Heart of Pub Street]
Be curious and ask the locals
Where did the Governor’s Rapids get its name? Why do the Vietnamese love coffee and why do they mix it with condensed milk instead of fresh milk? Why is it forbidden to touch the bas reliefs inside the Angkor Wat temples? Why are there spirit houses in front of homes or business establishments in Cambodia? These are only some of the things that caught my attention and by asking the locals, I was able to learn something new. Traveling is a form of education and you can learn so much just by being observant, curious, and inquisitive. When you see something different, don’t hesitate to ask the natives about it. You’d be surprised at how willing they are to share the information. Not only will you get your questions answered, you may also meet new friends. And then you can go home and have a far more meaningful stories to share with people you know.
Stay in hostels
I am recommending hostels not only for budget considerations, but for the opportunity to meet fellow travelers. I met my instant travel buddy in Cambodia, Nina from the Netherlands at the Luxury Concept Hostel in Siem Reap. I was able to promote and practically convinced an American traveler to visit the Philippines at the Happy Taipei Hostel in Taiwan. I received useful travel recommendations from my dorm mates at the Koniko Backpacker Hostel in Vietnam. The hostels are a good mine of information from the staff and the guests alike so you should consider booking your stay there.
I always say, there is no right or wrong way in traveling. You can do it for the long haul, you can do it on a weekend, you can do luxury, or you can do it within a budget. However you want to do it, make sure that it’s worth your time. It’s worth your time if you’re able to meet your purpose; you had fun, you learned something, you made good (or even bad) memories. It’s okay if you can’t travel slow for now. It’s not the length of time, but in how you make use of your time that matters.