Move Less, See More

A lot of things about travel are counter-intuitive: when you travel alone you meet more people, when you spend less money you experience more and the more hidden, dingy and local a restaurant looks, the better the food is guaranteed to be. The hardest travel paradox for most people to grasp though is that the more you move around, the less you’re going to see.

It’s a common mistake that I’ve made and I’m sure you have too: people just want to do too many things in too short a time frame. You end up with an itinerary that speeds you through a country in a week, through six cities in 12 days, or all of South East Asia in a month. Exhausting. You might power through with a tiny taste of each place you breeze through, but to really get to know a place you’re going to have to slow down.

This has really hit home for me over the past month. If we hadn’t been offered a house-sitting gig in Bogota we probably would have breezed in and out in a couple of days. Bogota would have just been another enormous capital city with a neat historical area and crappy weather. Instead, over the past month we’ve gotten to really explore the city, to get to know parts that most tourists never happen upon.

If we hadn’t stayed we wouldn’t have visited the bright and funky northern neighborhood of Usaquen, with it’s cute restaurants and giant Sunday flea market.

I wouldn’t have gotten a chance to photograph all of the beautiful graffiti that lies hidden around the city.

I wouldn’t have experienced the biggest, most elaborate Halloween celebration I’ve ever seen in my life. Seriously, the US has nothing on the Colombians when it comes to drunken costume bashes.

I wouldn’t have met so many cool locals, or developed a favorite restaurant. I wouldn’t have witnessed the student protests, or the long, prohibition style election. Maybe I wouldn’t have made it to Zipaquira, or tried chicha. Even though I felt like I spent a lot of time hanging around typing on my computer, I actually got a chance to do a lot, and to develop an understanding of what it is to live in Bogota.

I’m anxious now to get out of Bogota and go see the rest of what Colombia has to offer (which by the way, looks like a LOT). I know it’s not realistic to spend a month in every place you visit (and many places you wouldn’t want to), but there is something to be said for slowing down and having the flexibility to spend extra time in a particularly intriguing place. To explore deeply instead of broadly.

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It’s a paradigm shift, and it’s particularly important for longer trips: on a one week trip you might be able to jam pack a ton of stuff in, then recover later at home. If you are traveling longer though, you can’t be rushing around, switching cities every 2 days, unless your goal is to end up exhausted. Instead of quantity, you have to start thinking about quality.

Even if you could keep up a continuous pace like that, who would want to? Because when you slow down, you get the chance to look more closely at a place- to really get ti know it. Instead of traveling wide, you travel deep- and that leads to some excellent rewards.

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37 thoughts on “Move Less, See More”

  1. also – I just posted about Halloween Around the World – about how people celebrate outside the US. I didn’t realize they celebrate in Columbia, or a bunch of other countries. Do kids “trick-or-treat” ?

    1. Yeah that’s been a big surprise for me too. They do the whole 9 yards: trick or treaters, decorations, costume parties and lots of drinking.

  2. I’m a prime offender! I just went on a 5 month trip and visited more than a dozen countries. I treated each week like a 1-week trip. I loved it, but it’s certainly a tradeoff. I covered lots of ground, but you end up spending lots of time being a tourist, and not enough just soaking in the essence of the place.

      1. treating a marathon like a series of sprints is truly exhausting, yes. I eventually slowed down with month straight in the Philippines, but even that was spread into multiple (beautiful) islands

  3. Yeah, I totally agree with this. My boyfriend and I left for a six week trip to Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos, and three weeks later…. we’re still in Cambodia and tomorrow I’m putting a poll on my blog to let readers decide between Vietnam and Laos, because we were on crack to think we could do all three!

    And I STILL feel like I’m rushing!

  4. It is different when you travel long-term to the short-term travels. We saw a family the other week trying to go around Australia in three months. In the three months they’d been away, they’d driven about 200 to 300 kilometers on average each day – there had only been two days that they had not driven! I felt tired just thinking about it!

  5. We always travel slowly. Even with travelling slowly, we still have to stop sometimes and have a bit of time to just relax and take it easy.

  6. Very good post–as my life changes, I am looking forward to lots of slow travel. Funny, though, my colleagues in the States think that my 14-18 day trips are incredibly long!

  7. You summed up my whole travel philosophy SO WELL right here! I’d much rather go to fewer places but really experience that place, like my six month stints in Nice and Melbourne. I think the best part is being able to travel more in the region as well. So often we just hop from big city to big city–if you live in the big city, you can take long weekends and day trips to the surrounding areas and see a totally different aspect of the culture.

  8. I’m always disappointed when I try to see a lot in a short amount of time. You end up feeling rushed, and stressed. I think slow travel, at least for longterm travelers would be the way to go.

  9. I think you made a good point in saying that traveling quickly might work for a short trip of a couple weeks, where you’ll have time to “recover” once you get home. But when you’re traveling long-term (or indefinitely), it’s not realistic to zip through everything. That’s when you get burnt out and start to hate what you’re doing.

    Great post! It’s good to hear you’re enjoying your shift to even slower travel in South America.

    1. Exactly- for a short trip I think it’s fine to rush around a bit (although there are still merits from just choosing a couple places and seeing them in depth). But for a longer trip you just HAVE to slow down or you’ll lose your mind.

  10. I’m pretty religious about slow travel these days, so I’m always glad when I come across a post like this. And by addressing the paradox, you did a good job articulating the value of this travel mode.

    For the past two years I’ve just been looping back to the same handful of places, reconnecting with friends, trying to become fluent in languages, learning dances, listening to music, trying to get in deep. Ironically, though, the only time I have spent in Bogota was a brief 4.5 stay a few years ago, so this post definitely has me wanting to go back for an extended stay!!

    1. It’s funny, having done this I’m so curious about all the other places that I’ve only spent a small amount of time in. What have I missed out on?

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