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.
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.