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. I really like your travel philosophy. I’m working abroad, so sometimes I only have a long weekend to spare for a trip, but I’m discovering that I like to take my time and not rush through each city in a day or two. Sometimes being lazy on the road is fun… I could spend all day walking around shopping, eating, and people watching! Even if I miss out on some of the sights, I love not feeling so rushed…. and if I don’t get enough sleep and I’m running around like a crazy person all day I just get crabby, and that’s no fun, haha.

    1. It’s great that you are discovering your travel style. I for one truly love sleeping so it’s a big priority for me.

  2. Soooo agree! I remember on my first backpacking trip, all I cared about was hitting as many countries as possible. I did two actually in just one day. Well I obviously didn’t complete them. I thought I would do the same on my recent long term trip to SE Asia, but I actually ended up spending a lot longer in two countries then I thought. I’m really happy too. I met some great people, learned things, picked up a bit of the language and left really feeling like I knew those two countries. It meant not visiting another country on my list and getting limited time at two other countries I did visit, but for me it was worth it!

  3. Hi Steph,
    This is a great post and I like how you have articulated the advantages of slow travel. However, for lots of people, long term travel is not an option. So when I hear from folks who “saw Europe” in 3 weeks, I understand their perspective too. It’s the greatest and most expensive thing they have ever done while keeping their jobs and families and all those things. I always struggle to find a proper balance. 🙂

    1. Indeed, it’s better to get out and see something than to stay at home wondering. But I do think those people might have a better, deeper experience i they just chose a couple countries to focus on.

  4. Such true words, slow travel does let us examine a place in a closer (and dare I say) more realistic manner. Personally, I prefer travel in the form of hoping around and living in places.

  5. So true! Quality not quantity is essential to travelling that you actually enjoy, and don’t just fly through. Your experiences are more important than the number of stamps in your passport!

  6. I’m dreading the fact that my upcoming 8-month trip is going to feel so rushed as Q & I are planning to cover 11 countries during that time. Not sure exactly how I should tackle it, it’s tough when there’s so much you want to see!

    1. My advice is leave your plans as flexible as you can- just in case you decide to drop a country or spend long somewhere. That said 11 in 8 months doesn’t sound TOO absurd.

  7. This is so true! Spending more time at a place really gives you a much better sense of it. You enjoy yourself more and meet more people (usually locals instead of other travelers).

  8. We totally agree. Not only does slow travel save your energy but you get to discover a lot more about a place. We spent 3.5 weeks house sitting in Kyoto and loved it there, but I know many people who don’t like it. I think it’s because in a few days you don’t have a chance to see everything the city has to offer and get stuck in the rather unattractive downtown area.

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