Two years ago I went to India for the first time. For two months Ale and I travelled around the south. It was a hectic trip, definitely not slow travel, moving from place to place every couple of days and covering a serious amount of kilometers. Yes, we saw a lot and it was great, but during the trip we also had to say no too often to exciting experiences with locals, due to lack of time.
Everyone travels in their own style, on the cheap, or more luxuriously, running from sight to sight, or hanging out and taking it chill. There is no right or wrong, it all depends on what suits you at the time.
For me, until now, it was all about the traveling part. Every time we reached the destination, I got anxious to leave again, hoping to see more. But there are so many things to see in this world, and if we want to cover it all, we have some serious work to do. And we’ve now realised that just seeing beautiful places is not enough, we want to live them.
Changing our approach – from fast paced to slow travel
During this trip we therefore went for a different approach. No longer wanting to see most of what’s around, but instead hanging back for longer periods of time and seeing where local life takes us. This may seem limiting as we have to make choices all the time, skipping out on experiences that most don’t want to miss out on. In some ways, it is.
Despite spending three months in north India, I haven’t seen the ‘must see’ Taj Mahal. We can count the countries’ “must see” sight visits we’ve done on one hand. But that doesn’t matter because I no longer feel like we’re missing out.
Instead, we can say that we have crashed three weddings (eating and dancing our hearts out), driven locals around in the crappiest Indian car ever (an exhilarating ride for sure), seen the inside of a tea estate’s mansion (didn’t even know this existed), and have been invited to and stayed in many homes (something that in past trips we normally had to say no to because of our ‘schedule’). These were all amazing experiences, which we wouldn’t have had otherwise.
It takes some flexibility to open up to new encounters, having to adjust your plans on the go. We don’t know what we’re doing the following week or even day, and don’t ask us where we’ll go next. No travel guides for us, just following the flow and the recommendations of others. That is the beauty of our slow travels, having the freedom to just be.
What we love about slow travel
Traveling, for us, is not so much about visiting places and a check list of sights, it’s more about the encounters we have, fully indulging in the places we visit and local life. People all over the world eat, work, interact, entertain and live in different ways, and only when trying to slow down and integrate do you start to understand and appreciate these differences.
It’s exciting and mind opening to experience daily life as it comes. But everyone needs some time to adapt when you’ve just met. We don’t ask the more tricky questions on our mind and hold on to our sarcastic jokes.
But when the ice eventually breaks, connections are made, the local host starts to open up, and the Jesus jokes (yes, I look like him) are coming around (in the whole village), that’s when our visit becomes interesting.
The ambience changes and we become part of local life, being able to connect on a more personal level through the daily greetings, the surprised recognitions, the small conversations and numerous invitations. From being tourists we become visitors, from visitors we become guests, and from guests we become family.
It makes way for a whole different experience of the places we visit, other kinds of interactions, other kinds of do’s and dont’s, and another kind of acceptance. One that we feel much more comfortable with and that we truly enjoy.
We get to know local culture, daily routines, how people interact and what they enjoy. Slow travel is like stepping into a movie play in which the set has evolved over decades. Whilst a quick visit will show you a sneak peek of local life, staying for multiple days, makes you part of the show. We much rather have one great experience than multiple not-fully satisfying moments; quality over quantity.
We get to understand where we are, whilst impacting it less. Staying somewhere with more intention means we can make better choices of where to spend our money and what to do (or not do). Every place has its own norms and it takes more than a day to understand them.
Whilst we love the discovery of a new place, we equally enjoy the comfort of knowing how to go around, where to buy and what to do. When we stay for longer we develop our own routines. This maybe sounds boring or dull, but being on the road for so long, and never having anything that belongs to you, makes us crave for the sense of familiarity. Staying around in one place lets us feel like we belong to that place and are part of it, even if just temporarily.
Slow travel has given meaning to what we are doing with our lives. Respecting the place we’re visiting, getting to know it at a deeper level, and connecting with locals, is something we truly treasure. Because after all, these places we visit are (for now) our only home.
All photographs were taken in Khonoma, Nagaland (India)