Two years ago I went to India for the first time.
For two months Ale and I travelled around the south. Although two months may seem like a really long time, 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 (too often) say no to exciting experiences with locals due to lack of time. And therefore, it felt like we were somehow missing out, missing out on something important to us.
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 seeing as much as possible. Every time we reached the destination, I got anxious to leave again, hoping to see more. After all, there is so much of the world to discover!
But we’ve now realised that just seeing beautiful places is not enough. We want to truly experience what they have to offer, we want to live them.
Changing our approach – from fast paced to slow travel
This time around we’ve gone for a different approach. We no longer expect to see everything in the destinations we are visiting. We instead focus on slowing down, mindfully approaching possible experiences, 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 many wouldn’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. In fact, we can probably 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 still existed), and accepted a multitude of invitations more, into people’s homes and lives (something that in past trips we normally had to say no to because of our ‘schedule’).
These have been all amazing experiences, which we wouldn’t exchange for anything in the world.
It takes some flexibility to open up to new encounters, and we constantly have to adjust our plans on the go. We don’t know what we’ll be doing the following week or even day, and don’t even ask us which is our next destination.
We don’t have handy travel guides informing our decisions, we just follow the flow and recommendations of others. It may not be as straightforward, but the beauty of our slow travels is having the freedom to just be.
What we love about slow travel
Traveling, for us (now), is not so much about visiting places and a check list of sights, it’s more about the encounters we have, about 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.
Sometimes getting these experiences isn’t as easy as just showing up. You may need to educate yourself and adapt to local norms and traditions you were previously unfamiliar with, or maybe the people from your new host community need some time to adapt to your presence. We often find ourselves needing a couple of days to truly immerse ourselves and make those around us comfortable.
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) start to bubble up, 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 daily greetings, surprised recognitions, small conversations and acts of kindness.
From being tourists we become visitors, from visitors we become guests, and from guests we become family.
This makes way for a whole different way of experiencing the places we visit, for other kinds of interactions, other kinds of do’s and dont’s, and another kind of acceptance. Ones 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 the production, taking the time to integrate yourself makes you part of the show.
We now value the quality of our travels over the quantity. Slow travel allows us to understand where we are, whilst minimising our negative impact. Staying somewhere with more intention means we can make better choices of where to spend our money and what to do (or skip out on). The world is a complex place, and it takes more than a day to understand the particularities of the places we’re visiting.
Whilst we love the discovery aspect of traveling, we equally enjoy developing our own routines and the comfort of getting to feel at home wherever we may be.
Whilst this may sound boring or dull, but being on the road for so long – never having anything that belongs to you – makes us crave for the sense of familiarity.
Staying in places for longer and truly experiencing what they have to offer, lets us feel like we belong, even if just temporarily.
Slow travel has given meaning to what we are doing with our lives. Respecting the places we’re visiting, getting to know them 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)