I was having a catch-up coffee with a friend in Perth the other day and we were talking about our travels. As she took a sip she said to me, ‘well, you’re more about slow travel aren’t you? Like me, you prefer to spend longer living in places rather than rushed backpacking trips.’
I nodded my head and had to concede her point. As much as I enjoy a weekend get away here and a couple of weeks’ holiday there, I have found that my travels over the past five years have stretched into what could be termed as simply living abroad.
Right now, for example, I’m in Western Australia. I flew to Perth without any particular plan in mind other than to explore WA and a few other parts of this enormous, diverse country that I didn’t manage to see in my first twelve months in Australia back in 2012-13.
I suppose that my current situation has a lot to do with the flexibility of my Working Holiday Visa, which allows me to work for up to six months at a time, thus enabling me to fund my ongoing travels in the country. As I write this, I’m in a small town called Jurien Bay on the Turquoise Coast where I’m working in a small bar and restaurant for a few months to recoup some funds before taking off on the next concentrated spurt of activity.
If I arrived in Australia on a tourist visa, which is only valid for three months, then my purpose would be completely different. My focus would then be on trying to cram in as much as possible in my ninety days and leave the country having ticked off as many iconic sites as my budget and time would allow.
So, right now, am I travelling in the true sense of the word? I have a backpack but I’m not currently backpacking. These few months stationary are simply part of the bigger picture of a year in Australia. If I could afford to be travelling for the whole twelve months would I still choose to?
Probably not. I would need the longest sit down to recover.
What’s Your Purpose?
The word ‘purpose’ got me thinking.
I can appreciate how we approach our travels with many different purposes in mind: some people may only have a short window away from work in which to relax, others may holiday with the kids or use the time to tick off a few high-octane adrenaline heavy items on their bucket list.
What is my purpose for travelling, then? Why do I choose to spend years away from my home and family, roaming foreign lands on the other side of the world?
It is difficult to answer that question without resorting to overused and frankly bland clichés about wanderlust and the bites of the travel bug.
For me, it’s hard to ignore the rest of the world. I see images, film clips, read articles and other blogs about all these other countries and places out there that I could visit.
And I want to go.
Perhaps I’ve got Peter Pan syndrome, perhaps I suffer from the feeling that the ‘grass is always greener.’ Whatever the reasons, my yearning to go off and explore has turned me into somewhat of a nomad over the past few years, and the thing is, my list just keeps getting bigger.
When Does It Stop Being Travel And Start Becoming Living Abroad?
Am I an expat? No, I wouldn’t say so in the true sense of the word because I haven’t become an official resident anywhere else in the world, but ask me whether I have bought furniture to fill a rented house, paid my taxes and car insurance in a foreign country then I would answer yes.
I got waylaid in Melbourne. Australia for several months working in the city and living with a fun bunch of new friends and I loved it. Then, a five month ski season in New Zealand turned into two years in that country as I tripped about in my car having the most fantastic adventures in between jobs.
And I appreciate that these experiences have been enabled by the fact that I had a working holiday visa under my belt when I arrived in each country. I would have a different experience of course if I had entered solely on a tourist visa, which would not allow me to drag my feet and work.
Other trips I have taken that resemble more of a standard holiday are usually down to the fact that I have shared them with other people, had less money and time at my disposal or visa restrictions mean that it is purely a vacation.
Why I Slow Travel
In all honesty I think slow travel just happens. It’s something that you don’t specifically set out to achieve, but when you’re out there on the road, time seems to constantly nip you at the heels pushing you on and on until a distant month or year is upon you and you shrug your shoulders and say that you honestly don’t know where all the time went.
It doesn’t make it any easier to leave, knowing that you’ll be gone for an extended period, but I have now got to the point where I acknowledge that my travel choices say more about my preferred lifestyle than I could ever have imagined back in 2011 as I nervously boarded a plane for Thailand.
And I guess that’s my point. I have allowed slow travel to become my lifestyle.
I don’t have a permanent job back home in the UK, a mortgage, car loan repayments or even a mobile phone contract that pulls me back. I have made choices, made some sacrifices and engineered my own path to suit myself.
How Can You Slow Travel?
I wrote a blog post about the ways that I have tried connecting with community whilst on the road. I have found that when I have immersed myself in a certain place for a longer period of time I allow my feelings time to develop. I come away feeling much more fulfilled. Working or volunteering in a place helps, as does building up a new daily routine in your new surroundings to help foster a feeling of a home away from home.
Digging your toes in the soil, whether or not those roots will only ever be shallow ones, leads to the desire to not rush yourself in any given location.
There is too much to discover. Too much to appreciate. And sometimes these unique flavours only begin to reveal themselves if we allow ourselves time to steep, like a tea bag in hot water.
I think we all start out with a fairly comprehensive list of places we want to tick off on our travels. Most people may work through the list, perhaps due to time or money constraints, and move on quickly. I have found that when I listen to my heart on the road, whether it’s because I’m either loving or not enjoying a place, dictates the amount of time I ultimately spend somewhere. Allow yourself time in your schedule to make changes that enables you to stay somewhere if you’re having a wonderful time, or move on swiftly if it’s not ticking your box.
By beginning your travels open to the possibility of spending longer in places that you find you like I believe that you will ultimately end up staying longer there.
Because what’s travel about if it is not to be completely honest and please yourself?
What are your thoughts on slow travel?
Is it purely circumstantial? Is it privilege? Do you prefer being a tourist or a traveller?
I’d love to hear what you think.
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