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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.

New Friends

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.

37 Responses to Move Less, See More

  1. Phil November 6, 2011 at 12:08 PM #

    I’m pretty religious about slow travel these days, so I’m always glad when I come across a post like this. And by addressing the paradox, you did a good job articulating the value of this travel mode.

    For the past two years I’ve just been looping back to the same handful of places, reconnecting with friends, trying to become fluent in languages, learning dances, listening to music, trying to get in deep. Ironically, though, the only time I have spent in Bogota was a brief 4.5 stay a few years ago, so this post definitely has me wanting to go back for an extended stay!!

    • Steph November 6, 2011 at 7:05 PM #

      It’s funny, having done this I’m so curious about all the other places that I’ve only spent a small amount of time in. What have I missed out on?

  2. Amanda November 6, 2011 at 1:19 PM #

    I think you made a good point in saying that traveling quickly might work for a short trip of a couple weeks, where you’ll have time to “recover” once you get home. But when you’re traveling long-term (or indefinitely), it’s not realistic to zip through everything. That’s when you get burnt out and start to hate what you’re doing.

    Great post! It’s good to hear you’re enjoying your shift to even slower travel in South America.

    • Steph November 6, 2011 at 7:04 PM #

      Exactly- for a short trip I think it’s fine to rush around a bit (although there are still merits from just choosing a couple places and seeing them in depth). But for a longer trip you just HAVE to slow down or you’ll lose your mind.

  3. Alouise November 6, 2011 at 2:40 PM #

    I’m always disappointed when I try to see a lot in a short amount of time. You end up feeling rushed, and stressed. I think slow travel, at least for longterm travelers would be the way to go.

    • Steph November 6, 2011 at 7:03 PM #

      Yeah, the trips I’ve done super fast have just been a whirlwind. It’s hard to even remember later what I saw.

  4. Christine November 6, 2011 at 4:43 PM #

    You summed up my whole travel philosophy SO WELL right here! I’d much rather go to fewer places but really experience that place, like my six month stints in Nice and Melbourne. I think the best part is being able to travel more in the region as well. So often we just hop from big city to big city–if you live in the big city, you can take long weekends and day trips to the surrounding areas and see a totally different aspect of the culture.

    • Steph November 6, 2011 at 7:03 PM #

      That’s definitely a good point- if you have a home base it’s a lot easier to explore further afield.

  5. Nancy November 6, 2011 at 6:14 PM #

    Very good post–as my life changes, I am looking forward to lots of slow travel. Funny, though, my colleagues in the States think that my 14-18 day trips are incredibly long!

    • Steph November 6, 2011 at 7:02 PM #

      Yes, I remember back when I was working I took a 12 day vacation and everybody thought that was craaaazy!

  6. Amy November 6, 2011 at 7:22 PM #

    We always travel slowly. Even with travelling slowly, we still have to stop sometimes and have a bit of time to just relax and take it easy.

  7. Jarrad November 6, 2011 at 7:25 PM #

    It is different when you travel long-term to the short-term travels. We saw a family the other week trying to go around Australia in three months. In the three months they’d been away, they’d driven about 200 to 300 kilometers on average each day – there had only been two days that they had not driven! I felt tired just thinking about it!

    • Steph November 6, 2011 at 7:34 PM #

      Yikes! Yeah sometimes you really have to limit yourself to really enjoy.

  8. Alex November 6, 2011 at 9:06 PM #

    Yeah, I totally agree with this. My boyfriend and I left for a six week trip to Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos, and three weeks later…. we’re still in Cambodia and tomorrow I’m putting a poll on my blog to let readers decide between Vietnam and Laos, because we were on crack to think we could do all three!

    And I STILL feel like I’m rushing!

    • Steph November 15, 2011 at 11:10 PM #

      My vote is Vietnam!

  9. Todd @ Visit50.com November 6, 2011 at 9:29 PM #

    I’m a prime offender! I just went on a 5 month trip and visited more than a dozen countries. I treated each week like a 1-week trip. I loved it, but it’s certainly a tradeoff. I covered lots of ground, but you end up spending lots of time being a tourist, and not enough just soaking in the essence of the place.

    • Steph November 15, 2011 at 11:07 PM #

      Gah! That sounds exhausting, but maybe I’m just lazy…

      • Todd @ Visit50.com November 15, 2011 at 11:15 PM #

        treating a marathon like a series of sprints is truly exhausting, yes. I eventually slowed down with month straight in the Philippines, but even that was spread into multiple (beautiful) islands

  10. Todd @ Visit50.com November 6, 2011 at 9:35 PM #

    also – I just posted about Halloween Around the World – about how people celebrate outside the US. I didn’t realize they celebrate in Columbia, or a bunch of other countries. Do kids “trick-or-treat” ?

    • Steph November 15, 2011 at 11:07 PM #

      Yeah that’s been a big surprise for me too. They do the whole 9 yards: trick or treaters, decorations, costume parties and lots of drinking.

  11. Erin November 7, 2011 at 4:27 AM #

    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.

    • Steph November 15, 2011 at 11:06 PM #

      I love Kyoto, but if I’d had three weeks there I would have loved it even more!

  12. Colleen Hayward November 7, 2011 at 2:12 PM #

    Knowing all of this, I think I’m going to have to adjust my future itinerary by a lot 😛

  13. Jason Stearns November 7, 2011 at 9:43 PM #

    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).

  14. Gerard ~ GQ trippin November 8, 2011 at 2:25 AM #

    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!

    • Steph November 15, 2011 at 11:03 PM #

      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.

  15. Kathy November 10, 2011 at 8:02 AM #

    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!

  16. Jessie November 11, 2011 at 2:42 AM #

    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.

  17. travelingnatural November 21, 2011 at 7:39 AM #

    If time permits I agree slowing down is best.

  18. Priyank November 26, 2011 at 6:03 PM #

    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. 🙂

    • Steph December 4, 2011 at 5:12 PM #

      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.

  19. Bobbi Lee Hitchon December 12, 2011 at 5:05 PM #

    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!

  20. Lindsay January 9, 2012 at 1:39 PM #

    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.

    • Steph January 9, 2012 at 2:45 PM #

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

  21. Jen January 26, 2012 at 10:19 AM #

    Really good article and excellent point about travel. I spent a month on the Bay Islands of Honduras last year and was definitely thankful that I got to see so much more than the cruiseship passengers that spend ONE AFTERNOON on an island. I think if you have the time to do it, spending a couple weeks in a place is ideal.

  22. Ally November 17, 2012 at 2:35 AM #

    This is an idea I seem to struggle with. I fully intend to travel slower but somehow I still end up trying to cram everything in.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. 11 Great Solo Travel Reads From 2011 (plus a bonus!) – - December 19, 2015

    […] Move Less, See More by Stephanie Yoder After a year with two separate whirlwind sojourns in Europe, I’ve decided that traveling slowly really is best for me. And just like that, as though she’d read my mind, Stephanie ups and writes an incredibly insightful piece on the benefits of slow travel. So said, so done. […]

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