Before Tim and I embarked on our South American adventure, we had grand ideas about visiting every country on the continent. However, after completing the Camino de Santiago last summer, money was looking significantly thinner on the ground than planned and we settled for a grand total of five or six countries.
Now that we are six months into the trip, I will confess to you all that we failed in our aim. At this point, we have visited only two countries, with only one more currently on the list. Despite this, I do not feel like these travels have been in vain. If this trip has taught me anything, it is that travel is not about counting countries but rather, actually experiencing the place you visit.
The breakdown of our trip so far looks like this. We spent three months in Ecuador and a little bit longer in Peru. The remainder of our time will be spent in Bolivia. Despite my overzealous enthusiasm to see everything that South America has to offer, I realised early on that we did just not have enough time. To be honest, I think Tim and I could easily travel around the continent for a decade and still not see everything we would want to.
I thought travel is meant to be relaxing?!
Although I have done the whistle-stop tour thing before, I will be the first to admit that it is bloody exhausting. Running around a city trying to cram in all of the sights in the limited time you have isn’t always productive and can actually end up stressing you out, just when travel is meant to do the opposite!
During this trip, I have also been working which means that most of my days have been a mix of both travel exploration and grind time. Travel is so much more than the Instagram posts let on, trust me! Working on the road can be exhausting at the best of times so I certainly didn’t want to travel at breakneck speed in my free time.
Instead of following the traditional Gringo Trail and seeing only a country’s highlights, we instead decided to take travel at our own pace. Hello, slow travel!
What is slow travel?
I personally feel like everybody’s definition of slow travel is different. Some people say that it is spending at least a week in each place, whereas other people think of slow travel more like a digital nomad lifestyle, never having a permanent base and instead choosing to move every few months.
For me, slow travel is long enough to see what I want, stay on top of my workload and not feel rushed. It has been a liberating change, to say the least!
Why is slow travel brilliant?
By choosing a slower pace with which to see the world, I feel that I have gained far more than I would’ve done cramming in the tourist sights. I’ve been able to get to know local people and get a real insight into their way of life.
Slow travel has given me the privilege of experiencing a more authentic face of Peru and Ecuador, something backpackers are not always afforded. For example, I would never have partied with a small rainforest community if I hadn’t become a regular guest around their area!
Perhaps my favourite thing about slow travel is the flexibility that it affords. Whilst I love going on guided tours, I like the freedom of being able to plan my own trip independently. Travelling slow means I can alter and change my plans if necessary. Not to mention, it allows me to take a day off from travelling which is something I need from time to time!
This trip has made me realise that for me, travel is so much more than a checklist of sights. It is more than ‘I’ve seen that’ or ‘I’ve been to x amount of countries’. Travel is about connecting to another way of life and truly experiencing a new place.
I also think it is important to consider how you are going to travel responsibly. Owing to the very definition of slow travel, there is no rush to get anywhere, so you can take a bus, even if the journey will take all day.
There are huge environmental benefits to slow travel. For example, if you are coming straight from Machu Picchu to Rio Carnival, you will inevitably be getting a plane and spewing more gas into the atmosphere. However, slow travel often allows you to avoid air travel and the nasty gasses that come with it.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying don’t ever travel by plane and don’t ever go quick. I understand that some people have limited time in which to travel. However, less reliance on air travel is another huge plus of the slow travel movement.
What are the downsides of slow travel?
Many people would argue that the downside to slow travel is that you don’t get to see as much. However, I disagree with this assessment. It is true that if we hadn’t decided to go slow on this trip, we could’ve seen more countries and famous landmarks.
In my opinion, it isn’t that we’ve seen less, we’ve just seen different. I didn’t get to go to Rio Carnival, I missed Iguazu Falls and I still don’t know what a real Argentinian griddled steak tastes like. However, I did get to visit an isolated salt flat, raft through a jungle river and zoom down a sand dune on my belly.
I also poured yoghurt in my coffee in front of a very confused host, nearly shit myself on a tour bus and was chased by a terrifying mini Cujo. What can I say, travel can be a mixed bag.
Life is all about perspective and I don’t feel like I’ve missed out at all. I’ve just given myself a reason to return to this continent and explore the things I didn’t get round to doing this time. In reality, I think there will be several more trips to South America in the future as just one more wouldn’t ever do this varied continent justice.
How can you make the most of slow travel?
In order to elongate our trip as much as possible, we have used Workaway to secure volunteering positions, not just to save money but also to experience a more local way of living. These have been brilliant opportunities to integrate into a place rather than just pass through it and have probably given us some of our fondest trip memories.
Couchsurfing and housesitting are great things to do as well. By buddying up with a local, you open yourself to more authentic experiences and also get to see a place from an insider perspective. It is also a good option for the budget conscious!
One of my top tips for slow travel is to learn as much of the local language as you can. Forget about the embarrassing moments and embrace your own learning. (I once asked a woman whether I could touch a sandwich rather than take it away, it was pretty cringe!)
Remember that whilst the tourist spots are good (heck, people visit them for a reason!), the road less travelled always has a lot to offer travellers too.
Travel is not a competition and realistically everyone who steps outside of their front door is a winner. South America has taught me hundreds of things but the main one is always be the tortoise and not the hare. Thanks to our trip to the Galapagos, I’ve seen how chilled Giant Tortoises are and I know I’d much rather be plodding along with them.
What are your thoughts on slow travel?
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