My wife and I currently are on a mini sabbatical. We decided to hit pause on work and try out the digital nomad life, so I’m writing this from a quiet apartment on the outskirts of Krabi, Thailand.
It isn’t a particularly nice apartment. The building is a little run down, my chair is wobbly, and I can see a trail of ants emanating from the large bag of rice intended to last us the week(!)
Yesterday we wandered around Ao Nang beach, which was tranquil.
Yet as we watched the sun go down, I couldn’t help but feel guilty. Were we having a good enough time? Were we doing enough? Were we having enough exciting experiences? Enough. That tyrannical word.
I pictured heading home and not having any world-shattering anecdotes to share with family and friends. Even while living the dream, my inner critic was towered over me like the formidable limestone cliffs all around us.
It was the right moment to remind myself of something. Before heading out, our intention was to approach travelling in our own way – while we wanted to create an impactful experience, we wanted to do so authentically.
I’ve come to understand that creating such an experience is just that – creative. There is no right or wrong way to travel. Which is why I have a strong aversion to travel blogs that enforce certain ‘must-do’ activities.
The joy of slow travel
I think there are two polar opposite mindsets when it comes to travelling.
The first (and commonest) mindset involves gearing up for speed and quantity. The aim is to flood your senses with as many experiences as possible, as fast as possible.
This is how I used to travel. After completing my medical elective in Samoa a few years ago, I travelled in New Zealand and Australia at a dizzying pace, never pausing anywhere long enough to absorb my surroundings. It’s such a shame to realise, but I never truly connected with the people, places, or atmospheres around me – the impressions were all quite surface-level.
The second mindset, however, is to optimise for slowness and quality. Some people call this ‘slow travel’, or ‘slow tourism’. The idea is to seek greater connection to local people, cultures, food, and so on. The trip still has an emotional impact, but it remains sustainable for local communities, helping to combat consumerism.
For me though, slow travel is more than an environmental movement. By really being wherever I am, and dropping into the natural rhythm of each environment, more becomes available to me in each moment. I can soak up the atmosphere of a place fully instead of filling it with excitement and novelty.
Maybe we intentionally opt for a shabby apartment in the suburbs, foregoing that glossy hotel in the tourist hotspot. Or perhaps we homecook most of our meals using fresh local ingredients. And when it comes to filling our time, maybe a stroll on a nearby hiking trail is rich enough as is.
These experiences can be both bland or nakedly vibrant. It all depends on how much presence I decide to bring. Sitting in a cafe and watching the world go by isn’t exactly a heart-thumping adrenaline rush, nor is it a “must-do” bucket list item. It’s perfectly ordinary – in an extraordinary way.
Funny that I had to fly 9,000 miles away to realise the value of this extraordinary ordinariness. Because in their totality, those small, seemingly unremarkable moments of awareness add up to genuine joy and meaning, whether I’m at home sitting in front of the television or trekking around Peru.
If I’m not careful, I’m prone to falling into the more and faster camp – when the novelty bug bites, I become insatiable. But left to mellow out and embrace the slow travel mentality, I’m remembering to fall in love with everyday experiences.
I don’t need to hunt out the most beautiful waterfall, climb the tallest mountain, or stay in the nicest villa. Sometimes the most enjoyable thing in the world is pitching up on the balcony with a cup of tea and cracking open a good book.
Maybe this applies to my life as a whole. When I’m hungry for more, and I want it all faster, nothing is ever enough. I can fill my plate with activities, priorities, possessions, and people, but ultimately, slowing down and seeing whatever is right in front of me is where the magic always unfolds.
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