Slow travel is becoming a more visible and viable travel alternative these days with the digital nomad movement growing fast and more and more people becoming location independent. It has been a big part of my journey as well; I’ve been traveling ever since I can remember, and since I graduated a year and a half ago, I’ve been on the road full time.
But moving around relentlessly, changing cities every few days or even every week can get really tiring and, after awhile, it can even feel bland. So recently, I decided to slow down, and drastically. I spent two months living in the south of France, then one month on the coast of Oaxaca, Mexico to where I’m living now in Mexico City.
I don’t know how long I’ll be here for sure, but I do know that what I can experience truly living in a place, is very different from the tourist schtick you can consume when you only have a few days.
There is a depth of knowing a place, a feeling of home and a comfort that you don’t get when you’re rushing through a new place. It’s this intimacy with the foreign that has come to captivate and inspire me, at least for now!
While this style of travel may be appealing, it is helpful to have some concrete tips as a guideline when transitioning from a more conventional way of traveling to a slower, more intimate pace.
Depending on where you are, you will have different lodging options available to you, but generally speaking, if you’re willing to stay in one place for a little bit more time, you can save money on your housing.
In many places, you will be able to find a sublet for as short-term as one month, allowing you flexibility and a more affordable and homey option than staying in a hostel. In Europe, Airbnb is a good route and it’s not much more expensive than a sublet.
However, in Central and South America, Airbnb tends to be a more pricey option so it’s better to look into local websites that have postings of sublets. In Mexico, I have used dadaroom.com; there is a range of prices and time frames, so you can figure out what is the best fit for you.
Craigstlist is another good website that works in Mexico. Once you arrive, you can ask locals what websites they use, to help you get better prices on lodging or you can try researching it from home.
Hostels can also be a viable option, especially if you’re willing to work for a few hours a day many hostels have either formal or informal work/stay programs that will allow you to stay for free! This is an arrangement that some small hotels are also available too.
If you’ve found a place you want to stay, it’s always helpful to ask around, talk to the receptionist and the chances are they will be able to orient you about the local options. The arrangements I’ve seen usually ask for a half-day of work in the reception in exchange for a bed.
While some hotels also offer special rates for a month, I always prefer to have access to my own kitchen. That’s one of the things I love about traveling slow is getting to cook with local and fresh ingredients, but if that’s not important to you, you can also inquire about discounted rates from hotels.
Depending on where you’re from (I’m thinking of the US here, specifically), there may be high barriers for foreigners trying to gain legal permission to work and so it’s normal to carry that mentality with you during your travels.
While you’re on the road, however, you’ll be surprised how easy it may be to find a job, especially if you’re willing to go around town and ask people about it. Local businesses are often happy to have some temporary help and that you can often make these arrangements yourself, directly with the business owners.
Another route is to consider applying for a working holidays visa, that are offered (depending on your nationality) in Argentina, New Zealand and Australia and a ton of other countries around the world.
You will have to pay more for these visas (~300USD for the examples I cited), but it will enable you to make this money back easily and you’ll have the freedom to work wherever you’d like along the way, as opposed to getting hired by a specific company that will handle your work permit.
What this means, as you’re traveling, is that you can move from job to job in a less permanent way, and not have a year long commitment to one company, for instance. This is a also a good way of extending your travels, if you’re not ready to go home, but it’s time to earn some money.
Working in a foreign country is an immersive cultural experience and it can help you meet a lot of locals, fast.
3. Stay in touch
If you’re going to be on the road for a significant amount of time, it’s really worthwhile to get an unlocked phone. This will save you money and a lot of effort. Having an unlocked phone is important because it means that you can change the SIM card that it uses, so you’re not stuck with one provider.
Every time you go into a new country, you can purchase a new SIM card (ranging in cost from as little as $3 in Mexico to 10 euros in France) that will enable you to pay for a phone plan in whatever country you’re traveling in.
Usually, it’s pretty cheap to get internet and it will free you up a lot so that you can be in touch with friends at home and also new friends wherever you’re staying. WhatsApp is indispensable for unlimited free messaging anywhere in the world that just relies on having a 3G or internet connection.
4. The Internet Economy Can Help
There are some valuable resources online that are worth mentioning. For instance, websites like workaway.com can help you to connect with hosts.
I’ve visited hostels in Mexico, for example, that rely only on these type of volunteers and they have such good and consistent results, that they weren’t even looking for anyone directly, that is to say, travelers who show up at their door looking for work.
However, I think it’s also important not to underestimate the power of talking with local people once you arrive. If you’re comfortable taking the plunge and trusting that you will be able to figure things out once you’re there, it’s often a really rewarding process.
It doesn’t mean that you should go into situations you’ll feel uncomfortable with or that you shouldn’t prepare before you leave, but it does mean trusting your own skills and abilities to get set up once you’re there. For me, this is one of the most beautiful elements of slow travel, allowing yourself the time to let opportunities arise as they will along your way.
Another good option to consider is taking your freelance work on the road. With websites like upwork.com you can get paid securely and take on only the jobs that match your interests and your availability. For me, it’s been hugely helpful to get paid in dollars while traveling outside of the United States.
5. Benefit From Learning The Language
This is a fundamental of slow travel; learning the local language is an opportunity to truly immerse yourself in the culture of a new place and the most intimate way of going about that is to learn the local language, wherever you are. You don’t have to speak it fluently and you shouldn’t expect that right away, but so often, just a little effort really goes such a long way.
It is so beautiful to see how people are so generous and open and there is such a big reward for any attempt, regardless of your level. If you’re reading this blog, you probably already know the power of the English language on an international scale, but that’s not a reason to stop there.
Take language lessons, set up a language exchange with someone in the city; these are ways of deepening your connection to a place and enabling you to understand the local country, as well as another way of viewing the world!
The voice inside of me that urges me on, that is incessantly curious and insatiable, at this point of my journey, I realize that this voice will never go away. I’ll always be wondering what is next and what places I haven’t seen, but with time, I’ve learned that slowing down enables me to have a more immersive and ultimately more meaningful relationship to the places that I’m visiting.
Slowing down enables me to move out of the role of a ‘consumer’ and to truly learn something from the places and people I encounter along the way. There is such a richness to be experienced and appreciated along the way; that’s what I’m delving into now.
Amanda Gokee is a freelance writer and traveler currently living in Mexico City. She graduated from Harvard University in 2014 with a degree in Romance Language and Literature and since then she’s been on the road, from the mountainous wilderness of California, to the south of France and across Mexico. You can follow stories from this journey on her website www.inklingafar.com or on Instagram @inklingafar.
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