Before I started travelling, I was reasonably worried I wouldn’t like it. The only other time I’d really been travelling on my own, when I was 18 and travelled through Croatia and Albania for two weeks, I really hadn’t enjoyed it. I had been borderline terrified the whole time, although of course I wouldn’t have admitted it to myself at the time. The bit I enjoyed the most was getting lost in a book on the long bus journeys…not perhaps a good sign.
I was older and wiser now, having spent a decent chunk of my adult life abroad, so much better equipped to deal with myself. Still, the only previous time I’d spent a large chunk of time far away from home, when I spent 3 months in New York, I’d been frankly surprised at how much I’d enjoyed it, and even then I’d been fairly homesick and hoping time would go faster by about half-way through. So in many way expecting to enjoy long term travelling was fairly outrageous, and yet I did. I genuinely enjoyed myself. I spent 6 months far away from any ‘home’ and yet had some of the most heart warming and clearly ‘belonging’ experiences of my life.
I think the key to my success is I spent the majority of my time in India slow travelling, I spent at least a week and often longer in each place, rather than ‘fast travelling’ as I attempted to do in China, where I moved every couple of days. When I planned the first part of my travels I had the dangers of not enjoying it clearly in mind, so I planned to spend the whole first month with a built in community and purpose on my 200h yoga teacher training course. It worked brilliantly and I made life long friends on the course who I could also travel and meet up with for the rest of my time in India. I kind of let the rest of India ‘happen’ without too much planning and so the slow pace continued.
Somehow though, the joy of travelling in India lulled me into a false sense of security so I’d lost my (valid) fear of not enjoying travelling by the time it came to planning China. Also, I think the time pressure of a 30 day max stay visa (dual entry) and also the pressure of trying to ‘understand China’ which is so much less visited by Westerners, encouraged me to try and see more. To my downfall. Now, I had some lovely times travelling Yunnan and Sichuan, but they were surrounded by plenty of feeling out of place, lonely and homesick times and segwayed by some stressed, confused and worried times.
Ultimately, I don’t really get the point of fast travelling. The benefits of slow travelling have been clearly laid out of me:
- You get to meet amazing people who share your values and you can support each other in living the kind of life they want
- You get to learn amazing things from amazing people about concepts and practices that might not be common where you come from
- You get to question what is ‘normal’ by experiencing other ‘normals’ that are different from yours.
But you don’t really get any of that from fast travelling. You move too fast to make good friends and form a community, you’re not there for long enough to really learn something, and your already gone before the weird things you come up against seem normal. Fast travelling, it seems to me, you see more, but you experience less. It makes for better Instagram posts, but less learning. You get more of the less fun bits (long bus journeys and arriving in a new place which no idea where to stay or eat) of travelling, and less of the good bits. Frankly, anywhere that you don’t want to spend longer than a few days…why go at all?
This was clearly something I already half knew, hence why I got it so right in India, yet something I did forget when planning my China trip, which I one of the reasons I’m writing this, so I can hopefully reassure any budding slow travelling that their choices are valid and give them strength to resist the lure of fast travelling!!