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Let me start by offering the disclaimer that I have no particular use for what is commonly called a “vacation.”

“Vacation” is for people who find their vocation unpleasant, and desire to “escape” as often as possible.

For these folks, sitting on a beach is probably the most appropriate option, because the idea of working while on “vacation” would seem repugnant.

I would ask these good people why they despise their jobs and need to escape. I would also ask who and what are enslaving them and why they keep showing up to a job they dislike every Monday AM.

But that, perhaps, is the topic for a different essay.

Instead, I will explain why working on a farm beats sitting on a beach; or why slow travel is more rewarding than tourism of the conventional sort.

1. You can stay longer

If you’re working on a farm, you typically stick around one place longer than the conventional tourist.

You’re able to attain a deeper understanding of the environment and culture. You will come to appreciate a genuine and meaningful sense of place.

You will also have time to truly relax, and because you aren’t flying frantically around a country or region, you will not be responsible for unleashing tons of carbon into the atmosphere.

Experiencing the natural rhythms of place is a great joy of slow travel and farm work.

It’s something most conventional tourists never notice, because they turn up and leave during the “tourist season,” which is when the weather is most conducive to the particular activities for which the area is marketed (e.g. skiing, golf).

2. You can travel cheap

Conventional tourists pay a huge premium for food, accommodations and entertainment, which are located in the tourist zones.

Sometimes, in places like Laos and Bhutan, the tourist zones are only 3 or 4 streets in the whole country – and it’s commonplace for tourists to spend more money in one week than most local farmers will see in one year.

If you avoid the tourist zones by living and working with a farming community, you will get room and board for next to no money, regardless of whether you’re in an industrialized or “developing” country.

Often you can arrange some kind of work-trade in exchange for a place to stay. This makes it feasible to travel for months at a time.

3. You can experience reality

Even though slow travelers are still tourists in a foreign land (and don’t be tempted to forget this), we get a deeper glimpse into what “real life” is like for the locals.

Mostly, conventional tourists experience the “show” that locals and foreign corporations put on to attract tourists. In tourist zones, food, lodging and entertainment are very much akin to what we’re accustomed to in the West.

In tourist zones like Bangkok’s Khao San, there are Irish Pubs and Internet cafés, sushi restaurants and hamburger joints, air-conditioned rooms and bookstores that only sell guidebooks. Khao San is in Thailand, but it could be anywhere.

Tourist guidebooks like Lonely Planet, while useful, aren’t helpful in avoiding these areas, since many tourists have the same book.

To find a more “authentic” experience, you have to make the effort to do what the conventional tourists aren’t doing, and go to places where entrepreneurs have not yet recognized the potential for snaring tourist dollars.

At least to-date, rural agrarian communities are one such haven from shallow commercial development.

When you get off the tourist trail, you MUST take great care to respect the cultural values of the local community. Flaunting material wealth or otherwise disturbing the peace is not cool.

4. You can enjoy a deeper, meaningful experience

When you work on a farm, you and the locals are working together.

You share a common purpose, whether it’s building or repairing a home, planting or harvesting a crop, foraging for edible plants and fungi in the forest or tending the animals.

You are participating in the ecological cycles of that particular place, and helping sustain livelihoods – your own as well as those of the community.

Slow travel promotes a sense of place and interdependence within the community and local ecosystem. When you share this experience with the locals, you come to know what is valuable to them, and what is valuable to that place.

You may directly witness changes that have taken place in the community and in the local environment due to the actions of far-away governments or corporations.

You will understand what “globalization” actually means, and what the DOW JONES INDUSTRIAL AVERAGE actually measures.

Through your work and participation with the community, this knowledge will mean something to you, since you will bear witness and feel sympathy for the victims.

5. You can get an education

Slow travel promotes a deep, insightful kind of learning that you can’t get in school, a true education that is also denied to the conventional tourist.

Insights such as those gained from slow travel are what make for the “life changing experiences” that many people seek when they go abroad.

You will return home transformed, a new person with fresh insights into the world and a broader, deeper context and meaning for your life.

Resources

I have found the following resources helpful for engaging in productive and educational slow travel:

  • The International Society for Ecology and Culture (ISEC)

    ISEC conducts homestays with villagers in the remote Himalayan mountains of Ladakh in northernmost India. The villagers still practice ancient traditions of subsistence agriculture and enjoy a very high quality of life, although “development” and “modernization” over the past few decades have brought on some unfortunate changes. “Learning From Ladakh Farm Project” participants also benefit from thorough and interesting discussions on economic globalization and the effects of globalization on traditional cultures.

  • The Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, West Bengal, India

    The Center, run by ecologist and critic Debal Deb, maintains an agricultural biodiversity research station in rural West Bengal. The farm and attached seed bank strive to reestablish genetic diversity in rice and promote organic farming throughout the area. Working with the Center offers opportunities in farming, plant breeding and genetics research, as well as political activism to resist the malignant influence of corporate biotech operations in India.

  • Pun Pun Organic Farm and Panya Sustainable Living Project, Chiang Mai province, Thailand

    Pun Pun offers 10 – 12 week internships during winter months in organic farming, seed saving, natural building and appropriate technologies. Panya hosts courses in permaculture throughout the year in addition to gardening and building internships.

    (Editors Note: Read about my experience at Pun Pun and Panya here.)

  • Willing Workers on Organic Farms (WWOOF)

    An online database of organic farms around the world that offer internships and work exchange accommodation.

  • Global Ecovillage Network (GEN), International Permaculture Directory

    Two more useful directories.

  • MatadorTravel.com

    Connect with like-minded travelers and grassroots organizations.

Thanks for reading. Your comments are very welcome.

Josh Kearns is a bona fide hill-billy who currently lives in Oakland, CA. He’s been a researcher in environmental chemistry and ecological economics. Currently he’s into techniques for high quality self-reliant living like organic farming, natural building, permaculture and bluegrass music.

Wwoofing

 

About The Author

Josh Kearns

Josh Kearns is a bona fide hill-billy who currently runs AqueousSolutions, an NGO devoted to developing and promoting self-reliant forms of water purification. He's been a researcher in environmental chemistry and ecological economics and is into techniques for high quality self-reliant living like organic farming, natural building, permaculture and bluegrass music.

  • http://www.zurika.com/ Jul

    Great post!

    My version of slow travel involves moving to a new country or city every couple years. There is nothing more exciting than really getting to know a new place and its culture.

  • http://www.podtours.co.uk Andrea Kirkby

    I found this an interesting and thoughtful article. One could actually say that because slow travel involves seeing local people as individuals with their own needs and desires, and possibly helping them achieve what’s needed, slow travel is also ethical travel. It gets rid of prejudice, and it helps maintain local economies. Should we ALL be slow travelling?

  • http://loco2travel.blogspot.com Jamie

    Great article. Here in the UK, I’m writing a slow travel in collaboration with two others. If you want to do some further reading about what we’re doing, please take a look at the following links:

    http://www.loco2.co.uk (my site)
    loco2travel.blogspot.com (my blog)
    http://www.lowcarbontravel.com (Ed’s blog about going round the world without flying)
    http://www.ecoescape.org (slow travel in the UK)

    I’d love to write a blog post for Brave New Traveler if there’s more interest in this area.

  • http://another-green-world.blogspot.com/ Derek Wall

    Hi Josh,

    well good stuff, found your stuff while doing a web search for stuff on Debal Deb who is also very inspiring.

    my thoughts are!

    1. capitalism is killing us
    2. We have to develop economic alternatives based on the commons
    3. This involves some hard political work!

    I don’t know if you have looked at the work of Hugo Blanco http://luchaindigena.tk/, quite clearly radical green politics is sweeping across Latin America…I know some enlightened people in the ministry of the environment in Caracas but it goes wider than this.

    keep up the good work and take a look Joel Kovel’s book, its important

    keep on struggling until victory

    Derek

  • http://joshkearns.blogspot.com Josh

    Derek -

    Glad to hear you made it to Basudha and met Debal. He is amazing!

    By Joel Kovel’s book, do you mean The Enemy of Nature? I read that one several years ago and it was indeed formative.

    Take care and keep up the zazen!

    JK

  • http://www.soultravelers3.com Soultravelers3

    Yes, yes,yes, slow travel is the way to go and I so agree with your “who & what ” and thoughts about vacations. We have not tried Woofing yet, but we are organic farmers from way back, so will do that at some point in our world travels as a family.

    Thanks!

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  • http://waitravel.wordpress.com Wailana

    Great article! Very informative. I wholeheartedly support slow travel, I think it is a great opportunity to truly enrich your travel experience by spending the time to get to know the area. I have participated in WWOOF in France and it is a great way to meet locals, learn about the area, and travel cheaply and eco-friendly.

  • http://www.wanderingeducators.com/marketplace/apparel/do-mbt-shoes-really-work.html jessiev

    i love this. and there is so much to do, where we can help and learn and make a difference. great article!

  • http://www.permaculturefarming.org Permaculture Farming

    [...] 5 Reasons Why Slow Travel Beats Going On Vacation | Permaculture Farming – Online Permaculture Courses[...]

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  • March

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