Ask different travelers what their must-haves are on a trip and you’ll get an infinite number of varying answers.
I’ve met hardcore backpackers circling the globe with only a daypack stuffed with a couple pairs of underwear and a toothbrush tied to their belt loops.
Other travelers have an entourage of locals dragging their matching luggage from their private car to their swanky hotel. Preferred forms of transportation run the gamut from rickshaws to first class Emirate Airways cabins.
Meals are taken in meat-on-a-stick form or stacked delicately on expensive china. Some shun the comforts of home while others demand to be pampered.
I normally fall somewhere in between grimy backpacker and coddled travel connoisseur, but there is one luxury I can never do without: the luxury of time.
Every Travel Moment Is Precious
A two-week whirlwind vacation is a noble endeavor if that is all your circumstances allow. Every moment abroad exploring, discovering and developing is valuable.
Still, there is no substitute for the no-strings-attached, long-term travel that may only be feasible at certain times in our lives. Whether it’s the gap year, the extended honeymoon, or the I-quit-my-job-and-sold-all-my-earthly-possessions journey, long-term travel is a unique opportunity to be captured and enjoyed to its fullest.
This type of travel allows you to discard your itinerary and spend an entire day hiking in a direction simply because your camera loves the light.
You can wait in a village an extra week because you found upon arrival that an incredible festival will be occurring. You can shift directions because you met a fascinating travel companion who did you the great service of radically changing the way you look at the world.
Luxuries are not four-star hotels or air-conditioned buses or hot-water showers. The real luxury is knowing there is no rush and the world is yours to explore.
Time or Money?
I could spend $1000 in a month in Asia, but I can also rough it a little and make it last three times as long.
One of my favorite destinations has been Sapa in Northern Vietnam. I endured a rough train ride because I refused to pay the extortionist prices for a first class sleeper.
But the $40 I saved on my train ticket paid for 8 nights at a hotel overlooking the intricately terraced valley. I spent a total of 3 weeks in a town where most people go for weekend trips, but it meant that I didn’t have to worry that clouds enveloped the city for days at a time, blocking out the sun and the view.
I was able to stroll leisurely through the fog and watch the ornately dressed hill-tribe women slide through the mist instead of curse the weather and my luck as that amazing destination lay obscured by seemingly permanent cloud cover.
I tried several mornings to catch the perfect sunrise, and for several days the light and blankets of white refused to cooperate. But eventually they broke, and the images were unforgettable and have come to define my time in Vietnam.
Those extra days are incredible gifts to travelers and should not be traded away lightly.
Going With The Flow
How to find the extra time to travel? I like to have a fair amount of research done so I know what demands my attention at each destination. Some guidebooks suggest a day for a city, others say a week is absolutely necessary.
For example, Angkor Wat is now on almost everyone’s travel circuit through SE Asia, but how long you spend there is entirely dependent on your interests and passions. After studying Anthropology and Archaeology in college, I felt I wanted 4 days there, but many people are fine with an afternoon.
Maybe your time would be better spent in a local village or on a trek. You have to know what to expect, what you’re looking for, and what is most beneficial for you as a traveler.
I know that I need to see the people of a country to feel that I have experienced it. Of course, ruins and vistas are the necessary highlights, but what gives a place depth and transforms it from a two-dimensional backdrop for sightseeing into a living, breathing entity are its people.
A few extra days can give you time to wander the hillside and stumble upon a family having a picnic, or watch children at play, or go to a remote village to meet people unaccustomed to the endless parade of tourists.
This allows your experience to be fundamentally different from everyone else quickly scurrying along the guidebook path.
And let’s not forget all your fellow travelers have to offer. Having time to hang out at the hostel and interact with people from all over the world is all part of the experience. They offer insight into places not yet visited or an opportunity to reminisce about shared experiences.
You can read that novel you found at the book exchange that will introduce you to a new favorite author, or you can drag your pen across paper and write your own story.
We all remember those perfect moment’s we would have missed if we had arrived somewhere a day later or left a day early.
Realistically, wherever you end up has something to offer. But as travelers, we owe it to ourselves to seek out every opportunity, and to be altered by a destination.
The best way to make that happen is to give yourself the luxury of time.
What are your thoughts on taking the time for slower travel? Share your experiences in the comments!