Slow Travel Step-by-Step: Diaries of a Sabbatical

Hi there! And welcome to Slow Travel Atlas, our personal journey diary and a guide to the wonderful world of slow travel. As avid fans of bumming around the globe, we’ve done more than a fair share of shorter trips, as well as a longer, four-month backpacking stint in 2014. Now we’re upping the stakes and heading out for a whole adventure-filled year!

This blog tracks our trip and aims to give you, fellow slow travelers, some useful tips on each destination, with the objective to give you an impression of each area, including accommodation, transport, general vibe, food, people and so on. On top of that, we’ll give you intro guides to slow travel culture and related topics, like budgeting, planning, packing light, and other lifestyle-related articles. There are also resources for scuba divers coming up – including a rundown of the dive site we’ve visited, with pics, videos, and tips, and more.

So why slow travel? Simply because we’ve found out over time that there’s a lot more enjoyment (for us) in the style of traveling that’s NOT focused on doing the most in terms of activities or covering large areas or multiple sites in a short span of time. Additionally, we’ve realized that moving from A to B every day or two and not taking the time to get in tune with the local tempo and vibe left us feeling less interested, less enriched and more anxious. That’s where the decision to do more of slow traveling in the future came from. Using local resources, taking enough time to explore each destination, and making sure that we leave with a lasting impression of how people live in each place we visit has not only become a more enjoyable, but also more sustainable way to move around the globe.

What Is Slow Travel

Travel can take many shapes and forms, from jam-packed eurotrips that manage to stuff 15 destinations within the scope of two weeks, to spending extended stretches of time in one place, just hanging out. So where on this spectrum does slow travel fall? In truth, it’s hard to say. This is also thanks to the fact that the definition of slow travel may mean different things to different people. So what I can give you are some factors that go into it for us. Maybe you agree? And if not, I’d be happy to hear about what slow travel means to YOU.

More Time, More Sights?

You’ve surely seen hordes of sneaker and short-clad tourists making their way through an entire continent in a breeze, a day here a day and half there, and – voila – you’ve seen it all. If this sounds like an absolute nightmare to you, welcome to the club. Surely there’s value in seeing as many sites and locales as possible, and if that’s what floats your boat, go for it! However, that’s not what slow travel is about for us. Instead, we put value and effort into getting to know a place – even if it’s not the most visited or desired destination – and maximize experiences by NOT. RUSHING. THROUGH.

Imagine this: You decide to travel to, say, Germany and decide that ten days is plenty – it’s only one country! So you spend two days in Munich, then do one or two day trips to the countryside, then move on to Berlin, then hop on over to Cologne, and wind down in Hamburg. Sounds easy, right? Trains and buses permeate the public transit infrastructure with maximum efficiency, and it’s only a matter of booking everything in advance and having it lined up. And yet you end up spending two cumulative days on transferring between cities, hitting your destination but then not having much out of the rest of the day because being in transit wore you out. You love Berlin and see all the main sites, but those hardly capture the atmosphere and attitudes of the locals, whose culture and history you’ve come to absorb. You’d love to see more of Cologne and spend a full afternoon just sipping on cool Koelsch beers, but sadly you’ve got just enough time to see the city center and perhaps visit a museum or two. After all, it’d be a shame to pass through and not see the main sights, right?

Surely, it would be a shame, on some level. At the same time, is sightseeing truly the essence of travel?

Tree-lined alley in a catle garden in Milotice
Maybe the journey IS the destination…?

In a way, we are accustomed to ticking another item off that checklist or to showing we’ve seen the Louvre or Angkor Wat or Stonehenge. The one-upmanship of Instagram is a real beast, and it lends traveling extremely suitable for showing off your how much area you’ve covered. That’s cool and all, but what about taking the time to truly get to know a certain place on an authentic level? Staying long enough to see how days roll by, to talk to your hosts and get to know their story, their life rhythm, their priorities, or to simply observe and learn?

Allow Yourself some time

Travel can be stressful, even more so if you push yourself to move on to the next spot every 2 or 3 days – especially if you find yourself in a destination where getting from A to B is not as straightforward as what you’re used to, due to transport availability, price level, and infrastructure. That’s why we’re huge advocates of taking it easy. What good is it to visit 5 temples and 2 cities in the span of 4 days if I don’t get any downtime and a chance to unwind? Eating, drinking, taking in the vibe of the place, and interacting with people is just as worthwhile a travel tactic as showing up at a site and taking some pictures – actually, I’d say it’s even more valuable!

Of course, this is a very subjective view, so if you’re a fan of cruise ships, high-rotation multi-city trips or package deals, that’s all fine and well. On the other hand, if none of this sounds attractive to you, you might benefit from getting off the gas pedal and taking your time getting to know a place. Even if this means going on hour-long pointless walks, bouncing between cafes and restaurants for days on end, or sitting on your bungalow porch and reading the entire Harry Potter series back to back.

EXPLORE LOCAL LIFE AND CULTURE THE SLOW TRAVEL WAY

Of course, the more time you give yourself, the more you get a chance to get familiar with a local lifestyle, attitudes, or worldviews. This can take many forms. If you’re a social butterfly, you’ll have the chance to mingle with people and get to know their experiences and perspectives, as far as the language barrier allows you. Whether from locals or expats living in the area, there’s a boatload of information you can gather and use for your upcoming travels: from good eats tips to transport advice to hidden gems to see and visit and beyond. Not sure where to do your shopping? Head to a local market and try out some goods from there. Hungry? Go off the beaten path and find an eatery frequented by locals. Not only will you save some money, but the food will probably be less westernized than what you’d get in mainstream restaurants. Not sure which beach to visit? Ask your guesthouse hosts where they would go on a day off – maybe they’ll even tell you about a shortcut!

Variety of dishes as a mall food court in Bangkok
Bangkok mall food: definitely a local tip and so worth it!

Surely, you can immerse yourself in a particular locale if your slow travel experience includes staying in high-end hotels that cater to every wish. However, this will likely hit a painful price level very early on. So instead of giving your money to foreign-owned, highly frequented resorts, why not take advantage of countless locally-owned homestays? Instead of interacting with hotel attendants who are likely paid to provide some level of related sales marketing, staying at a family-run inn will give you the chance to interact with real people without an agenda beyond providing good accommodation and food at their place. Since most homestays still include family quarters of the people who own it, you’ll witness your hosts going about their days, be happy, be grumpy, be busy, and, in general act and react to the cycle of tourism in their own way. And seeing the other side – the service provider’s and not the tourist’s side of the coin – is incredibly interesting: how does travel affect family life or customs or habits of a community, is it sustainable, or it exploitative? In short, you open yourself up to a lot of food for thought.

OUR SLOW TRAVEL DESTINATIONS

Though still far off of being super-duper well traveled, so far we’ve hit a number of exciting spots around Southeast Asia and Oceania – all of which you can read about here. So where to next? More Southeast Asia, Central America, Japan, Korea and more is coming up on our next trip. WE won’t claim to objectively know the best places to slow travel – but we’ll be more than happy to share what has worked for us and why. So you can look forward to tons of slow travel tips, info on accommodation, transport, food and culture.

DIVING & DIVE TRAVEL GUIDES

Another passion we’ve picked up on our last big backpacking trip abroad is diving.It has become an integral part of our slow travel experience – and that’s why we’ll continue documenting our underwater adventures on this website as well.
We first learned how to dive on Gili Air at a lovely dive school called Gili Air divers, which operates on Gili Air and Meno. With barely five dives in the log book, we went on to do an advanced course at Alvaro Diving on Koh Tao and tried to perfect our skills. Since then, we have collected dozens more dives in around the Gilis and Koh Tao and hope to do loads more.

Coral reef with anemone and fish
There’s more where that came from!

Seeing the underwater part our planet has been a truly eye-opening experience, and I would recommend it to anyone, really, provided you are comfortable with open water. We have seen amazing coral reefs, gorgeous marine life and experienced a completely tranquil and overwhelming feeling of being underwater. More importantly, though, it has opened our eyes to how precious our oceans are, and how critical it is that we collectively deal with the issues of climate change and pollution.

If you’d like to get to know about the various dive locations we have and will visit, get tips on some basic equipment, and get a firsthand impression of what it’s like to float around with a bunch of fish, then check our upcoming dedicated dive pages! If you’d like to share your own tips or recommend a top-shelf (but still affordable) diving destination, give us a shout!

Slow Travel-related tips and Guides

Caught the slow travel bug? If you need help planning your next slow travel adventure or extended time abroad, then stick around – we’ve got a handful of upcoming useful guides for you, from travel planning to planning your travel finances, to thrifty travel, to coping with being homesick!


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