Choices. In travel, we have many of them, which is what makes the lifestyle so very liberating in the first place. This whole fast vs slow travel didn’t even use to be a debate. Back in the early days of backpacking, slow travel was the only option. Destinations as we know it hadn’t yet developed and wasn't anywhere near as traveller-friendly as they are today.
We had an interesting discussion on our podcast regarding this topic recently and although we both thought we knew where we stood on this matter we came to some surprising conclusions! You can listen to our conversation here:
The debate between slow vs. fast travel is one which really boils down to personal choice. Some of us don’t have the opportunity to travel as much as we’d like, so choose to pack our travels full of different stops to optimise our available time. Others choose to linger and immerse themselves in a place, happily staying for weeks or months before moving on.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both slow and fast travel, but above all – it’s still all travel. Anyone who decides to walk out of their normal life and pack a suitcase, and go into the world to seek new horizons, whether they do it slow or fast, is a traveller after all.
Fast travel has become a lot more popular in recent years with people trying to cram entire cities into a few days and even whole countries into a couple of weeks. Loads of people possibly don’t have a lot of time off from work, so this type of travel might be appealing to them as they want to experience AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE in the available time.
And let's be honest, in many circles, travel is often also treated as a competition.
“I’ve been to 50 countries”. “Aah, well I’ve visited 20 countries in a month, how about that?”
In this 'competitive' backpacking culture, travelling faster has also become a more appealing option.
ADVANTAGES OF FAST TRAVEL
When most of us start travelling on more of a long term basis, we start by making our way through several countries in one trip. Whether it be using the train around Europe, bussing through South America, or backpacking through Southeast Asia, it’s our first time out really seeing the world so we like to get a move on and make the most of it. The obvious benefit of this kind of travel is that you end up seeing so much of the world in a short space of time, especially when you’re in a place that’s tightly packed full of different countries like Europe.
You literally can experience something new every day - try strange and different foods for every meal, and you can wake up in one country and go to bed in another in one single day.
This style of travel can be exhilarating, and if it’s your first travel experience it will no doubt give you the travel bug and motivate you to do it again. All those amazing new experiences can be enlightening and life-affirming. Your travels may change you in many ways, and open your eyes to all kinds of things in a very short space of time.
DISADVANTAGES OF FAST TRAVEL
The main drawbacks of travelling like this, some say, is that you can never really get to know a place in such a short space of time. You might see the main sights and say you’ve stood in front of them, but do you really know what that place is like? This, of course, depends on how you spend your time in that particular place, but if you’re simply there for a brief stop, you see the sights and move on. There’s no connection, and if you’re doing a trip with many stops, that place will just merge into others in your memory and become a big fat BLUR.
The biggest issue with fast travel is that it can be absolutely exhausting. Even if you have the smallest amount of luggage, moving on every few days can quickly drain you to the point where all you want to do is be at home - or at the very least stay put for longer in one place! You will no doubt have the same conversations with "the same" people in every location you move on to, and to be frank you can only see so many cathedrals/castles/temples in a week before you've had enough.
These disadvantages might not show immediately and for some travellers, they might not appear at all. But, if you do choose to travel like this on a slightly longer basis, GUARANTEED you will feel this way at some point or another - perhaps making you reconsider the way you travel - even only for a short while.
If you’re on a tight budget, travelling fast probably isn’t the best option for you. Fast travel can be a lot more expensive than slower travel - especially considering that transport cost will add up quickly as you keep moving on every few days.
And, perhaps the biggest disadvantage of all is that you never properly experience a place to its full extent. Yes, you may see the main sights and snap a picture in front of them but to get to know a place better... you need to spend time there.
Slow travel is when you take your time to savour your location and just being on the road. Slow travellers may stay in one place for weeks or even months at a time before moving on. In order to travel slow – and do it right – you’ll need plenty of time and potentially a way of earning some income while on the road. (Nowadays, we tend to stay in a country as long as they will allow us to do so - unless it's an above-average expensive destination. )
ADVANTAGES OF SLOW TRAVEL
To begin with, slow travel gives you an opportunity to really connect with a place. You might get to know the people, the food, local hangouts and even some secret spots. The more time you spend in one place the more you can appreciate it and you'll be bound to gain a greater sense of its identity. You will return from your journey really knowing what it’s like to live in that place, and you will most definitely leave a part of yourself there.
Instead of having to pick and choose between the sights and things you want to see, slow travel allows you to take the time to see them all. If you’re only in one place for a few days there is no way you can pack in all those things! With slow travel, you can see all those iconic sights, AND have time to spare to find the more offbeat spots that most visitors miss - or do not have time for.
Travelling slowly is usually also a lot cheaper than travelling fast. You will have a lot fewer busses and planes to catch, plus, you’re going to have more downtime when you’re not needing to spend any money at all. There's usually also a considerable saving when you can get weekly or monthly accommodation rates!
Even if you like to travel fast sometimes you will also need to charge the batteries eventually. Travel is tiring and can be exhausting when we don’t give ourselves breaks. People often romanticise the idea of long term travel and don't always realise the toll it can take and that you inevitable need to balance it with some more relaxed intervals.
DISADVANTAGES OF SLOW TRAVEL
If you’re very keen to see the world, sometimes it takes a while to learn how to see it slowly. Once travel gets under your skin it's easy to get itchy feet and you will constantly yearn for new experiences. Slow travel can also be frustrating sometimes if you’re someone who is constantly dreaming of new destinations - or just easily bored! It’s not for everyone though, as it does require a certain level of patience and contentment in yourself and your surroundings.
A disadvantage for many is that they simply don’t have the time for travelling slower. Unless you decide to take the leap into full-time travel, you don’t have much of an option to spend lots of time in one place so you make do with taking quick trips. Travelling slowly definitely does take a certain level of commitment, and if you’re simply travelling during your vacation time, slower travel might not the best option for you.
WHICH ONE DO YOU PREFER?
To each their own. Different travel styles suit different types of people with different goals and possibly different budgets and time constraints.
Are limited on time,
Get bored easily,
Can function on little sleep and not burn-out,
Are energetic and fit,
Then Fast Travel is suited for you.
Have more time,
Are on a tighter budget,
Can easily chill for longer periods and handle downtime,
Then Slow Travel is suited for you.
However, while there are plenty of ways to extend your time on the road and increase your budget, slow travel doesn’t have to mean spending months in a single place. It can simply mean spending a couple of weeks in one city instead of two days or choosing just a few stops on your next trip instead of trying to cram in as many as possible. If you’re eager to see as much of the world as possible with limited time, go out and race through it if you’re happy with doing it that way – at least you’re getting out there and doing it.
It’s not about how many countries you’ve visited. It doesn’t matter how many famous sights you’ve seen or how many selfies you took there. What matters are the people we meet, the experiences and adventures we have and the memories we make.