Travel Style: Fast vs. Slow Travel – The Advantages and Disadvantages

by Stephanie Walsh · 17 comments

in Travel Thoughts

Taking it easy in Valle del Cocora, Colombia
Dzitnup Cenote, Mexico

Dzitnup Cenote, Mexico

We recently took a one-month trip through the east of Mexico through the states of Quintana Roo, Yucatán and Chiapas, trying to see as much as possible in this beautiful part of Mexico, before we were due to leave the country in early October. It was a big change from our normal slow travel style, where we usually stay about a month or more in places we like. However, it was nice to be able to experience the other, more common side of backpacking and it allowed us to reflect on both the advantages and disadvantages of fast vs. slow travel styles:

The Advantages of Slow Travel

Travelling Slow is Cheaper

Ironically, travelling for longer is actually cheaper, if you do it slowly. It is much easier to get great deals on apartments, hostel rooms, hotel rooms, bungalows, houses, and more if you tell them you are going to be staying for a month or more, especially in low season.

We spent one month learning to surf in Sayulita, a small surf town on the Pacific coast of Mexico, where we were able to rent a private bungalow for 5000 pesos a month ($390 USD/€300 a month, which is about $6 USD/€4 Euro per person per night) for a room with two double beds, private bathroom, WiFi, TV and our own kitchen, where we cooked our own meals and saved more money.

From what we learned during our first months of travel, food is, surprisingly, your biggest expense during travel. However by staying longer in one place, we were able to save a lot of money on food by doing our weekly grocery shopping in Puerto Vallarta and cooking at home in our lovely little bungalow.

So that month we spent learning to surf in Sayulita actually SAVED us 45% on our normal monthly expenditure! Not bad!

Travelling Slow Allows You To Know The Places and People Better

There’s something special about really getting to know a place that was once completely strange to you. You begin to notice those little details and characteristics of a place that a person spending 1 or 2 days there is bound to miss. Certain things like, what time the nearby industrial train passes daily in Mexico City, blaring its horn, or what the man on the tricycle-cart selling fruits shouts as he cycles past your window every morning in Cali, Colombia.

Staying in a place longer allows you to develop relationships with local people and even the places themselves. You can get off the beaten track and visit the places that are not listed in your travel guide. You have the time to see more than just the ‘must-see’ places. Often, it is these places that you discover which leave the strongest memories.

Andres enjoying Tamales in Tenejapa, Mexico

Andres enjoying Tamales in Tenejapa, Mexico

Travel Slow and Learn New Skills

Whether its taking Spanish lessons, salsa lessons or learning to surf, we have found that travelling slow has allowed us to concentrate on those things that we have always wanted to learn. Learning a new skill in a new country is, undoubtedly an amazing way to enrich your travel experience. Learning a new skill in a new place is also an exciting and fun way to integrate yourself within the local culture and make some local friends. Learning new skills is a huge advantage that comes only with a slow travel style.

Travel Slow and Get Some Vital Rest

‘Travel Burnout’ is a common problem for long-term travellers who move fast. Slowing down and taking some days ‘off’ to do nothing is a good idea every now and again. It is impossible to keep up the exhaustive pace of fast travel, where you are constantly on the move, running off to see new places because of limited time. This can often lead to getting run-down, burned out or even sick.

A slow travel style allows you to see what you want, when you want, under no time restrictions and without those pesky feelings of guilt making you think ‘I should be out there doing or seeing something right now’. You don’t have to do something all the time. Your time is your own and you should spend it in whatever way pleases you, which can often mean taking a break from the sightseeing and getting some well-needed rest.

 

The Disadvantages of Slow Travel

Travelling Slow Means It Takes a Long Time To Get Anywhere

While travelling slow is great for getting to know places, it also means it takes a very long time to actually go anywhere new. If you are constantly spending a month here and a month there, suddenly you are 8 months into a trip and have been to just two countries. We’re not complaining!

However, if you were planning to be much further along in your trip after a certain time, if you have a reason to get back home for a certain date, or if you have to be in a certain country for a certain event, then travelling slow is often counter-productive to your plans. It means having to constantly readjust your plans and never really knowing where you are going to be in a few months time.

What Do You DO In A Small Town For One Month?

When you stay in a place for a long time it often happens that you have ‘nothing to do’. This is a naturally occurring phenomenon for us long term travellers, where that ‘guilt’ I spoke of earlier starts creeping in and telling you that you should be always doing something…usually something ‘productive’.

But what is ‘doing something productive’ when you are travelling full-time? Well, that requires a change in your mind-set from ‘employment mind-set’ to ‘fulfilling life mind-set’. We are conditioned to think that we are only being productive if we are working hard at a job, making money or doing other arduous tasks such as cleaning. Leisure time is not often referred to as ‘productive’. This is where you need to start realizing that, actually, the most ‘productive’ thing you can do in your spare time is educate yourself. Read, watch documentaries, work on a meaningful personal project, study a new skill, do an online free course from one of the worlds best universities, learn about the people and places you are in, the history of the country etc.…all from the comfort of that small Latin American town you find yourself in! Not such a disadvantage after-all!

San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico

San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico

 

The Advantages of Fast Travel

No Two Days Are The Same When You Travel Fast

When you travel fast through a region, it’s like an explosion of variety, change and excitement in your life…every day! Suddenly you go from monotonous daily grind in your old job (I’m assuming :D)  to world travel where you are constantly experiencing something new and exciting that makes each and every day stand out on its own as a completely memorable experience. As Andres always says, “I don’t remember the last three years of my life coz I was working and everyday was the same, but I remember almost every single day of this year since we started travelling”. Enough said. 🙂

Fast Travel is Very Social and Great for Solo Travellers

Moving a lot means you will more than likely be staying in a different hostel every few nights. This is great if you love being sociable, meeting new people from around the world and striking up new friendships. Hostels are especially great for people travelling alone, who sometimes want a break from their solidarity and do some mingling with like-minded people. We have made some great friendships in hostels in our recent travels around the Yucatán Peninsula and Chiapas. So much socializing means lots of laughs, lots of new Facebook friend requests (most of whom you will forget who they are a few weeks later :P) and plenty of fun nights out.

Smile - Cabo de la Vela, La Guajira, Colombia

Smile - Cabo de la Vela, La Guajira, Colombia

With Fast Travel You Can See Multiple Places In a Short Time Frame

Not all of us are in a position to give up our jobs and travel the world (just yet!), so taking a 2-3 week or one month vacation to go backpacking around a smaller area is a great way to experience travel on a shorter time scale and to satiate your wanderlust for a while. On a trip like this, you can experience far more than what a standard vacation would allow and test yourself to see what parts of travel you like and don’t like before jumping head first into a longer trip. Spending 1-3 days in each location allows you to see a huge amount of different places compared to if you stayed in the same location for the entire trip.

 

The Disadvantages of Fast Travel

Fast Travel is Overwhelming and Tiresome

As mentioned previously, a fast travel style can be overwhelming and tiresome. The problem with being burned out is that you lose all of your motivation to get out there and see new places and things. When you’re worn-out, all you want to do is just get into bed and sleep, plus have a descent meal that doesn’t involve the ‘2 for 1’ offer on hotdogs in Oxxo! 😛

Even when you are travelling fast and have places to be by a certain date, don’t underestimate the importance of ‘taking a day off’ and getting some rest back at your accommodation.

Fast Travel is Expensive

Naturally, a faster travel style is more expensive. You have to pay for a different hostel every few nights and you may not always find such a great deal. You are constantly traveling on buses from one place to the next, which starts to add up significantly. Eating out becomes more regular, as you are too tired to cook or you don’t have the facilities to cook in the hostel. On a schedule you are more likely to book a few tours so that you can see everywhere you want to while you are in the area. All of these things make it significantly more expensive to travel fast and usually leave you broke and tired at the end…albeit with great memories.

Cheap Tacos in Mexico

Although these cheap Tacos were only 3 pesos...

Fast Travel Only Skims the Surface of a Place

If you only have a short amount of time in a place, it is pretty difficult to go beyond the guidebook and do some exploring of your own without missing out on other things deemed as ‘must-see’ places. Can you really say you know a place when you have been there for less than 24hours? What are you missing when you speed through a city, town or village? What lies underneath the surface? What is unique about the place? What do the locals love/hate about it? What might you love/hate about it? These are many questions that can’t be answered when you simply don’t have the time to get to know a place and its people.

 

Talking to locals is a great way to find out more about a place

Talking to locals is a great way to find out more about a place

In conclusion, there are many advantages and disadvantages to different travel styles. Everyone has their own unique style of travel and it depends on many factors and each individual as to why they choose to travel the way they do. There is no right or wrong way to travel, only different styles that elicit different experiences.

 

Travel Tip: Mix up the two travel styles for the best experience. Be selective about where you want to stay for longer. You can’t ‘know’ every place so choose somewhere that genuinely interests you. Get to know what types of things interest you when travelling; the local food, natural sights, cities, history etc., then base what you want to do off that. Just because a fellow traveller and a guide book recommends somewhere, doesn’t mean you will enjoy it if it doesn’t naturally interest you.

Most importantly, go where you want, do what you enjoy, spend your time and money as you please and enjoy some of the best times of your life!  🙂

 

Have you got and advantages or disadvantages of your own to add to this list? What is your travel style and why do you prefer it? 

 

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Andrea October 4, 2012 at 7:54 am

I definitely enjoy slow when I have the time but that happens so infrequently! Nice post =)
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2 Stephanie Walsh October 7, 2012 at 1:14 pm

Hey Andrea, I myself prefer to travel slow too but there was definitely something more exciting about this recent month where we travelled a lot faster through the Yucatan. I think it’s a matter of what you can afford (both monetary and time-wise) at the time and there are great ways to enjoy both! 🙂

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3 Audrey October 6, 2012 at 1:41 am

I really prefer to travel slow. In the past I’ve had to rush through places (sometimes even 1 month feels rushed for me) because of work or university, but once I hit the road this coming year it’ll be a much slooower pace. 😀
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4 Stephanie Walsh October 7, 2012 at 1:26 pm

Nice! Where you heading? 🙂
Yeah 1 month can be a lifetime or a flash in the pan, depends on the place I think! We really like to set up a base somewhere for a while and then explore the surrounding wider area on 1 day trips or a even a few days.

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5 Erik October 7, 2012 at 12:56 pm

I travel fast, both because that is how I like it and I only have one month every year to travel, so I like to pack as much into that month as possible. You did a nice job of pointing out the downsides to this type of travel. It was interesting reading about slow travel, since I can’t ever see myself doing that. I meet a lot of people who find it impossible to believe someone could enjoy fast travel. I’ve tires of trying to convince them otherwise.
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6 Stephanie Walsh October 7, 2012 at 10:41 pm

I don’t like to say that one style is better than the other, so I tried to write this post fairly from what we have experienced from both styles of travel so far. While I prefer slow travel, I still completely enjoyed fast travel and the different experiences that came with it. I would never write off or dismiss fast travel however. Any travel is better than none! Those people have obviously never tried it! Both have their good and bad points and as I said, I think a mixture of both is best! Thanks for taking the time to read it, I know its long! 🙂

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7 Erik October 10, 2012 at 8:34 pm

Nothing wrong with long posts- especially when they are this well-thought out and written!
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8 Stephanie Walsh October 11, 2012 at 1:30 pm

Thank you very much Eric, appreciate that! 🙂

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9 Suzy November 11, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Having just completed a whirlwind tour of Europe for 10 days, I am certainly a slow travel person. I hate the pressure of fast travel that I need to see it all in such a short window of time. I always feel like I am missing something.
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10 Stephanie Walsh November 15, 2012 at 8:36 am

Yeah me too and usually I want to see everything! Wow 10 days in europe…talk about whirlwind indeed! At the same time it must have been amazing to see so much in that amount of time! Thanks for commenting Suzy!

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11 Kate - Canuckiwikate November 11, 2012 at 9:05 pm

I do like a good mixture of both as well. I became an expat in the Far North of NZ, which allowed me to have a full time teaching job, as well as explore locally, so even though I was ‘settled’ I there was always something new going on. And school holidays gave us that break in routine for some fast travel as well.

Lovely post!
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12 Stephanie Walsh November 15, 2012 at 8:37 am

Thanks Kate! That sounds ideal Kate! I always envy the holidays that teachers get! Some of my friends that are teachers do the most and best travelling of all the people I know! Keep it up!

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13 Priyanka December 26, 2012 at 11:11 pm

I enjoy slow travel where I can get more time to spend and get to know more about the place, their culture. But sometimes we don’t get that much time so frequently. 🙁

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14 Stephanie Walsh January 21, 2013 at 12:12 pm

Slow travel definitely takes a time commitment that is difficult unless you leave your job etc. But it’s not impossible! 🙂 I know other bloggers who make slow travel possible, even with a full time job!

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15 Andy December 27, 2012 at 4:07 pm

I’m beginning to like “taster” quick travel trips. And I find while it’s difficult as a family, it’s still doable. Took the kids to Disneyland on a 1-day-notice whim, for 2 days. Best travel decision of the year. And it helped us overcome the fear of planning a long trip.
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16 Stephanie Walsh January 21, 2013 at 12:13 pm

Wow that’s great Andy! Sounds like you have the ideal boss! 🙂 Hope you have many more adventures with your family in 2013!

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17 Jonny Blair November 17, 2013 at 3:22 pm

I’ve seen this debate rage many times on countless forums and travel blogs and the problem I have with it, is that everyone has a different definition of fast and slow and also spending a month in a non descript town isn’t really travelling – you’ll either be working there or you’re just staying there. I’ve just classed anytime away from my home country as travel now, and whether it’s slow or fast, I’ve been backpacking for over 10 years now and the best memories will always be the special moments in special places. Sometimes being in a city for one day brings better moments than spending 6 months in a place. It all depends. First time I’ve seen your site by the way, looks good. Safe travels. Jonny
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