Slow travel and an open itinerary

DSCF0972We’ve been traveling in South America for just over three months and along the way we’ve met all sorts of travelers and people looking for adventures. Recently though we seem to have met more and more travelers who are in a hurry, rushing to get to the next place and get a certain experience ticked off their wish lists.

I spoke to one couple who were planning to travel South America, South East Asia and Australia in 12 months. I asked them how they were going to do it; see so many countries into such short amount of time? They explained they were taking lots of internal flights and pre-booked many tours, for example; a 5 day jungle tour in Brazil and an outback adventure in Australia.

Now, I know everyone is entitled to there own travel style and planning, but I can’t help but think, these “fast travelers” as I call them, are missing out. Such rigid timetables of flights, tours and countries to visit, leave moments of serendipity and unplanned adventures few and far between. Some of our most memorable times have been, when we have acted off the cuff, changed our plan and lingered in place a little longer. Most recently in Colombia we hadn’t planned on going to Sierra Nevada del Cocuy National Park, but after speaking to other travelers in Villa de Leyva who had just returned and were raving about the place we decided to check it out. It was off the beaten path and torturous journey to get there, but it ended up being the highlight of our time in Colombia.  If we hadn’t have kept our itinerary flexible we wouldn’t have been able to make the trip at all.sunset

Another great way of getting to know a country and culture is by traveling on public transport, local buses and trains. Probably the best example of this is in India. We spent 5 months traveling around the country and I’m adamant we learnt most about India’s culture and the people from the long bus and train journeys, chatting to local people, learning about their families, customs and sampling their food.

Sometimes I just want to shake some sense into these “fast travelers”, reassure them that it’s ok to linger in a place you like. Even if you have to skip one or two places or experiences from your travel list, there will always be the next trip.

Top Tips on Slow Travel and  keeping an Open travel Plan

(These tips are aimed at people traveling for 3 months or longer)

  • Keep your itinerary open and flexible: try not to fit too many places or experiences in. It’s better to see fewer places properly than lots fleetingly.
  • Try not to pre-book internal flights prior to starting your trip: if you have to re-schedule a flight you could incur additional charges.
  • Don’t book tours in your home country:  you will probably get a better price and more authentic experience by booking with a local tour company.
  • Listen to other traveler’s experiences and advice not just the guidebook.
  • Be spontaneous and act on your instincts have an adventure.
  • Travel on public transport as much as possible and chat with locals; it’s amazing what local knowledge you can garn about a place. You might even get a dinner invitation which has happened to us on many occasions.
  • Don’t always make your final judgment of a place by the hotel or hostel you are staying in. If you’re staying in a hostel you don’t like, move. It’s amazing how your perspective of place can change instantly once you like your accommodation.
  • Finally if you like a place and feel sad to be leaving so soon, linger a little longer, even if it means skipping another destination.
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Eternal adventurer and wanderlust seeker! Always thinking about (and planning) our next adventure, hence the name"Thinking Nomads"! Wife to Marco and mamma to Isabella and Maya. India, Nepal and Vietnam are my top three countries! Norway, Iceland and South Africa are top of my bucket list!

23 thoughts on “Slow travel and an open itinerary”

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  2. We agree! When we finish our trip, we will have spent 7 1/2 months in South America (plus a month in Costa Rica). While about half of our trip has been planned in advance (necessity due to patagonian summer scheduling), the rest has been unplanned and a lot of fun.

  3. i couldn't agree more with everything you've said in this post. i would be so stressed if i knew i had to make it to another country because i had pre-booked a tour.

  4. Of course some planning is necessary, but unplanned adventures are so much fun!

  5. Great article! When I travel I always make a point to travel slowly and keep an open itinerary as much as possible. And you're so right, there will always be the next trip! I think that's such a great prespective to have when it comes to travel, especially long-term travel. I hope you don't mind if I link to this post from my own site. Cheers!

  6. Could not agree more. I've been fitting in stints travelling over the last ten years. I only really go back to South America. It's better to get to know a place intimately rather than visit lots of different places and ony ever arrive at a pretty superficial understanding of the country.

    Tourist trips are about 'seeing' places and ticking them off the itinerary. Travelling is a quite aim, I would suggest.

  7. Hear hear!We tried this on a global scale and somehow made it around the world without hopping on a single plane. The journeys themselves were half the fun (well all apart from the Chinese sleeper bus perhaps…)Tom and Lara

  8. Yes I think you’ve got the right idea 1 – 2 months stints in a couple of countries.

  9. Yes I think you’ve got the right idea 1 – 2 months stints in a couple of countries.

  10. Yes I think you've got the right idea 1 – 2 months stints in a couple of countries.

  11. Great article. I totally agree with each of your points, couldn't have said it better myself.

    I'm 18 months into a backpacking trip through Latin America, and I've learned all of the above through experience. I pre-book nothing – if I like a place, I stay – if I don't, I jump on the bus to the next town. Everything is over-land, so I can have those cultural experiences of riding with the locals (although one doesn't necessarily have to take the cheapest, slowest, most cramped bus! lol) and seeing the passing scenery. Flights make you miss so much.

    And since I have the luxury of time, I don't ever have to take those grueling 12 – 24 hour bus trips that travelers rant about. I simply hop skip and jump from one little town to the next. It can all be done for quite cheap, too – normally it's only the large cities that cost more money.

    Listening to fellow travelers is great advice – it takes you off the beaten path of the guidebooks, which are invariably years out of date anyway. There have been places on this trip I wasn't going to go, or was only going to spend a few days, and ended up spending a month.

    Having everything you need to keep you healthy, happy and warm on your back makes such a difference. (OK, your pack plus an ATM and internet! 🙂 You can just pick up and move if something brings you down. That simple act of changing your location can make such a difference in your mood.

  12. Great advice, slow and steady wins the race! You'll never meet the locals, eat the food in that hidden restaurant, and discover the soul of a place if you're blazing through and snapping photos of the highlights. On our trip, many people asked us why we stayed in certain places so long. Hopefully one day they will understand 😉

  13. Thanks Bryan. I just think you have a much more fulfilling experience if you just take easy and don't try too see too much in a short space of time. Lets hope the message gets through!

  14. I like to plan my trips somewhere in between these two styles. I make overall plans of where I want to be and when, but I allow the flexibility of extending my time in any spot in case something really cool is going on. It seems like a bad idea to try and rush things too quickly, you'll end up missing something.

  15. Of course some planning is necessary otherwise you might not see or do anything, but finding a balance is best. As you mentioned the most important thing is to be open minded and flexible, so you can allow yourself to stay longer in place when cool things are going on. This happened to us in Huanchaco in Northern Peru, we didn't realize there was an international surfing competition going on the week we were there, so we hung around a little longer and had a great time watching the competition.

  16. Agreed. My GF & I debated the fact of preplanning our RTW trip. Instead of purchasing an RTW ticket for airfare, we calculated roughly how much it would cost if we were to book the plane tickets independently on our own. The cost almost ended up being the same. So we’re going to book ourselves so we have the FLEXIBILITY we’ll probably need.

  17. This is great advice,

    We came to SE Asia in 2009 for 3 months and just didn’t like the fact we had a deadline so now we are back. We have been in Singapore for 7 weeks and now feel ready to move on, Melaka in malaysia is next. I am loving the freedom of meandering about with no particular place to be 🙂

  18. Yes there is definitely a sense of freedom and libration than can be gained from not being tied to a fix schedule or plane ticket. Enjoy and happy travels.

  19. Wow, my thoughts exactly! I am doing the drive of the Americas, and although I do miss out on the buses, I do stop into a lot of small towns a long the way to look around and, as much as possible mingle with locals. I ended up staying El Salvador for two months, and had only planned to stay for 1 week! I absolutely LOVE the comment that if you like a place, linger! I gave up a little time in Honduras because of it, but I wouldn’t have wanted to miss the time I spent there for anything. Especially when traveling alone, if you find good people, good experiences, etc…..why would you just want to hop on the first chance out? Great thoughts!

  20. Thanks for your comment, firstly I must say that we’re very jealous of your trip, “drive of the Americas” it’s high up on our bucket list! That’s such a great point; about not passing up opportunities when they arise, glad you’re in agreement. How’s your trip going? Where are you now? We would love to hear about your experiences.

  21. For sure, you guys should keep it on that bucket list and go for it someday! It is quite fun, albeit a bit more expensive than the traditional backpacker/bus route. But in some respects, worth it! I’m really expecting to get even slower soon, I’m thinking of using up the full allowance in Colombia of 6 months and the full 90 days in Peru, we’ll see how the funds hold up! However, a HUGE advantage of course again, is getting discounted accommodation for longer term stays, a very important benefit to relaxing in one place!! A couple minor hiccups with car repairs and having the vehicle is a real pain for border crossings, but other than that, so far its really been great! I am in Costa Rica now after 6 months on the road from Toronto, and should cross to Panama maybe next week, VERY excited about crossing into South America though soon!! Love your site!! ( Just a quick note, if you check out mine, I have been SO lazy and it is FAR behind, lol, so bear that in mind)….Plus I built all these side links that I haven’t gotten to, but I will when I slow down hopefully!! Happy Travels guys!!!

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