Slow travel, what is it?
In short slow travel is a state of mind, which allows travellers to engage more fully with communities along their route, spending more time in particular areas and engaging more with the local people and culture.
In my lifetime I have lived in six different countries. At the age of 18, I decided to go to school in Ottawa, 5 hours away from my hometown of Mississauga (you probably have never heard of it and yet it’s the 6th largest city in Canada!). From Ottawa, I moved to Paris when I was 20 for a year to study in Paris. From there I traveled all over Europe and properly caught the travel bug. From there I moved to Panama City for three months for an internship in 2010 and returned in 2012 to do my scuba diving Divemaster certificate in Bocas del Toro. That same year I moved to Santiago de Chile where I lived in my first South American country for a year.
In June 2014, I moved again, this time to Brussels with a little over 3,000 CAD and absolutely no plan. I had no jobs or contacts, only a friend of a friend who had graciously offered me a spot on their couch while I job searched. It worked out: after two months of intense stressing (what if I can’t find a job!), some hustling and a splash of luck, I landed a job.
It’s been 7 months since I landed in Brussels. So the question is: am I done moving? Nope. I actually prefer slow travel. Why? Well here’s why….
People always tell you that if you truly want to learn a language, there is no better way to learn it then to fully immerse yourself. And that is exactly what I did. Although I studied both French and Spanish in university, I became (some-what) fluent when I moved abroad to Paris and Panama/Chile. If you really want to become proficient, all you need is a boy/girlfriend who doesn’t speak a word of English – now that’s some immersive language learning!
Living la vida local.
There is nothing better than learning how to live like the locals. Expats usually try to group together but I always try to find locals to befriend. In Chile, I lived with my then-boyfriend, a Chilean-Brazilian, in his apartment located in a somewhat poor area 20 minutes from the centre. I would get weird stares daily and I was the only fair-skinned person that I ever saw in the area. It was an intimidating and yet incredibly authentic experience that I would never trade for anything. In fact, every time I travel somewhere I want to try and live like a local as much as possible – eat the food, learn the traditions, interact with locals. It enriches my experience and provides me with unforgettable memories.
Slow travel allows me to take time and discover the bumps and ridges of each place I live in – I learn about the quirky bars, local markets, best shops etc. etc. Spending that extra time in a place can transform your disdain for a place into love. Brussels, for example, is renowned as an uneventful and boring city. If you had asked my opinion seven years ago, I would have agreed. Three days of rain and grey made me hate Brussels. Even when I was moving here my friend, who lived here during the winter months, told me wasn’t the ideal place to move. Guess what, BRUSSELS IS NOT BORING. Yes, it’s small but it has so much going on. Vintag, and parties… the list goes on. But if you stick tourist spots: Grand Place, Delirum, St. Géry and Manneken Pis, then you are missing out on the real Brussels.
What’s not to love about having friends all over the globe? Slow travel allows you to create strong friendships as you are probably around more than a couple of days. Some of these relationships can last a lifetime, even if the friendships you forge are not with the locals. My friendships span the globe, from my Ottawa girls back in Canada, to my USA bestie I met in Santiago and my host family in Panama City – each person has touched my life in a special way and I am glad that I was able to create unforgettable memories with each and every one of them.
In short, slow travel allows me to totally immerse myself in another culture – I learn its secrets, meet its citizens (and visitors) and in the end, I always take a part of it with me when I leave.
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