Some reflections on slow travel

I’ve spent the last couple of years doing what I would call slow travel, spending periods of a month or more in different cities. This began in late 2016 with a job that brought me to Berlin for months at a time. I quit that job last October and in the time since have been through Europe, Asia, the US, and then back around to Europe, where I am for the next several months with no fixed end in sight. I wanted to compile some observations that I’ve made in this time.

1 month costs the same as 2 weeks

This was an observation my friend Steve made when we were in Asia last year and it’s proven reliably true for me. Typically to stay in a place for 1 month costs roughly the same as 2 weeks. This comes down to being able to pay month rates for things like accommodation (usually a 50% price break), transit passes or car/motorbike rentals, phone SIMs, and also cutting an additional day of travel (which is likely to cost several hundred dollars depending on where you’re going next).

Mobile internet has eliminated whole classes of tourist scams

I came to Europe after high school with a group of friends over a decade ago. We were subject to a handful of scams that are significantly harder to pull off now that you can get a local data plan for your phone in pretty much any country for ten bucks or less. Apps like Uber and its equivalents around the world have, I imagine, eliminated billions in dollars in taxi scam proceeds. Similarly, being able to spot-check exchange rates for a specific amount of currency makes it hard to get totally ripped off by a money changer (though you should only really use a money changer if you have no other option, like a proper ATM).

Making friends: easier and harder

It’s easier to strike up conversations in a place where simply hearing that someone is speaking your language is a pretext to break the ice. That said, when you’re living somewhere for just a few months, most friendships are transient. It’s mostly just the friends from travel-focused communities like Hacker Paradise that I’ve managed to reunite with reliably around the world.

Bummer though this can be, I also couldn’t help but notice how little I managed to see my friends even when I was back home in New York earlier this year. I find that when I’m in a fixed place for a long time, I tend to assume that I can always get together with friends “next week” and end up only seeing most of them very rarely as it is.

Some mundane things are an inordinate pain

Things like seeing dentists or certain medical specialists are doable, but usually a bigger pain than back in your home country (with the exception of a few places like Thailand, which has great dental and medical infrastructure that’s set up to a large extent specifically to accommodate English-speaking foreigners). Even simpler things like getting a good haircut can be a lot more challenging when you are on the road for a long time.

Similarly, setting up a new business bank account from abroad, at least for me as a US citizen, was impossible and I just had to wait to be back in the US (this is mostly thanks to the US Patriot Act and the rigorous “Know Your Customer” policies that often require an appearance at a local branch).

Thinking in timezones

Want to call your parents? Oh right, it’s 3 in the morning for them.

Want to have a conference call with a client? Better squeeze it into the 1 hour window where your work day overlaps with theirs (if you’re even so lucky to have that).

These sorts of things are never a problem when your work and most of your community are in the same city (or at least the same country) as you. It quickly becomes a central part of your thinking when you are 10 timezones away.

Overall is it worth it?

Overall I feel the tradeoffs are definitely worth it. Things like mobile internet, modern banking and Airbnb have made travel  so much more seamless and affordable than it’s been through all of history prior. I value a lot of the friendships I’ve made and experiences I’ve had, and feel that they always give me a unique and valuable perspective even when back home.

Hi, I'm Nicholas! I spent years working in software in New York City. I struck out for the road in 2016 and am now primarily based in Asia. This blog is a collection of stories, thoughts, places and people from along the way.

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