Unwanted Advice: The Tortoise and the Traveller

March 29, 2013

I would give this piece of unwanted advice to anyone thinking of setting out on a long-term trip: travel slowly.

Like most lessons I have learned, I came to this one the hard way. By ‘hard way’ I mean this: in less than three months, Kim and I drove over 12,000 miles (19,000 kilometers) through 26 states on a road trip around the United States. In the following four months, we were in 8 different countries on 4 continents. And the kicker? We waited until December to visit 5 of those counties on 3 different continents.

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Our route through the U.S.

Now, I understand that we might be a little older than your average first time world travellers. We aren’t 20-somethings, just out of college and looking to avoid real life for a little while longer, and we aren’t on a gap year, career break, or whatever else you want to call it. We are in our 30s, deliberately quit our jobs, got rid of nearly everything we owned, and planned this trip with the goal of experiencing the world, not just party our way around it.

I have heard stories and seen itineraries of people visiting 20+ countries in one year. To me, that’s crazy. How can you experience anything when you are averaging spending two weeks in every country you visit? It makes me tired just thinking about it. (Yet another sign that I am getting to be an old man. And get off my lawn!)

Writing this makes me think of the Aesop’s fable of the Tortoise and the Hare. The moral of the story is slow and steady wins the race, only in this case the ‘race’ is life and you don’t win anything for getting to the finish line first.

So my advice is to travel like a tortoise. Why? Because traveling like the proverbial hare is hard and exhausting. Kim and I spent seven months moving around so much that it took all the fun out of traveling. We were moving for the sake of moving and we weren’t experiencing anything. Our focus shifted from experiencing the world to traveling the world and everything we did was to support the travel. The result is that we became road-weary, tired, and irritable. We started arguing over everything, and it was seriously affecting our relationship.

Something needed to change, so we decided that once Kim was finished with the Rickshaw Run, we would settle down in India for a little while. We chose to settle down in Goa. We had heard many people say that Goa is a beach paradise and, well, they were right.

Once we settled down in Goa, life started to slow down. It took a couple of weeks, but we adjusted to a life that didn’t exhaust us. We started having conversations again, not just discussing travel plans. Life started to get back to normal and we started liking each other again. We re-discovered why we wanted to travel in the first place and started really enjoying ourselves again. Here are a few snapshots of what our life has been like here in Goa:

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Daily walks along the beach

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Sunset drinks

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Beautiful sunsets

So my unwanted advice if you are planning long-term travel, especially if you are planning to do so with your partner: travel slowly. Travel like a tortoise. Enjoy your time everywhere you go. I have found that in the few places we have settled down reveal themselves only through time. Like a first date, a 2-3 day stopover in a city will leave you knowing only know what the city wants you to know about it. But stick around a while, take that city on a few more dates, and it will reveal itself more and more to you: the pace and patterns of life there, the local expressions and gestures, and many other subtleties of life that you pick up, rather than learn, that make you feel like you know a place.

Take the time to smell the roses, orchids, lilies, or whatever flower grows where you are. Take a siesta when everyone else does. Stop for a moment, take a deep breath, and simply enjoy where you are.

Hell, travelers already look like tortoises with our packs on our backs, so why not travel like one?

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