Unwanted Advice: The Tortoise and the Traveller

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.


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:


Daily walks along the beach


Sunset drinks


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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Author: Brian

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  1. Brian, I’m glad you started a blog, you’re good at this.

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  2. I have no substance to add here, but often a lack of comment signals the blogger, “Well, that post was a bust.” Not at all.

    I can only exhale with vicarious pleasure and say, “You are right.” Oh, and “Tracy’s right.” (My husband and I have a joke [that’s not really a joke] that if polled, most people would agree that the three most precious words in the English language are “I love you”. We disagree. They are: YOU ARE/WERE RIGHT. So I hope you and Tracy know that you have been kissed with the sentiment dearest to the human heart. 😉
    Lizzie recently posted…The Master – 2013 Oscar Nominee for Best 1) Actor, 2) Supporting Actor, and 3) Supporting ActressMy Profile

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    • While I don’t necessarily think I am right/correct in many things, the little narcissist in all does need to be fed from time to time. So thank you for feeding mine.

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  3. Excellent Advice!!! We, too, felt we traveled much too quickly on our RTW and we weren’t really traveling that quickly! But, in retrospect, we missed do much..not just sites but merely truly feeling in tune with a culture. One big reason we chose to drive the PanAm instead of backpack/ public transportation is exactly that reason…so we can go at our speed. So glad you got back in rhythm.
    Rhonda recently posted…Foto FridayMy Profile

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    • Kim and I have discussed many times how we are jealous of you and Jim traveling the PanAm with your own vehicle. There have been so many times when we have said ‘if we had a car to right now, we would…’ The loss of going where you want when you want (traveling at your own speed) was something we definitely had to acclimate ourselves to.

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    • I agree, Patti. The journey is just as much inside ourselves as it is the sites we see.

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  4. Amen brother, I tell people I travel slowly because I’m lazy, but I think I’m going to start telling them it’s ’cause I’m like a tortoise.

    Sarah and I got pretty worn down our first few months traveling, and like you it put a strain on our relationship. It’s hard to be nice to someone all the time when you’re tired, jet-lagged, dirty and in need of clean underpants. Stopping to smell the roses gave us time to understand why we were doing what we were doing.
    Tyrhone recently posted…Semana Santa in Playa del CarmenMy Profile

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    • Yes! When I develop my tortoise shell print pack covers, I will send you one!

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  5. Here here!!! And that’s what it’s all about hey? Finding what works, through doing what doesn’t! Here’s to taking… it… easy 🙂

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  6. I give the same, unwanted, advice. In fact, I think I gave you and Kim the same advice! But I always say, and I still think, that until you’ve done it the fast way you won’t really appreciate the slow way. Traveling slowly from the outset while watching your cohorts see so much feels like you’re missing out…because you don’t yet know that it’s exhausting and draining and that slower can be better. I am loving being settled – still excited at the next possibility – but I love the routine of slowly discovering a place, of being recognized, of finally figuring something out. It is great advice!

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    • I am pretty sure you did give us that advice! I agree with you that, at first, it was difficult to hear other travelers talk about how they are going to so many places and I felt like we needed to go to all those places, and more. Which is strange, because I was never a fast-paced life kind of person.

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  7. This is one of our major struggles because we don’t plan to spend as much time as possible on the road. We just hope to be able to afford one year. I want to come home…at least I think I will. I get what you’re saying and it makes sense, but I also want to see a lot and make it to visit my family in Europe. I’m sure we’ll change our plans a million times over and I’m ready for that…it’s just tempting to want to see it all. Or as much as possible.

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    • One of the problems we ran into was that, while on the road, we shifted from traveling for a certain amount of time to traveling indefinitely. The non-stop movement without an end in sight was one of the things that weighed very heavily on us. I suggest (more unwanted advice) taking time every now and then, even just for a few days, to go somewhere and relax. You will need to take a vacation from traveling very now and then!

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  8. Every time I read a post about the benefits of slow travel I just end up thinking I’m a complete weirdo! I totally hear everything you’re saying but the longest we’ve stayed anywhere is about 2 weeks and I was starting to get bored by that point. It’s hard and tiring but I’ve not lost the passion for new places yet and hope I won’t on this trip.

    I think slow travel is fantastic if you have no definite end date and can support yourself on the road but for us we have a time limit and no income so we’re trying to maximise the precious time we have. Really interesting to hear your point of view and so glad your time in India is what you hoped for.
    Maddie recently posted…The Great Ocean Road in picturesMy Profile

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    • I think what I really comes down to is what you are comfortable with. If Kim and I had an definite end date, I am sure my perspective would change. I still like moving around and traveling, there is an excitement to it that is kind of addicting. What I have learned about myself is that I need to set up a home-base every now and then. And I hope you keep up your passion for traveling, too!

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    • My views closer align with Maddie on this one, but then again I think I suffer from travelers ADD.

      In the beginning it was the over excitement to see the next place. Also when I stick around one place too long I feel lazy or guilty if I am not constantly experiencing something new, as if I am not getting the most out of it.

      Though I don’t disagree with the burnout. My only advice to other travelers would be to save your favorite place for last or run the risk of losing some gusto if you check it off to early.
      Dustin@WeGoRTW recently posted…Extreme TrampingMy Profile

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      • I felt the same way about getting out and seeing everything for a while. Eventually I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to see everything I wanted to because, well, its a big world and my list is too long.

        Again, to each their own. The important thing is to enjoy what you are doing and how you are doing it. And I like your idea of saving a favorite place for last!

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  9. Brian, you’ve jumped into this Blog thing like gang busters. Slow down, you’re going too fast! hahaha
    You’re going to run out of quality topics to blog about!

    Exact-a-moon-doe, you hit the nail on the head. Slow is better in love-making, eating and watching sunsets. Fast is better if you’re running from a tiger. However, for every Yin, there is a Yang. There is no one answer for everything. Sometimes a combination works, like a herky-jerky type motion. I’ve done both in my travels and both seems to be the answer. Sometimes there’s so much adrenalin pumping through you, you just have to give in to yourself in saying “been there, done that” time to move on when you’ve only been in a place for three or four days. Other times, that’s not even enough time to scratch the surface.

    Overall though, I agree with you whole-heartedly. Let your heart be your guide. Learn to feel where you are, not just see it. I envy the fact that you guys have a way to sustain yourselves, to extend your travel without having an end because the funds ran out. If your time-out in Goa is half responsible for you starting your blog, it’s a strong testament why slowing down works. Keep it up!

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    • Steve: I agree that there is not a one-size-fits-all answer. I do think it comes down to what you a comfortable with. For Kim and I, moving more slowly seems to be the answer for now. That could all change. But for now, slow and steady wins our race.

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      • We’re still on the same page with “Slow Travel” as our default preference.

        However, the rate of my pace is always subconsciously evaluated with infinite variables. And with two of you, God help you. (Which leads to another variable when you’re traveling, there’s a different God every time you encounter a new culture.)

        Moods can change independently. You’re both in the same place, experiencing the same thing but one wants to go and the other wants to stay. And at the next stop, it will be the other way around. (I know all of this from personal experience) The answer is a combination of communication and compromise.

        Sorry, I’m sounding like the Guru from California. I get carried away when I can turn a simple question into a philosophical rant. This may be a topic for either of you to discuss in a future blog post.

        I’m looking forward to seeing that turtle shell print pack cover.

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        • I agree that when travelling with a partner, communication and honesty are critical. Being honest and saying ‘I want to stay here’ or ‘I want to go somewhere else’ means a lot! Thanks for your insight.

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  10. I am with you on the slow travel philosophy! While my friends were talking 2 days in Prague, I took 10! Even 10 wasn’t enough, but alas, a job was waiting for me back at home at the time! I would love to spend 3 months in one place, doing day trips to explore further afield…..I am slowly moving in that direction! Or maybe, I started that way with my 11 months turned 7 years in Australia!
    Happy travels.
    Anita Mac recently posted…TDBL Roundup – March 2013My Profile

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    • The longer I am on the road, the more and more setting up a base camp somewhere and doing smaller trips from that places. To me (and sound like you, too) it seems like a good compromise. Cheers to another tortoise!

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  11. Well said Brian! Sometimes I think I should have visited more countries in the six months I was on the road, but truth is two of the six where I spent collectively less than two weeks between them are the ones I’d like to return to visit…more so than the others. Personally, slow is better…enjoy the pace!
    Eric Helgoth recently posted…Mystic WaterMy Profile

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    • No matter how much time you have to travel, the number of places to go to will always be an issue. I mean, I don’t ever think I will be able to say, ‘that’s it, I have seen everything I have wanted to see.’

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  12. I am definitely a hare. I would like to be a tortoise but my overwhelming desire to see everything in the world RIGHT NOW makes it impossible for me to do it.

    Every country I do want to spend extensive time in, seems to end up on the back burner while I zip through other places.

    I am planning to do my RTW trip in a couple of years. I am sure that by that point, I will have a list of places I need to return to and spend way more time in second time around. Perhaps my current hare-ness could be considered research!
    jennifer recently posted…That Time There Was a Ball Gag in My Las Vegas Hotel Room.My Profile

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    • Kim and I have often said we will need more than one trip, as it seems that we are constantly making our lists of places that we really want to see. One trip for research, one trip to do everything else!

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    • It is one of those lessons that you have to experience for yourself to learn and/or fully appreciate.

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  13. Brian,

    After 19 months of travel through 23 countries (and Antarctica), I agree with you whole-heartedly. ‘Slow travel’ for me at least, is a much more enjoyable experience.

    The added bonus is that you have to pack/unpack/lug your your bags around less, a chore that I’ve come to dislike… I think it speaks to the fact that I’ve been traveling around waaaay too heavy… 11 kgs or so of camera/computers in my front pack, and another ~20 kgs crammed into my backpack… my own bit of longterm travel advice would be to pack lite! If and when I do this again, it’ll be a much smaller backpack, and there won’t be a front pack… who needs more than two pair of undies anyways?

    Another bonus is that you actually have more time to sit back and blog about your experience(s) as you go along. When you’re the ‘hare’ it’s easy to get behind in the blog, and at times it feels like a chore to simply ‘catch up’!

    Wishing you continued enjoyment on your journey… ours comes to an end in a weeks time.



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    • Like a lot of things in life, I think traveling teaches you just as much stuff not to as it teaches you to do. And yes, packing light would be one of those things (I think I would just bring a smaller pack, as 65 liters can be a little too much room).

      I hope you had a great time on your trip!

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  14. Love this post … it is why we sail. Sailing is very weather dependent. Most days we wait for the wind to pick-up. You have your bed and your transport wrapped into one. But you end up stopping in the smallest little sleepy towns, having a “sign language” communication with a local. Those are the best … being docked where you did not plan to be. Watching the sun set. Fish jumping out of the water to catch their buggy dinner. I love having the freedom to just stop. Drop anchor and go for a dive. If we have to motor it is slow…. Sail boats MOVE with the wind. It can be both a fast crazy breakneck pace … or a quiet, barely moving slow waltz. You just … don’t know.
    Montecristo Travels (Sonja) recently posted…Dog Friendly Local Treasures: The Wakefield Spring – Wakefield – QuebecMy Profile

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    • Ahh, the freedom of having your own transportation (in your case, a boat) is one of the things I miss the most.

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    • Yes! And the expense of traveling fast held lead to the exhaustion – it’s a viscous cycle.

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