For the first time in my life, I experienced the whole slow travel bit first hand when I took two weeks off to head to Vietnam.
Now two weeks might not be a lot; however, it definitely is a lot per Indian travel standards. When I was in Vietnam, I met so many travellers from Europe who had taken 3 months. In all honesty, I was jealous. Here I was struggling to take two weeks off. I came across high schoolers, sophomores and people from early-career who had taken a quarter out from a year and just travel all of Asia. Incredible, I think.
This was the first time where I had not booked any particular activity or a hotel in advance. I arrived and figured what I wanted to do on my own—no pre-planned itineraries or destinations to explore.
I started chatting up with locals. This was possible because I was only living in hostels. Hostels were the best place to be at. Simply because all the travellers have so much to share, and their stories are incredible as well.I remember one time I had just checked in to one of the hostels in Hanoi, and there was an adorable Korean boy who was checking out. He mentioned he has some time and wants to go get coffee. I was hesitant earlier, but I was like - let me just go for this. I am travelling by myself - I do not want to get bored. We walked up to this super cute three-storeyed coffee place - sat for a while. Tried talking to each other. The language was a barrier - however, we put Google Translate to good use. I realised he was a surgeon from South Korea and loved food. He also shared if ever I am visiting Korea, I need to try Bibinpok. I was pretty fascinated by the idea.
I met an American traveller this other time - who has been to over 30 countries or even more. The unique part was the fact that he was a vegetarian. Both of us were looking for vegetarian restaurants, and our day was spent quite well. To try out the best Bahn Mi Sandwiches with Tofu to explore a brilliant app called Happy Cow - a paid app but shows the best vegetarian option across the world.
I have tons of stories like this. From bar-hopping with random strangers and still keeping in touch to taking up a cooking class and learning Vietnamese cuisine throughout the day, all have been very enriching.
There were days when I just walked around the streets and ended up being at an art gallery. I did this, especially in Hoi An, where every turn led me to a beautiful street and an even pretty cafe. I used to sit there - write a few postcards and. Watch some videos and leave. I would also chat with the waiters and understand from them first hand what more I can do - or explore cultures.
This one time, I bumped into a Filipino - who was visiting Hoi An for the weekend. A cheerful person who insisted I take the boat ride with him one early evening. I ended up me visiting one of the best restaurants in Hoi An with a beautiful river view and exploring some local beer - singing on the streets and finally sitting by the river until 3 am.
I realised I could not enjoy these random moments when I was travelling with my parents or had a set itinerary. With them, I was just doing conventional touristy places. Slow travel allows one to soak in, immerse in the culture, understand the people around, and other travellers - share stories and perspective and learn a little.
Moreover, only you can come closest to exploring local food and local restaurant during slow travels. Next time ditch the restaurants that only serve you Indian and give your palate a new taste by experimental. Hopefully, that works out for you as it did for me. During Vietnam, I explore the street food scene like crazy. It has such an excellent street food culture. Most of the night markets have lines and lines of stalls which are just euphoric - and you will find everything delectable in those tiny lanes.
One other bit I have noticed it - If I am taking up any conventional vacations - I, in fact, end up getting more tired. Because everything is so mechanical. Everything is so transactional. I remember visiting Singapore with a tour group. This was the first-ever International trip of my life. It was excellent, of course, and quite memorable. However, in retrospect, I realise that it was so mechanical. We went straight to the city to do all the sightseeing from the airport. I was exhausted after my flight, and that's how we were exploring. I think tour operators and groups try to squeeze in a lot to give you value for the time spent there - but sometimes that's not what you want. We ended up only having Indian meals those 10 days of the trip. During my subsequent visits to Singapore, I realised it's richness in the food culture. (Love Lau Pa Sa & Din Tai Fung)
I think for me, it is just the beginning of my travel escapades. I have hardly travelled, but now I know how to travel slower with more time on hand. This way, I can discover quirky things and immerse myself in the experience altogether.
We are still in COVID times, and I am still not sure where I will head next. Although I have taken a few trips within India. Varkala and Goa were pretty much slow - no agenda - just chilling and exploring the place on our own. But I would want to do this a lot more. I really want to travel to Central Asia since I have heard a lot about it. Hopefully soon.
If you have travelled slow or have any experiences to share, please do so in the comment box below.
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