In the summer of 2019, I packed up my apartment in Boulder and set off to travel indefinitely. I’d been writing about travel for a few years and occasionally I’d meet journalists and bloggers who called themselves digital nomads. Instead of having a home, they had a suitcase. Instead of booking return flights, they always traveled onward.
I was fascinated by this lifestyle. I could do my job from the road, so why not try it? I had a short trip to Japan planned and decided to keep traveling afterward. I hopped on a plane a few hours after emptying out my apartment. Two weeks later, after a brief visit to Boulder, I flew to Mexico for two weeks and then to Colombia, where I stayed for three months.
In Kassondra Cloos’ new column series, she’ll share the revelations that come with “slow travel,” adventures that emphasize making time to absorb the life around us, to experience places and people and cultures, and be present in where we are and not where we could be or where we’re headed next. Give her a warm hello!
As more of us spend more time working remotely, you might be tempted to take your life on the road, too. From my experience, a life of constant travel is little more glamorous than a life at home. The reality lying just outside the perfect frames you see on Instagram is that it’s exhausting to continually pack and unpack, and it’s lonely to start over in a new city week after week.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t go. Instead of city hopping, though, consider staying longer in fewer places — long enough to find a cafe you love and visit more than once. Whether you’re planning a month in Europe (when borders reopen) or a year of hopping around the globe, my advice is to give your travel breathing room.
This year, amid a pandemic that has grounded nearly everyone, my travel has slowed way down. I moved to London from Mexico City in July, and I’ve taken advantage of the time difference (seven hours ahead of Denver) to work at night and spend my days exploring the city by foot.
One morning in August, I left my flat at 3:30 a.m. to watch the sunrise from a hilltop park overlooking the Thames. I then spent hours meandering the streets of Richmond, a corner of London that feels more like a town than a metropolis. I wandered through a patch of forest and delighted in the scent of the earth and the feel of mulch under my feet. I walked until I found Richmond Park, a massive green oasis with its own herd of deer, and lay in the grass to read a book.
I was so uncharacteristically still, a man walking along the path laughed in surprise as he drew near. “You’re a person!” he said. “I thought you were a log, off in the distance, but no!” I burst out laughing, too.
The book I had been reading was “Notes from a Small Country,” Bill Bryson’s tale of walking all over Great Britain. Inspired, I decided to journey the 11 miles home by foot. I walked along the Thames, through historic neighborhoods and along streets with adorable boutiques, celebrating a city reopened after a nearly two-month lockdown. I rested under a tree at Green Park, within striking distance of Buckingham Palace, and noticed the ends and beginnings of neighborhoods where architecture styles changed.
It’s no secret that walking is the best way to see a city — I’m not saying anything Earth-shattering here. When you travel more slowly, by foot instead of by bus, by train instead of by air, you see both less and more. You cover fewer miles, but you can see life in greater focus. You become enchanted by the displays of cakes in a bakery window, mesmerized by two friends playing ping pong in a park. You mark a spot on Google Maps that seems perfect for a return visit to watch a sunrise. Without tours to rush to and plans to get on with, you find the places that don’t cater to tourists, and you have time to marvel at how different — and similar — life is beyond your home bubble.
For me, the joy of travel is showing up somewhere and experiencing all of it, never feeling the need to ask, “what’s next?” or “are we there yet?” because everything around me is worth seeing. I now treat grocery stores like museums — what’s on display, what’s popular — and always visit the local McDonald’s, not because I miss the familiar, but because I’m eager to see what’s different. (It should be a crime that tsukimi pie, a fried sweet made of mochi and red bean paste, is only sold at McDonald’s in Japan.) I recently spent a morning marveling at all the meat-flavored potato chips in a grocery store in London. How did “pigs in a blanket” and “beef wellington” become chip flavors?
The ability to return to places has become my favorite part of traveling more slowly. Instead of scrambling to absorb a city’s highlights in a single day before rushing on to the next adventure, I make time to browse foreign magazines at newsstands and sip a cup of tea at a café I might visit every day until I become a “regular.” Slow travel is about getting to know a few places really well instead of a lot of places only a little. It’s about enjoying being here, wherever “here” is, instead of ticking down the minutes to the next move. And I am certainly here for that.
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