Today’s article is written for the Reach To Teach Teach Abroad Blog Carnival , a monthly series that focuses on providing helpful tips and advice to ESL teachers around the globe. The host for this month is Heather Richards, here you can find other similar articles. I’ll be posting a new ESL related article to this blog on the 5th of every month. Check back for more articles, and if you’d like to contribute to next month’s Blog Carnival, please get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll let you know how you can start participating!
Given the premium status awarded to expediency and efficiency in today’s world, it may seem impossible for something “slow” to still hold any sort of value. However, when it comes to travel, some of the most memorable and life-changing experiences are those that came not from racing full-throttle around Europe for two weeks or going 0-to-60 in 3.5 days on a Mexican beach, but from dropping down into first-gear–or even, park–for a more extended period of time in a particular city or country.
Usually in the form of teaching English, WWOOFing, couchsurfing, backpacking, or volunteering with the Peace Corps, slow travel offers several unique benefits that can’t be enjoyed during the average one or two-week vacay. Along with the usual photo album of scenic pictures and a handful of crinkled plane/bus/subway tickets, putting down temporary roots gives you opportunities for deeper cultural immersion, greater interpersonal skill development, and nonstop adventure.
Dipping your toe in the water vs. cannon-balling right in; sticking your finger in the frosting vs. throwing your whole face in the cake; sitting in the balcony at a concert vs. joining the mosh pit. I could go on with the metaphors but I think you get the idea. Slow travel provides a level of cultural immersion that can’t be beat. Whether it’s learning another language, chowing down on local cuisine for breakfast, lunch and dinner, or adopting a myriad of other social norms, spending an extensive amount of time in a foreign country makes it possible to do all of that to the fullest extent. It’s one thing to “do as the Romans do” for a few days or a week. It’s something else entirely to do it for weeks, months or years on end. It’s definitely not always fun or easy, but it’s absolutely worth it; because upon returning home, after living and breathing another culture for so long, you’ll carry with you not only a deeper understanding of the strange new world that you temporarily called home, but also the safe, familiar one you’re coming back to.
Even if the focus of your trip is unrelated to your college degree or inteded career path, time abroad also arms you with a unique depth of interpersonal skills that will serve you well in the future. Thinking on your feet to scale a language barrier, calmly taking cultural differences in stride, and being flexible when something doesn’t turn out as you expected are all things you’ll have to do at some point on your snail-pace journey. And they’re all experiences that will make you a better employee, friend and person back home. Getting through these situations and acquiring that higher level of creativity, patience and openness usually involves a fair share of growing pains. But it’s fun to feel like you’re standing a few inches taller than everyone else when you go back.
Finally, at the risk of stating the obvious, slow travel gives you the luxury of time: time to do all the big must-see’s and must-do’s, but also time to find the beauty and adventure in the ordinary. Building a life in another country requires all the standard things like shopping for groceries and clothes, getting a haircut and ordering at restaurants. But when you don’t speak the language or understand the social norms at play, trying to do these simple tasks quickly changes from being straightforward and mundane to strangly complex and fascinating. As a result, slow travel presents you with big time adventures, full of sight-seeing, hotel stays and exotic cultural experiences, as well as small time adventures, full of discoveries about daily life and social interactions. If that sounds exhausting, that’s because it is; but when you’ve resumed your “normal” life having conquered mountains and anthills alike, there won’t be anything you can’t do.
Whether you teach your way across Asia, WWOOF through France, or backpack the length of South America, slow travel is the gift that keeps on giving. The trip itself may come to an end, but you’ll continue to reap the benefits and relive the memories for the rest of your life. So, what are you waiting for? Hurry up! Get out there and take it slow!