There are a lot of choices you must make as a backpacker and one of the most important ones is to decide which travel style to adopt. So which would you choose fast travel or slow travel?
This is one of the great backpacking debates, right up there with backpack vs suitcase or backpacking life vs normal life.
This whole fast vs slow travel didn’t even use to be a debate. Back in the early days of backpacking (1970s), slow travel was the only option. Places hadn’t developed and become anywhere near as traveller-friendly as they are today. There were no backpacker hostels back then!
While each travel style has their own unique advantages and disadvantages, this guide is designed to settle this debate and help you come to the conclusion of which travel style better suits you.
Fast travel has become a lot more popular in recent years with people trying to cram entire cities into a few days and whole countries into a couple of weeks. Since lots of people don’t have a lot of time off work, this becomes appealing to them since they want to experience as much as possible during their time off.
Also, in many backpacking circles, travel is often treated like a competition.
“I’ve been to 50 countries”. “Yeah, well I’ve visited 20 countries in a month, how about that?”
In this competitive backpacking culture, fast travel also becomes the more appealing option. So, let’s get into it…
The Advantages of Fast Travel
- There is never a dull moment when you travel fast!
- You’re constantly on the move.
- Sometimes, you can even wake up in one country and then fall asleep in another!
The other obvious advantage to fast travel is that you will, inevitably see a lot of different places and experience a ton of different things in a very short period of time.
So, if you’re one of those competitive backpackers, this travel style will give you a leg up on the “competition”.
The Disadvantages of Fast Travel
- It can be exhausting.
- It’s sometimes more expensive.
- You can’t really experience a place.
While one of the advantages of fast travel is that there’s never a dull moment and that you’re constantly on the move, this can also be a disadvantage. Constant fast travel can be flat-out exhausting and you can get burnt out after a while of doing it!
If you’re backpacking on a budget, travelling fast probably isn’t the best for you.
Fast travel can be more expensive than slow travel, with all of the trains and buses and planes you’ll be getting on every few days.
And, perhaps the biggest disadvantage of all is that you never properly experience a place. Yeah, you may form a surface-level connection with your destination. You may see the main sights and snap a picture in front of them. But, you never really get to know the place.
For me, I want to come home with more than just a few pictures and countries crossed off my “to visit” list.
So, what is slow travel? Slow travel is when you take your time on the road. Slow backpackers may stay in one place for weeks or months at a time before moving on.
In order to travel slow – and do it right – you’ll need plenty of time and potentially a way of earning some additional income on the road (this depends on how much you’ve managed to save up already).
The Advantages of Slow Travel
- You’ll really get to know a place.
- You’ll make more friends.
- It can be cheaper.
- You have time to relax.
For starters, slow travel allows you to really experience and connect with a place. The more time you spend in a place, the more comfortable you become with the area, the food and the people.
Speaking of people, slow travel allows you far more opportunities to meet new people and make new friends. You’ll make friends with locals from the area and also with fellow backpackers, who you’ll most likely meet at your backpacker hostel.
While fast backpackers need to choose just a few things to experience in each place, slow backpackers can take their sweet time and experience everything they want to.
Travelling slow is also a lot cheaper than travelling fast. You have a lot fewer buses and flights to catch, plus, you’re going to have more downtime when you’re not needing to spend any money at all. Of course you can also save money by getting weekly rates at hostels.
As well as recharging the bank balance, slow travel also gives us the chance to recharge our batteries. I’m talking about rest. The thing is… Travel is tiring and can be exhausting when we don’t give ourselves much needed breaks. It’s virtually impossible to take a break when racking through 10 cities in 10 days!
The Disadvantages of Slow Travel
- You might get bored
- You need more time
If you’re someone who struggles to sit still and relax, slow travel might be a challenge for you. The truth is that you will have a lot more downtime when travelling slowly; lots more days of not doing much.
And while, yes, this is important to rest and recharge, some people (especially rookie backpackers) struggle to do this. They’re infected with “itchy feet” syndrome and can’t stay in one place for too long.
The other disadvantage of slow travel is time. You need a lot of it. And for some of us, that just isn’t a possibility. Although, to that I would say, if travel is really that important to you, you will find a way to make time.
Which One Suits You?
To each their own. These different travel styles each suit different types of people; different types of backpackers.
Fast travel is suited for people:
- On a time budget.
- Who struggle to relax.
- Who can function on little sleep and don’t burnout easily.
- That are more energetic.
Slow travel is suited for people:
- With more time.
- On a cash budget.
- Who can easily chill and handle downtime.
- Who are Digital nomads.
- That are true backpackers.
Why Slow Travel is the Best Option
Having experienced both of these travel styles, personally, I can say with 100% certainty that slow travel is the way to go. But, what if you don’t have months to travel the world?
While there are plenty of ways to extend your time on the road and increase your backpacking budget, slow travel doesn’t necessarily mean spending months on the road. Slow travel can be spending two weeks in a city instead of a few days. It can be visiting two destinations instead of five.
Slow travel is the best way to fully experience a place. It’s the best way to meet people and make new friends. Slow travel is cheaper and better for those backpacking on a budget. Slow travel is real travel!
At the end of the day, it’s not about how many countries you’ve visited. It doesn’t matter how many famous sights you’ve seen or how many selfies you took there. In the end, what matters are the people we meet, the true experiences and adventures we have and the memories we make.
That’s what backpacking is about.
Author: Jamie is an avid traveller and has been backpacking since he left high school in 2016. He is the founder of the backpacking and budget travel blog, Gaijin Crew, which aims to teach aspiring backpackers to travel on a budget and turn travel into a lifestyle (more than just the occasional trip).