Lately been thinking again of the whole solo travel thing. I follow a few people on Twitter that are solo travelers and a few that are traveling forever. But the direction of the recent thought is not so much the solo travel itself but the solo traveler engaged in slow travel. Slow travel does not mean a week or two in a place. To me, it means a month or two in a place. I spent three months in Hanoi Vietnam and while some people were surprised, I did this with a purpose in mind. I wanted to get grounded in Vietnam and use Hanoi as a base of travel for the places I could reach like Halong Bay. I also made it on several day tours and a few get aways to places like Hoi An and Hue.
Another thing is the stability in having a room for a longer time. I was able to settle in and find the services necessary for daily life. Things like getting a haircut, getting laundry done, the food places I wanted to eat at. I don’t do street food all the time and I enjoy western food on occasion and staying longer means I can explore those places as well. I also don’t have a budget so to speak for the travel. I like living how I want to live on the longer travel. I have not really splurged on a hotel or apartment yet but I have on food and taking tours. I will book a tour for myself when there is no choice. Yes, I will pay more to get to a place and also have it easy. I’m old and lazy I guess. I don’t need challenges trying to figure out four ways of getting to a place that I will visit for a few hours.
What I also like in the longer term travel is being able to slow down and see a place how I want. Here in Phnom Penh there are the tourist places by the river and the Wats there and museums and food and coffee places. I purposefully booked a hotel away from all that because I have time. Time to explore in all different directions and see the how people live, the smiling children as I walk by, and the city where I don’t see a lot of tourists. Its a different reality and by having sufficient time, I don’t feel rushed to reach a place within some schedule.
So, the longer term travel to a place like Phnom Penh or the month long stays in Da Nang, Da Lat, Saigon have meant that I had time to explore. Explore the non touristy areas, find the local restaurants, find the smiling people on the streets where I walk and at the same time have a regular approach to the travel. Here in Cambodia, I will spend an initial month in Phnom Penh then months in 3 other cities and then back to Phnom Penh in January. I’ll stay here a week and get some things done and then travel long term to Malaysia and Thailand and short to Singapore. I don’t stay long in expensive places like Singapore and Japan. I usually spend a week or two at those places and its more focused time to see things.
The Casual Traveler…
I think the casual traveler is best suited for places like Asia. The industry and tourist and services are well adapted to staying long term. Hotels have no problem giving better rates for long term. I won’t stay in Hostels so I don’t know how they do things. In Saigon, I stayed for a month in a home stay with a family. It was the best! The host cooked the best meals!
I think Asia is well suited for those that want longer stays and also have a regular life in a place. Perhaps the person is a Digital Nomad (whatever that is) or a ex-pat (I think I know this one) or just a slow traveler like me. If you combine countries with good long stay visas that also have cheaper costs of living the pattern is interesting. Vietnam will let you you stay up to a year but every 90 days you have to do a visa run. Cambodia has some nice visa rules and you can get a retirement extension of stay for a year of multiple entries for $290. There are other choices as well for the casual traveler. Thailand and Malaysia both have retirement visas but I would not get either since Cambodia is just so much easier to maintain the visa and extend it.
Finally, though its what you want. I travel to not arrive or close out a place but to live in a place. I purposefully pick the places that have things I’m interested in or have not been to. Part of the enjoyment of a first day in a new country is that first walk all day. Having the time to enjoy the walk, not feel that a week will go by way too fast and I will have not seen all the temples or whatever is a big deal for me. Finally, having the freedom to see the places and not focus on the touristy places is very liberating. I like taking pictures of every day life. Museums and temples and pagodas are good but here are also people out past all those. The long term travel makes it possible.
Like I said, I think the long term travel method is really well suited for Asia. You can go slow and not feel guilty. Perhaps though you don’t have the perfect storm of independent living or retirement or being that nomad or whatever. Then you have to live in your reality.