Why We Stopped Backpacking and Changed the Way We Slow Travel
Long-term travel changes you. The moment you realize that long-term slow travel is possible your life will change and it will never be the same again. Living without a permanent address for years on end has a profound impact on the way you look at the world. Suddenly, you belong to destinations scattered around the world and not just a single location back home.
Buying a one-way ticket to Asia without a plan on returning gives you the ultimate sense of freedom. You get to a destination where you can do exactly what you want. And when you get bored of doing that you can move on to the next place. No destination is ever too far away and home is wherever you are that day.
But what if the freedom gets too repetitive? What if the endless wandering starts to feel like a routine? Can that even happen?
It happened to us. But it didn’t stop us from traveling, it just pushed us to do things differently.
The Reality of Backpacking the World for Years
For years the idea of slowing down was as nerve-wracking as it had been to start traveling in the first place. We rarely stayed anywhere for more than a week or two before moving on to the next destination. The thought of signing a six-month lease on an apartment was enough to give us nightmares. It just wasn’t an option.
By living like this, we got the amazing opportunity to see large parts of the world on four different continents. Our lifestyle taught us life lessons that we couldn’t have learned elsewhere. It taught us to appreciate the value of a dollar, to cherish the privilege of traveling, and more importantly that the world wasn’t this big scary place that we had been told. In fact, we had more in common with the locals in the places we visited than we had ever expected. This lifestyle also helped us develop an even stronger urge to travel the world and see new places. To us traveling was never about collecting passport stamps or visiting every country in the world. To us it was about the experience, and the adventure is what fueled us.
But eventually, we started getting tired of the way we were living. It became draining to move from guesthouse to guesthouse, living in dorms with other people without any personal space. Our travels became a routine and we became jaded by the sights we saw. This was the complete opposite of what we were looking to experience.
Getting Templed Out
Over the past 5+ years of traveling the world, we have met a lot of people who travel quickly - they spend two days here, three days there, and are constantly moving. That was never us. In that sense, we had always been slow traveling.
The problem with slow traveling in guest houses and hostels is that it never feels like a home, no matter how nice the accomodation may be. Having a home is exactly what we started missing. We wanted to be able to have a fridge full of groceries, our own couch to kick back on after a long day, and the sense of actually living in a home for an extended period of time. We had the urge to live a day to day life as a part of a society and not just as a visitor.
The excitement we had felt for the first few years of traveling the world on a shoestring was over. In Southeast Asia, they call it getting “templed out” because you can only see a certain amount of beautiful temples before they all start looking the same. It’s like being bit by the travel bug but in reverse. The worst part is that you can’t avoid it and we’re pretty sure you can get “churched out” in Europe.
We had been jaded by too many similar experiences and years of backpacking, and we didn’t know how to change it. Not traveling anymore was never an option, but we knew that we needed to do something different.
Waking up in Bali
Something changed when we first visited Bali. It was in early 2016 that we arrived in Ubud and we instantly felt different. A huge weight had been lifted off our shoulders. We had a connection to this small village in the Balinese mountains that we had never experienced before. Coming to Ubud almost felt like coming home and the thought of slowing down and unpacking our backpacks didn’t feel so uncomfortable anymore. Maybe this was what we needed.
Unfortunately, our visas were running out and we had to leave Bali sooner than we wished for. We headed for Malaysia and it only took a few days before we were back in the same old routine. After having spent two weeks in Kuala Lumpur, one week in Langkawi, and close to two weeks in Penang, the restlessness was setting in again. It felt even worse this time so we decided to try something new.
Our First “Long-Term” Commitment in Thailand
We already knew that we could get our hands on two-month visas for Thailand in Penang, so we ran to the visa service the day after. The application was smooth and we started planning where to go before we even had the visas back.
Victoria had volunteered at Lanta Animal Welfare in Koh Lanta a few years back and since it was only a short bus ride away we decided that would be the first stop of our new lives. The plan was to find a “home” to rent for a month or two and take it from there. Koh Lanta had what we were longing for: good beaches, a relaxed vibe, and somewhat of an expat scene. It's also one of the few islands in Thailand that still hasn't been ruined by mass tourism.
Amazingly enough, we managed to find a great little apartment with our own kitchen, direct pool access from our living room, and a 2-minute walk to the beach, and it only took us two days of searching. The apartment was perfect for us and we experienced a newfound excitement from living a more normal life on this beautiful tropical island. We cooked dinners every night, spent all day at the beach, and were finally enjoying traveling again. This was the change we had been looking for.
The Return to Bali
After a month living in Thailand, our goal of living semi-long-term in the tropics was even stronger and Ubud was calling us back. So, after spending the summer back home with family and a quick stop in Nepal, we boarded a flight back to Bali. We ended up finding ourselves a two-bedroom villa in Penestanan just outside of Ubud and spent two months finally having a real home. Everyday we ate amazing vegan food, swam in our own pool, forged new relationships with locals, worked on Vegans with Appetites, and simply enjoyed the tranquil pace of life that Ubud has to offer. The experience was a new chapter in our new lives.
At that moment, we were more determined than ever to shed our old identity as backpackers. Although, we learned a lot from living that way, it was now a part of our past.
Retiring our Backpacks
It didn’t take long before we were fully accustomed to this new way of living but it created another issue. Slow travel with a backpack can be limiting because of the small amount of space they offer. When you're staying in a small room it is practical, but when you finally have your own closet to fill it feels a bit empty. For so long, we were used to rotating through the same few outfits. Not bringing anything fancier than a few t-shirts, shorts, and a pair of jeans gets boring quite fast, especially when you’re in one place for longer. It wasn't so much us wanting to shop for new clothes, we just wanted the freedom of choice but there was no way we could fit more stuff into our already crammed backpacks. It was time to get suitcases.
So in the spring of this year, we finally took the last step towards our new way of living and slow traveling. The result was two brand new Samsonite suitcases! We haven't looked back yet, except maybe for that one time when we stayed at the fourth floor with no elevator in Prague!
Our New Way of Slow Traveling
Since then, we have traveled in Europe renting homes and staying for almost a month in every destination we’ve visited. Having a kitchen and a living room has added meaning to our lives, and our new way of slow traveling has helped us rebuild the excitement that made us want to travel in the first place. It might sound silly, but shopping for kitchenware and household goods has given us a new appreciation for long-term traveling.
And who knows, maybe soon we’ll even dare sign a contract on an apartment for six months. But right now that kind of commitment still feels very far away.