8 Lessons Learned as Slow Traveling Nomads

The beach has never been too far away – not for the past few months, at least. Since moving to Krabi (southern Thailand) in October, but  (I’ll use the term nomad as well, since they both imply a person who moves frequently or as they desire.)

Plan the big things out ahead and let the small things ride

Planning. Goals. These are dirty words to some travelers as it implies a restriction of choices. Tourists can easily choose how much planning they choose to do, but slow travel nomads? Yeah, we need to plan some of the Big Things out. Take heart – this is more like a book outline than a ten-page book report.

A few questions to ask yourself about Slow Travel:

  • What are you hoping to do as a slow traveler? Soak up the culture, learn the language, see a country extensively, start a business, or simply discover your own path to world domination?
  • How long do you want to travel? There’s no wrong answer here – if you’re traveling for life or never going home, it would help to think about how long you want to be in a given country.
  • Are you looking to be at a given place at a given time – for a festival or special event, perhaps? Some events are worth planning ahead of time to ensure you reach them.

As for letting the small things ride? The Thai have a saying for that: mai pen rai – literally, no worries. Hakuna matata. You can’t plan out every last detail, no matter how long or short your trip may be, so don’t fret.

Get your visas / paperwork straight

As tourists, you’ve probably found it reasonably easy to travel the world. Whether you’ve needed to apply for a visa in advance or you received one on arrival, you’re typically granted two weeks to a month in the country. Even though some countries offer three-month tourist visas, most slow travelers will find themselves wanting a longer-term visa to avoid making lots of border runs or visa runs.

What’s available in your country of choice will naturally vary, but Education and Business visas are frequently available (some countries make it easy to enter on a tourist visa and renew it indefinitely, though). Here in Thailand, for example, a Business visa gives you three months to a year (based on which country you received it from), while an Education visa gives you up to a year in the country, albeit in three-month increments. In Korea, being an English teacher gets you a year at a time, with no need to leave the country during that time.

As you’d expect, there are plenty of pros and cons of to measure. You may find only one of the visa options is cost-effective, while only one visa type might allow you to legally run a business. In cases where you have two worthy options, it might be a matter of figuring out your other obligations under the visa options. Thailand’s Education visa requires you to actually attend classes (in the Thai language or some Muay Thai classes, for example), which can eat into your traveling time.

Note that some countries will also require a residency or work permit beyond the visa – do your research to ensure you stay on the up-and-up.

Find an apartment

With the visa sorted, you’ve figured out how long you have in the country. You may not want to spend all that time in the same place, but you can certainly find a place that works.

The axiom that seems to fit us best is choose two of the following: location, budget, and desired length of lease. Much like apartment shopping in your home country, it seems you can find two of the three pretty easily, but getting the third will require a fair bit of effort. In Chiang Mai, for example, we found a good location and our desired lease length (6 months), but ended up coming a little over budget. In Bangkok, we found a good location and fit our budget, but the shortest lease available was for a year. (We ended up letting a friend take over the lease, and she was ecstatic to move into a bigger place.)

Note that the desired length of lease will vary based not on country and area. I’m thankful that most places we’ve looked at in Thailand have asked for a 1 or 2 month deposit, although our place in Krabi did ask for the entire six-month rent up-front. Measure your ability to negotiate down the monthly rent in exchange for a larger deposit, or by committing to a longer rent.

What kind of apartments are available? Are you willing to pay a premium to be closer to the beach (or downtown, or other special area)? Do you need a washer, fridge, or other appliances? Be sure to take the neighborhood into account as well – being close to a department store or a grocery store definitely adds to an apartment’s value for us!

Get connected to the local communities

Whether the community is other expats or locals, getting connected is paramount when slow traveling for plenty of reasons.

My personal strategy involves jumping on Facebook to search for Facebook groups that are focused around the city or area in question. Start with city or area’s name, and be sure to click the magnifying glass at the very bottom to make a more generalized search. You’ll be able to see Posts, People, Photos, Pages, Places, and more.

If you’re not on Facebook, head to Twitter, LinkedIn, or your favorite social network(s) – search for the city or area’s name and see what comes up. (I talk about more ways of networking – and pre-networking – over at this post on my blog.)

Find the necessities in the neighborhood

(Hopefully you took the neighborhood into account when choosing an apartment…?)

This is a great chance to tap those social networks to find what you’re looking for. Your own research or internet searches will certainly help, but matters of opinion are a different story. Sometimes, you really want to know the best Indian restaurant or a mechanic that will treat you fairly – in each of these cases, the best answer has come from a Facebook group and a community member’s first-hand experience.

Since you probably don’t want to spend all your time on the internet, opt to take one day a month and explore. Go down the side streets, off the map, or simply walk down the main streets and see what charms you.

Get into a routine that works for you

Remember those goals you made earlier? Slow travelers will naturally (or eventually) find a balance between life in a foreign country and traveling – for us, we work from home Monday through Friday and travel most weekends. Here in Krabi, there’s a quiz night every Wednesday that’s lots of fun – while in Bangkok, live music brought out the crowds. The point is to find yourself enjoying whatever the area has to offer.

Accept the realities – and banalities – of life

Waiting in a queue to pay the electric bill is probably not the dream of any traveler – yet it can be an interesting look at the locals. The same goes for shopping at the local night market – especially the non-touristy one known only by locals – or simply dealing with traffic. Look at these as chances to take in how the locals deal with things – doubly so if the realities are different from what you’re used to.

Make your apartment comfortable – a bubble from the outside world

Since moving to Korea way back in 2008, I’ve thought of where I’m living as a bubble from the outside world – a chance to decompress from life as a nomad and step back from the local culture. Just because you choose to live in a culture doesn’t mean you want to be waist-deep in it all the time. When you’re ready for more of the local culture, you simply need to step out the front door.

In closing…

Life as a slow traveler / nomadic traveler is awesome. You never know which place will take your fancy, or for how long you’ll opt to stay. My wife and I ended up staying a year longer in Thailand than we expected, and we’ll be spending a lot of time in Central / South America later this year.

How about you? Where would you slow travel? Comments are open.

Chris moved to Thailand with his girlfriend in March 2013, eager to continue the offbeat adventure in a new country. He shares his slow travel stories at their blog OneWeirdGlobe.com  They started in Bangkok (March 2013 – September 2013), moved to Chiang Mai (September 2013 – March 2014), Khon Kaen (March 2014 – September 2014), then Krabi (October 2014 – March 2015).

Follow Chris on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ 


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