Travel Slow, Take Your Time & Breathe It All In

If you take a peek inside my passport you’ll see that I’ve been to 33 countries. Or better still, check my scratch map and take my word on it because as a British citizen I have the luxury of visa-free travel within the EU (for now at least, #BrexitSux) meaning that I don’t have any actual on-paper evidence of having visited almost half of that 33. But yeah, I promise I’ve been to 33.

Other than a trip to Florida when I was 4, gate-crashing my parents’ honeymoon at 7 and a family holiday to Dublin when I was 9 (or maybe 10?) the first time I set foot on foreign soil was on a school choir trip to Germany soon after I turned 18. I wasn’t a part of the choir but because I took A-Level music and made up one third of the entire school orchestra I was allowed a free pass. And that’s completely irrelevant to what I’m trying to say, but whatever.

I’d like to say that the trip to Germany was the beginning of this, of my life now, booking flights on a whim to random cities and countries that make people go “Where the heck is that?” when the flag bearer comes out in the Olympics opening ceremony.

But it wasn’t.

By that point I’d already begun to plan my great escape, having booked myself a place on a volunteer programme in Peru for the following summer.

Germany was a nice intro to travelling life, though – an appetizer, so to speak.

The volunteer trip I just mentioned? That was the start.

Four weeks volunteering as an English language assistant in the Sacred Valley followed by one week of conservation work in the Amazon rainforest followed by one week of just being a tourist in Arequipa and Lima was enough to whet one’s appetite, and I was hooked.

The next summer I spent five weeks in Nepal and India.

The summer after was eight weeks in Venezuela, Colombia and back to Peru.

Then I went on my Year Abroad, spending a semester in Italy, during which time I also nipped into Vatican City, San Marino and Germany, and then a semester in Spain.

The summer I arrived home I went on a three week trip Interrailing through Europe with two of my friends.

And THAT is where I got greedy.

In that trip we somehow managed to cram EIGHT countries into just 23 days. That’s not even three days per country! The twelve months preceding the trip, I’d visited 7 countries and for whatever reason this wasn’t good enough and I just wanted more. The excitement of all those new places, the weird sense of pride I felt whenever someone would say “WOW, you’ve been to X many countries, that’s amazing!”, the absolute jump-for-joy feeling of elation I get whenever David Attenborough or Bear Grylls are off somewhere and I can say “Yep, I’ve been there” all got too much, and there’s no better way to say it – I got greedy.

I needed to go places, not because I’d always wanted to visit them, but simply because they were there. Because I had access to them, and because it would mean I could say I’d been to one more country.

And so in that 3-week trip we squeezed in Luxembourg, Brussels, Amsterdam, Berlin, Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest and Prague.

A heck of a lot of cities, right?

Now if you were to ask me today, two and a half years later, if I remember any of it, do you know what the answer will be? No. No, I really don’t.

We crammed so many cities into such a small space of time that it’s all one big blur.

I mean, was it really necessary to squeeze in a one-day trip to Bratislava, during which time we did absolutely nothing but walk through some streets, go to Tesco and go into a museum full of objects made of wire? No, it wasn’t.

What did we really take from that day, other than being able to say we’ve been to Slovakia? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

I mean, I don’t even have any significant photos of our time there. If you check out my Countries page, I had to use a tree for Slovakia because I just don’t have anything else. And I don’t even know if it’s a Slovakian tree!

Just a few weeks after getting back from that trip I went to Jordan for 8 days, and after the mad rush of those three weeks, it was honestly such a breath of fresh air to be able to focus all of my energy, attention and time on one single country, if only for a short few days. Although I was barely there a week, that trip and that country had so much more of an impact on me than any of those I visited in Europe.

This brings me to my most recent couple of trips.

Firstly, the one that has occupied almost the whole of 2016 and most of my bank account – my mammoth eight-month trip around the world which saw me take in a whopping fifteen countries, thirteen of which I visited in the space of just four months.

You’d think I would have learnt from my Eurotrip that it’s quality over quantity but apparently not. Although to be fair I do remember every single country I visited this time around, I also understand that four days in Argentina just isn’t enough to do the country justice.

Following this was four days in Riga which, just like my trip to Jordan has made me truly appreciate slow travel, sticking in one place and really getting to know it as opposed to flitting from country to country like some sort of mad bumblebee.

So as I already said, I have been to 33 countries.

To some that’s a pretty incredible figure, whereas to others it’s peanuts.

Within the world of travel blogging and ‘influencing’ or whatever you call it, there’s a lot of pressure to go to as many places as you can.

There are a lot of travel bloggers/influencers/call them what you will out there who proudly display “45 countries & counting” or “112/196” on their Instagram or blog Bios. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But should it really be a race?

Don’t get me wrong, I would absolutely love to one day be able to say that I’m a proud member of the exclusive ‘I’ve been to every country in the world’ club. I mean, how incredible would that be?!

And to be honest it’s actually a pretty attainable lifetime goal to have! I have one of the best passports to travel with, and am only 24 so there’s plenty of time to get to the 160 or so countries that are missing off of my Scratch Map.

But the thing is, I don’t just want to go to a place for the sake of being able to say I went there. I don’t want countries to become nothing but a blob on the map. I don’t want some of the most incredibly beautiful places to mean nothing more to me than another one to cross off the list.

I don’t want anywhere else I visit to end up like Slovakia or Luxembourg, where the only thing I remember is eating a bowl of spaghetti the size of my head.

I don’t want to cram umpteen countries into a 2 week trip just because I can.

When I visit somewhere – be it a city, country or other – I really want to be able to savour it, to drink it all in and truly experience life there.

I want to be more than a ghost passing in the night.

I want to notice the little things, to see more than what’s on Lonely Planet’s Top 10 Things To Do list, to interact with the locals and go off the beaten path when I can.

Because there’s a difference.

There’s a difference between ‘going to’ a country or city and visiting, really digging in deep and getting to know it.

It’s not a race. Or if it is, I’m not entirely sure where the finish line is?

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39 Comments

  1. 23rd December 2016 / 4:41 pm

    I love this! It can be so easy to get caught up in travelling just for the sake of being to more places. It gets super competitive which is really not what it should be about! I’ve found that a lot of people just spout off all these places but they’ve barely been there a week. I think it’s much nicer to spend more time and really connect with the culture and the feel of the city!

    • rhiydwi
      23rd December 2016 / 5:42 pm

      Aaahh I’m so glad you commented!! Not to sound like a creep or anything but I was thinking about you the other day as I know you’re leaving at the beginning of 2017 & hadn’t noticed any posts from you in a while. My WP Reader is being an absolute tool these days and I couldn’t for the life of me remember your link, but now I have it 😉
      Exactly!! Like, I once spent 24 hours in Ecuador but stayed on a bus the whole time – hardly counts really does it? And I’ve only realised all of this quite recently which is a shame really as I’ve been to so many places already but can barely remember a lot of them for this exact reason.

  2. 23rd December 2016 / 5:04 pm

    Great read! I’ve visited 42 countries and totally agree that travelling slow and taking your time seeing sites and experiencing the local culture is a must 😀 As Im currently at Uni I haven’t really had the time to properly experience a country, but once I graduate I will definitely be taking your advice!

    • rhiydwi
      24th December 2016 / 4:15 pm

      Oh yeah, I completely know how it is being at Uni and travelling whenever and wherever you can in between semesters 😀

  3. 23rd December 2016 / 5:13 pm

    I know what you mean about people racing to see more countries than everyone else, but it is important to not just tick them off, but to see a bit of the culture and things that define that destination.

    In Europe though it is easy to hope between places as some countries are so close. I noticed your route included Berlin, Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest and Prague. I currently live in Vienna so know how easy it is to get between those countries using the buses and trains.

    Great insight into this way of thinking.

    • rhiydwi
      24th December 2016 / 4:12 pm

      Yeah absolutely! And I agree that in Europe it’s super easy to get between them, but even then spending one single day in Bratislava as I did is nowhere near enough to even scratch the surface.

  4. 23rd December 2016 / 5:14 pm

    wow this is great! Seems like you’ve seen so much ! I am not fully sure how many countries I’ve been so far but I cant wait to keep traveling! My first trip abroad was Germany, and when I was there I also knew I just wanna keep traveling 🙂

    • rhiydwi
      24th December 2016 / 4:16 pm

      That’s a coincidence, yours being Germany and mine (kind of) too! Thanks for reading Ada.

  5. 23rd December 2016 / 6:43 pm

    Better to realise sooner rather than later 🙂 I much prefer a slower pace – spending a week or two in a country and exploring in a bit more depth, rather than rushing round like a mad woman trying to pack it all in. That said, I’m useless at taking individual days easy, as it’s just too tempting to take in as much as possible!

    • rhiydwi
      24th December 2016 / 4:18 pm

      You’ve hit the nail on the head Rosie! You don’t necessarily need to spend months on end somewhere to get a feel for it, just a week or two is perfect in most cases. Taking in as much as possible is definitely a must, but I’d much rather have a whole week to squeeze everything in as opposed to, say, 2 days.

  6. 23rd December 2016 / 9:58 pm

    I loved reading this. Many people who start traveling want to see as much as possible and try to cram a crazy amount of places or even countries in just a few weeks. I have spent most of the past 12 years abroad and the places I enjoyed the most are the ones I got to spend at least a couple of months in. It takes time to really get to know a place, to see more of a city than just the touristy must-sees.
    And I know, not everyone has the time to spend months in a country but I’d definitely recommend to slow down. If you ask me, really getting to know a few places is worth much more than visiting hundreds of places without really seeing them…

    • rhiydwi
      24th December 2016 / 4:20 pm

      To be honest that was definitely me until recently! I spent just 3 days in Buenos Aires and didn’t even give anywhere else in the country a chance before moving on to Chile! Although to be fair it was winter and the weather seemed to be making it absolutely impossible to enjoy myself haha.
      In some cases I don’t even think months are necessary – just a couple of weeks would be perfect for smaller countries! Definitely agree with your last point.

  7. 24th December 2016 / 8:03 am

    I’m so happy you posted this, I’m literally right in that greedy phase now.
    My year abroad was so amazing and it’s set me off on wanting to explore other cultures but up until now I was planning on how I can travel to fit as many in as possible, I’ve been planning little trips left right and centre just to say I’ve done tjem.
    Reading this brought me back down to earth- the reason my year abroad was so good was because I took my time and got to know 2 or 3 places really really well.
    I need to make sure I plan my next travels around getting to know a place and enjoying it rather than just ticking it off 🙂 Thanks for this, you are so right x

    • rhiydwi
      24th December 2016 / 4:27 pm

      The other day I was planning a trip for Feb-March, and apparently I was going to go to Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Albania, Kosovo, Croatia, Slovenia and Germany, all in the space of 21 days. When I properly looked at it I realised how much of an idiot I was being and it was like a switch had been turned on in my brain. I cut it right back to basically just Montenegro, Croatia and Slovenia which is much more doable, and I won’t be spending every other day on a bus or train!
      Planning little trips is so bleeding tempting from UK though!! Damn you Ryanair, Wizzair and Easyjet for being so bloody affordable haha!
      Also, I haven’t forgotten about you I swear so if you’re still up for a post I can send you over some drafts after Christmas? Sorry for taking so long, but I don’t want to submit something half-assed for someone else’s site as I normally would for my own haha. Hope you have a lovely Christmas Kia! xx

  8. 24th December 2016 / 11:55 am

    This is a great post, and I agree, unless you are truly going to enjoy and experience the place you are going save that time instead in a place you have already spent a few days so you can truly get a full experience of that place instead. I studied abroad in America last year and went travelling for 3 weeks to quite a few different states, and after 2 weeks when we got to our next destination we just wanted to relax instead of walking around another city. We were tired, and instead of sight seeing we went to the movies and played board games at the hostel instead. Trying to cram too much in can really take its toll.

    • rhiydwi
      24th December 2016 / 4:27 pm

      Definitely! You get so wiped out that you just don’t really enjoy what you’re doing as much as you would if it were a lot more relaxed.

  9. Hra
    24th December 2016 / 1:06 pm

    What a great post!! You are right and i definitely agree with you… i plan my next trip on March in Barcelona.. and i can’t wait 🙂 Thanks for sharing with us

    • rhiydwi
      24th December 2016 / 4:28 pm

      Ah, Barcelona is wonderful! Hope you have an amazing trip and thanks for reading Hra 😀

  10. 24th December 2016 / 1:27 pm

    I wrote essentially this same post a few years ago. I usually do travel deeply and slowly these days, but I’ve definitely been “greedy” on occasion! Sometimes it’s hard not to be when you’re spent thousands of dollars to get halfway around the world and another country is *right next door*! I also tend to be a repeater – I fall in love with certain countries and end up going back multiple times, thereby using precious travel time to go deeper rather than see another country. I’ve never regretted that, but if I want to see more, I have to stop repeating!

    • rhiydwi
      24th December 2016 / 4:31 pm

      Oh absolutely agree with you there, although I don’t have the same excuse a lot of the time as flights to mainland Europe from UK start from as little as £10! Fellow repeater over here: specifically when it comes to Peru and India, two countries I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of! There’s nothing wrong in that though, sticking to what you know means you’re guaranteed a good time 🙂 Hope you have a wonderful Christmas across the pond!

  11. 24th December 2016 / 5:18 pm

    I too like slow travel, relish the country’s essence. Rushing through is no fun.
    But then I also feel where is the time for slow travel?

    • rhiydwi
      26th December 2016 / 12:22 am

      Yes, it sometimes feels that life is too short. But at the same time, why waste time visiting places for the sake of it as opposed to focusing your time, energy and money on somewhere you’d much rather be? Thanks for reading, Indrani!

  12. 25th December 2016 / 3:57 am

    I love the idea of visiting so many cities. It sounds both invigorating and blissfully exhausting. I am learning to take time for travel and exploring. This speaks to my wanderer spirit.

    • rhiydwi
      26th December 2016 / 12:23 am

      Mmhm, better to take a month to enjoy one thing than the same time to squeeze in a bunch of smaller, less desirable and wanted opportunities.

  13. 25th December 2016 / 1:23 pm

    Great post and something I completely agree with. I’m heading off to spend 2 years making my way from Guatemala to Argentina. I want to spend at least 3 months in each country, living and working. I want to really experience the countries I visit. But I’ve also done 3 cities in2 days in Belgium…because I only had two days and I really wanted to see it all haha.

    • rhiydwi
      26th December 2016 / 12:26 am

      Oh my days, 2 years?! I’m so jealous! You’ll be passing through some of my favourite ever countries.. do you mind if I ask how you’ll be working out there? I feel that 3 cities in 2 days within the same small country isn’t such a big deal, especially when the cities are within easy travelling distance of each other as is the case with the cities you visited. But when you cram 7 “countries” into just under 3 weeks as I did, well it’s just silly really haha.

  14. 25th December 2016 / 4:32 pm

    You have been to so many countries I really wish to go!! I also try fit it as much as I can in one trip but I also feel giving more time to each place will make the feeling heavenly!!

    • rhiydwi
      26th December 2016 / 12:28 am

      Oh yes, it’s all about finding the right balance, right? 🙂

  15. 26th December 2016 / 2:16 pm

    Absolutely agree with you! Great article you have here! You need most of time not a couple days to fell some places spirit!

    • rhiydwi
      27th December 2016 / 1:57 pm

      Thanks! Yeah, that’s definitely the case! 🙂

  16. 28th December 2016 / 7:50 am

    While we were planning our honeymoon trip all our friends suggested us to not go for too many countries in one go. I realised it was important to spend some time in each city and then take it all in. Otherwise all the travels are done just for the sake of travel. I have made it a point to visit one country at a time. Loved reading your article!

    • rhiydwi
      30th December 2016 / 12:47 pm

      Thank you for reading, I’m glad you enjoyed! 🙂 Absolutely, it’s also kind of important for yourself not to rush to fit everything in – especially when you’re on your honeymoon!

  17. 29th December 2016 / 11:19 am

    This post really resinates with me. I really want to visit all the countries in the Arctic circle but I’ve recently re-evaluated that slightly and want to go to places just because, not to cross them off. Going to Northern Siberia was always going to be difficult anyway haha.

    It’s so important to be in the moment and experience things, which is what I try to do now. Your travel adventures sound so amazing, I love reading about the countries you visit and the things you experience in them.

    http://fourcatsplusus.co.uk – Amy

  18. 1st January 2017 / 1:12 pm

    It’s amazing how voyages unravel so many surprises, including inner discoveries. I can relate to that for sure :).

    • rhiydwi
      1st January 2017 / 2:42 pm

      Yeah totally! Glad you can relate 🙂

  19. 7th January 2017 / 9:55 pm

    You have great article here! You are lucky to have a chance to travel a lot. Beautiful pictures.

    • rhiydwi
      8th January 2017 / 4:17 pm

      Thank you! And thanks for reading

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