Slow, Scenic Backroad Travel

What is Slow Travel?

What is Slow Travel?

"It is not down in any map; true places never are." - Herman Melville

Life on the road is an unfolding of revery and chaos.

It can be dizzying. Like trying to find your footing on shifting sand.

It’s easy to get swept up in a vortex of overwhelming pressure to see and do ALL THE THINGS when there is so much novelty vying for your attention. We were in Albuquerque, three weeks of rainstorms into the New Mexico chapter of our journey, when this became clear.

feeling a shortage of time

We still hadn’t made it to Chaco Canyon (a place I’d been dreaming about visiting), and we were leaving the next day. Defeat crept in as we realized, if we didn't move on, we’d be waiting the entire summer. As it turns out, summer is monsoon season in New Mexico, and it was August. The question "Didn't Mom tell me to check the weather regularly?" circled my thoughts. Wearily, we made a plan to return to Chaco in a few months. That eased a bit of disappointment, but anxiety was mounting.

It was our weather app.

It proudly proclaimed that we had a whole afternoon of clear skies.

Granted, it had not been the most trustworthy source these past weeks, but the sun was out, and we were feeling lucky. A whole afternoon of sun—on our last day! But where to go? How to spend those precious hours? There was enough time to explore Old Town and Coronado Kiva. Or we could check out that strange ramp, catapult thing we'd spotted on google earth. Or we could go to that historical site Dad had mentioned, but it was also the day they had local music in the park in Old Town, and what about the petroglyphs!

Just like that, we'd lost the plot.

Great Sand Dunes National Park, June 25, 2017
There was only one thing left to do, and it was tantamount to committing travel sacrilege.

The time had come to admit what we’d both been thinking for weeks: It’s okay if we don’t see it all. 

It may make you anxious to know that we’ve driven right past the Grand Canyon. Twice. In the dark.

It is unnerving to ignore the guidebooks and the voices of pop-culture goading you to do it all, to get the shot, to see the wonders of the world! It can feel like a strange sort of failure to opt out—especially when you're right there. But here’s the thing, we can’t do it all. So why not relax and follow our natural rhythms and spontaneous whims?

Giving ourselves license to go or not to go has freed us from the success/fail trap of attainment that is so easy to fall into when traveling. It’s been liberating to wriggle free of that hook.

Do we sometimes leave a place feeling as if we’ve missed something? Of course. But we love the idea of returning, of always having a thread to pull us back. As modernized humans, we put ourselves under tremendous personal and societal pressure to accomplish and attain. Life is not a competition or an endless to-do list. An obvious statement, but one that’s quickly forgotten in the race to the finish line.

Scenic Byway 12 to Escalante, Utah, May 18, 2017
This is a different pace. Unhurried and more focused. Set free from the light-speed travel pace we had been sprinting to keep up with in the past.

Slow travel gets us out of the list-checking, snap-shot-collecting mode of tourism. Our media driven lives are very goal and future-oriented. That rat-race pace is not conducive to staying in the present moment—something travel demands. If we’re always reaching for a future payoff, we’re unable to engage and enjoy the experience as it happens.

We treasure the memories we share, and the experiences we are creating on this journey, but we don’t want to collect them like postcards. We want to savor them, like a delicious meal.

Staying in an area for a month or more lets us savor. It creates the psychological space necessary to focus on what’s important to us: exploring, and getting to know the spirit of the places we visit. There will always be more to discover, more adventures to bring us back. It’s a comforting thought. It’s also why you won't see us hopping tourist hot spots or checking off a top-ten list when we get to a destination. We are more interested in a personal connection with a place, and that takes time.

Slow travel can stretch your accommodation dollar.

Unless you're camping, night-to-night accommodations aren't feasible for long-term travel. We've learned (through overpriced trial and error) that weekly and monthly rates are much better than nightly rates. We won't stay for less than a week in a rental now. You can find weekly rates discounted by fifteen to thirty percent and monthly discounts as good as thirty to fifty percent off of the nightly rate.

our favorite farm in Bedrock, Colorado, July 6, 2017

We use short-term rental sites for most of our accommodations. They are a great way to stretch a dollar, and they're also part of the fun. We have met fascinating people, adorable animals, kindred spirits, and stayed in unique homes and remote areas. Places that wouldn't have been available to travelers a few years ago—at rates much lower than a hotel. We can’t imagine traveling any other way. That being said, there are pitfalls to navigate on those sites, and we’ve run into more than a few. Read all about it in an upcoming post.

Kevin and a sweet little rascal we befriend in Sugar City, Colorado
"Know thyself”—and thy travel style

You might say our preferred style of travel is more fluid than careful and considered. That would be a kind way of saying neither one of us is exceptionally skilled or disciplined when it comes to planning. If one thing holds as true for travel as it does for life, it’s the ancient Greek aphorism "Know thyself.” Self-delusions fade quickly on the road. For us, slow travel means less planning and packing, and more savoring.

The diversity of this planet is boundless, and we are smitten. We would live everywhere if we could.

We want to experience the places we visit from the inside out. To get to know the landscape, the wildlife, the people, and the culture that brings them together. We are looking for a sense of belonging; to be citizens of the world.

We want to walk in measure with different people, in different places. We want to get to know a town through the intimacy of personal experience, rather than through the telescopic lens of a camera or the museum-esque detachment of tourist attractions.

We like discovering places you won't find on a map.

Direct routes feel like an imposition. We like to meander.

There are unusual, secluded, magical places hidden along unmarked dirt roads, and we have an odd knack for finding them. We explore national parks before they become colonized. Not that our travel approach is antithetical to a shared experience with others. We believe firmly in the idea of shared ownership—scratch that—shared stewardship of our wild lands.

Side note: Our public lands are sacred. The survival of our shared wild places is vital to the soul of our country. Shared stewardship holds a transformative power for connection. The historical, geological, and cultural treasures we collectively care for are our kin. They should be championed, cherished and protected as we would family. We fiercely support our national parks and public lands. That being said, we have an affinity for the thrill of discovering places that you won't see on a Map.

It’s electrifying—that rush of turning a dusty corner on a far-flung dirt road to discover an oasis or a surreal wonderland. Like it was just hiding out, waiting for us to get there. It’s like stepping into another world; one created only for us.

Unaweep-Tabeguache Scenic and Historic Byway, July 5, 2017
"Take the time to stop and be the flowers” — Albert Hoffman

The principles of slow travel are as applicable to a three-day vacation as they are to long-term wandering. They are also a good fit for the journey of life itself. Slowing the pace to savor, and spend more time in fewer places, is merely a recipe for a fulfilling experience.

For us, slow travel means a loosely held itinerary or none at all. It’s okay if our plans change without warning, it can even be serendipitous—as long as we let it be. If you are a planner or overachiever, and all this fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants business is giving you hives, play with narrowing the focus of your itinerary. Choose what is most juicy to you, and sink your teeth into those adventures.

Attack of the guidebooks!

Try to let yourself off that double-sided hook of acquisition and social pressure. It may be difficult to ignore the guidebooks, and well-meaning friends and family urging you to do it all, but once you release yourself from that trap, you are free to take part in the experience of travel, rather than observe through the filter of a tourist map.

The real magic of slow travel happens from the inside out. Once you eschew the manufactured adventures in the guidebook to immerse yourself in your own experience, you are free to travel to a new place of understanding. To a broader perspective where you look out and see the world with fresh eyes. With the eyes of the sparrowhawk or the howling wind, or the breezy gas station attendant with a kind smile, in a dusty, desolate, desert outpost. You will discover that you are no longer a spectator, pausing for a fleeting moment of detached revery. You will find that you have become the flowers. That is the alchemy of slow travel.

playful chipmunk we hung out with at Bryce Canyon National Park, May 14, 2017

That August afternoon in Albuquerque we set about our adventure with no plan. With no list or guide, other than our noses. The discoveries we made were all our own. While traveling down a rural road in a little Navajo village right outside of Bloomfield, New Mexico, we happened upon one of our most captivating locations to date: A mysterious mushroom hoodoo hamlet, hidden down an unmarked dirt road in the hills of Nageezi. It was a perfect afternoon. Cavorting, exploring and appreciating the surreal beauty of a place few tourists will see.

We found a rhythm we could dance to, and we got our appetite for serendipity back.

We left Albuquerque and Nageezi with Chaco still sizzling on our travel table. A dish so good, we get to savor the anticipation.

Mushroom Hoodoo Hamlet, Nageezi, New Mexico, August 10, 2017
1 Comment
  • Terry Carter

    I love reading all the processes of these travels. Your unfolding awakening of the deep silence of your soul. Finding the oneness with through nature and you curiosity. The photos, the writing are wonderful. It makes me want to go on my own travel quest. I see an inspirational book happening and a new wave of being starting to emerge. And you are Trail Blazers. Thank you for taking us with you on this life changing adventure. I love you both.

    November 29, 2017 at 11:30 pm

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