As the world becomes more friendly to telecommuters, the dream of slow traveling in the US becomes increasingly accessible. But what is it really like to live out of a suitcase? What happens when you don’t have a home anymore?
Today’s social media can’t seem to help to make us envious of the slow traveling influencers who are always on the go and looking fabulous. But deep down inside, we all know these are carefully curated snapshots of moments in time. It makes us wonder what happens between the moments? Well, I’m here to tell you, it’s a lot less picturesque.
In September of 2020, I took the leap by ending my lease and moving my stuff into storage. My plan was to do a trip around the Southwest, returning to my original home in LA after the holidays. Instead, my trip has become indefinitely extended as I explore as much of the US as possible. During the last year and a half, I learned a few things about slow travel.
Slow traveling has a lot of downtime
One of my first and most surprising realizations about slow travel is that it seems to create more time. This may have something to do with the lack of normal household duties like vacuuming the floor, mowing the lawn, replacing light bulbs, etc. I never realized how much time and effort went into maintaining my environment!
Once you simplify your life, it’s surprising how much extra time you can find. Slow traveling is a great time to pick up a new hobby. Blogging, for example, is very rewarding and does not require any special equipment.
Your diet becomes blander
Being away from home 100% of the time means that you will inevitably need to cook in someone else’s kitchen. This also means traveling with your own ingredients. Since space is always a premium in this lifestyle, it behooves all travelers to lean on their cooking essentials. For example, I only carry olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic in between destinations. I’m careful to consume all other food before moving to my next location.
Part of the art of slow traveling is understanding what trade-offs you are willing to take on space and comfort. I personally air on the side of space, but even a traveler with a preference for comfort will need to make some tough decisions on kitchen items.
Your GPS will be working overtime
When I first started slow traveling around the United States I found it invigorating to not know what was around the next corner. I used my GPS for everything and was constantly delighted at each new sight. As time progressed, however, I started to grow weary. The constant sense of being lost and the inevitable wrong turns started to weigh on me. Additionally, cellular-based GPS systems do not always work in remote areas of the US (luckily, I have a backup, satellite-based system for emergencies). All in all, I was surprised at the mental fatigue caused by long-term habitation in unfamiliar environments.
It’s oddly easy to lead a sedentary lifestyle
Even though it may seem like life on the go would be inherently active, it actually is not! Living in smaller spaces than normal, inclement weather, and unfamiliarity with each new town kept me from walking as much as I did when I lived in LA. After noticing that I could easily go an entire day with under 2000 steps (thank you Apple watch!) I had to start planning more workouts in order to stay active.
Phone relationships are everything while slow traveling
It’s probably no surprise that constantly changing locations can put a strain on your in-person relationships. Part of the art of slow traveling maintaining connections even when you can’t see them in person.
It felt kind of weird at first to talk to friends on the phone. In fact, I found that I needed to schedule calls in order to connect with most people. However, good friends will make time to support you in your journey. As a bonus to building up my phone relationships, I also discovered the joy of online board games, another great way to stay connected. No matter your approach, it’s important for your mental health to connect with those who know you and love you.
Internet anxiety is so real
I know what you are thinking – Internet access is integral to daily life for everyone, regardless of your traveling status. But just imagine living in a place where everything is unfamiliar. Your Internet connects you to friends and family, it’s how you “go” to work, it’s how you figure out where to get groceries and the precautions to take when hiking in a new area. For slow travelers the Internet is Everything but most of the time it’s out of your control.
While most short-term housing provides Internet access, you almost never have access to the router. This means that every time there is a glitch in access you have to find your host and ask for a reboot. Glitches aside, not every host purchases a high bandwidth package or designs a system that all guests can access at equal speeds.
In order to quell my Internet anxiety, I use a cell phone plan with the maximum amount of high-speed hotspot data. I also purchased a Verizon Jetpack, which will provide an additional 30GB of data, if I ever need to activate it. Additionally, I carry a Nighthawk Wifi Extender for housing with a good connection, for poorly designed wifi access. In the course of 18 months on the road, I’ve used my wifi extender at 4 different locations and hotspot data at least once a month. The anxiety IS real, but it can be lowered.
Getting mail can be frustrating
Despite the increased availability of managed mail services, getting the occasional piece of important mail can still be difficult. At the very least dealing with a managed mail service can cause delays, but at worst mail can be lost or sent to the wrong location.
When I first hit the road near the 2020 election, I had a problem receiving mail at my temporary location and ended up losing 2 ballots. When the time came to vote, I drove 5 hours back to the California state line to cast my vote! Luckily I was early in my adventure and had not made it very far.
You’ll have to deal with subpar beds and bedding
The thing about short-term housing, is they don’t really care about your long-term comfort. This is especially true of Airbnbs (where I spend most of my time). The hosts have an incentive to minimize costs and since most guests are not long-term, they tend not to invest in great mattresses or bedding. And even if the host shelled out for a quality mattress, the odds that it matches your body type and sleep style remain thin.
So far I have not found a good solution to this problem. I just chalk it up to the cost of adventure.
You’ll have to hold yourself accountable
Once I was out of my day-to-day routine I experienced a sense of freedom similar to when I first moved out of my parent’s house. Starting a life of slow travel can result in pushing boundaries that may not have been acceptable in standard life. Things like letting my diet slip, having an extra drink at night, and sleeping in too late, seemingly had no consequence. However, as fun as it is to pretend to be on a never-ending vacation, bad habits can add up quickly. When there is no one around to hold you accountable, you need to (re)learn how to do it for yourself.
In conclusion – is slow traveling worth it?
Despite the struggles that no one talks about, I still would not trade my life for anything in the world. The thing about slow travel is that it changes who you are. And change does not come easy. Sometimes you need a little stress to grow into who you are supposed to be. Why not willingly take on that stress alongside a healthy dose of adventure, exposure to beauty, and opportunities for new experiences?