With so much to see and do in such little time, you might question whether the trend of “slow travel” where people spend a reasonably long time in one place, for example a month (often working and living more like an expat local than a transient tourist) is a way to squeeze more out of your travels or whether “slow travel” is just slowing you down in your quest to explore the world.
The concept behind “slow travel” is that by spending more time in one place you can experience the destination in more depth… and more authentically.
The term “like a local” is often used to describe the experience of getting beneath the surface of a city, and living more like a local than a tourist; but to do this in a weekend or even a week isn’t realistic, no matter what guidebook you possess – as scratching beneath the surface of a destination requires you to ditch the checklist of things to see and do, slow down, integrate with the culture of the city and align with its unique rhythm.
If you have a month to integrate with the local culture, and genuinely live like a local, in that you rent a home and perhaps even get a part-time job; you will experience a whole new side of the city that will offer a much richer and more authentic experience than the typical tourist trail.
In that spirit, here are three cities perfect for this notion of slow travel.
Chiang Mai (Thailand)
Chiang Mai is known as the “capital of the north”. Many would describe Chiang Mai as a mystical land of temples, rice paddies, monks and natural jungle; yet the city itself, is a pretty bustling place akin to a more relaxed version of Bangkok. That said, the areas around Chiang Mai – particularly places such as Pai offer the picture perfect rice paddies, canyons, meandering rivers, and slow pace of life associated with North Thailand.
Finding somewhere cheap to live in Chiang Mai is pretty simple. There are several modern condos available, for exclusive rent, on AirBnB at a cost of just $10 per night if you are renting for a month or more. In terms of finding a more traditional short term lease, there are several property agents but the majority require three to six months as a minimum stay.
Chiang Mai is a great place to have as a long term base, in which you can explore the rest of Thailand. With direct flights to Krabi, Phuket and Koh Samui you are able to have a base in the North of Thailand (much cheaper than the south) and go on mini breaks to more exotic locations.
Istanbul has received a lot of bad press in recent years, with terrorist attacks, political instability and social unrest bombarding the headlines. In reality, however, whilst there are pockets of unrest, Istanbul is a place where people get along with each other very well and tourists are respected. Indeed, there is a sense of community and brotherhood that instantly makes you feel part of the culture – as a man or woman. The political situation is creating a somewhat volatile climate, but on the whole, Istanbul is a very safe city that will offer a warm welcome.
Istanbul is much like London, New York and Paris – in that it is is one of the world’s greatest cities to explore with plenty of things to do, and huge contrast, yet it is comparatively cheap in terms of its western counterparts. The joy of Istanbul is the city retains a traditional and authentic feel yet is superbly modern, design oriented, relaxed, and friendly.
Istanbul is unlike any other city in the world due to being separated by the Bosphorus Strait which divides Istanbul into two sides, on two different contents, the European Side and the Asian Side. The European side offers a modern side to the city, with well known brands occupying prime real estate on the busy high street whilst independent hipster bars and coffee shops can be found near the river.
In terms of finding a property, this side of the river is where you’ll find trendy loft apartments at a quarter of the price you would pay in New York. The Asian side, however, is a little more shabby and down to earth – this is where you’re likely to find a great deal on a property. The Asian side has a much more “local” and rustic feel to it which depending on your preference, can feel more homely than the comparative glamour and elitism of the European side.
Kuala Lumpur is a melting pot of cultures with a serious foodie scene. It’s an impressively modern and clean city that still retains the charm of a SE Asian city, but the huge shopping malls and architectural feats such as Petronas Towers do tend to dominate the backstreet vibe associated with places such as Bangkok.
Whilst Kuala Lumpur isn’t as cheap a place to live as the likes of Indonesia (e.g. Jakarta) or Bangkok (Thailand) it is a fantastic hub to travel from – as some of the cheapest flights in Asia can be found departing from Kuala Lumpur airport.
The other thing to consider, is that you can earn a decent wage here which makes it a good place to stay for a few months in order to replenish the travel fund, if you’re on the road for an extended period of time.
Hotels are affordable, but decent places can be extremely pricey. If you’re planning on staying in KL for an extended period of time, you could look into finding a studio apartment for rent in KL as there are some great deals to be had on long term apartments. Often, the minimum term will be several months, so if you’re just looking for a few weeks AirBnB might be your best bet – but a studio apartment is often a better option if you’re around for a while as it will give you more independence.
In summary, there are, of course plenty more cities that offer great options for long term travel, but these three are tried and tested favourites that provide something a little ‘different’ for people without being so different you’ll feel lost and homesick!