Over the last three years I’ve had the pleasure and good fortune to do a lot of traveling in Southeast Asia (SEA). The kind of travelling I do is often known as ‘slow travel’ which means staying in each place for a lot longer than the average tourist would. For me, there’s also a healthy dose of ‘short term living’ (fast living) in there because I’ll often have a base in a particular city for 1 – 4 months (the standard tourist visa length) where my lifestyle is much closer to ‘living’ than ‘travelling.’ This is a short article describing some of my experiences and advice to take advantage of this lifestyle.
Why travel and live this way?
There’s always a trade-off in travel between staying longer in a place and peeling off more layers of that onion, and visiting a new place to get a completely different set of experiences. The standard approach is to spend a relatively short amount of time, probably just taking in the highlights, then move on to the next location. Fast living is about peeling off more of those layers and allowing you to dip your toe into the experience of calling that place home and enjoying the unique lifestyle that comes with it. The relative advantages of this are going to be different for every person depending on what you value in life and what your lifestyle is like at home. Some of the things I enjoy are;
- Getting to know the local people and discovering the culture, food, sights etc., through them
- Getting to know other expats
- More cost effective than the west
- Food and drink
- Interesting culture, customs and festivals
- Using the location as a base for ‘fast travel’ to nearby places
- Doing something different to standard tourists
There are also some downsides to this lifestyle that you should consider. Three months is just enough time to start putting down roots, as well as being long enough away from home that you start to fall out of the loop with your friends. You’ll have to prepare to feel more isolated and put in extra effort to maintain the relationships that matter to you.
Places to go
My experiences are primarily in southeast Asia so that’s what I’m going to focus on, but there’s probably other countries and regions where you’ll find similar experiences. The three most popular places in the region are Chiang Mai (Thailand), Ubud (Bali, Indonesia) and Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam). In these locations you’ll find large expat communities, many western comforts and solid infrastructure.
If you want somewhere different, quieter, less travelled, then there’s lots of places to choose from but you’ll need to do your research to figure out which places meet your needs. Solid internet access is a must for some and that rules out several places such as Myanmar and Laos. If you like the beach and islands, then southern Thailand or the Philippines might appeal. Big cities like Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur are more likely to have the facilities and communities that you value, while other places will have nature and fresh air.
Because you’re only going to be there for a relatively short amount of time, it helps to get set-up quickly with accommodation, phone, internet and meeting people.
The more popular places I mentioned above will have short-term rental options, while the less popular places are going to vary a lot so you’ll need to do your research. Most places will have a local rentals website in English where you can find listings of what is available. I’ve looked at these sorts of options several times but it’s not something I usually go for because foreign rental laws are complex and I feel like there’s more risk there, so I usually look for one of the following;
- Air BnB properties with a good reputation – these are generally more expensive and the good ones go early, but you can find some nice options this way
- Hotels with long-term room rates
- Apartments with short-term room rates
If there’s an existing expat community on Facebook, this can be a great place to ask for recommendations and in some cities you might find agencies catering to expats that can help you. Be careful about committing to a place before you’ve seen it in person because it’s easy to be misled by online photos. I suggest doing your research before arrival to develop a shortlist, then visiting those places in your first day or two to decide on a location.
Phone, Internet and Office
Mobile SIM cards are relatively easy to get these days so that shouldn’t be a problem and is definitely recommended over roaming. If you need decent internet, you’ve usually got a choice between cafés with wi-fi and co-working spaces. Not every city will have a co-working space, but this is a great option if you need to work or have consistent access to the internet, so you should do your research on that. In many locations, cafés will commonly have free wi-fi for customers so this is also a good option.
If there’s an existing expat community in the city then there will likely be Facebook groups, Meetup.com groups and forums for people to share information and organise events and meetups. Anywhere that you see people (restaurants, cafés, tourist spots, co-working spaces, bars etc.) is an opportunity to say hello and potentially make a new connection, but if you’re not keen on doing that, then getting involved in some local events and groups is a great way to get to know some new people. I’ve found groups and communities for all sorts of hobbies and interests of mine including philosophy, badminton, travel, business and bowling, and made many great connections through them.
Meeting Local People
Meeting local people can be a bit more of a challenge, but if you’re friendly and outgoing you’ll probably find connections forming naturally with those people you meet on a regular basis. If you want to be more proactive about it, try to aim for those expat groups that have more long-term expats as they are more likely to have local people in their communities. Another approach is to look for language exchange groups where local people come to practise their English and you can learn some of the local language. As you talk and get to know people, connections will form.
Once I have my base, I like doing short trips (a few days to a few weeks) to nearby locations in more of a standard tourism style. However, you can organise these trips with other expats and locals you’ve met to get a richer experience and better value by pooling resources. It’s also much nicer to just take a small bag for a few days and leave the rest of your stuff back at your base than lugging everything around with you.
There are pros and cons to each mode of traveling and living and I hope I have made these apparent. In my experience, the slow travel / fast living lifestyle is incredibly rewarding and distinct from regular, ‘fast travel’, but you are taken into a different world where you’re more a citizen of the world than in any particular place. Are you ready for your next adventure? Will it be slow travel, fast living or just a regular old holiday? Regardless of what you choose, I hope some of what I’ve discussed here will be useful.
Nick Morris is an Australian marketing professional, traveller and collector of diverse experiences. You can learn more about him at his business website Wicked Cow Marketing and Linkedin Profile. He’s always keen to connect with new people; you can get in touch via Linkedin.