Tag Archives: slow travel

Ever-exciting train travel

“Too often travel, instead of broadening the mind, merely lengthens the conversations.” — Elizabeth Drew.
Personally this quote makes a lot of sense: new experiences should cultivate our minds and give meaning. How much do herds of tourists learn from visiting the Eiffel Tower? I wouldn’t say we travel all that much, but we’re always on some kind of a journey – not necessarily looking for stories to tell, but to experience something new: new sights, new sounds, new smells.
It has become typical to start a trip with a certain routine, I can’t think of a different way to do so: early morning, over-air-conditioned trip to the train station, coffee, train. It’s a routine, though it never gets boring. We find spending a few moments waiting for the train to arrive so relaxing, that whenever we plan our trips we try to incorporate a train journey to our itinerary. It is also because we love the Hua Lamphong station in Bangkok – it has such an authentic feel to it. We also like train travel as we associate it with a slower lifestyle.
Auste and I had an interesting discussion recently that whatever we do in life, our actions represent our values. In other words, all that we say and do reflects our thoughts and beliefs. Consequently, whatever happens to us in life – is a reflection of those values. In terms of train travel, it kind of makes sense: organization (of train tracks), punctuality, communication, stability – all are not alien to us.
Train travel isn’t just jumping from A to B. It’s a time-tested way of travel that has been around for centuries. It allows flexibility to be productive, as many cannot sleep, read, or eat on other modes of transport. Train travel is almost a world of its own, which echoes an experience most of us are familiar with: a certain leg of the journey has to be spent collectively before each individual parts their own way, whether it’s school, relationships, or work.
Taking a train to places with names we can’t pronounce also adds extra security of not ending up in a completely unexpected setting – there’s just one track!

Travel in general adds a level of excitement to certain things that are generally mundane. For example, packing. Putting stuff inside a backpack is such a dull activity, but when you assess each item individually, you kind of place yourself in your future destination before you even travel. In addition, I find packing my half-moon shaped Osprey like a Tetris game – each item has to be rotated, bent, and squeezed a certain number of times before it fits properly!
And of course coffee. Sitting in our favourite spot, people watching, and adding finishing touches to our trip plans. It’s like a ritual. Even if the weather’s bad, or the actual trip turns out to be less than great – we will have done at least one thing we enjoy!
Obviously it’s impossible to experience every walk of life, but at least travelling slowly, overnight, on 3rd class trains, and so on, has helped broaden our horizons so to speak. We have met interesting people, observed locals and strangers and had chances to peek at their ways of life, which have also influenced ours.
Everyone knows that we need balance in life, but we also need balance in our travels – too much and it loses meaning, too little and we struggle to settle our minds each day. I see our own little routine as a tool to keep that balance when we get out to see the world.

Take it slow

I’m living on the other side of the world and even though there are many things that are different from Europe, at the same time so much is the same. I suppose when you get used to something, only the extraordinary stands out. And the more you travel, the more people you meet and talk to, the more you realise that the people are so similar – wherever in the world you are.

I’ve noticed something interesting about stereotypes: most of the people who fall into the “stereotypical” category for a particular nationality have something in common. They are usually the individuals who are annoying in one way or another. They are either too rude, or too loud, or drink too much or are too stingy… whatever it is, there’s TOO MUCH of it. And they’re not just annoying the locals of the foreign country they’re visiting, they’re embarrassing the people from their own country if they happen to be nearby. So it’s not suprising that stereotypes are usually wrong – the “stereotypical” people for any country are the type of people we all avoid back home!
But when you think about it, there aren’t that many “stereotypical” people in the world. They are simply the ones who shout the loudest, and can sometimes make you lose sight of the others who quietly blend in. There are so many beautiful people everywhere. Simple, warm and open. And it doesn’t matter where or how you meet them – whether you’re walking through a muddy field in the UK with your hiking boots on, or sitting on a crowded bus in the middle of Bangkok’s traffic – the nice people are nice everywhere.
I like travelling slowly. Slower than you can imagine. I like “travelling” even in my own hometown and finding the little extraordinary things amongst everything that looks ordinary and familiar. I need a home to enjoy travelling. And I noticed that Vidmantas and myself can make a home anywhere, really, and it will be just as cosy and nice to return to. But we need time. Enough time in one place. Enough time to observe what’s going on around us, to soak it in and to learn from it. Enough time for us to create a space where we can recharge ourselves, so that we would have the energy to learn and grow as people. Enough time to sort out the outside world to such an extent that we could finally focus on our inner growth.
I still love travelling to faraway places, exploring with only the most important things in my backpack, but I can’t do it for too long. I guess it’s similar to spending time with other people. It’s lovely and it gets me excited, but then I need time on my own to recharge.
When we moved here everything was new and exciting, nothing was certain, and it was a ridiculously stressful but an incredible experience at the same time. But it drained our energy. The growing and learning had pretty much stopped as we were just taking in new images and sounds rather than learning about them. But then we settled down in one place for a while. And suddenly everything fell into its place. We had a home and we could finally explore our surroundings the way we like it: little by little. Slowly. Taking everything in. Because when you stop running and pause for a little bit, EVERY thing becomes special.
“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry,

Bangkok Thailand

Not just travelling

“I left Europe with the naive idea and picture in my mind that I will come in Asia and work with poor kids in a remote village but I ended up working at one of the top schools in the city, more hours than I ever did back home, although this was the first thing I wanted to escape.” These words come from a girl named Cat, whom I haven’t met in person, but we seem to have similar mind-sets and have gone through similar experiences.

A few years ago I found myself at a crossroad between considering future prospects at a job I was only partially satisfied with, and just quitting everything. With very little enthusiasm for staying at the workplace, I approached a business-minded man twice my age, expecting a monologue about financial stability and long-term career objectives. To my surprise the answer was “go for it, do what you feel like doing”. I was blown away by such a simple yet encouraging response, so I quit my job the same week. Next thing I knew I was at the best job I had ever had in England, saving for and planning my travels.
Similarly to Cat, I thought of Asia as a rather undeveloped, poor and exploited continent – as these are the keywords used frequently in the ‘western world’. It turns out that many Asian people have a view of Europe as a wealthy, organized, and money-growing-on-trees type of place, where everyone is happy, educated, and polite. Even though some of it is true, both perceptions are somewhat distant from reality.
When I was in Chiang Mai I met a guy at an internet café/print shop, who looked like a stereotypical hippie-like employee: unshaven, long-haired chubby man in his mid-20s, wearing a colourful t-shirt, playing some NinjaTown/Farmville-like online game, possibly stoned, and overly friendly with random customers. He told us he had never been outside of Thailand, and then complained that the working conditions and the pay were rubbish, unlike the jobs in Europe (England). It was very interesting to hear somebody’s honest opinion of Europe, even though it was more of a perception than an opinion. I don’t blame him – I was also full of perceptions in my head about Asia!
When people travel for a long time, they seem to have a ‘base’. For example in Thailand, most people base themselves either in Chiang Mai or Bangkok, mainly due to the well-developed infrastructure. Whenever I leave my ‘base’ in Bangkok, I try to have my stays at different ends of the spectrum: from cheap backpacker hostels, to higher-end hotels – just to get a more varied experience. When it comes to food, I always prioritise street vendors and local markets, but once in a while treat myself to a fancy meal or a cocktail at a rooftop bar. Not only does this allow you to see different sides of the country, culture, and food, it also generates more ideas as you are exposed to a more diverse group of people.
I think there are many travellers who just backpack their way across, let’s say, Asia, whose experiences are undoubtedly totally different to a family’s packaged-holiday stay. Hence, the experience can be limited in a way. I travel around Thailand and I love it here, but I also work here. Even though I enjoy the work, sometimes it’s just too much, and I feel very tired, have to put up with unexpected issues, both organisational and cultural, language barriers, and so on. I still love it though, as it only makes my experience here richer than I ever thought it would be.
I encourage anybody who likes travelling to really take in as many aspects of the country as possible, instead of just ticking off tourist destinations off a list. Not only have I learned so much about the people, culture, and food in Thailand, I have also taught others about Europe, breaking some common stereotypes.
Since I left Europe, my perception of Thailand has completely changed, and I can again easily relate to the words Cat has written:
I left Europe with the naive idea and picture in my mind that I will come in Asia and work with poor kids in a remote village but I ended up working at one of the top schools in the city, more hours than I ever did back home, although this was the first thing I wanted to escape.

With my lovely students at SJT, Bangkok
With my lovely students at SJT, Bangkok
Wearing long-sleeves and a scarf in 35 celcius
Wearing long-sleeves and a scarf in 35 celcius