San Sebastian Promenade, Donostia

My Biggest Travel Epiphany of 2015

The beauty of slow travel

We’ve done a lot this year. We’ve visited some incredible new destinations, had some once-in-a-lifetime experiences, toasted to many happy evenings with family, and immersed ourselves in newfound inspiration from around the globe.

And, as always, travel has taught me a lot. I was wowed by the blend of tranquility and power walking around Iguassu Falls in the early hours of the morning, learning to really connect with nature and appreciate it on a deeper level. I took a million mental snapshots of the landscape in Killarney National Park as my family and I rode on horseback around the lakes, a beautiful moment to disconnect from technology and reconnect with one another. From spelunking in Honduras and hang gliding in Rio de Janeiro, I learned to push myself outside of my comfort zone and truly enjoy adventure (I’ve found myself seeking out more of this for future trips). Sipping txacoli in pintxos bars in San Sebastian with our friends taught me to make a conscious effort to focus on fostering great friendships and on connecting with other people in a meaningful way.

The beauty of slow travel #slowtravel #traveldeeperSan Sebastian Promenade, DonostiaLower Trail, Iguazu Falls, ArgentinaHorseback Riding, Killarney National Park

One of the biggest travel epiphanies that I’ve had this year is my genuine – and growing – appreciation for slow travel. Once upon a time, I wanted to tick off new countries and highlights without giving enough thought to the deeper experience and takeaways. Perhaps it was simply living on a budget and wanting to see as much as possible within a limited timeframe, not knowing when I’d have the opportunity again. Whether it’s getting older or traveling more that has helped me appreciate traveling deeper vs. broader I can’t be sure, but it’s something that I’ve truly learned to value on a fundamental level. That’s not to say that we haven’t traveled to a heap of countries this year, but I’ve found myself more focused on particular regions or experiences vs. trying to skim the surface and cram in as much as possible.

In Honduras that meant a couple of days at the lake and five days in the lesser-trafficked seaside town of Tela. Sure, we could have cut out a couple of days in quiet Tela to do a quick trip to the Bay Islands, but that would have felt rushed, and what would we really have taken from that experience anyway? The same could be said for Ireland. We enjoyed having a home base in the quaint town of Kenmare for five days, and exploring the nearby towns along the Ring of Kerry. With 10 days in Ireland, people proposed itineraries that included covering a great deal of the country with a night in each place, but there was something special about getting to know a particular region a bit more intimately. There are cultural elements that are hard to extract when you’re given a mere brush with a destination. To really have the opportunity to engage with people and get to know the area, you simply need more time to explore deeply.

Tela, Honduras

There are travelers out there – nomads – who spend months in destinations getting to know places in a way I can’t really even imagine. For those that can make that happen, it’s a rare and fabulous opportunity to experience locales on a different level. For us, balancing working full-time and traveling during our time away from work, this means maximizing about 5 – 6 weeks a year to immerse ourselves in a host of new experiences and destinations but to also be able to leave a place feeling like we know it a bit. One of my favorite parts of traveling is being able to connect with other travel-lovers and becoming a bit of a storyteller. That’s what happens after all, isn’t it? We’re so excited to hear about new places and to be able to share our experiences, highlights, and tips from places that we’ve grown to love. It’s hard to have tips or genuine takeaways when your experience visiting a country involves 6 hours exploring off of a cruise.

I’ve started to gain a new perspective on our travel planning, and it doesn’t involve jamming in a load of bucket list spots into a two-week itinerary. There’s a lot on my bucket list that I have yet to see and enjoy, but I’ve started to appreciate the fact that that’s a good thing. I have a lot of life left and a lot of adventures ahead of me still.

When I said to someone with a deep affinity for Thailand and Vietnam that I had yet to visit Southeast Asia, her response stuck with me: “I’m so envious that you still get to experience that for the first time.” What a great approach, right? It’s the mentality that I really do want to engage for the future. It’s not about checking off a list, it’s about the meaningful experiences that we get to create throughout our lifetime. Sure there are a lot of places left for me to explore, but that also means many more years of memorable adventures ahead.

What are your biggest travel takeaways from 2015?

Shannon Kircher, The Wanderlust Effect

More about Shannon Kircher

Shannon Kircher is the founder and editor of The Wanderlust Effect, formerly The Traveling Scholar. Founded in 2009, she has continued to document her international escapes as an expat in Europe and the Caribbean. She is a former resident of London and San Francisco and now calls the island of Anguilla home. In addition to The Wanderlust Effect, Shannon is the Director of Marketing for the Frangipani Beach Resort and is on the Board of Directors of the Omololu International School in Anguilla.