When I was 29, I took off on what would be an open-ended trip around the world. I'd been saving for it since graduating college and finally had reached my goal.
Among the many things I discovered over the next 18 months is that the expression "time is money" works in reverse, as well. Its usual meaning suggests that if your goal is to make money, being idle will cost you. But if you're traveling, and your goal is to see as much as you can on a set budget, you'll end up with a richer experience if you take things slowly.
A small example: When leaving Cairo on that trip, I looked at two options to get to Athens. The first was a two-hour EgyptAir flight, for $100. The second was to take a bus to Haifa, catch a ferry to Limassol, Cyprus, take another ferry to Piraeus, Greece, then hop on a subway to Athens. I figured the second option would take two days and cost around $85, meals included.
I chose the latter not only because it saved money, but because I wanted to see as much of the world as I could on the money I had saved. I wanted to stretch my time on the road and see more rather than see quickly.
Today, in most of my travels, I prize efficient use of time and use travel professionals to help. Consequently, I'm often willing to pay more for a nonstop flight. And leisure time is no longer measured in weeks and months, but rather hours and minutes, between business-related appointments. When my work is finished, I want to get home to my family quickly.
Still, I'm keenly aware that slow travel is as superior to fast travel as a meal at Le Bernardin is to Burger King. And as time compresses for us in so many aspects of our lives, the travel industry, I believe, will serve its clientele well to embrace and encourage "slow travel" options.
Interestingly, technology can enable this. There's a website, Rome2Rio.com, that lays out multiple ways travelers can move from point A to point B, and it's a boon to slow-travel planning. (One option it suggests for the Cairo-Athens route is even longer than mine was, involving a drive to Tunisia and then ferries via Italy.)
And there's an app that I've recently become addicted to that encourages slow travel not only when on a trip, but in daily life. The Strut app has divided the globe into 0.2-square-mile "tiles" that flip over on your screen as you (and your GPS-enabled device) cross over them. When they flip, a tiny piece of the mapped world is revealed.
The urge to flip over more and more tiles has changed my behavior. I now consciously seek new routes, whether it's to my office, the grocery store, a friend's house or Central Park. I find myself thinking differently about how I'll spend my day, consciously considering how I can travel new ground and flip over at least a few more tiles.
Strut doesn't require that one travel slowly. It works in a car or even, I'm told, on a plane if you're in a window seat and ignore the rules about putting your phone in airplane mode. But once you're hooked, you soon discover that much of the world, even in urban areas, can be seen only on foot.
There's a competitive element -- you can post your progress -- and there are options for taking photos for each tile so that you could create a mosaic of the world. (Note: Be aware that, like all GPS-linked apps, Strut drains batteries quickly.)
It's a relatively new app -- there have been just over 9,000 downloads so far --and users have collectively turned over a little more than 16 million tiles, or only about .05% of the world.
Even as Strut has helped me re-embrace slow travel, my thoughts on time and money have evolved. My desire to travel slowly is no longer motivated by a tight budget, and now my vacation time is firmly bracketed by start and end dates. But if I'm at all typical, perhaps what people today seek is a travel adviser who not only facilitates the flipping of tiles, but who points to the right tiles, and makes sure they're flipped at the right pace.
Email Arnie Weissmann at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter.