deep travel: unhurriedly traveling through life

We live in a world that glorifies the allure of traversing across borders, hopping from one city to the next to cover as much ground as possible. We want as many stamps in our passport books as we can get and as many photos and videos to fill up our Instas as possible—the champions among us having several Highlights’ worth of stories titled with the city or country making their viewers scroll to see them all. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just not for me.

I find a richer experience in immersing myself within the depths of a single place. Given the choice between spending three days in one place or one day in three different places, I'd prefer to immerse myself in a single city for three days, soaking in its rhythm, pulse, and narratives, rather than skimming through three cities.

This philosophy of 'deep travel' is akin to peeling layers of an onion. On the surface, a place presents its most polished, often touristic facade. But as you delve deeper, the authentic essence begins to unfold, revealing a rich tapestry of stories, traditions, and everyday life that forms the heartbeat of a community. And the longer you stay and interact, the more a part of that tapestry you become. It's about moving beyond the superficial, beyond the well-trodden paths, and discovering personally uncharted territory.

A purple-ish very early morning image of a small street in Aachen is lit up by a red truck in its center.

I had the privilege to live this philosophy during my stay in Aachen, Germany. One tranquil morning, just before the first rays of sunlight made themselves known to the world, I was engrossed in capturing the serenity of the early hours through my lens. Just as I had set the timer for a shot, a truck made its unscheduled appearance within the frame! Initially, the frustration of the interrupted scene simmered within me. However, fate had a pleasant surprise in store. The headlights of the truck cast reflections on the cobblestones, creating a picturesque scene that I hadn’t envisioned. The resulting image was beyond what I had hoped for, capturing a fluid dance of light across the smoothed stones.

lucas in the leaves.

Had I not spent several weeks in Aachen, familiarizing myself with the nuances of the local streets, I wouldn't have been in that right place at the right time, let alone have the presence of mind to adjust my camera settings suitably to capture the unanticipated beauty of that moment. My amateur photography skills were enriched by the familiarity and connection I had fostered with the surroundings. Because I’m out of practice with the DSLR, I couldn’t tell you what each measurement needed to be, but at the time, I could tell you the f-stop and aperture a typical evening versus afternoon called for.

The ethos of deep travel encourages a slow, mindful exploration, a form of journeying that values quality over quantity. It's not about how many landmarks one can tick off a list, but about the depth of understanding and connection one can forge with a place and its people. It's about lingering in the quiet corners, observing the flow of daily life, engaging with local narratives, and letting the essence of a place wash over you.

My longest trip actually challenged me to the point of a complete axis-tilt. It made me ask: Am I leaving home to go abroad, or am I returning home from having been abroad?

It turned out to be one of self-discovery and led me to the state of Pernambuco, where I sought to find my place beyond the contours of the USA and connect with family over a span of five-ish years. Living first in Surubim in the countryside and then Recife, the capital, this move wasn't just a physical relocation; it was an exploration of linguistic, cultural, and personal realms I could never have otherwise known were out there. Learning the nuance of Brazilian Portuguese through heartwarming interactions with family and locals, instead of a structured classroom setting, enriched my linguistic journey with authenticity.

What I lacked in formal knowledge, I made up for in body language and intonation. The act of conversing, laughing, and stumbling over words with locals carved a pathway of meaningful connections that transcended the barriers of language. It’s also the reason that my accent and word choice are peculiar among Brazilian Portuguese language learners—while most learners are learning with accents typical of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, I learned from the original school of Bolo de Rolo.

carnaval recife-ollinda, 2019.

Recife unraveled itself as a city where the pace of life was gentler compared to the rat race of NYC and even the hustle of “on-the-up-and-up” Atlanta, my previous on-and-off-again abodes. The initial challenge was to shed the impatience bred by an anxiety-inducing fast-paced American lifestyle, especially when navigating through the Brazilian bureaucracy. Yet, as days melded into nights, the rhythm of Recife, with its easygoing nature and warm interpersonal interactions, started resonating with my own beat. The cultural tapestry of Recife, laden with social gatherings, tantalizing new cuisines, and the welcoming embrace of personal interactions, was a refreshing divergence from the impersonal haste I was accustomed to. It wasn't just about adapting to a new culture but letting the culture mold me, teaching me the grace of patience, the joy of slowing down, and the essence of human connection. I could be vulnerable in ways that I could never be back in the States.

The richness of life in Recife was not confined to its scenic beauty but was deeply embedded in its people and their way of life. The experience morphed my perspective on travel and life. It reinforced the concept that it's alright to slow down, to delve deeper into the essence of a place, forging bonds that go beyond the transient encounters usually experienced in whirlwind travels. The bond with Recife grew stronger with each passing day, eventually elevating the city to a status akin to a second home. The continuum of travel between Atlanta and Recife, maintaining an expat status, became a testimony to the profound impact the city had on my life. Recife wasn't just a chapter in my travelogue; it was a pivotal episode that honed my philosophy of 'deep travel,' engraving in my heart the beauty of forming lasting relationships, nurturing familial bonds, expanding social networks, and even the joy of raising animals, experiences I could never encounter as a tourist.

With each journey, the philosophy of deep travel unravels a new dimension of understanding, both of the world outside and the world within. It invites a symbiotic exchange, a dance of giving and receiving that enriches the soul. It's not merely about geographical movements, but emotional and intellectual voyages that broaden horizons, nurture empathy, and foster a genuine appreciation for the kaleidoscope of human experiences.

As I reflect on my travels, the moments that resonate the most are not the hurried tours through monumental landmarks, but the tranquil mornings spent on a quiet street, the conversations shared over a simple meal, and the unexpected, yet profound, lessons learned from the heartbeat of a place. My experiences in Aachen and Recife reaffirmed my belief in the value of deep travel, which not only enriches the mind but serendipitously rewards patience and observance with unanticipated gems of experience. So, I extend the invitation once more, to explore the depth of your travels and discover the enriching experiences waiting to be unveiled.

*This is a rewritten piece I originally wrote for The Art of Sunday.

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