I am a manana traveler, I need to stay in each place two weeks to three months to enjoy it.
The word, “manana,” which is Spanish for “tomorrow,” often has a cultural implication that goes far beyond its raw meaning in Latin America. In usage, when someone says they will do something “manana” they do not literally mean “tomorrow” but at some point in the not so distant future. It is a general word that matches the ebbs and flows of a culture where time lines and schedueles are vastly more toned down and inexact than they are in northern societies.
But this is exactly how I travel.
I am a manana traveler. I have no timeline, no scheduele, no plans. I may say that I am going to leave a place tomorrow and find myself still saying this a week later.
Travel is about the experience of a place and a people at a certain point in time. Extended stays were you have the chance to allow your impressions to settle, build layers upon your inquires, and get the work of travel out of the way are the essence of the occupation. If I were to tell a person what to do with a week long vacation I would say, “Pick one place on the map, find places to sleep and eat ASAP, talk to as many people as you can, and don’t leave that location until it is time to go home.”
The work of travel is in finding good, cheap places to stay, eat, to be entertained, and find companionship. This takes at least three days almost anywhere, but after these basic necessities are fended for travel becomes a pursuit of intrigue, curiosity, fun. When you don’t need to think about what you are going to do for food or where you are going to sleep — when your basic necessities satiate themselves through routine — your days are devoted to the enjoyment of a place and a people. What is most onerous about world travel is perhaps the traveling part — the moving between locations, finding what you need for a price you want to pay. Once landed, settled into a place, the real traveling begins.
The hallmark of travel — at least the way I like to practice it — happens a little deeper into a place, slightly under the skin like a tick.Once you begin making friends, have a cerebral road map of how a place comes together, a knowledge of when things are happening and where to go to experience them, then the place begins to open up before you.
A prime example of this where I use myself as the fool to demonstrate my position is how I feel about Panajachel, Guatemala compared to that of my friend Andy Graham. I only visited Panajachel a couple of times for quick stays. In this time I stayed in two different hotels, never really came up with an adequate food strategy, and the only friend I had there was Andy. I found Panajachel to be a real turd of a place, the kind of joint that I feel no real longing to return to. Andy, on the other hand has visited this town probably a dozen times, has lived there for months, knows where to stay, where to eat, has friends, is familiar with the rounds of town. He says that this place is one of his favorite on the planet.
Why are our reactions on Panajachel, Guatemala so different? Simple: Andy stayed long enough to learn how to enjoy it, I just passed through. My stay in Panajachel involved a lot of work, while Andy has the place locked down — he can go there and jump right into enjoying it. If I were to return to Pana and stay for a month I am sure that I would also learn the town, remove its ” turd” designation, and proclaim it a good stop.
You must learn how to enjoy places. This takes time. Unless in transit or engaging in complete path travel I would not even consider staying anywhere for any time under seven days. A week is the equivalent of a day for the lifestyle traveler. I go into a hotel and when asked how many days I want to stay, I say, “no, weeks.” To stay anywhere for under a week is an annoyance: to arrive just to leave again is to turn a place into an obstacle for onward motion.
But there is a balancing game here:
The longer you stay in a place the better the chance you will love it, but if you stay too long there is a better chance that you will hate it.
Travel in one month shifts
Most places in the world are worth a one month stay. One month provides the clarity of scope to decide if you want to stay for another month or if you’ve had enough and it’s time to move on. From here on out, I will refer to a one month stay in a place as a “shift” of travel. I did three shifts in San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico, one and a half in Sosua, Dominican Republic, six shifts over two years in Hangzhou, China, one shift in Istanbul, three in Kyoto . . .
People become more real the more you you see them, the more time you spend around them. Flying through existences — staying in places for one, two, or only three days at a time — it is easy to confuse people for landscape. Tourists from any country often have the reputation for being rude, and this is understandable: there are no real social checks to ensure respect, for the depth of their interaction, the people may as well be inanimate landscape.
How can you respect a person whose only function you observe is them serving you for a single minute, hour, day of your life. A weird psychology sets in when traveling fast — people become temporally disposable: you use them for one day, then throw them away by changing locations the next. There is no reason talking to a waitress, a hotel manager, a tour operator if they are just a brief apparition on your horizon: a mere metallic flicker in the onward interplay of your existence. There is no shame in this, it is normal.
I want to know the name of the person I’m renting my hotel room from, I want to know how many hours a week the girl who cooks my chicken works, I want to know who is related to who, get in on the town gossip, I like looking at the face of the girl working in the cafe when she finally asks me what I’m doing in her town for so long. I want to call out the people I see in the street by name, and I like to laugh when they struggle to wrap their lips around my name — which is extremely difficult for 90% of the non-English speaking world to pronounce.
Knowing when a long term stay is too long
But after three shifts in succession anywhere it is, more often than not, time to leave. Arriving in a new town is to be fresh in your perspective, on the lookout for new opportunities, possibilities, connections, things to do, people to meet, intrigues to check out — the daily level of excitement is elevated with each step. But this elevation of stimulation wans with each day of your stay in a particular location. It has been my observation that three months is roughly the amount of time it takes to become “at home” somewhere — where an even keel of comfort, a base level of excitement, and security in a routine sets in fully.
After three months of being somewhere I feel part of the landscape, no longer grasping for more information, my initial questions are already answered, my curiosity already satiated, friends turn into opponents, acquaintances turn into annoyances. I leave before the real life doldrums/ social bullshit kicks in. Three months in any place is enough time to make it feel like home — is enough time to regard your surroundings as white rice (unnoticed) — which is a sheer sign that it is time to be moving on.
As the cycle repeats once again.
Perpetual travel is perhaps a balancing act between the excitement of motion and the substance of staying. Arrival and departure titillate, but staying places longer gives a traveler the time and space to begin to understand the world they travel through. Blending these two paradigms is the essence of lifestyle travel: blend fast travel with slow.