The thought behind “slow travel” is that by spending more time in one location- be that a few weeks or a few months, you can experience the city in more depth and more authentically. The term “like a local” is often used to describe the experience of getting beneath the surface of a city and living more like a local – however to do this in a weekend isn’t realistic no matter what guidebook you possess.
However, if you have a month or more to integrate with the local culture and genuinely live like a local, in that you rent a home and perhaps even get a part-time job; you will experience a whole new side of the city that is much richer than the typical tourist trail.
Chiang Mai is known as the “capital of the north”- Many would describe Chiang Mai as a mystical land of temples, rice paddies, monks and natural jungle. Whilst this is true for areas around Chiang Mai, the town turned city itself is pretty bustling and at times resembles a more relaxed version of Bangkok.
Chiang Mai is a digital nomad’s paradise with a high concentration of freelancers working from the many independent coffee shops and restaurants scattered around the city’s walls. There’s also a large university meaning the city has a young, vibrant and aspirational feel to it.
Finding somewhere cheap to live in Chiang Mai is pretty simple. There are several modern condos available for exclusive rent on AirBnB at a cost of just $10 per night if you are renting for a month or more. In terms of finding a more traditional short term lease there are property agents, but the majority require three to six months minimum stay.
Chiang Mai is a great place to have as a long term base, in which you can explore the rest of Thailand. With direct flights to Krabi, Phuket and Koh Samui you are able to have a base in the North of Thailand (much cheaper than the south) and go on mini breaks to more exotic locations.
Istanbul has unfortunately received a lot of bad press in recent years, with terrorist attacks, political instability and social unrest bombarding the headlines. The truth is that whilst there are pockets of unrest Istanbul is a place where people get along with each other very well and there is a sense of community and brotherhood that instantly makes you feel part of the culture. Yes, there are the occasional demonstrations but on the whole Istanbul is a very safe city due to its police presence and security measures now in place.
Istanbul is much like London, New York and Paris in that it is is one of the world’s greatest cities, yet comparatively cheap to it’s western counterparts. The joy of Istanbul is the city retains a traditional and authentic feel yet is superbly modern, design oriented, relaxed and friendly.
Istanbul is unlike any other city in the world due to being separated by the Bosphorus Strait which divides Istanbul into two sides on two different continents- the European Side and the Asian Side. The European side offers the more modern side of the city with well known brands occupying prime real estate on the busy high street whilst independent hipster bars and coffee shops can be found nearer the river. Indeed the European side has a feel of San Francisco about it with all its unique and creative independent stores, cafes, restaurants and watering holes.
In terms of finding a property it’s this side of the river where you’ll find trendy loft apartments at a quarter of the price you would pay in New York. The Asian side, however, is a little more shabby and this is where you’re likely to find a great deal on a property. The Asian side has a much more “local” and rustic feel to it.
Marrakech is an incredibly colourful and vibrant city. The majority of people visit for just a short while as there is an element of endurance to be had with exploring Marrakech due to the frenetic pace, the hustle and bustle and, in summer at least – the sweltering heat.
Marrakech for some may feel like stepping into Disneyland in that it is such an overwhelming delight/attack on the senses. Whilst it provides a stark contrast to the Western World it is only a short hop on a cheap flight to Mainland Europe and the “new city” offers some very luxurious accommodation at an incredibly cheap price.
Whilst you may not choose to live in Marrakech for a number of months it can be a fantastic place to base yourself for a few weeks whilst exploring the gems of Morocco such as the Sahara Desert and Atlas Mountains. A more relaxed alternative to Marrakech is Essaouira which has a more chilled out coastal vibe to the city.
“CHEAPISH” CITIES FOR LONG TERM TRAVEL
One of the dangers with hunting for cheap destinations for long term travel is there’s normally a reason the destination is so cheap; perhaps there are socio-economic problems, adverse weather conditions, political instability, or a lack of modern infrastructure. The challenge is that whilst a destination can be “cheap” it doesn’t always provide good value, therefore below you’ll find two “cheapish” cities that might not be the least expensive but offer a great value experience.
Singapore is a melting pot of cultures with a serious foodie scene. Whilst Singapore isn’t particularly cheap as a place to live you can earn a decent wage here and regulations for foreigners working within Singapore are reasonably easy to navigate.
Hotels can be pricey but there are some great deals to be had on long term apartments. HDB flats have a number of listings for places to rent in Singapore, some of which include short-term leases.
Singapore offers a great place to have as a base for exploring other parts of South East Asia such as Bali, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia. There are very cheap flights to the majority of popular tourist destinations within South East Asia and flights are just a few hours long.
Berlin is a large multicultural city that is very “cool” yet manages to have an unpretentious charm where the locals value personal freedom and a creative lifestyle more than wealth and status. This means the vibe in Berlin is very light, fun, relaxed and yet still lively. Berlin on the one hand is a vibrant city with very intense parties – yet on the other it is a relaxed artsy bolthole that is occupied by a variety of gentle creatives.
Berlin is a large city yet the key areas are easily navigated on foot as they are all congregated in a reasonably compact central area. Germany is not known for being a cheap destination when compared to countries such as Nepal and India, but if you are looking for a fun European city that offers great value for money in terms of the experience you’ll have – it’s hard to beat Berlin in terms of bang for your buck.
With regard to accommodation then the best bet is to look for somewhere on AirBnB as property agents tend to require a minimum six month commitment – whereas many enterprising creatives list their modern (and occasionally funky) home on AirBnB at a great price.