The more you learn about other cultures, the more you become aware that there are different ways to understand time, that your culture’s way is just one of many possibilities. This realization changed my day-to-day life for the better.

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I experienced ‘Tico time’ in Costa Rica.

I woke up before the breakfast bar opened to enjoy a sunrise yoga session. My traveling companions and I made our way towards the jungle studio. Monkeys howled and birds chattered, and the trees soon gave way to a gazebo that stood overlooking the tree tops and the ocean.

The first floor was fit for an elegant reception. It was a wide open space with no windows, allowing for an unobstructed view of the jungle and a natural wilderness sound track. A small staircase in the middle led to an upper deck, our yoga studio for the morning.

It was the perfect setting, except for one thing. There was no yoga instructor.

We sat down. People whispered, or sat quietly. Our skin warmed in the naturally heated studio, and the sounds of the wild soothed our minds. Time drifted past, and there was still no yoga instructor.

“Tico time,” one of the guys said, when the yoga instructor appeared at the top of the stairs, about 20 minutes after class was scheduled to begin. The instructor smiled wide, and greeted us cheerfully before unrolling her mat and beginning the practice.

Class began late, and class ended late. 

When the class finished, we started to discuss how nice it was that there was no panic or chaos when the instructor was late. I’ve reflected on this and other experiences with time while traveling, and have come to a few realizations.

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1. Perception of time is a result of cultural norms, not an understanding of a great, universal law.

It felt so much better to sit peacefully while waiting for the yoga class to begin than it did to swivel around and check the clock every 20 seconds, as I would have done in the same situation back home. That panicked feeling is not a rule, it’s learned in cultures that run on “linear time.” Cultures that have a slower tempo, and a more “multi-active” understanding of time are more accepting of shifting schedules.

Now, you may be thinking “that’s fine when I’m on vacation, but back home I have places to be and meetings to get too immediately after the class!” Good point, I do too, and so did a woman in the class that morning. When 8:00 a.m. arrived, she silently rolled up her mat and left, having enjoyed 40 minutes of yoga.

Yes, you’ve got places to be, but you’ve also got a choice in how you handle that. We can learn from the tempo other cultures.

2. Linear time generates anxiety because we associated it with other values.

I can’t speak for every culture that runs on linear time, but I can speak for Canada and the United States. We love words like ‘efficient’ and ‘punctual,” and so time becomes a source of anxiety.

Why? Our effective (or ineffective) use of time impacts multiple elements of our life that are important to us, and that we use to assess ourselves.

  • Employment.
  • Good grades.
  • Social approval.

We’re constantly plotting out how to accomplish things on time, and so time becomes an immense source of stress. This is so engrained that many of us panic about things moving slowly even if we’re still going to accomplish a task early!

3. It’s better to accept that you cannot control the rate at which things happen.

Check the bus schedule in Canada. It’ll say something like “4 minutes,” or “12 minutes” until the next bus. Now, check the bus schedule in Puerto Rico, when is the next bus coming? 

Trick question! There is no schedule.

Google will give you an arbitrary estimate like “10 – 50 minutes,” and you’ll wander out towards the bus stop and wait, with no expectation on when the bus will arrive. Puerto Ricans sit happily at the bus stop, knowing full well that the bus will show up whenever, and that they have no control over it. It’s accepted that the bus schedule is beyond their control, because no expectations are set. 

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Embrace the spirit of ‘Tico time.’

Embracing something and living it are two different things, in this case. Do not show up to work 3 hours late and tell your colleague that you read an awesome blog post about Tico time and expect them to understand. When you live in a linear world, you have to operate on linear time. 

What you don’t have to do is live with the anxiety, dread and urgency that has become synonymous with the word “time” for so many people. 

Tico time is a term that reflects the slow-tempo life of Costa Ricans, and ever since that morning in Costa Rica it’s become a mantra that I use to remind myself that I have a choice in how I respond when “time” puts the pressure on. There is value in punctuality, and there is value in taking a deep breathe and letting some things go. 

Have you had a similar experience? Did this post resonate with you? Join the conversation below!

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79 Replies to “Travel Changed My Perception of Time, and How I Hope It Changes Yours”

  1. My brain can process all of this on an intellectual level. But whenever I’m running late anywhere I panic so much. I hate being late to anything and get a bit annoyed if I’m stuck waiting for friends for half an hour. I need to embrace Tico Time a bit more I think.

  2. I love that you emphasized it’s HOW you react to it. In addition to the anxiety of watching the clock every 20 seconds, Americans will get angry! Though with linear time, we have been taught that it’s rude to show up late. It’s MUCH easier to have a “go with the flow” mindset with Tico time when everyone else is calm about it. I feel like panic feeling is a bit of a chain reaction when it comes to those thing.

  3. Oh haha, yeah I remember the time I had to wait a looong time for the buy in Malaysia and the locals were so chilled and I was really nervous that I would miss my train…
    Super post!

  4. It’s always interesting to see the different paces that are the norm in different areas. As someone from the northern US I’ve been taught to go-go-go constantly. I walk fast and talk fast and don’t like anything slow. Getting used to long, leisurely meals when I travel to Europe has been challenging and also enlightening.

    1. It’s amazing isn’t it! I’m a fantastic speed walker and totally know what you mean! It definitely is challenging to accept that you have other options. Glad you’ve had a similar experience ❤️

  5. I love this post, the same thing happened to me. Back home, in Germany, everyone gets grumpy when the train is 10 minutes late. By the time, it`s been 30 minutes, people usually start to get really rude. The first local bus I took in Thailand arrived an hour early at the departure point and left 2 hours late and no one cared. “Just wait 10 minutes” often turns into an hour. Definitely, something I had to get used to, but it is so nice to not stress about these things.

  6. I LOVE LOVE LOVE THIS! Of course I wont tell my boss tonight I was on tico time! I am always rushing around. I do private appointments and stack them close together, and I am always looking at the clock rushing off… clearly I need a trip to Costa Rica!

  7. Love this! I’ve been in Africa for the last year – time is a whole different element here! I’m from Canada so I’m used to schedules and sticking to them (as much as I can). Sometimes I have trouble adjusting still, but definitely learning to go with it!

  8. Loved the post! First of all because it aims to find relaxation and enjoy your time and second of all because your experience was in Costa Rica, which I really want to visit and the pics look awesome! I would want to start doing yoga, looks like something that would really benefit me, thanks for sharing!
    xoxo,
    Pilar

  9. Great points! We all need reminders to slow down and just enjoy life. I have a friend in Costa Rica that keeps asking me to visit…I should visit soon and experience ‘tico time” first hand!

  10. Good topic – I live in Chicago and am ALWAYS in a hurry, no matter what. It’s so hard for me to slow down, or be patient. It takes me a few days to adjust to “island time” or whatever the local customs are. I admit, though, I’m going to love being in Switzerland, where everything is supposedly very punctual 😉

  11. To echo a few other people, I love how you not only observe the cultural differences, but suggest how you can transform that into being a bit more relaxed back home. I’m from the UK, and we’re also VERY linear!!! Much as I still have to be punctual in many situations, it’s good advice to relax a bit more when I can and not impose the pressure on myself when it’s not necessary!

  12. While I totally agree with the idea of this, I disagree on one major point which is how being “on time” shows respect in my opinion. To me it feels that when someone is late for a meeting/appointment/ etc., it’s because they’re putting their time above the other person’s that is waiting. Many a time I’ve sat waiting for someone and I’ve always asked myself; why is it that there time is more of a priority to them than mine? Here I am, taking time out of my day, to make time for them and they’re not reciprocating… If that makes sense? That being said, I also think we totally do need to slooooooww down! That’s why I moved from the US to Italy! 🙂

    1. That makes perfect sense! That idea that being on time shows respect is, surprisingly enough, actually quite a cultural thing! I read up on types of time a little bit before writing this post, very interesting. I’m definitely not saying that we should be late 😉 just to chill out a little when we have no reason to rush!

  13. All of this is SO TRUE! A few years ago, I spent an extended amount of time in Guatemala and definitely fell into the relaxed pace (and expected waits) of Central America. When I came home, life seemed so stress-free! Eventually, though, I’ve shifted back into American thoughts on time and scheduling and lack of punctuality drives me nuts. Guess I need to readjust somewhere in the middle.

  14. A really thought provoking post! I was reading this thinking how I would react to the yoga teacher who turned up late… I suppose if I didn’t have anything to head off to afterwards then I would accept the changes to my morning that a later class would result in. Where I would struggle was if I had paid for an hours class and only received 40 minutes if I had to head off somewhere else after the class. That would bother me the most as I would feel I was hard done by and the yoga teacher wasn’t respecting my needs. But then, I have to ask myself, was I really hard done by? I still benefited from a great 40 minute class…. Or if it was a bus that arrived ‘late’ at least it still got me to my destination. You’ve certainly got me thinking about what time means to me!

    1. That’s awesome Meg, and I definitely experienced a similar thought process while writing. We just have to check in with ourselves and decide if things are worth getting worked up over! If the yoga instructor were late every day I might change studios 😉 but one time, and life goes on! Big fan of your blog by the way! ❤️

  15. Brilliant idea for a post – I am always in a hurry, no matter what. It’s so hard for me to slow down, or be patient. I have never felt so great joy, love and adventure than while travelling to Madagascar. Mora mora is the first Malagasy expression that you learn to use. It is the equivalent of the Italian “Chi va piano, va sano e va lontano”. Mora mora is a state of mind, a certain languor, a way of life. Upon arrival in Madagascar, forget your stress, learn to wait, get neither excited not worry about wasting time, but you never really waste time 🙂

    1. Oooo that’s lovely, I haven’t heard of Mora Mora before. It’s so wonderful to experience cultures that run at a different pace, I’m so glad you got to enjoy Madagascar!

  16. Great post! I would love to live a nonlinear life. I was recently laid off from a job so I was able to just focus on my own projects whenever I wanted, but I recently just started another job. Back to being punctual!

  17. This is interesting. Time is not equal to life and yes it’s a source of anxiety. I work from home and have flexible schdule on work which I require coz I can’t manage things on rigid time. Like have to cook break fast and lunch and be at office at 9am. This involves a lot of things. Getting up early, freashing up, washing veggis, cutting them, cooking, cleaning vessels, not to mention other things like talk cat out for walk, wash self, dress up. So many things and I can’t do it. So, though I get up early I cook, I can do things more relaxed. Similarly time puts pressure like “marriage”, right time to have kids and such things. Sometimes have to take it easy there are alternatives to everything. Your blog was interesting. It’s important to see life, rather than time and do things at a easier pace, its relaxing. You can end up doing a lot of things and gives way for multitasking. You should have the ability to do things all the time of the day and take rest the remaining time of the day, that would be great.

    1. Good for you for finding something that works you! It sounds like you’ve got a nice pace to your life. That’s a very good point about other things like marriage falling in to time as well!

  18. I have to admit that I have a difficult time relinquishing control over my schedule. That’s why I love visiting places like Costa Rica where you are forced to let this ideas and feelings dissolve. These are places I end up feeling most relaxed, because you know things will always work out in the end.

    1. That’s true! It’s one thing to say it, but it’s another thing entirely to be in a space where relinquishing control of time is the only option haha. It’s a great feeling once you get used to, and one we can aspire to carry with us <3

  19. Yep I’ve experienced this! It takes a few days to get out of my timekeeping schedule and at first I’m (secretly) annoyed. But after a bit I can relax and I can just enjoy being on Tico Time. It all goes out the window when I get back home though 🙁

  20. Yep! Having traveled through Central America, I completely understand. It’s stressful at first, because we’re so used to the way time flows. But after you get used to that Tico time, it’s actually really nice.

  21. Yes! You can’t control what time things happen and it’s all how you handle it. I think we all need a little more Tico Time in our lives.

  22. I really love how travel changes the perspective on so many things. I had the same when I traveled from Europe to Bali. Here we were supposed to be picked up for a surfing lesson and the crew arrived only 45 minutes later. But we were waiting around a pool, on a cliffside with a stunning view, so i could not have been at a better spot actually. That just is how things work and it is actually also nice to not worry about silly things like ‘time’ especially when you are traveling. There are so many things to enjoy in the meantime.

  23. I’m a city girl and am used to living a fast paced life. I sometimes struggle when I visit somewhere new where they just move a bit slower. No rush. Like Tico time! But in the end… it ends up winning me over 😉 Great post, thanks for sharing!

  24. And Tico time is relatively prompt compared to other Latin American countries! Haha. Living in the region definitely gave me a different perception of time, and to go with the flow when things are going my way. This acceptance is very useful when in countries like India, for example. Time definitely is a social construct. Great read!

  25. This type of slowness works well with me because I feel so much anxiety trying to get places on time, especially in Los Angeles traffic. I could definitely embrace the slow pace better than linear time.

  26. Wow, I think “Tico Time” would stress me out for the reasons you wrote in this post! But maybe that’s exactly what I need : )

  27. Perhaps the concept is simply: there are things you can control, and things you can’t. I try to remember that when traveling. I can control my ticket, I have partial control over my seat, and no control over when the plane is actually taking off. Once I do my part, sit back and see what happens to the rest.

    1. Yes! That’s really what it comes down to- time is something we have little control over (aside from our own actions, but we can’t controls others or external events) and trying to just creates stress. Sit back ??

  28. Interesting post. I never really though to re-consider my schedule or how time can be viewed in another culture. Definitely something to consider.

  29. Having deadlines at work always seemed to be a race to beat the clock which could really be stressful most of the time. That’s why when I go out on trips, I do make plans and schedules but sometimes I just let it unfold naturally, don’t rush myself, just go with the flow and see how it goes .

  30. What a beautiful thought for a blog. Totally loved it. You are absolutely right travel changes your perception about time and lot of other things. It was a delight to read this post.

  31. I love this idea! I really enjoy spending time in France and Italy, especially at meal times, because I love that people sit down and spend time together without looking at their phones, just enjoying each other’s company for hours at a time and not caring about the time. I really enjoyed this post!

  32. Wow, I loved this post! I myself have a hard time with “time.” It stresses me out when I feel like I am wasting it or if I am running late or even while I am vacation filling it with the right activities! Then it goes by and I realize my anxiety has had control of my time and has monopolized it. This is such a great mindset to have…thanks for these thoughtful words!

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