A brilliant way to help us travel sustainably for ourselves and our planet, Slow Travel is part of The Slow Movement, a delicious push to reclaim time on our own terms. ‘A cultural revolution against the notion that faster is always better’, as Carl Honoré brilliantly put it in his book In Praise of Slow.
The movement began in the mid 1980s with the Slow Food Movement, and now applies to many fields of human activity, from slow cities to slow fashion to slow cinema. The world’s current passion for mindfulness, decluttering, downsizing, home schooling and organic food is all part of being ‘slow’. It’s not about going at a snail’s pace, but about taking the time that’s needed for everything. Of ‘savouring the hours, rather than counting them’, as Honoré says. Of reclaiming space to reconnect with ourselves, other people, and what matters to us in life.
Slow Travel is a brilliant way to do all this. It’s all about embracing the journey as much as the destination. About taking the train rather than a budget flight, say, and using the increased space and time to write, read, talk, draw, snack, stretch your legs or admire the expansive view. It’s about moving by foot or by bike rather than car or plane, so you can truly absorb the landscape, and feel the real time it takes to move from place to place. ‘Rolling through a country rather than over it’, as author Ed Gillespie so cleverly said in his book Only Planet, his book about his 381 day trip around the world without flying.
When we reach our destination, Slow Travel suggests that less is very much more. When I first started travelling, I remember very clearly reading a guidebook from cover to cover (usually a Lonely Planet), pencil in hand, and urgently underlining everything I wanted to see on my upcoming trip. Once there, I would take in the sights as if there was no tomorrow – enjoying them, for sure, but always with a certain devil on my shoulder urging me on quickly to get to the next thing and get through the list. On one particular three month long trip through India by train in my 20s I remember feeling hugely disappointed that I hadn’t had the time to make it to the temples at Hampi. It was that stuck with me, rather than all the other delightful and colourful things I had seen.
Slow Travel is about getting away from this race. Of seeing just one or two places fully, rather than trying to pack lots in. To have a connection with something that not everyone else might have seen. Of choosing to go to the less seen sight of a place, rather than the central tourist feature. Slow Travel is about immersing yourself in a local culture and local life, so you can connect to a place and its people and feel more enriched by the experience.
When we travel slowly, we carefully select things to do that nourish and relax us, rather than stress us out, so we return to our lives renewed rather than more frazzled than when we left. We might stay in a place longer – to volunteer, take a cultural course in cooking or a language, or go ‘wwoofing’ (Willing Workers on Organic Farms). We might go self catering, to shop locally and have a taste of living in a destination rather than just visiting. When we do stay at a hotel, slow travellers make sure it’s a hotel that embraces local culture and customs in its decor, cuisine and activities, rather than hiding its guests away in bland and hermetically sealed rooms. It might be locally owned and run, or it might employ all-local staff. Certainly it gives back to the local community, and enables us to do so too.
Slow Travel is soothing, comfortable, happy. It allows you divert off course, and not have to follow a set itinerary. It can entail not going away at all, and exploring our locality instead. Finding out what you might have down the road from your house, or in a neighbouring county, island or state, that you might not ever have explored before. It’s about travelling locally, and seeing something in a new light, or making sure you have seen all the delights that your own country has to offer rather than fly thousands of miles to see something that might just be a little bit the same. As Gillespie says in The Guardian, referring to Scotland: ‘I know Inverness is hardly a substitute for the Maldives, but it is a little strange to hear your fellow countrymen waxing lyrical about the magnificent mountains of New Zealand when they’ve never even seen the Cairngorms.’
Isn’t it time we all embraced Slow Travel?