While airplanes have indeed made the world a smaller place, they've also eliminated much of what makes travel so wonderful. There are many reasons why holding out for slow travel is worthwhile.
During the summer, I read a great new book by U.K. climate change activist Ed Gillespie called “Only Planet.” It’s all about his 13-month journey around the world, avoiding airplanes completely and seeking out slower, greener, and alternative methods of transportation. (You can read my review for TreeHugger here.)
Ever since reading it, I keep thinking about slow travel – primarily, how badly the world needs more people who are willing to travel slowly. It’s complicated, though, since most people here in North America only receive two weeks of vacation per year – an absurdly small amount of downtime that makes it difficult to establish a good work-life balance. With only two weeks, one is forced either to hop on an airplane to go abroad, or else opt not to travel and stay close to home. Obviously the latter is a much greener solution, but it lacks the excitement of the former. I mean, who wants never to go anywhere?
But then imagine if travel returned to being more of what it used to be – a luxury, rather than a privilege; if trips were planned with less frequency, but greater consideration were given to how and where they would occur; if people used banked vacation time to go further with slower travel methods and truly got to know the places they visited; if alternative methods of transportation became more mainstream and planes didn’t feel like the only viable option?
When I think of trips I’ve taken, the intensity of my experiences are directly linked to the amount of time spent in each location. Ten months spent in Sardinia, a year in northeastern Brazil – these places have had a far greater impression on me than a whirlwind six-day visit to Paris, which I hardly remember anymore.
Gillespie has convinced me that slow travel is worth a try. There are so many reasons why withholding instant gratification and holding out for a slow travel journey are worthwhile.
1) You don’t have to over-plan or schedule. You can let the journey unfold day by day and be wonderfully surprised by what occurs naturally.
2) You will meet and travel alongside fascinating people who will lead you to further connections along the journey.
3) Cultural boundaries will blur as you travel through places, rather than over and past them. You will have the opportunity to celebrate transitions. Gillespie argues that negative cultural stereotypes are often reinforced by the unnatural act of flying; for example, going from London Heathrow’s sleek modernity to being dropped in the middle of Mumbai’s humid chaos is not necessarily conducive to cross-cultural understanding.
4) You can see real countries when you spend more time there, getting to know local people, familiarizing yourself with the rhythm of a town, learning a language, and eating the food. Speedy vacations, on the other hand, often drop tourists into protected Westernized zones that mediate all interactions with a place, often at a cost to the local populations.
5) You will discover the in-between places, the off-the-beaten-track places, the not-on-the-map places. Those are the places you will always remember, that will bring a smile to your face, and that will make you a traveler, as opposed to a tourist.
6) This approach to travel can be applied to wherever you may be, even your own neighbourhood. The point is learning how to go out into the world with eyes wide open and a sense of awe and wonder. (It helps to put away that iPhone and actively engage with the world around.)
Have you done any slow travel? How did it compare to ‘fast travel’ experiences you’ve had?