‘Never travel faster than the speed of a camel, ‘lest you leave your soul behind’
Attributed to Moroccan Muslim scholar and explorer, Ibn Battuta, circa 1340.
Have you ever had the feeling that you have flown halfway around the world and left part of yourself behind? That the process of moving from one place to another at such speed is leaving you feeling jumbled up, out-of-sorts, and it’s not just a lack of sleep? There is a reason that jet lag and a multitude of emotional discomforts go with such speedy transitions. The need for our minds, bodies, and souls to process our surroundings and to make sense of the changes from one place to another, make travelling slowly an essential part of our understanding of the world. As we are all now aware, travelling slowly brings with it some vitally needed environmental benefits as well.
So what is ‘slow travel’? What can it do for us, both individually and globally? And what does the travel industry have to say? Well, it can mean many things to many people and the travel industry at large has a very specific view. ‘Slow travel’ is finally stepping, centre stage, as a viable industry concern, making its mark on the opportunities that are unfolding and as a result, refocusing the mindsets of travellers across the world. ABTA has highlighted ‘slow travel’ as an emerging trend in 2020 and are rolling out ‘new’ ideas for people to be involved over the coming months.
Slow Travel, however, is not a new concept and has been part of niche social and environmental movements for at least the past 40 years. It grew to prominence out of the Slow Food movement in the 80s, following Carlo Petrini’s disgusted response to the opening of a ‘fast food’ restaurant in Rome’s Piazza di Spagna. The concept of fast food being the antithesis of everything any ‘self-respecting Italian’ would understand about food, both in the preparation and consumption of it.
In fact, ‘slow’ could even be considered to have been conceived in the Overlanding movement of the Hippy Trail back in the 60s, and into the 70s, when the journey was the point, the community the source of security and, for some, when slow travel was the most accessible way to reach long distance destinations, by truck convoy or modern day caravan.
Carl Honoré, guru of the current Slow Travel moment, states that “fast and slow do more than just describe a rate of change. They are shorthand for ways of being, or philosophies of life. Fast is busy, controlling, aggressive, hurried, analytical, stressed, superficial, impatient, active, quantity-over-quality. Slow is the opposite: calm, careful, receptive, still, intuitive, unhurried, patient, reflective, quality-over-quantity. It is about making real and meaningful connections – with people, culture, work, food, everything”. This reiterates a call to conscious living that can be applied to all aspects of our lives today. To make conscious choices about what we do and how we live is of benefit to all aspects of ‘self’ and to the world around us.
Previous iterations of ‘slow travel’ have considered different ways based on environmental impact, economic necessity, and attachment to different social groups and ideologies. When travel today is open to so many more of us and the possibilities are much broader, with great opportunity comes great responsibility (sorry, yes that is a little cliched and very tongue in cheek, but also very true!)
There are a multitude of reasons that slow travel ticks the boxes for all sorts of people and not just the environmental one. It might surprise you to find that ‘going slow’ is the new travellers friend. So let’s take a look at the reasons why opting for slow travel is essential, both globally and individually.
Slow travel can be about utilising land-based means to get to your destination, as well as focusing on utilising the local systems in that place. In doing so we gain an in-depth experience of location rather than jumping from place-to-place, having discrete experiences isolated from each other, often punctuated by flights from one locale to the next.
Using the local, overland transport systems can easily take longer than a flight, but this becomes more about how we define travel. Whether we make our ‘holiday’ about the process and experiences we have from the very moment we step away from our ‘normal lives’ or whether we diminish the methods of getting there as purely functional, valueless time.
The environmental impact of the aviation industry is finally unmasked and being taken seriously. The amount of damage that it is possible for us to wreak on this planet, if we continue to make choices in the same way, is terrifying. By changing the style of our journey’s it is possible for us to have a lot of the experiences we desire at a fraction of the environmental cost. Choosing to live and to travel with a low carbon output is the only sensible option, but equally it doesn’t have to be about losing out.
Travelling from Europe to Asia, overland, will certainly take longer than the popular method of air travel, but being land-based offers the benefit of observing the evolution of your journey unfold. Noticing the details and changes in lifestyle, language and terrain as you progress from one country to the next. Spending time with people who really know those cultures and want to share their knowledge with you. Engaging with, and getting up close to, the cultural and linguistic differences which make travelling different from being at home.
Imagine the journey from the UK to China. It is easily possible to start on foot, take a train, sleep on a boat, sit on a bus, ride a bike, hitchhike on a lorry, hail a tuktuk, and have a varied journey in its own right, while meeting scores of people along the way to your ‘destination’.
Slow travel today is a process of looking at the options available and considering their impact but from its inception it has been so much more. It considers personal, social, and spiritual reasons for moving from one place to the other and ensures that whilst the impact on the environment is given its rightful place the needs of the individual are also considered. The search for a balance to how we travel can ensure that we meet our needs and those of the planet as well.
The gains from travelling and being on your personal journey start from the very moment that you step from your front door, backpack slung over one shoulder and new boots breaking in. Taking time to savour every aspect of your holiday and focus on the detail of the journey and the local areas you visit, the food, the culture, and the local crafts. The people and places you will see by using any other form of transport than air travel are more varied than those you will experience traveling to an airport and getting on a 12hr flight. Carl Honoré states that “in our hedonistic age, the Slow movement has a marketing ace up its sleeve: it peddles pleasure. The central tenet of the Slow philosophy is taking the time to do things properly, and thereby enjoy them more.”
It is understandable that people are most concerned about ‘getting there’ when ‘there’ is only available to them for their 2 week holiday. However, considering where to go for a short break is essential. Opening up the ideas of what is necessary and being creative with how to fulfil your personal and social needs can offer opportunities which are more in line with environmental care. Often what we need from a holiday is to stretch the boundaries of what our usual 9-5 lives encompass and find things that are new and exciting. Places that stir our creativity and nourish our souls. The means to fulfil this are increased exponentially when we open up our minds and consider places and experiences from new angles and with new possibilities.
For many, the changes to the way we work can produce a different way in which to travel. Greater flexibility in the time we can take away from our desks means that we can potentially utilise short duration holidays for places near to us and spend longer times away when a flight has a greater impact than simply a weekend in Paris or New York or Berlin. Sabbaticals for volunteering or gap years can be taken without the emphasis on getting there as fast as possible, and the consideration of reduced financial cost to us for a short trip by air does nothing to diminish the global environmental impact. Equally, trying to cram what should be a month or more of leisurely cultural immersion, into a weekend, does nothing for our soul. The reality of ‘traveller burnout’ from attempting to do and see more than is realistic and coming away from a trip with a sensation of having gained nothing but a hole in your wallet and some empty snapshots of what you know to be an amazing place is something nobody wants.
Thankfully, with more of a consideration of how we use our precious time and resources and using the wealth of knowledge found in the WorkingAbroad Low Carbon Manifesto, travelling to somewhere closer to home, gaining a depth of understanding for your desired journey and destination, and feeling holistically satisfied with your trip -all the while utilising less carbon-heavy systems- are ways that will benefit not just you, but the planet and the generations who will follow in your footsteps.
So go on! Make time to go slow. Really absorb the local culture, eat the local food, and don’t forget to stop to smell the flowers!
Article by WorkingAbroad Blog Writer Rae Hadley