Driving through England in an electric milk float for four weeks doesn’t sound like a great travel experience. But it was “the most conventional, and at the same time the craziest, thing” British author Dan Kieran had ever done, as he recalls in his book “The Idle Traveller: The Art of Slow Travel.”
After a week, it felt like he was crossing vast, undeveloped countryside. “It was like the slow pace actually made England seem bigger,” writes Kieran. The Brit loves taking things slow on the road. You’re less stressed, and you get to see more, he says.
Could Covid-19 mean the idea of slow travel getting more appreciation? After all, many have come to enjoy how Covid-19 has brought the frantic pace of life to a halt. Wasn’t it crazy how we used to fly around the world, hopping from one country to the next?
Travel, don’t just arrive
It’s about appreciating the journey. “Nowadays we can explore the whole world so quickly that, paradoxically, most of us no longer travel – we just arrive,” writes Kieran. Slow travel is not about speed and distance, but about reflection and profoundness.
Arne Gudde, managing director of the Slow Travel Berlin event and travel agency, takes a similar view. In non-coronavirus times, Gudde offers sea travel on cargo ships, for example, about 15 days from Bremerhaven to Mexico via the US. Sailing trips, the Trans-Siberian Railway and cycling trips are also part of their offerings.
But what is the point of these trips? “There is no distraction on a cargo ship,” says Gudde. It’s about being close to nature and taking time. “There are people who think always seeing the same landscape is boring. But at some point they realize how diverse the sea is.”
Gudde also says it’s about focusing on journeying, not just arriving. The journey is the goal – “even if that sounds pretty corny.”
Slow travel and the environment
Gudde is certain that “more people are questioning their travel habits.” Tourism’s environmental footprint is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. “When I’m traveling really fast, I focus more on my own needs than on the impact of my actions,” the expert explains.
Can “slow travel” have a positive impact on the environment and the climate crisis? Yes: Travelling slowly and over a longer period of time, but less frequently, does make a difference.
The means of transport is responsible for most of the CO2 emissions on a journey. “A longer journey doesn’t instantly make things more eco-friendly. At best, a longer trip makes a second trip unnecessary,” explains tourism expert Martin Lohmann.
Travelling less is generally more environmentally friendly. But whether you’re staying in Thailand for six months or three weeks makes no major difference to the environment.
“Slow” can also mean: You go somewhere far away very quickly, then travel slowly while there, explains Lohmann.
Is slow travel the next big thing?
The German Future Institute believes slow travel has great potential: “In the past, the tourism industry has developed structures based on speed and efficiency – and it’s therefore reaching its limits,” explains trends researcher Anja Kirig. “Beyond package holidays, mass tourism and the jetset myth, slow travel is now establishing itself as a successful new form of adventure travel.”
Lohmann, on the other hand, says there is no trend: “Some people say holidays should be ecologically sound and sustainable. But so far this approach has had practically no influence on how people travel.”