In 2004, I set off on what would be my first travelling adventure, to wander and wonder at the world we live in. A full year away, travelling on a whim to wherever the wind blew me. No responsibilities, no ties, and definitely no clocks.
They say that to travel is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer and I totally agree. My year away saw me trek throughout Nepal, criss-cross the whole of India by train, let loose in Thailand, turn into an adrenaline junkie in New Zealand, and fume my way across China.
I’m a big believer in slow travel, so my year-long adventure in 2004 didn’t involve me hopping on and off planes at the drop of a hat: trains, boats and automobiles were my modes of transport unless I had no option but to fly.
I spent a total of six months wandering around India, the land of the holy cow. While you could say I was on the search for spiritual truths, I didn’t go to India to fly in, catch a taxi direct to the nearest ashram to Om my way to enlightenment, too scared to really get out of my comfort zone. I was on the hunt for life to let the living be my guru. So, I went to have a very long wander, to learn along the way from the everyday culturee, the people, the poverty and the way that every religion under the sun is practised in India. There’s nowhere else quite like it.
I travelled on second class no aircon sleepers all the way, six to a compartment, sleeping on basic metal-framed beds letting the rhythmic chug, chug, chug of the train lull me to sleep, my skin always sticking to the plastic mattress throughout the long, humid nights
I’d wake to the sound of the chaiwala offering clay cups of sweet, milky tea, and sit by the door of the train enjoying my brew while watching the sunrise as the world whizzed by.
I was mostly in luck with my fellow passengers, sharing stories from our very different lives only to realise that we are all the same, really. We all live under the same sun. The same hopes. The same dreams. We all have a beating heart.
My friends for the train journey would share the contents of their Tiffin boxes filled with delicious Indian treats or I’d jump off the train at stations and grabbed what I could from the street vendors.
The longest train ride was 34 hours. That’s nearly a day and a half. Not once did I complain or feel impatient which happens when I travel by plane.
That’s what I remember the most about India, those long train journeys with random strangers chugging across such a vibrant, intense often crazy yet so beautiful land of the holy cow.
In the last few years, after moving to Spain, I’ve participated in the ultimate form of slow travel by walking the Camino de Santiago. Not once, but twice. No pun intended, but walking leaves the lowest carbon footprint of all. It was a pleasure to see so much of my adopted homeland on foot and to pass through villages and towns that would be considered off the beaten track.
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Which is why slow travel is the ultimate way to travel ethically. Slow travel is a mindset that rejects the traditional ideas of tourism and encourages you to soak in your environment at a much slower pace. This includes slow transportation, by replacing flights with grounded transportation, where possible, which reduces the carbon footprint of such journeys. I make sure to take night trains or buses whenever I can.
Slow travel doesn’t just help the environment, though. Slow travel by wandering through random areas of a destination, i.e. India or the Camino de Santiago, brings much-needed tourism into remote areas that might be considered off the beaten track, bringing revenue into small communities which, helps to keep them alive.
I’m hoping that the crisis brought about by the coronavirus, and our need to consider our carbon footprint whenever we travel in the future, will encourage people to adopt a slow travel approach. This way, we can wander and wonder at the world without harming our planet and helping small communities to thrive.
So, the next time you hit the road, ask yourself just how slow you can go?
Enjoy my musings? Read my book, The Adventures Of A Wild Woman On The Camino De Santiago, my story of an adventure of a lifetime. Available to order now. Click the link below for details.
(c) Samantha Wilson 2020. All Rights Reserved.