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 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 and 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 on a very long wander to learn along the way from the everyday culture, 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 and slept on basic metal-framed beds. The rhythmic chug, chug, chug of the train would lull me to sleep, as my skin stuck to the plastic mattress throughout the long, humid nights. I slept like a baby.
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 and the world whiz by.
I was in luck with my fellow passengers, as we shared stories from our very different lives only to realise that we are all the same, really. We all live under the same sun. We all have 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, usually delicious Indian treats such as samosas or I’d jump off the train at stations, and grab 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 tends to happen when I travel by plane.
That’s what I remember the most about India. Those long train journeys with random strangers, as we chugged across such a vibrant, intense often crazy and 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.
This 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. This additional revenue helps to keep small communities 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 help small communities to thrive.
So, the next time you hit the road, ask yourself just how slow you can go?
(c) Samantha Wilson 2020. All Rights Reserved.