From the moment the possibility of travel presents itself, we start a strong and steady process to cram our itineraries. We research multiple websites, make calls to travelled friends, and get in touch with local acquaintances: I have only five days here, two days there, and one day here. What should I eat? How many hours for this? How many days for that? The trip begins to adjust itself into an excel sheet – one that’s primed to see everything on offer – tweaking itself to fit days, hours, prices. With each ‘cannot miss’ addition, the itinerary continues to swell, getting heavier and heavier, like a bulging, too-full suitcase splitting at the seams, one that has you sitting on it to get it to close. In the end, after you’ve finished rushing from one sight to another site, you return, exhausted, needing a holiday from your holiday, one you had decided to take to slow things down from the breathless pace of your life. The irony is impossible to miss.
Why do we do this? Because we don’t want to miss out. We’re spending money to get to a destination, and we want value travel in return. But here’s the thing. Value travel is subjective, and wanting to see everything is a pointless exercise; the odds are so unevenly stacked against us. Imagine being on a speed date. You are on the clock, you can’t really order anything because there isn’t any time, and you’re expected to not just discover as much as you possibly can about your date, but form an opinion about them. You have to come away knowing whether you’d like to engage with this person again. Travel is exactly like this. In a short period of time, you’d like to see as much as you possibly can, while internalising what you see for posterity. In that travel is like a relationship in a hurry. And you’re always the half of the couple that comes up short. Because look at the view from the other side of the table. Go on, switch places.
A destination gets to know you intimately almost immediately, pretty much as soon as you orient yourself. To a new place, your travel becomes a map of intersections, restaurants, train routes and road trips. Based purely on the choices you make, it knows your favourite type of food, your comfort areas, what you avoid, where your safe havens lie, what delights you. Yes, a destination gets familiar quickly, much too quickly. And here you are, still struggling with the language guide. There’s no contest, really.
Carl Honoré, an award-winning Canadian author of In Praise of Slowness: How A Worldwide Movement Is Challenging the Cult of Speed about the Slow Movement says of Slow Travel, “It’s about finding a lower gear, a slower gear, when you’re travelling.” He points out how the travel industry is already responding to this yearning to put on the brakes, with hotels offering spa treatments, wine and cheese evenings, and tourism companies selling more hiking, walking, canoeing options, with itineraries that boast “off the beaten track” travel.
So what do we do? Change the way we travel? Ditch the tourist spots, the must-sees forever, and experience only one part of a destination? No, of course not. Some popular sights are so with good reason and we must visit those if we’d like. But once in a while, we must take a slow holiday, where we decide to see one place, stay at that one place, breathe it in, and be truly still. Honoré says, “The best travel, like life itself is a journey, not a race. It’s about savouring a few unforgettable moments than cramming in lots of forgettable moments. The best clips from your personal highlight travel reel, will all have a healthy dose of slow in them.” He shares his favourite travel reels, all leisurely immersive moments that included cycling, just waiting in a beautiful park, and on one surreal occasion, participating in a transvestite competition. And winning.
The Slow Movement that originated in Europe in the 1980s promotes just this, well not the transvestite bit, but slowing down, in every walk of life… slow food, slow books, slow cities… just taking the rush out of things. The movement, not controlled by any one organisation, is finding its way to India slowly, as it were, but surely. Vipurva Parikh, travel photographer and a dear friend, fell hopelessly in love with a homestay we visited in Himachal Pradesh four years ago. Since then, he has gone back repeatedly, and stayed on at that guesthouse in Jibhi for weeks, refusing the allure of the rest of the state. One of his visits was in winter, when the place was snowed in, without electricity or staff, and he and his friend cooked their own meals, chatted with the owner, and ended up designing a website for the place.
Our columnist Abhijit Dutta, a persistent slow traveller says, “If I have only five days in a place, I deliberately skip all the sights. After multiple visits to Paris, I still haven’t seen the Eiffel Tower. Later this year, on a trip to Israel and Palestine, I am not going to the Dead Sea mudbaths and Petra, Amman across the border. This sort of travel doesn’t work for every one, but it allows me to soak the place up in a reasonable period of time after having cut off the usual suspects.” Abhijit’s favourite travel memory remains a month in Srinagar, where he spent his time pottering about in the garden, staring at the mountains, eating lots of fruit and walking for hours over bridges and in bazaars, making friends who invited him to their homes and local haunts, experiences he’d never otherwise have access to.
It’s an unequal relationship, you versus a destination. Whatever you do, you’re going to come up short. Stay a day, a week, a month, a year, and it will still surprise you. It’s good to be acutely aware of this, and then you can be calmer about how you plan a trip. So once in a while, when you take your seat at the table, all spruced up for your date, surprise her, don’t bother rushing. In fact, I say, take off your jacket, call for a glass of wine, take your time.
Take it slow.
Sejal Mehta is a writer and editor. She is consultant editor at Marine Life of Mumbai, and writes about science, wildlife, travel, fiction and is a published author of children's books. Her past work includes Lonely Planet Magazine India, National Geographic Traveller India, Nature inFocus.