Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

Letter from Europe

  • — Issue 2009/8 posted by hidden europe on

Have you ever thought about slow travel? The Slow Food movement is well established, and there are now slow cities. But what about slow travel? Robert Louis Stevenson and Freya Stark both travelled with donkeys. They were attentive to every turn of the road on their journeys through France and Arabia respectively. But us? We pack ourselves like sardines into fragile aluminium tubes and speed through the sky at hundreds of miles per hour. Come now! That is not real travel.

article summary —

Dear fellow travellers

Have you ever thought about slow travel? The Slow Food movement is well established, and there are now slow cities. But what about slow travel?

Robert Louis Stevenson and Freya Stark both travelled with donkeys. They were attentive to every turn of the road on their journeys through France and Arabia respectively. But us? We pack ourselves like sardines into fragile aluminium tubes and speed through the sky at hundreds of miles per hour. Come now! That is not real travel.

The anticipation of arrival all too often undermines the pleasure of the journey as we make haste to get to this or that resort, conference or meeting. But it need not be so. For slow travellers, the journey becomes a moment to relax, rather than being a stressful interlude between home and destination. Of course slow travel is much more than just that. It is a whole way of looking at the world. Slow travellers explore communities along the way, dawdle and pause as the mood takes them and check out spots recommended by the locals. Slow travel is downbeat, eco-friendly and above all fun. Travel like it used to be, but without the donkeys.

"The art of living," says Carlo Petrini, the charismatic founder of the Slow Food Movement, "is about learning to give time to each and every thing." And that, most surely, should include travel.

Earlier this week, we at hidden europe launched our manifesto for slow travel. You can read the full text, first published in this month's hidden europe, online. And you can find out more about slow travel at www.slowtraveleurope.eu.

The branding game

We launched our slow travel manifesto to coincide with Europe's largest travel fair, the ITB in Berlin. The ITB is an interesting event, for us an annual antidote to the inevitable geographical myopia that comes with working on hidden europe. Yes, there is a world beyond Europe, and these past days we have drifted from stand to stand getting a vague sense of everywhere from Mauritania to Mexico, from the Maldives to Mongolia. Of course, branding is everything and destination promotion is all about nuancing the truth to create a positive image of a place. We can report from our survey at the ITB that Libya is full of Roman temples, Muscat is the most fragrant spot on the planet and Yemen is all castles and camels. While news were coming in of a terrible shooting at a school in southwest Germany, peasant girls at the ITB were promoting the very same area as a verdant land of peace, charm and epicurean delights.

We sense that the organisers who assign exhibitors to different display areas at the ITB might be slightly mischievous. The USA was forced to rub shoulders with Russia, with a display from our friends in Kaliningrad just opposite New England. Israel was nudging Iran, but with a sturdy barrier keeping the two apart. Serbia and Kosovo were well separated, their respective exhibits being in entirely separate halls. But what geographical logic suggested that Monaco and Crete should be together? Or why were the merits of Belgian waffles being promoted next to Ukraine? Ours not to reason why.

Full marks to Palestine and Nagorno-Karabakh for coming all the way to Berlin to persuade the world to visit their respective territories for a summer vacation. For us, the big gap at the ITB 2009 was Belarus, who simply did not show up at all.

The ITB is a good place to wander, but at heart it is a venture dedicated to getting folk to travel further, travel faster and travel more frequently. Most of what was on offer was the very antithesis of slow travel.

Nicky and Susanne
(editors, hidden europe magazine)

This article was published in Letter from Europe.

About The Authors

hidden europe

and Susanne Kries manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers. They delight in discovering the exotic in the everyday.