How to enjoy the journey: the 6 golden rules to slow travel

19 September 2016

Dan Kieran, author of The Idle Traveller, says the getting there can be as good as the destination. Here are his six golden rules of slow travel



My love of travel came from my granny, Rita Kieran, who used to take me on coach tours across Europe when I was a teenager. 

I was usually the youngest person on each trip by a good 50 years, but from her wise conversation I learned what travel is capable of extracting if you’re prepared to look at it differently.

She ventured all over the world, and she inspired my brother and I with her slideshows and memories of trips to places such as Machu Picchu, the Galapagos Islands and Hong Kong.

Years later I developed a phobia of flying, yet discovered that not being able to fly actually opened my mind to the possibilities of genuine travel. I stopped seeing it as a limitation. 

Not only did travelling slowly change the way I felt when I arrived at my destination, it made me re-examine the joy of the journey itself, which is something conventional travel can sometimes turn into an exasperating chore.

Five years ago I took this idea to an extreme by spending a month driving across England from east to west in a vintage 1957 electric milk float with a top speed of 15 mph. It took a month to do a journey that would take less than a day in a car. 

We revelled in the joy to be had in taking our time. I wrote The Idle Traveller in an attempt to look at how different all travel experiences can be if you’re prepared to slow down.

Related: Embark on the trip of a lifetime to Machu Picchu and the Galapagos Islands.

Don't just travel - arrive

Remember the journey is often the reason for going somewhere in the first place. When I’m travelling, where my mind goes while I’m journeying from point A to point B is often more enjoyable than the destination itself. 

Slow travel gives you time to reflect on your thoughts, hopes and dreams. If you travel alone, the lack of conversation can make it an almost meditative experience. 

Take your time to travel by long-distance trains or by sea, and you’ll find yourself acclimatising in a metaphysical way, as well as a geological one. 

The light, landscape, manners and language you encounter that change as your journey progresses accustom your mind to your destination, allowing you to ‘arrive’ properly too

Related: Holidaying by rail.

Embrace disaster

As GK Chesterton memorably quipped, ‘An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered’ and so it is with travel. Some of my most memorable adventures have all begun at the precise moment when my careful planning suddenly went awry. 

Travel chaos forces you to engage more fully with where you are and what you are doing, and all British travellers seem to know this instinctively, because when disaster strikes you’ll soon find yourself giggling with fellow Britons in the inevitable froth of stoic camaraderie.

I once turned what was potentially a nightmare journey into one of my all-time favourite travel experiences. My son was three years old at the time, and the prospect of a nine-hour train journey from Budapest to Prague that left the Hungarian capital at nine in the morning filled even me with trepidation. 

In the event, having the run of an entirely empty train filled both our hearts with joy. We christened each carriage with the behaviour we had to perform in each one. 

There was the dancing carriage, where we had to dance; the ‘upside down’ carriage, where anyone under five had to be held by their ankles as we went through it; the ‘tickling’ carriage (I laughed the most in that one). 

By the time we got to the front of the train Wilf had fallen asleep in my arms, giving me the chance to spend a few hours reading a book I’d brought along.

Related: Street scams to watch out for.

Stay at home

It might sound a little daft, but applying the mindset of a traveller to where you actually live will tell you a huge amount about what really matters when you travel. 

Have you ever really explored your own landscape, or is it a destination you occupy but don’t really understand? All those place names you’ve seen on signposts, pointing to places under your nose that you’ve never been to, are well worth exploring. 

Or best yet, follow in the steps of Laurie Lee and walk out of your front door for the day and see where your curiosity, not to mention serendipity, takes you. The other benefit of holidaying where you live is the local knowledge you don’t normally have the time to acquire.

Related: Explore the British Isles.

Be your own guide

Travel is about daring to venture into the unknown and, as reassuring as guidebooks can be, what they can take away from you is your own sense of discovery. My preference is to take a different kind of guidebook instead. 

A biography, or a work of fiction that relates to the place I’m going to visit. I discovered this while reading The Day of the Jackal one weekend in many of the book’s locations in Paris. 

Actually being in the place the story was set was extraordinary. And still a kind of guidebook in a way.

Follow your instincts

The most important aspect of travel for the slow, or idle, traveller is to indulge your own sense of curiosity, rather than conforming to someone else’s list of ‘must sees’. 

Ultimately, the book I’ve written is a plea to take control of your own travel or holiday experience.

Related: 5 essential destinations for your bucket list. 

Be epic

One of the tricks I’ve found with travel is not to look at holidays or short breaks as isolated patches of indulgence, but to see your whole life as a travel experience. 

When you think about it in these terms, longer or more adventurous trips suddenly seem less of an extravagance, and more of a necessity. 

It is only when we push ourselves beyond the confines of a two-week break in the sun that we truly discover what travel really means.

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