Journalist and author Dan Kieran hasn’t been on an airplane for 20 years. Preferring to travel the ‘slow’ way – by rail, sea or road – he believes it to be an enlightening experience. “We don’t actually travel anymore,” he says, “we only arrive. We’re completely missing out on what travel is actually supposed to be about.”
How to Travel Idly
03/07/2012 by Stacey Bartlett
Dan Kieran tells holidaymakers how to make the most of travelling slowly
The last flight Kieran took 20 years ago was to America. “I always found it a horrible experience and couldn’t explain why, then I started to travel slowly. My formative trip was to Poland to be best man at a wedding. Everyone flew and I went by train; it took me a day and a half to get there and everyone else got there in four hours. But then my attitude when I arrived was completely different to theirs, because you kind of culturally acclimatise as well as geographically by going slowly, and it just made me completely rethink the idea of travel.
“You go from a Western country to an airport where you do Western shopping, then you get on an airplane and watch American TV shows, then you arrive and get into a taxi which takes you to a hotel you’ve chosen because it has a Western TV and Western food. You’ve moved but you haven’t travelled. So I’m trying to kind of reclaim the idea that travel is about curiosity, it’s about things being difficult, about embracing the fact that things don’t go to plan.
"If you’re constantly in an environment or a situation that’s familiar you are less conscious, so if you travel in a way that means you don’t have to change anything and it’s all routine and easy you will have a less conscious experience than if you go into the unknown; and that’s when people ‘find’ themselves when they're travelling - because they’re putting themselves in a different situation and they’re forcing themselves to be more conscious in that situation."
Nowadays, he says, we travel “in a kind of desperation, and try to make it quick, easy and cheap.” Kieran, who was deputy editor of The Idler magazine (founded by Samuel Johnson in 1758), likens modern day travelling to commuting, whereas he believes that "the journey is one of the reasons for going somewhere rather than a chore.” Since his abstinence from air travel, Kieran has been as far as Budapest and Italy with his family.
But what about the people who want to get from rainy Blighty to a baking beach as soon as possible? Those who don’t have time to sit on a two-day sleeper to Europe or a two-week ferry to the Caribbean? “I’m not saying it’s wrong to fly,” Kieran says, “I’m just saying I’m not interested in that experience. Holidays have become more like an anesthetic; you like on a beach, pretend to be famous, get drunk a lot, get a sun tan. And there’s nothing wrong with that. [I’m not] saying there is a right or wrong way to travel.”
His advice for the Easyjet generation is to never take a guide book: “Forget about guide books because they pigeon-hole your mind in a place where you’re devolving ownership of your holiday immediately. Follow your own curiosity. I always read books relevant to where I go; I went to Paris and read Day of the Jackal [by English thriller writer Frederick Forsyth], about the president being assassinated, and I read it in Paris in the locations where it was set in the book, sitting on a bench with police cars going past. And that was a guidebook to Paris - it didn’t say ‘this is a must-see; you have to do this’, and I came away having lived this extraordinary experience.
“That’s an easy way to take a slow travel mentality to a package holiday, there’s nothing stopping you reading a book that’s relevant to where you are, and it will take you away in a much more interesting way than the guide book.”
The Idle Traveller by Dan Kieran is out now, pubished by AA.