Not All Those Who Wander
Not All Those Who Wander

A true story about a visit to the UK and what I learned about slow travel because of it.

Only fifteen minutes ago I fell asleep on Josh’s cousins’ couch on accident. I decided it was time to excuse myself, just in case I did it again. It’s only 4:00 p.m. If I can make it to 8:00 p.m. before I crash, I could be not as jet lagged tomorrow.

Ian and Nicky, my boyfriend’s cousins, have generously offered to put us up for a couple of days in their guest bedroom. Like all good guest bedrooms, theirs is one-third office, one-third artist’s studio and one-third “stuff repository.” And it’s where I discover a fat stack of home and garden magazines on the nightstand next to the bed. They’re all called things like House and Garden UK, Country Life and Country Homes and Interiors. Also known as My Kryptonite.

I feel disproportionately excited at discovering these magazines. Perhaps the jet lag is wearing off and the excitement of my vacation is finally setting in? I hope so. The one on top is the most recent issue, dated August, so I flop on the bed and flip through to learn about the trends of the British country home.

As I flip through, a short article on the “books we’re reading” page catches my eye. I pause while I read a small blurb about a new book.

The title? Go Slow: England and Wales.

For this one reviewer, it was “the bible” on how to have the perfect slow traveling holiday through the United Kingdom. I shake my head at the odds.*

I decide to make a note of the book and the magazine title for my eventual article on slow travel for Insights. And that’s when I notice the publication date of the magazine on the cover: August 2011.

My immediate thought is that I’m impressed at anyone keeping a magazine that long. The second one lingered with me for the rest of the trip. How am I only now seeing slow travel as a mainstream trend in the states, and here the Brits have been talking about it for close to 10 years?

 

 

It’s day five. I’ve finally adjusted to the time zone and we’re heading back south to the on the train. Still a couple of hours until we arrive in Clitheroe.

The train is relaxing. I’ve been eavesdropping on a conversation of two Glaswegians at a table for the past few minutes while Josh orders some coffees off the food trolley. Well, eavesdropping is a stretch, I can maybe understand every other word they say. We fly out in two days. And try as I might to not think of that fact, it’s the ghost lurking behind every English breakfast, every quaint pub and every ounce of cabbie small talk. Josh notices I get quiet as he returns with the coffee.

“Hey, it’s okay to be sad,” he says.

I smile. “Yeah, I know. It just makes me want to do this,” I gesture at the train and the postcard-perfect scenery out the window, “more often.”

“Well, why don’t we try to find some kind of cool journey. Maybe we could go to Denver or something, for the weekend, on the train?”

“That’s a great idea.”

We had a lot of time left on our ride, so we pull out his phone and explore Amtrak routes. A google of “OKC trains to Denver” pulls no hits. We try different forms of syntax until we give up in frustration. All we got were results for cheap plane tickets on Frontier.

Weeks later at my desk now, I’m looking at a rail map on how to get there via train travel only. Looks like to head to Denver, we’d be going by way of Chicago.

The Brits don’t know how good they have it. Train lines up and down the country, buses providing (mostly) efficient and comfortable travel. Seems like people are used to going on the slower route for their traveling needs. Public transit is a huge facet of their lives. Mostly not out of reasons of mindfulness, like some of the cited beginnings of the slow travel movement, but necessity.

This small island nation has small island problems. The entirety of the United Kingdom is three times smaller than Texas, but with double the population density. The U.K. also beats Texas in the number of registered vehicles by ten million. So, 37.9 million cars in 1/3rd of the space. And you thought Dallas traffic was bad.

Add on top of that an ancient infrastructure not designed for the size of a modern car, and you’ll have your reasons why slow travel is just the logical next step from how the Brits already live.

Case in point: Josh’s dad. After he immigrated to the U.S. in the 1990s, he started a long-standing vacation tradition. For two months out of the year, he and his wife live in a purple VW Microbus that’s outfitted to be a camper van. Their travel is slow, but also by requirement. The bus has a max speed of only 60 mph on the motorways, which they try to avoid if possible. It has Little Miss Sunshine moments going up hills. Camper vans aren’t like RVs for the most part. Usually, they don’t have showers or bathrooms. A small kitchenette, a table and seats that can fold into beds are what sets the camper van apart. So, if you’re seeing someone drive some kind of vehicle in which to camp in the U.K., chances are it’s a camper van and not an RV. Even a camper van can be challenging to navigate on those tiny village roads, can’t imagine driving one of these.

But it seems that despite America’s accommodatingly wide roads, camper vanning in America has also taken a foothold as well. Especially with Millennials on Instagram, logging almost 6 million uses of the hashtag #vanlife. And even with the most influencer “cool” vans on Instagram, you got to admit – they’re still doing a form of slow travel.

 

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~ We need your recommendations! ~ Do you have a favourite brand of campervan products? We're looking for items from UK businesses that are a bit quirky. They can be functional must-haves or purely decorative. Maybe it's handmade hooks, beautiful curtains or unbreakable plates! Or maybe it's not campervan-related but you know other vanlifers will love it too. ~ 🚐 Dave 📍Staffordshire 🔗 in our bio ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ #vanlife #vanlifediaries #vanlifeideas #projectvanlife #vanlifeexplorers #vanlove #vanlifers #vanlifeuk #vanlifestyle #vanspiration #vangoals #QuirkyCampers #campervanhire #roomswith1000views #adventuremobile #stayandwander #wanderlust #ourcamplife #roadtripuk #exploremore #visitgreatbritain #goglamping #travelinspiration

A post shared by Quirky Campers Campervan Hire (@quirkycampers) on Sep 17, 2019 at 10:52am PDT

 

And I don’t want to make the easy mistake of overly conflating means of transportation with the slow travel mentality. You could still take a camper van on the interstate and ignore all the backroads. Or take the train from London to Thurso with your head in your phone the entire time.

For me though, there’s something about these alternative forms of transit, or even just taking the old highways, that make you more inclined to use a slow travel mindset. Making the journey just as part of the experience as is the inevitable destination. And when you get to your place, making it not a slapdash sugar rush of sightseeing, but seeping yourself in the culture of where you are.

I wish I could say we didn’t try to cram our trip full of sightseeing. But we did, rookie mistake. And we were exhausted because of it. So, on the last day, when Ian offers to take us “on a meander” through the twisty backroads of Lancashire, we accept for a change of pace.

And it was on that small trek where I have my favorite memories and best pictures of the Isles. Seeing two historic parish churches and eating at one of the Queen’s favorite pubs made for a great final day overseas. Plus, it was a great chance to get to know Josh’s family better.

But, slow travel isn’t limited to international or cross-country treks. It can be used while journeying to Tulsa, Amarillo or heck, even down the street. The core idea of slow travel can be summed up in the phrase, “Not all those who wander are lost.” Before it was a tattoo on your local barista, it was a poem from by J.R.R. Tolkien in Lord of the Rings. Sure, now it’s clichéd, but it started gaining traction for a reason.

Perhaps because it’s true.

*For those doubting this happened on my vacation right before AM Insights covers slow travel, truth is often stranger than fiction.

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