Wednesday, 22 August 2012

A Review of The Idle Traveller: The Art of Slow Travel by Dan Kieran

The Idle Traveller by Dan Kieran
A lovely cover of The Idle Traveller
Work was quiet yesterday, and so I decided - as I was in a bookshop after all - to read. I'd been eyeing up "The Idle Traveller: The Art of Slow Travel" by Dan Kieran for a while now; largely because of its artistic cover, I admit. I finished it during my shift (yes, it was that quiet), and it provided me with plenty to think about. Whilst skimming through Amazon reviews, I noticed the remarkable amount of people who also read this in one sitting - is this contradictory to the concept of slow living?

This living and travelling "slowly" is what Dan Kieran advocates. When he has to, or chooses to, go somewhere, Dan favours night trains, buses, boats, and walking instead of travelling by aeroplane and the Underground. Why would he want to add so much time to his journeys? The author treats travel akin to a pilgrimage: something to enjoy, savour, and take time over. This means that he can look out the windows and truly take in scenery, rather than whizzing over it at 30,000 feet. It also takes the stress out of travel for him, although I'm not sure if having so many connections would do the same for me.

Key concepts of "idle travelling":

  • Instead of feeling obliged to sightsee, simply explore and see what you come across
  • Don't bring all your worldly goods: you won't need them
  • Speak to locals to find the best places to visit, alongside specific knowledge of the area
  • Always keep a travel journal
  • Read books that correlate with your destination, rather than guide books. An obvious example would be Dubliners (James Joyce) in Dublin, but it could be any biography, novel or non-fiction (etc).
  • Things will go wrong, so don't be anxious in advance or stressed when it happens

Yet it's not entirely about travel, this book. Kieran refers to the Isaac family - Rupert Isaac, the father, having written a book called "The Horse Boy". The "horse boy" is his son, Rowan, who suffers from what is thought to be autism. In particular, he struggles with a "sensory overload we can barely imagine", although in part I can empathise with this problem. I am known to get incredibly frustrated over noises, smells, and surroundings, and often lie in a dark room with earplugs in. Rowan is initially "treated" with lots of pills and a sugary diet, and unsurprisingly this did little to help him. The only benefits arose when Rowan spent time running around outdoors in the wood behind his home.

His father - an experienced horseman - had previously kept him away from neighbouring horses, but on one occasion Rowan ran into a horse field and lay down in front of the alpha mare. He wasn't trampled by the horse, don't worry. In fact, the horse acted in a way Rupert Isaac had never seen before: she stood still momentarily, then "dipped her head to Rowan's soft, writhing form and mouthed with her lips. The sign of equine submission". The subject of the book is the family's journey to Mongolia, participating in Shamanic healing and then riding on horseback across the country. Dan Kieran makes it seem worth the read.

The Isaac's is quite an extreme example, but by broadening our minds to travel and new experiences, we access different parts of our brain, which may in part have helped Rowan's autism so much. Another case explained is that of Jay Griffith's, the writer of "Wild", a sufferer of depression who travels to the uncivilised corners of the world in search of mental clarity. She writes that, "the human spirit has a primal allegiance to wildness, to really live, to snatch the fruit and suck it."

Dan Kieran explains how Griffith attains this wildness "not through self-destructive behaviour, but by seeking knowledge outside her own experience". And yes, her depression is helped as a result. Could I help my anxiety and get over my past in a similar way, perhaps?

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