By Lexi Connors
What the hell was I thinking?
That was of course the third or fourth time I’d uttered the sentence on any one of the thirty two day's I spent trekking 800kms in June earlier this year. Thankfully, the crunch of gravel underfoot, the waft of pine lingering on the wind and the bitter taste of espresso residue on my lips were enough to help power on. There takes a certain turning point in one’s life to commit to an 800km trek in a foreign country – but I’m here to tell you it’s not only possible, it’s actually enjoyable.
The Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage trail dating back to the 9th century has you traversing over mountains one minute, pounding pavement the next and trawling through dense forest all before siesta. Traditionally starting in France, the camino as it’s loosely referred to follows a neat (and well trodden) path from east to west along the north of Spain. It’s normal for pilgrims to carry their own belongings, sleep in bunk beds, walk an average of 25 km a day and still be smiling at the end of the day knowing tomorrow will follow the same mould.
I knew before beginning the trek that it would be tough; a mental and physical challenge and that with a little luck I would make it all the way to Santiago de Compostela (where Apostle St James' remains are interned.) What I didn’t expect was the effect it would have on my conscience. Here I am walking in nature daily, with my home on my back and enough food to last me until evening and all I can think about is how little possessions I actually use and realistically need in everyday life. It was utterly peaceful.
Starting out with 800km to go felt impossible, but after a week and then another and another I was oblivious to the fact that the destination was drawing closer and then before I realised it, the day had come to arrive into Santiago de Compostela and I felt a tremendous amount of sadness that the adventure was suddenly all over.
It wasn’t until after walking the camino was I introduced to the idea of 'slow tourism'. You’ve heard of the slow food movement surely, now it’s time to embrace the slow tourism movement. The idea is where individuals attempt to travel a little differently and a lot more slowly.
Upon returning back to Australia I started exploring more into slow tourism and sure enough the tips and tours operators promoting the benefits of the slow tourism movement were truly ubiquitous, the need for more of us to act more slowly is more vital than ever. And I truly believe, the popularity in the camino means that long distance walks such as this are the protagonist in the movement. Well set up with infrastructure for all travel personalities; for those who would prefer a hotel over a traditional pilgrim’s albergue or walking as little as 5 kms a day or even those with a deficit in having a sense of direction. Did I mention there are little yellow arrows dotted throughout the country guiding you along the way? It’s almost impossible to get lost! Almost!
It should be stated that slow tourism doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to walk everywhere or that you have to do a hike to feel the benefits but instead infers that the previous idea of flitting from one 'must see' attraction to another is no longer viewed as viable or relaxing as it once was (was it ever?). More often than not cramming everything a place has to offer in a seven day window has you coming home feeling like you need a holiday post holiday!
On a deeper level the movement aims to reinvigorate lost values, while our routines are currently
geared towards an accelerated pace of life the approach is to reconnect us to a calm and anxiety
free lifestyle through immersing ourselves in natural beauties, relating to different cultures and
more importantly different people. But how do I incorporate slow tourism into my next vaycay?
Give these a go:
- Reduce air travel and if you can’t: carbon offset, fly during the day instead of overnight to allow the sun to reflect heat (contrails) instead of trapping them in, pack lighter, fly direct instead of multiple stop over’s
- Eat locally, do your research and seek out ethically sustainable eateries like this one for example in Bilbao, Spain: Gustu.
- Reduce plastic usage by bringing your favourites from home like: a keep cup, re-usable straw, water bottle, Apiwraps (for cheese, or avocado...or cheese ;), even try out a moon cup if your period interrupts your travel plans or check out Tsuno, a totally rad company giving all profits to many worldly campaigns.