The Slow Travel Movement


Travel, of course, suggests movement, and adventure implies a well-planned trip gone wrong; yet when my partners and I started Sobek Expeditions, back in 1973, it was a radical departure from the typical travel provider train station, something perhaps akin to the Glacier Express, which bills itself as the slowest express train in the world. The idea was to take the long way, the multi-day trek over a pass, rather than motoring through the tunnel so that the world winds down and delight and enlightenment seep in.

The more granular you go, the bigger the universe. The meander is the beeline of poets, and we are all poets in some stage of reduction, unwinding the path, like a mountain trail to a spring. And the more we see the more we realize we have yet to see, the paradox of plenty.

William Blake presaged the movement in “Auguries of Innocence” when he wrote: “To see a world in a grain of sand, And a heaven in a wild flower. To hold infinity in the palm of your hand, And eternity in an hour.”


Richard Bangs on the fast raft to Wonder

Slow Food, of course, is the international movement founded by Carlo Petrini in 1986. Promoted as an alternative to fast food, it strives to preserve traditional and regional cuisine and encourages farming of plants, seeds and livestock characteristic of the local ecosystem.

We didn’t name what we offered in the travel space as “slow,” though that was the nature of how we designed and conducted travel, and now it has a proper designation, which is exciting. Today slow travel is an emerging movement, and can be applied in many ways, but I would boil it down to this: Slow travel is the deliberate deceleration of a journey so that the small looms large, the particle becomes profound, and the blood races with the adventure and discovery of the Amazon in every dewdrop, the Everest in every trail stone, the Redwoods in every swath of grass, and the galaxy within every snowflake.

Slow travel can be applied to any journey, as it is more about the noticing and absorption of all the available input, rather than the pacing. There have been movements when I was crashing through a major rapid when, as in a snapshot, I would freeze the world and drink in all the details, and then allow a mindful interpretation over time.

Slow adventure involves risk… the risk of discovering truth and meaning through examination. It’s not really a juxtaposition of active and passive, or rabbit and tortoise. You can choose any adventure, which often means an experience that ushers beyond a comfort zone, and fashion it to slow adventure just by opening eyes, arms and hearts a bit wider, and letting the delights, as well as the inconvenient, pour in.

I began my professional career as a river guide on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, and was then a card-carrying member in the cult of adrenaline. But with time I discovered that as many, if not more, thrills can be had by hazarding the mountains of mind, the incognita coordinates of the spirit, all of which are accessed through the legwork of the lingerer on the negligible trail.

Richard Bangs flying with The Blue Angels
The gifts of understanding are presented to those who travel and seek. It really doesn’t matter which category of travel undertaken, but rather in deciding how to travel. For to move is to permit change, and to open doors of perception. If opened slowly, considerately, then bouquets of clarity and compassion rush in, and we might indeed discover a quiet place in ourselves that is a state of grace.

The “Ultimate Slow Adventure?”: A long life examined and enjoyed…


Richard Bangs

Richard Bangs has often been called the father of modern adventure travel, having spent decades as an explorer and communicator, pioneering “virtual expeditions” on the World Wide Web and leading first descents of 35 rivers around the world. At present he lives in Venice, Calif. Explorer Richard Bangs has spent 40 years as an explorer, leading first descents of 35 rivers around the globe, including the Yangtze in China and the Zambezi in Southern Africa. During that period he founded Sobek Expeditions, the first multi-national river running company and the pioneering outfitter for global active wilderness travel. Author and Producer Richard has published more than 1000 magazine articles, 19 books, a score of documentaries, several CD-ROMs, and all manner of digital media. He has lectured at the Smithsonian, the National Geographic Society, the Explorers Club and many other notable venues. He writes a semi-regular feature for, occasionally freelances for other print and online publications, and produces and hosts “Richard Bangs’ Adventures with Purpose, as seen on national public television.

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