It’s eight in the morning, and I’m halfway from Tangier, Morocco to Barcelona, Spain on a 30-hour ferry ride.
A weak November sun filters through scratched, opaque plastic windows.
The swell of the waves causes my body to sway, just slightly.
I have another 12 hours ahead of me—there’s no wifi, I’ve finished my book, and my pregnant cabin-mate plans to sleep for the remainder of the journey.
I look up from my breakfast—a somewhat sad assortment of boxed orange juice, cold croissant and lukewarm cappuccino—and observe the other diners.
Some are in groups or pairs. Many are young Moroccan families. Many are alone.
Of this last group, few are doing anything (checking phones, or even reading). They’re just sitting there, drinking coffee, looking around.
For some reason it reminds me of Johnny Cash’s famous response when asked for his definition of paradise:
“This morning, with her, having coffee.”
I’m not even a particular Johnny Cash fan, but something about that phrase—or more, the slowness it implies—fits this mood.
People choose to travel by ferry (or train, or other less efficient means of transport) for many reasons. The slightly cheaper cost. The relative ease and comfort of sleeper cabins and lots of space to roam. The vaguely romantic allure of faded, Titanic-style old world luxury.
And—I suspect—some people choose it for the slowness.
Sitting in a deck chair for hours, watching the boat’s trailing wake. Pacing the endless red-carpeted hallways, hands skimming smudged brass banisters, stepping inside and outside and inside again with no particular aim.
Sitting there, drinking coffee, looking around.
Because there’s nothing better to do. Because the boat will get there—slowly—and we have time. Because, just like Johnny Cash, we recognize that the smallest moments contain the whole universe—if we slow down enough to dwell there for a while.
For me, that is the essence of slow travel: dwelling in a moment while everything shifts around us, knowing that we’re on our way.
Here are five deceptively simple ways to slow down as we travel, and drink in the journey:
Turn off the devices.
On that journey—as well as many others—I turned off my phone and my laptop and returned to good old-fashioned books, notebooks and pens. There was no cell service or wifi, anyway, so I didn’t even suffer from FOMO. When my book ran out and I got tired of writing, I moved on to tip two:
Just sit there.
For this perpetual do-er, that’s probably the hardest thing in the world—and one of the most rewarding. Sitting in my bus seat, deck chair, train compartment, I can watch the world pass on. If I’m lucky, I may grasp for a moment that the waves will keep rolling, the landscape will keep shifting, no matter what I do.
Wandering the hallways of that faded ferry, I had absolutely no goals. All the fun things were closed (the pool, the casino, the disco), so I could only walk from one end of the long vessel to the other. And so, that is what I did.
Consider a long journey a mini-holiday. There’s no rush to finish breakfast and start work; there’s no need to hurry from dinner to evening socializing. Even terrible cafeteria food didn’t taste so bad when I had an hour to meander through it.
Like my fellow diners. Like (I imagine) Johnny and June as they sat in bed drinking coffee. For anyone who wants to experience their journeys as fully as possible, I think this is everything. Take in the details, the moments; discover the worlds within them.
May your journeys be beautiful and slow!
Author: Toby Israel
Image: Wikimedia Commons