14th Jul 2012 9:08am | By Alasdair Morton
How did your new book, The Idle Traveller, come about?
Mainly because of a fear of flying. It is something I’m not proud of, but everyone else feels they have to lecture me about it: ‘You have to get over this.’ I flew a lot when I was younger – to the US and Egypt – but I have had to do slow trips because of the fear.
My best friend, who lives in Poland, asked me to be his best man, and I decided I wouldn’t fly, which, back then, wasn’t seen as an interesting thing to do.
How did the journey go?
I had a particularly long and painful trip – the IRA fired a mortar at the MI6 building by Waterloo on the day I left, so I missed that train and all my meticulously planned connections. I got stranded at Cologne station at midnight and talked my way on to a train to Berlin.
The convenience was taken out, but I really enjoyed it. When I got to the hotel, I saw my friends had moved to Poland but they hadn’t travelled. They were talking about bands and everything we talked about at home and I was talking about all the stuff I had seen.
What experiences did you have?
I gave an English lesson to a schoolkid on the train with his mum; I saw all these commuters who all looked like Fast Tony from The Fast Show; and I chatted to this Russian soldier who had just deserted his post and was on the run. All my friends laughed, though, as they would be home for the News At Ten, and I wouldn’t be home for another 24 hours.
It’s different to trying to do as much on holiday as you can ...
It’s a different concept. It got me away from box ticking – I didn’t see any of the sights. You approach holidays from a consumer standpoint, but I had this extraordinary experience that made my brain leap around and think about lots of different things.
How have people responded?
One guy said he had often slow travelled and had felt some of the things that I write about. Lots have said that they think it is not really about travel, but more about philosophically considering life.
How has your outlook on life changed?
When I did the best man speech in Poland, I didn’t speak Polish, so I got the bride to write the speech in Polish phonetically for me. Everyone laughed, but I didn’t really understand what I was doing and I have this theory that we all live like that – we don’t do things properly, we do phonetic versions of activities and travel phonetically.
We live our lives phonetically. People have said they are applying what they read not just to travel, but to their lives, too. So
it is a travel book of the mind.
Is it important to travel on your own?
It is a different experience – it is meditative. In 24 hours, you say only 100 words, and it’s where your mind goes that is interesting; you question your life and who you are.
When people talk of finding themselves, it is because they are more conscious of inhabiting their life, and you are literally more conscious when you travel slowly. When you do your job and the commute and the same shit everyday, you are just on autopilot.
Do you still do beach holidays?
Yes. We did one, we went to a Hilton hotel in the hills in Sorrento, with a swimming pool and on the face of it, it was a ghastly holiday. But we bookended it with two weekends, in Paris and Rome, so the poolside holiday just became one point of a travel experience.
What was the most memorable aspect of your book Three Men In A Float, in which you drive across the UK on a milkfloat?
You see the whole scene, not just part of it. When I told people about that idea, they all said: ‘Are you mad?’ But I thought: ‘What died in you that made you think this is not a brilliant idea?’
What do you miss through slow travel?
I would love to go to Tokyo, and America, but it is quite hard to carve out the time in your life to do these things. But that tells you more about our lives and trying to fit travel into them.
It’s not that I need to fly, but that I need to make my life different. When you’re on your deathbed, are you going to be thinking about Marbella? No way. I will be thinking about milk floats.
What else has slow travel taught you?
It’s only in the past few hundreds of thousand years that people have been as we are now, with languages, cooking and their behaviour. Only in the last 5000 years have we stopped being nomadic.
With farming in 2000 or 3000 BC, we began to see our lives as taking place in one location, prior to that we were hunter gatherers. We are a travelling species.
The Idle Traveller by Dan Kieran is out now through AA Publishing dankieran.com