Book Review: The Idle Traveller by Dan Kieran

Dan Kieran, The Idle Traveller: The art of slow travel. 2012, AA Publishing, Basingstoke.

A creed for the touring cyclist?

I came to this title via Twitter and was attracted to the idea behind it.  I thought it might help me answer the old question: Why cycle?

Kieran has the idea that we ought to travel more slowly, but engage more deeply. We ought to choose trains in preference to planes.  More importantly, we ought to travel in our minds as we travel on foot.  Slowing down will give us the chance to engage with the people and places we meet and time to reflect on the significance of the experiences we have – for better or worse.

According to Kieran, too much of travel is now packaged and shrink-wrapped. Guide books tell us what we must see and pre-condition us as to what to expect and what is important.  We need to do more finding out and feeling for ourselves. We need to travel with open minds and a willingness to open ourselves up to new adventures that we define and design for ourselves.

All of this is appealing to the cyclist.  Kieran is no cyclist, however and recommends walking alone as a favoured means of travel. So, while I found his central ideas attractive, I also found the book a little frustrating.  It starts well and ends strongly, with good accounts of his favoured, ‘slow travel’, but somehow it gets lost, or at least, it lost me, somewhere in the middle.

It’s not helped by a wayward chapter devoted to a trip by milk float the author made some years ago.  I thought this episode was misjudged and way over-sold as to its significance in the book.  It sounded to my ear just to be a daft idea or a gimmick, but it is presented as some sort of ‘transformative’ experience for the author.

Long explorations of left/right brain theory linked to control agendas did not serve his cause well either.  These sections seemed thin to me and again diluted the central ideas of his slow travel thesis.

I still enjoyed the book, however, despite these reservations.  There remains something very attractive about the central idea of slowing down to experience more and understand better the culture and history of the people met on a journey.  He is very strong, too on the importance of language.  The Idle Traveller, has a lot to offer the touring cyclist, but it’s far from a ready made rationale for the tourer.

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