“Sometimes I think the best part of travelling is sitting still.” – Simon Barnes, Wanderlust
As I was flicking through the pages of Wanderlust magazine I came across an article by the travel writer Simon Barnes in which he discusses travel as a way to take joy in a new place through the act of sitting still.
Such a curious idea is antithetical to the common understanding of travel. Usually, through a determination of will and a desire to be constantly on the move, travel is seen as a nomadic exploration of the new. So Barnes’ idea of cherishing stillness within travel got me thinking about my own experiences on the road.
My love of travel has blossomed over the past year thanks to my recent trip abroad. I took a leap of courage, waved goodbye to the naysayers and travelled solo to New Zealand, Fiji, and Hong Kong. I had some of the best times of my life, but I can’t attribute it all to my newfound autonomy. My favourite moments were when I allowed myself to bask solely in my present surroundings. To live as an observer without the pressure of responsibility, appointments, or routines of everyday life bearing down on me.
Travel is a displacement from the reality of your normal life. It simultaneously connects you to the world while disconnecting you from your life back home. It’s a precious window in which you get to choose what you want to do and how. I enjoy travelling more when I can simply take pleasure in being in a new place. Watching the world go by in between sightseeing can make you fall in love with a place more than the activities themselves.
It’s a combination of complete indulgence in the present and the art of doing nothing which so contrasts the usual bombardment of our busy 21st-century lives. Until reading Barnes’ article I never really considered travel to be an act of admiring a place through stillness, but looking back over my trip I realised that some of my happiest memories were when I was in Fiji and doing just that.
My trip to Fiji was just a short two week holiday in between travelling around New Zealand. I was in the area after all and couldn’t resist the chance to visit the South Pacific islands. I bought an island hopping pass which ferried me to four different locations in the Yasawa and Mamanuca islands. Each place I visited was a tiny pocket of bliss nestled in the Pacific ocean. The warm lazy days rolled over me and I spent most of my time wandering in absent trails along the beach or snoozing in the shade of a coconut tree when the sun was too hot in the sky.
Occasionally the days would be broken up by snorkelling excursions to look for manta rays and reef sharks, or sunset walks up the hill in the evening. But most of the time the few fellow visitors (it was the end of the peak season so the islands were particularly quiet) and I were left to our own devices until we were summoned by the call to dinner. It was a simple lifestyle and one I became very contented with.
But it wasn’t always such an easy routine to muster. I was of the mindset that travel was meant to be a constant search for adventure. I believed that every day should be crammed with a busy itinerary which began at the crack of dawn. After being granted a rare opportunity to see the world, it felt only right to do it justice and squeeze in as much as possible.
So when, after a busy few months in New Zealand, I declined to take part in a walk to the other side of one of the Fiji islands, I felt immensely guilty for letting the opportunity slip by. I had come all this way and was unlikely to return again so it wasn’t like a could have that same experience again. But after a while, thanks in part to the stifling heat and lack of phone signal, it occurred to me that I didn’t have to do everything to get the most out of a place. Travelling was far more meaningful when I made the most of what I wanted to do. I was a solo traveller, I had no responsibility to please anyone other than myself and I had the power to designate my time as I wished.
We live in a time where it’s expected of us to be constantly connected, switched on, available, and online. It’s easy to get caught up in the stream of information, news, and social media on our phones but as a result, we can often lose sight of the present moment. Travel allows you to switch off from the outside world and take the time to savour your surroundings.
Fiji taught me that sometimes admiring the beauty of a place is best done while sitting still. The most meaningful memories from travelling don’t just come from the act itself but from something as simple as lying in a hammock and watching the hermit crabs scuttle along the sand.
‘Simon Barnes on sitting still in Zambia’ can be found in Wanderlust Issue 194 (March 2019) https://www.wanderlust.co.uk/wanderlust-magazine/194/
Thanks for reading,