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“I have some bad news,” my British tour operator told me as I prepared to return to North Korea four months ago. “The DPRK1) is really short of basic materials. You’re going to have to take your own snacks and water. Even soap.” Then he brightened up. “The good news is that it’s still quite hard to get online there and most mobile phones don’t work. So you’ll be free for as long as you’re there!”


1. DPRK:朝鲜民主主义人民共和国(Democratic People’s Republic ofKorea)

It wasn’t the first time of late I’ve encountered such wisdom. In Namibia a year earlier, I realised that one of the sovereign2) blessings of the place is that, in nine days and nights, I had barely gone online and had made and received exactly one phone call (to my wife, to remind her when I would be coming home). And, of course, in the presence of desert-adapted rhinos3) and sand dunes the height of skyscrapers, I had never begun to miss the tiny screen.


2. sovereign[ˈsɒvrɪn] adj. 最重大的;极好的

3. rhino [ˈraɪnəʊ] n. [动]犀牛

More and more people are spending hundreds of pounds a night to stay in “black-hole resorts4),” one of whose main attractions is that you hand over your smartphone and tablet on arrival. In a world where the human race accumulates more information every five minutes than exists in the entire US Library of Congress, emptiness and silence are the new luxuries.


4. black-holeresort:黑洞度假区,指没有手机和网络接收信号,不配电视,甚至连闹钟都不鼓励使用的度假旅游区,目的在于使人们全身心投入假期,过一段“与世隔绝”的悠闲时光。

Welcome, in short, to “slow travel,” which comes to seem ever more tempting in an age of acceleration. This can take the form of simply unplugging; but it also speaks for the special, everyday allure of seeing somewhere on foot, of going to one place (and not 10) in 14 days, and sometimes of going somewhere to do nothing at all. This used to be known as idling, but in a multi-tasking world, in which we seem to be living at a pace dictated by machines, going at human speed suddenly begins to look like sanity and freedom.


I experienced my own first taste of slow travel 23 years ago, when I checked into a monastery5), of all places—even though years of enforced chapel6) at school had left me all but allergic to church services. It didn’t matter. The chance to take walks, to forget about phone calls, to sit and just catch my breath, so invigorated7) me that when I moved to Japan, I took a two-room flat that had something of the quiet of a retreat house.


5. monastery [ˈmɒnəst(ə)ri] n. 寺院;隐修院

6. chapel [ˈtʃæp(ə)l] n. (尤指学校附属教堂的)礼拜仪式

7. invigorate [ɪnˈvɪɡəreɪt] vt. 使生气勃勃;激励,鼓舞

But I also experienced a sense of freedom when I arrived in Zurich, to find I could get everywhere by easy and frequent tram. I’ve known friends take tours on bicycles, or long train rides so they can simply read and write and chat with strangers. I’ve seen them go skiing in Kashmir, where there’s just one chairlift, or fishing in Scotland or Montana to catch some stillness. Even Ritz-Carltons8) and Intercontinentals9) now offer “digital detox10)” packages to help open your eyes and ears to the wonders around you.


8. Ritz-Carltons:丽思-卡尔顿酒店,高级酒店及度假村品牌,总部位于美国马里兰州。

9. Intercontinental:洲际酒店,目前全球最大及网络分布最广的专业酒店管理集团,总部位于英国。

10. detox [ˈdiːtɒks] n. 脱瘾治疗;戒毒;戒酒

The essence of holidays, and therefore travel, is to get what you don’t get enough of the rest of the time. And for more and more of us, this isn’t movement, diversion or stimulation; we’ve got plenty of that in the palms of our hands. It’s the opposite: the chance to make contact with loved ones, to be in one place and to enjoy the intimacy and sometimes life-changing depth of talking to one person for five—or 15—hours.


Of course, lying on a beach or in a hammock11) has always offered something of a respite12) from the rat race13). But as I hear of westerners walking to Mount Kailash, or a film producer going to the Seychelles just to read books with his daughter, as I see how the appeal of a long walk in the woods is not just the woods but the lack of all signals, I suspect that the world has reversed direction since the time, not so long ago, when jumbo jets14) and Concordes15) first promised to whisk16) us across the planet at supersonic speeds. Concorde, after all, is gone now; but near where I live, in the old Japanese capital of Nara, there are more and more rickshaws17) in view—to cater to the very people who patented the idea of “Six Cities in Four Days.”