Updated: Nov 28, 2022
Written by Summer Crider and Madison Traviss
Originally published on the blog of Association of Nature and Forest Therapy (ANFT)
Available in Spanish
Two Nature & Forest Therapy guides living the bus life talk about how we can ask the land for permission and integrate reciprocity. We share ideas and examples of how it can be done, whether you are traveling through for work, vacation, and/or living life on the road.
[gif descriptions: A sunrise time-lapse of the Turtle Shuttle in a deserted grassland.]
“As we travel through communities, stop in the local shops or have lunch in the small town you considered driving through, spark conversation with someone rather than picking up your phone. These moments are so crucial for our instinctual need for connection. Taking a moment off the phone at a lookout, taking a pen and journal out to savor moments, or even taking 5 seconds to breathe deeply. These are all ways to slow down amongst the rush. In what ways can we give back to the communities we are traveling, the natural environments we benefit, and the human connections that are reminders of our interconnectedness. ”— Madison Traviss, @secondhandskoolie / @refhygge
When we travel through sacred lands, being “nomadic” in vans or buses, it can be easy to get caught in temporary “Instagram” perfect bubbles, then uproot and move on. We need to be conscious of the appropriation that a lot of #vanlifers and #buslifers do. Here, we share examples of the possible harm and impact of modern Van/Bus Life Travels, and offer tips on what conscious traveling should involve.
How to become a conscious traveler
I was once asked, “So you’re going to travel and do forest / nature therapy in different places around the country? How do you find time to get to know the land, learn how to spell the names of each indigenous tribe, and make sure the tea plants you harvest are 110% safe to drink, and run a business? That seems like a lot.” Ruminating on this question, is exactly why I refer to my home on wheels as the Turtle Shuttle. Not only is this a fun way to pay tribute to the turtles of my Florida swamp home, but a way to promise myself and the Forest that I would do this travel deliberately, with the intention of honoring the land, and connecting by slow travel.
Slow travel is travel at a slower pace rather than a rushed attempt to check off your “bucket list”. Traveling slowly, spending months in a place and living as locals do, incorporates heightened awareness of journeying, a more “authentic” way of seeing the world.
For that reason, it made sense to call my “home on wheels” the Turtle Shuttle - as a reminder to go slow. In the past 5 months, we’ve passed historic museums and tourist centers. I don’t care too much for them nor for big cities. I may occasionally get a delightful cup of iced joe from a local coffee shop downtown and use their wi-fi, but then I get back on the road so that I can catch the sunsets and find my home back in the Forest. So often, I see tourists flock the scenic overlook, take quick photos, and get back on the road. I grapple with my intentions, am I a tourist or am I a traveler?
“Traveling nomadically, life can feel fleeting, pausing to ask permission of our land is a practice to extend our home in self to home wherever we find ourselves. To understand how our home overlaps in the world around us. This practice is approachable for traveling, experiencing places new to us, and respecting the beings who have come before both human and more than human. Root wherever you are, even if it seems momentary, I promise you it isn't.”- Madison Traviss, @secondhandskoolie / @refhygge
Not all of us can afford to travel for months on end. I think about my impact as a privileged White, sighted, able-bodied, with a college education and decent financial security, moving through poverty stricken areas of America…poor rural areas and the reservations. I can empathize and connect with these humans in some ways…having a disability, being on welfare, from struggling with mental health, and with a longing desire of “belonging”. But instead of staying connected, I move on…migrating to the next place. What is my role here? How do I serve my land?
I also grapple with my role as a Forest Therapy guide. I think a lot about the environmental impact of my travels, but then think about the trees I’ve planted, and the backyards that I’ve weeded so that my friends, family, and communities can enjoy Nature more.
When I arrived at the ancestral homelands of The Lakota, I spent time connecting to the land and listened to the stories of the Lakota elder, Basil Braveheart. I am reminded that we all are connected. (Mitakuye Oyasin) *I invite you to take 7 minutes to watch this YouTube of my reflection of my conversation with Basil Braveheart.
Instead of being silenced by my own feelings about ancestral trauma and grappling with “White Guilt” about my travels, I have decided to share what I’ve learned from slow traveling with an emphasis on partnering with the Forest. Here are some considerations of the benefits and impacts from my conversation with Madison Traviss, another Forest Bathing guide, long distance hiker, who incorporates slow travel with their bus life:
Traveling to connect rather than check
While at a pull off, Madison had a thought that sparked reflection, “As our worlds are increasingly connected through social media and the internet, we find ourselves wanting to live in line with the lives we see recorded. This ‘reality’ creates this version of our world that is always longing for somewhere else. Often on the road, car doors open followed by a quick jaunt over to a main attraction whether it be found through an overlook or pull-off. Most of the visitor's experience is seen through a screen in the attempt to capture the place. And, just as quickly as they arrived, they’re off to check the next box along their grocery list approach to visits. In these moments, I focus on the children who accompany these busy adults. They are typically picking up dirt, admiring rocks, curious about the moment they’re experiencing. They’re tactile and observant, so innately in tune with what the natural world is trying to communicate. So in an effort to bring that mentality to my life, I try to imagine how as a child, I might experience the land I’m on.
As we travel through communities, stop in the local shops or have lunch in the small town you considered driving through, spark conversation with someone rather than picking up your phone. These moments are so crucial for our instinctual need for connection.”
BALANCE THE RUSH WITH THE SLOW
Some of us have to rush to get to places because that place offers financial security (or our jobs limit our time to travel). But what about those who have jobs with flexible schedules, how do we maintain the slow travel and be calm? Sometimes “the benefits” of being a digital nomad can be extractive (appropriating local cultures, like Mexico’s recent situation with digital nomads not paying local taxes.)
BEING MINDFUL & INTENTIONAL ON DIVERSITY, INCLUSION & KNOW THE LAND YOU ARE ON
Before you travel or guide, think about what we have done to include everyone with different abilities? Some people would need to have more time to get to places. Perhaps: if the group has fast paced energy, slow them down with breathing exercises, slow Earth walks, or having talking sticks (or stones) to help with turn-taking. If you are guiding a group where one or more people have disabilities, have you asked them their access needs? Be mindful that if someone needs accommodations, but don’t want to ask for it because they don’t want to be a burden.
EDUCATE YOURSELF AND HAVE CONVERSATIONS WITH OTHERS ON THE SAME “MISSION”
Topics could include:
Themes about making nature more inclusive and creative ways of guiding
Follow others who travel with consciousness and respect to the land & Mother Nature https://www.instagram.com/the_muss_bus/ @diversifyvanlife, @diversifyOutdoors
Consider reaching out to indigenous and people with diverse ethical backgrounds to learn more about ancestral trauma, cultural appropriation, and land back movement and offer donations or gifts for their time
Considerations for respect of the land, do you know what land you are on?
Asking the Forest for Permission/Consent together. (Modeling)
How do our conversations about responsible ecotourism and eco-consciousness align with social justice/healing spaces?
PRACTICE RECIPROCITY AND RESPONSIBLE RECREATION- LET’S NOT FORGET OUR PARTNER: MOTHER NATURE
When we move through the land, it is impossible not to be exposed to new foods, cultures, maps, and languages, we often forget to pay respect to the land. How have we arrived at this place and acknowledge our relational experiences? How do our footprints contribute to environmental destruction? Ways in which to find reciprocity is to plant trees in exchange for use of carbon emissions while traveling or ask the local people what environmental issues their land and community is dealing with. (It is easy to assume what the land needs, so check with locals first).
Quick Tips for Slow Traveling
Put down your camera and take a mental shot instead
Talk to the locals
Learn about Responsible Recreation: Plan Ahead, Know Before You Go, Leave No Trace, Respect Wildlife, Be Kind, Make it Better. www.recreateresponsibly.org
Visit and learn from the indigenous people, always come with something to offer. Unpack your ancestral trauma (or better word?) and learn about the impact. NativeLand.ca
BENEFITS OF SLOW TRAVEL WITH NATURE IMMERSION:
BECOMING MINDFUL ABOUT CONSUMPTION
Madison reflects on her experience while creating her home while living on the road, “I’d like to think that each item that we find along the road and invite into our space with intention comes with a story, what life did it live before it came aboard? To be mindful of the energy of items we bring into our space and what we need to travel. Our lives are a constant ad for what we “need” and priorities being set for us, how powerful is it to make that decision for ourselves? While in Arizona, we had neighbors that were headed to their next destination and rather than trashing their items they no longer needed, asked us and now we’re two lawn chairs and an outdoor mat richer. Trading our small mini fridge from college for a larger more efficient model, and being gifted Navajo tea all brought so much joy and makes it easier parting with items we no longer use knowing it will find a home and continue its life cycle.
INCREASED AWARENESS OF NATURAL RESOURCES & MESSAGES FROM OUR ENVIRONMENT
Slow Travel has also made me very aware of the weather. Because I plan my route following the seasons, I learn what I need for comfort and adapt to the weather along the way, saving energy by rarely needing to use my mini split AirConditioner or refrigerator ..
For example, I stayed in Colorado for a full month - working, volunteering, and getting to know the land, history, plants, and communities. There, I was able to re-discover my backpack that I used for Europe, and use it for one of the most beautiful hikes. This was a great moment of deep wandering at a human powered pace, a great re-set from traveling on a machine. It felt slow at first, but the slight variations felt while moving through the landscape are, what help to develop a deeper connection to the earth.
INCREASED TRUST IN NATURE & MORE THAN HUMAN WORLD. TEA PLANTS ACROSS THE COUNTRY
In a short time, with each guided session in different regions of the US, I become connected to the plants. They are no longer strangers to me. , witnessing the changes of each tea plant species. The Spanish nettle, the dandelions, the yarrows, and mullein greet me like old friends. This “total immersion” in the plant world reminds me of a time where I lived in Costa Rica for half a year, learning Spanish and LESCO (the sign language of Costa Rica). I was so immersed in the language & culture that I even dreamt and signed in Spanish. Lately, because I study the language of plants… I’ve been dreaming of plants.
That feeling of being welcomed by the More Than Human World…. Is just as affirming and warming as an old friend welcoming me into their home and letting me use their shower. This anthropomorphizing, or “becoming the same species”, is what “trusting the forest” looks like. I now understand that I’m not that much different from migrating geese and my ways of slow-traveling honor the first human nomads.
Between campsites, Harvest Hosts, BLMs, driveways of my friends, I enter the bus and am home. I was afraid that I would give up— from loneliness, from travel anxiety, from road-side problems, or bad weather- but because I’ve prepared myself well for this trip…. I’m loving this, loving this pace, and advise those who are contemplating to stay grounded even when you’re moving across the United States.
After just 5 months on the road, I have a heightened awareness of the stars’ and moon’s behavior and have learned how to study clouds to predict weather. Yet my journey is not over, I still have so many animal tracks, plants, and communities to learn about. I am filled with gratitude. It takes slow travel to recognize and really believe in its importance.
The Turtle Shuttle
A simple overlooked way of being slow and deliberate is to travel grounded in trust. A trust in self, community, and the interconnectedness of our worlds. After just 5 months on the road, I have a heightened awareness of the stars’ and moon’s behavior and have learned how to study clouds to predict weather. Yet my journey is not over, I still have so many animal tracks, plants, and communities to learn about. I wonder, how can we learn from the turtle? Children’s fables like the Tortoise and the Hare, indigenous stories of Turtle Island, wise turtles in Disney films, the list goes on. How might we embrace the Turtle? To wander slowly rather than finding a hurry in our steps and days? I am filled with gratitude. It takes slow travel to recognize and really believe in its importance.
Madison is a certified guide and author whose offerings can be found on the ANFT website or madisontraviss.com. She also works full time as Director of Stewardship and Partnerships at Friends of the Bridger-Teton. Check out her works at: www.madisontraviss.com
Summer is a certified Deaf ANFT guide, teacher, and business owner of The Giving Cypress. If you are interested in trying silent Nature and Forest Therapy, The Giving Cypress is offering guided walks in select cities across the Nation for the remainder of the year. Check out their website at www.thegivingcypress.com/tour
Photos have been taken on the ancestral lands of the Dakota, Ojibwe, and Ogala Lakota peoples.
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