Travel: Pockets of Peace

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Dave Deruytter offers options for holiday destinations and pockets of peace where silence is golden. There are more than seven billion of us and yet there are still places where you can travel miles every day without seeing a fellow human being. Scary for some, peace of mind for others.

When travelling the world these days, there is no lack of choice. What a wealth of possibilities compared to our parents’ or grand-parents’ time. Back then, many people never travelled further than 10 miles from their home, unless war or disaster forced them to. How small must their worlds have been? How large can ours be?

More countries seem to be opening up to the world – the possibilities for the curious traveller are still increasing. Recently Myanmar, a pretty much closed and military run country until 2012, has becoming a hot holiday destination for the more experienced South East Asia traveller. A river cruise of one or a few days to the city of Mandalay is a must.

But one will have to go soon, before the masses arrive, to get the authentic feeling of the country and its people. Popular holiday destinations can indeed be very crowded in summer time or in the high season. The touristic sector has built huge infrastructures over the past decades and ever more people can afford to travel.

Many people like active vacations in the midst of the hordes of fellow holidaymakers. But stressful professional lives are helping to make calm and quiet holidays a growing niche. The ‘Relais du silence’ hotels have existed for many years, but that is not always what young, active professionals are after. They prefer something more dynamic, preferably in a faraway place.

Try travelling the thousand islands of Finland for example, where you will meet no one. After several days you will start to talk from desperation to the local reindeer, which outnumber the Finns in the North of the country.

Some people find quiet places with no one around scary and even just a few days there they think they are going mad. Others need silence to find the balance in their life again, given that they are in daily contact with too many fellow humans during their working days.

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Renting a mobile home and driving through the far west in the US, or going into the national parks, is also very popular. You get to sense the American dream of the early settlers. You may even think of your favourite western and feel or breathe in its atmosphere.

Many similar options exist in Canada. There you can combine busy, crowded places with peace and quiet in the countryside. In summer time you can go to Vancouver for a few days then rent a mobile home and discover the wilderness of the province of British Columbia. The further away you drive from the city, you will see fewer and fewer people. But don’t go too far north: you may hit snow or ice.

In Canada for example, you can also simply take the trail on foot, spending several days in nature with just your tent and supplies. You can go on your own or in a small group. For security, the local ranger will give you a walky- talky in case of emergency. At night, if it’s your first time, you may be surprised by (and perhaps afraid of) the different voices and noises out there in the dark.

On the luxury side of things African safaris, with a group of friends or family and some local guides, plus cooks and other servants, is very much ‘in’ with the rich and famous. They seek that Out of Africa feeling, embracing the savage, beautiful landscapes then returning at night to be pampered in cosy tents with luxury meals.

Latin America and Russia have no less space for the lone wanderer. With by far the world’s largest populations at 1.3 billion each, even China and India still have their fair share of remote places. When I was stationed in Beijing I remember climbing the remains of the Great Wall of China with a group of expat hikers called ‘The Walkers’. For a whole day we did not see a living soul and we were only a two hour drive from Beijing.

There is no lack of space for a quiet holiday but it is crucial that we keep our ecological footprint small and prove to the generations to come that we have been good caretakers of our earth, whether we like the noisy masses in popular beach resorts or the lone roar of a lion in the African savannah.