When I was commuting into Edinburgh each weekday — how strange it feels saying that in past tense — I kept a small notebook in which I’d scribble ideas as the train rattled towards the city. It feels like a lifetime ago when I wrote the words, Where does Hashtag Scotland go next?
You may remember this project, which made many appearances on this blog and on my social media accounts. Hashtag Scotland was a banner under which tour guide Nicolas Loisel and I pulled together all our writing, video and photographs on a specific question:
How is technology, specifically social media, changing the way we travel in and experience Scotland?
Over the first six months of 2019 we wrote, read, researched, filmed, and took a road trip together. In August we released a video via IGTV and YouTube which documented that weekend adventure, during which Nicolas and I visited some of Scotland’s most popular places, and as a contrast, some of those off the beaten track. What we saw as we snaked through these landscapes in Nicolas’s electric car was both revealing and sometimes sad.
The video — filmed and edited by Nicolas — was watched by thousands of people, with many of the comments proving that there was appetite out there to discuss topics like slow travel, social media, tourism and Instagram tropes. Seeing the positive feedback, we were excited to share more.
A month or so after we released the video, a newspaper ran an article on Hashtag Scotland. Initially we’d hoped that the feature would widen the debate to a larger audience, but unfortunately what had been a nuanced project was somewhat distilled for social media clickbait. Many of the comments proved how little these platforms are equipped for complex arguments and, honestly, it was sad seeing months of work disappearing beneath the digital noise. I found myself switching off from social media for fear of being misunderstood. The project was paused.
At the start of 2020 I wanted to start writing again — I couldn’t stop thinking about slow travel and social media.
When new year came, though, I felt that familiar itch return — I couldn’t stop thinking about how technology was influencing how we experience and plan our visits to Scotland’s places. On the train to and from the country’s biggest, busy cities I began scribbling in my notebook again, getting back in touch with Nicolas to see what we could do next. Then coronavirus happened.
Looking back on the ideas I’d penned a few short months ago seems heartbreakingly ironic now. We had aimed to widen the conversation around travelling more mindfully by creating more multimedia content from road trips around Scotland; writing regular blogs on topics surrounding the project; defining our key messages around slow travel; and hopefully releasing the podcast episodes we’d recorded the year before.
In this ‘new normal’, we’ve all been forced to embrace slow travel — or in some countries, no travel at all.
Now, the world is unrecognisable.
Here in the United Kingdom, at the time of writing, we are still allowed to leave the house for one kind of recreational exercise per day (walking, cycling or running) alone or with members of our household. We’ve been advised not to drive unless we’re going for shopping, to do essential work or to pick up medicines, so my daily exercise has been reduced to the small hill behind our home. We get there on foot from our front door. The slowest of travel; the irony.
It’s therefore difficult to know what space the Hashtag Scotland project can possibly take up at this unprecedented time. We wanted it to speak to regular visitors, first-time tourists, adventurous locals and Instagram aficionados. With all but essential travel removed from our lives, it’s been necessary to rethink the key ideas behind the project — especially as most of them are no longer applicable.
This, as I think about often during my evening walks, is slow travel in the extreme.
I’m also discovering that my own relationship with social media is changing. I still avoid lengthy scrolling, but I’m finding that online connection is more important than before at a time when many of us are socially isolated. I more frequently find myself taking pictures of small moments in my day, not only for me, but to share with others to remind them that you can still uncover positivity in difficult times (my daily walks are a key source of optimism — nature is still flourishing).
So with that in mind, what is next for our slow travel project?
We’re under no illusion that these times are difficult. My partner and I have family who are still leaving home to work; Nicolas has had to pause the business he’s worked so hard to grow; until very recently I thought I would be unemployed this summer. All of this is true, but what’s also true is that conversation and the craft of writing have always proved a healing distraction for me.
I will continue to write, perhaps slowly, perhaps not at all, but always with sensitivity.
Over the next few months — along with my Distancing series — I’m looking to write more about the following topics. I want to continue to share words and pictures here, perhaps slowly, perhaps some weeks not at all, but whenever I do with sensitivity.
I want to highlight the benefits of nature for our physical and mental health, tying this in with an online course I’m currently doing in forest bathing (or as the Japanese call it, shinrin yoku). There are even ways you can bring the outside indoors if you don’t have green spaces nearby.
I’m keen to explore how the ways in which I use social media are changing, and how we can utilise digital platforms mindfully during a time when we’re all craving connection more than ever.
I want to write about nature, memories, and mindfulness.
And I want to dream about Scotland — the white-sand beaches of the west coast; the pine forests of the Cairngorms; walking along Helensburgh seafront with an ice cream; watching my partner swim in a remote loch; combing the strand line for shells as in childhood… Memories which might also help you plan slower travel in Scotland and beyond, sometime in the future.
I’d love to hear what kind of things you’re enjoying reading right now, especially when it comes to travel? Let me know in the comments below. And in the meantime, take great care.