In these days of universal currency -- the dollar, euro, and bitcoin -- we’d argue that another more important universality has existed for eons: It’s called time.
"Time is the most precious commodity that we have in this lifetime,” says Dr. Marissa Pei, author of “8 Ways to Happiness.” “Money you can make and love you can have with multiple chapters in your book of romance. But time once passed, you can't get back. Once used, there's no do-over. Once wasted, there's no rewind.”
Don’t you feel like we live in an age where everyone is rushed, where we’re all constantly pursuing goals big and small? A Gallup’s Lifestyle Poll tells us that even though we all have the same 24 hours in a day, nearly half – half! -- of Americans today feel there isn’t enough time to live the lives we long for.
“Our perception of time scarcity can lead us to feel that time is controlling us,” says Rachel MacLynn, a psychologist and creator of The Vida Consultancy, a matchmaking agency. “Many studies have shown that given a choice between more time or more money, people who want more time (more time in the day or more time generally in life) are happier.”
We’re definitely seeing a craving for a more breathable lifestyle play out in popular culture and the arts. This started as far back as the 1980s, when Italians, protesting against the opening of a McDonald's in Rome, gave birth to the “Slow Food” organization. True to its name, it promotes traditional cooking methods and use of local foods, and it’s a movement that’s now globally embraced by other cultures looking to, yes, slow down.
The concept of “Slow TV” has also gained international acclaim. Created by NRK2, the Norwegian version of PBS, it originally broadcast an unedited, seven-hour real-time broadcast of a scenic train ride between Norway’s Bergen and Oslo. Sounds a snore, right? Not so. A quarter of Norway’s 5.2 million inhabitants tuned in, which gave rise to subsequent productions that have since gone global (they are on Netflix in the U.S.). There’s the nearly nine hour National Knitting Night, an 18-hour broadcast of fisherman on the hunt for salmon, and the 134-hour Norwegian fjords’ voyage aboard Hurtigruten, Norway’s cruise-ferry company, among others.
And this leads us to wondering: If you’re an avid traveler who not only wants more days to explore the world but also more quality on the trips you take, is there a “slow travel” option?
The Exquisite Time Warp of Ocean Crossings
Some people are turning to transatlantic cruises as a way to enjoy the journey versus the destination. “We call it a crossing, not a cruise, because it's an adventure in and of itself,” says Jeff Towns, an attorney who’s completed more than 20 transatlantic crossings. “If you're flying coach to Europe, then your vacation starts when you arrive. On the ship, your trip begins when you set foot on board.”
There are few to no ports of call, no off-shore activities. Instead, it’s all about a week of sailing on open water. “It can feel like a time warp,” says Towns. “You have the option to fill your days with activities from the moment you wake up or do nothing at all. It’s that slowness, rhythm, and unique life of ship that makes it feel like its time well spent.”
Ocean crossings are one of cruising’s great secrets. There are two types. Many cruise lines offer seasonal repositioning voyages when they’re transitioning vessels from the winter in the Caribbean to spring and summer in Europe (and then back again in fall). Typically, these extra-long sailings involve only a few stops at ports of call as cruise companies are eager to get ships into place. What they offer instead is as many as six or seven (or even more depending on the ship’s speed) days in a row all at sea. Because there are so few distractions off the ship, lines will often add extra activities to fill in the days unencumbered with ports. There’s extra enrichment, such as celebrities and experts in fields of history, finance and art or workshops on food and wine with well-known chefs and vintners. Other possibilities? You can take dance lessons, learn to paint, or embark on your own autobiography; all things you never normally have time to do.
Beyond repositionings, Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2 is the only contemporary ship to be built and designed specifically to navigate ocean crossings. The ocean liner enjoys its perch as the only vessel to offer regularly scheduled weeklong voyages. The ship, which crosses between New York and London, carries on a tradition started back in 1847, way before the jet age made traveling between continents more efficient but a lot less fun.
Queen Mary 2 is both retro and ever-so-modern, offering classic cruise experiences like ballroom dancing and lavish afternoon tea along with a sophisticated spa and the only planetarium at sea. Ship’s staff even hands out a brochure of 101 things you can do on a transatlantic crossing. Twenty-plus-crossing veteran Jeff Towns says that he’s found a sweet spot. “I do find myself going to the events and lectures,” he says. “But I enjoy being able to relax and look at the ocean go by. Also, Queen Mary 2 has the largest library at sea. So, I love reading in there because I don't have time to do that when I'm at home.”
And how do we know it’s really caught on? The transatlantic crossing really only takes five days but Cunard actually slowed it down, in response to traveler demand, to enhance its unique amenity: Giving us time.
The magic in any kind of cross-ocean voyage, says Josh Leibowitz, senior vice president of Cunard North America, is this: “For 51 weeks out of the year, your success is measured by how busy you are. For one week, your success is based on how restored you feel. That’s truly taking advantage of the luxury of time.”
Take Your Time
Research has found that once our basic needs are met, money contributes very little to the feeling of happiness. Beyond this point, wouldn’t you agree that we experience happiness through a variety of means including interpersonal relationships, our senses, and enjoyable experiences? All of those take time and an appreciation of it.
“Instead of surviving the day, the week, the next 20 years of work to finally arrive at our chance to be happy, we can spend our time -- our most valuable currency -- with purpose,” says psychologist Dr. Jessica Nicolosi. “We should take time each day to be present and make time for the things that bring us joy.”
Jordi Lippe-McGraw is a freelance writer covering travel, food and wellness for outlets like Conde Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, the New York Times, Forbes, and more. She has traveled to more than 30 countries on all 7 continents and is an avid puppy, penguin, and truffle lover.