Singing songs by the fire on an indigenous reserve, bathing naked in hot springs and sleeping under a million dollar blanket Starsstarted my love affair with Slow Travel.
It was 2000, I was 19 and meandering across the United States USA on a bus full of backpackers in bunk beds.
This year, the aptly named Green Tortoise is slowly but surely celebrating 50 years of travel transportation consistent around North America.
On board, most of the seats have been replaced with padded wooden platforms to create berths. Passengers eat together en route and sometimes sleep outside under the night sky.
Traveling across the United States by bus is all about the journey
Lyle Kent was just six years old when the green turtle first emerged from its shell. His family went home for the holidays California to New England in the winter of 1973, where he gave a ride to paying customers in a converted wagon School bus. He recalls getting used to sharing his home with strangers.
He now runs the San Francisco-based company with partner Amber, having taken over from father Gardner in 2001.
“We have a unique bespoke coach that takes people from all over the world and of all ages to places off the tourist track‘ Lyle says.
“It’s about the journey, about getting out there and doing it. Every journey is different and is defined by that People on this journey. They’re what make it what it is.”
The journey that sparked my passion for slow travel
Where there used to be up to 40 passengers on board, groups are now smaller and have access to air conditioning and an onboard toilet.
It’s far from my trip new York to San Fran in 2000 after learning about the Green Turtle from a few lines in a travel guide.
In retrospect, this description from BUNAC’s Moneywise Guide to North America seems to capture the essence of travel slowly.
“Sort of an alternative bus/tour combo designed to get that budget traveler across the country, but in a fun, relaxed way. Time doesn’t matter here. The idea is to gently meander, with the route changing at the passengers’ request.
My letters home tell tales of skinny dipping, mud bathing, and hiking in a variety of locales national parks en route, with a night out in Las Vegas as a contrast.
“As of yesterday I’m sharing a converted 1954 bus with 38 strangers,” I wrote. “This is our eating, sleeping and traveling space for the next 11 days.
“There are no toilets or showers but we can go for one to swim Every day as we work our way across the land, there are at least a few small blessings. But the people are great and it’s been a lot of fun so far.”
My postcards are a declaration of love to slow travel, even before I knew what it was.
What is Slow Travel’s secret of success?
According to Lyle, the ability to customize has kept Green Tortoise in the running for so long.
The company has downsized from its busy days of operating 14 buses on various intercity and west coast routes in the late ’90s and early ’00s.
After air fares Dropped and chipped in the market for budget travelers, Green Tortoise’s personal touch keeps drawing travelers back. On a trip last year, two-thirds of the passengers were repeat guests.
From the very beginning, adaptability was a must. While the Tortoise first hit the road with old school buses that ran on gasoline, it wasn’t long before the company switched to retired diesel-powered Greyhound buses. These were designed for longer distances and had more Baggage space for passengers.
But despite the changes over the years, the core mission of the company remains the same: opening eyes adventure travel. Their itineraries are based on decades of experience, revealing hidden secrets, stunning landscapes and popular tourist attractions.
How sustainable is traveling by bus?
If you want to travel more consistent In 2023, try swapping cars and planes for buses Trains.
With rail infrastructure in the US lagging behind Europe, bus travel is a great alternative.
Green Tortoise represents a sustainable ethos. His trainers must abide by California’s strict regulations emissions Standards and their custom interiors are removed and reused as vehicles are upgraded.
As a rule, regional, seasonal and organic food is bought for the meals together vegetarianand it’s a no to disposable cutlery and plates.
Amber and Lyle also struggle to strike a balance between visiting big-ticket tourist spots like Alaska’s Denali and being respectful of the local environment wildlife and residents.
The experience of group travel is also rich in lessons community.
“There’s more people in the world, so unless we learn how to all live together, it’s going to be more and more difficult,” says Lyle. “A week or two on the Green Tortoise makes you realize how important that is, now more than ever.”