Shhh, I’m on vacation. Travelers are on a quest for the quiet


At home in the New York City suburbs, Oscar Sandoval has lots of friends and an active social life. But when it’s time for vacation, he prefers to keep it quiet. Like, literally.

Sandoval began practicing Zen Buddhism a few years back, and has been on silent retreats to Buddhist monasteries around San Francisco and elsewhere. He’d stroll, sit, do some gardening and generally contemplate life for a week. More recently, he’s done solo backpacking trips across Spain.

“The internal experience varies from times of very little thinking to periods of many thoughts or songs playing in my head,” he says. “The utter peace and stillness is impossible to put into words.”

Travel journalist Chloe Berge bemoaned the buzzing interruption of a drone while she was hiking the Faroe Islands’ remote coastline during the pandemic. “The world is getting louder, and it’s increasingly harder to escape the noise, even in nature.”

But it’s worth a try, say the travelers who are seeking relief in silence. Or as close as they can get to it.

From serene nature retreats to silent walking, the quest for quietude has become one of modern travel’s latest trends. Conde Nast Traveler said last month it was “the travel trend we’re most obsessed with this year.”

For many, quiet travel goes beyond escaping the cacophony of everyday life while on vacation. It can be a shift toward introspection; a deeper connection with where we are both literally and figuratively.

You might even feel healthier.

In a study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry in late 2022, for instance, mindfulness meditation worked as well as a standard drug for treating anxiety.

“Transformative travel’s a trend we’re tracking for growth,” says Alex Hawkins, editor at the trend forecaster and consultancy The Future Laboratory. “It taps into consumers’ desire for self-reflective tourism experiences.”

The “wellness tourism industry,” he says, includes “demand for hyper-personal holidays and health-driven stays.”

The company Dark Retreats Oregon offers a five-day “Dark Retreat” in Tidewater, Oregon, as “a great space for self-care” through darkness, digital detox and a healthy diet. Participants can keep the lights off as much as they want during their stay, and can also decide how much they talk to others.

BookRetreats, which urges clients to “Unplug. De-stress. Recharge,” offers silent meditation retreats in Bali, Portugal, Mexico and the Netherlands, and closer to home in North Carolina, Quebec and California.

Finland’s Utula Nature offers a silent stay amidst the pines on Lake Saimaa, about five hours from Helsinki.

Ditching the phone, zipping your lip, and putting on your comfy hikers; that’s the silent walking trend that’s found thousands of friends on TikTok.

Gordon Hempton is an acoustic ecologist in Washington State also known as The Sound Tracker. He’s spent several decades roaming rainforests, coastlines and deserts looking for interesting and often rare nature sounds — sounds you can’t easily hear when there’s a lot of human-made noise. “I care very deeply about quiet,” he says.

He’s a co-founder of Quiet Parks International, a non-profit created to raise awareness of the benefits for both people and wildlife of less noise. Ecuador’s Zabalo River park was the first to receive quiet park designation – it’s not technically “quiet,” of course: Howler monkeys, birds, insects and the thrum of the river provide a natural soundtrack. But the nearest concentration of human activity is a village of roughly 200 people, about 10 miles away.

There are even a couple of urban areas designated as quiet parks – one just outside the bustling metropolis of Taipei, Taiwan’s capital. Another is in Hampstead Heath, about 30 miles from central London. The grassy, 800-acre park inspired C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia.”

Quiet Parks International offers experiences like forest bathing, where you open your senses to the meditative and relaxing elements of a walk in the woods.

For those who can’t get out to nature, the Quiet Parks website has recordings of wildlife and weather in the rainforest; morning in the West Texas desert; and sounds of day and nightfall in northern Alaska.

Black Tomato’s got an interesting proposition for you. The avant-garde travel company offers a trip they call Get Lost. You fill out an extensive questionnaire on what you’re expecting from your escape, but you’ll have no idea where you’re going till they get you there. Environment options are Polar, Desert, Coastal, Jungle or Mountain.

You’re given pre-trip prep advice and navigation instruction, and then, at trip time, all the transfers, gear and mapped-out checkpoints you’ll need. Your progress is monitored by a specialist in the chosen environment and by a local guiding support team. You can bail out at any time.

“We’ve sent clients to Iceland and Alaska,” says Black Tomato’s co-founder Tom Marchant. “We sent one solo traveler to Mongolia.” A woman trekked on her own across Morocco’s Atlas Mountains.

Marchant says there’s the challenge of managing the environment, but “it’s also a time to truly disconnect from daily life in an entirely new way.”



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