“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks,” wrote the Scottish-American author and naturalist John Muir.
If you’ve ever strolled through a park on a crisp autumn evening, trekked up a mountain, or walked home from work instead of driving, you probably found that the journey did not, in fact, kill you, and was perhaps even rather pleasant.
Yet we so often forget that walking is a viable means of travel–maybe even the best means of travel. Unlike sitting in a car or train, regular walking affords us health benefits comparable to gym visits, such as reduced blood pressure, and has even been shown to positively affect our mental health.
Okay, so it’s healthy, but walking long distances just isn’t practical, right?
“People often misjudge the actual distance between two places,” says Hannah Ranken, who recently completed a six-week walk from Edinburgh to London. “Just because people usually don’t walk long distances, doesn’t mean they can’t.”
Ranken tell BTR she decided to make the journey on foot because she wanted to “really revel in the experience,” to “take it all in, slowly and deliberately,” and to “take a long break from the energy of the city.”
She recorded her journey on her blog Hannah’s Edinburgh to London Walk, which was a finalist for the Newbie Outdoor Blog Award. Along the route, she camped, stayed with strangers she met along the way, or, when she was feeling extra exhausted, got a hotel room. She walked anywhere from six to 20 miles a day, carrying her supplies on her back.
Throughout her walk Ranken remained active on social media, which she says helped dispel any feeling of isolation or loneliness and cultivated a community that she now maintains.
“I prepared with yoga and meditation before beginning, but once I started I found the walking itself was meditative,” she says. “I think people might be surprised at how easy it is to do this, both physically and emotionally.”
Another major advantage of walking? It’s cheap!
Mac Fox, an ESL teacher now living in Japan, tells BTR that was one of the main considerations when he hiked the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). He was broke, hated his job, and wanted a life-changing experience.
“I got it,” he laughs.
Photo courtesy of Hannah Ranken.
The PCT is a 2,650-mile long stretch that runs from Mexico to Canada. A wilderness trail, the route took him five months to complete. Like Ranken, he recorded his experiences on his blog Halfway Anywhere.
Fox spent several hundred dollars on camping and hiking equipment, but didn’t pay for rent or lodging for almost his entire journey (like Ranken, he occasionally spent the night in a small town near the trail if he was feeling especially exhausted). He too reports the trip had a profoundly positive effect on his physical and emotional well-being.
“I have learned how to live cheaply, how to fend for myself in the bush, and how to put my faith in humanity once more,” he writes in a blog post. “The five months on the trail were five of the realest months of my life.”
Of course, short-distance walking is also a great way to save money while traveling. Instead of taking a cab, walk from your hotel to the restaurant you’re having dinner at or the cultural site you want to visit. Not only will you save some dollars, you’ll be able to take in and appreciate so much more of your surroundings simply by slowing down and paying attention.
Eager to push your walking limits? Go for it! There are people that have walked the entire world (when possible) and lived to tell the tale. But before you embark, both Ranken and Fox have one word of caution.
“It’s a huge shock to go from living at your own pace to once again conforming to the pace of others,” Fox admits. “The transition can be really intense.”
Ranken, too, raises the issue of returning to the “real world” after a long-distance walk. For her, adjusting to the bustle of London took several days. The process for Fox was much longer and emotionally draining, which he writes candidly about in his post titled “Coping With Readjustment and Thoughts of Suicide.”
“But it’s all part of an experience that will ultimately make you stronger,” Fox tells BTR.
Perhaps the personal challenge is the best reason to walk across the world. Travel should be a transformative experience, and rarely does one change irrevocably because of a plane ride.
As Nietzsche said, “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.”
Featured image courtesy of Loren Kerns.