In today’s race-focused world, it’s a refreshing change to downshift a gear or two to really slow travel to make the most of a new destination. I’m a big advocate of using your feet to see a place, be it city or countryside. After all, our feet were invented long before trams, buses or taxis.

I’m not, although the title might sound that way, advocating the idea of circumnavigating the world entirely on foot. There are crazy adventurers who do such things and we can leave the record-breaking up to them. My idea of really slow travel is that you pick small areas of your destinations that you are able to examine by foot, and then start walking.

Silhouette of Couple Walking, Maldives
Walking at Dusk, Maldives © notsogoodphotography

Why You Should Walk on Your Travels

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Obviously this is the number one reason, although some people might complain that by walking they’ll see less, since they can’t get around to the same sightseeing hotspots that the tourist circuit buses visit. My tip is that you don’t want to get around to those twenty sightseeing hotspots.

Pick a few places you’d really like to see and that are within walking distance of each other. Take your time to stroll along the streets that join them and you’ll discover everyday aspects of life in your destination that you can’t see from a bus. Watch people going to work, heading out shopping, fighting with their girlfriend (on my last trip to Paris, I witnessed a passionate argument between a girl and her presumably soon-to-be ex-boyfriend).

Every good trip needs a balance between tourist attractions and the real deal.

Smell the food in the restaurants or cafes where the locals eat, check which pub is most popular, or even find a shopping bargain as you window shop. Every good trip needs a balance between tourist attractions and the real deal.

Get Physical

Walking is healthy and it makes you feel more alive. Perhaps you are usually stuck in an office cubicle, or tend to spend your spare time in front of the TV. Walking doesn’t require a high level of fitness, and if you feel tired you’re always allowed to take a rest or slow down. Heck, if you somehow really exhaust yourself, you can even hop a bus for the return leg. There are no rules.

My experience is always that a place feels—how can I put it—more exhilarating, when you see it on foot. There’s something about getting around entirely under your own steam, no doubt combined with a healthy dose of exercise-fueled endorphins, that leaves a special memory of a trip where you spent a lot of time walking.

You Won’t Get Lost So Often

Seriously, one of the main reasons I started spending so much time on foot when I travel is I have a hard time reading a map. And if I get in a bus or, even worse, any kind of underground train where I can’t even see the terrain I’m traveling over, then my sense of direction really takes a beating.

At walking pace, even I always know where I am on a map. You don’t hurtle past a bunch of road signs at such a pace that you can’t read them; you can even stop and try to decipher them if they’re in a tricky language.

Take Better Photos

Good photography is often about time. (And light, but that’s harder to control). Being on foot gets you around more slowly and you suddenly have time to wait for the perfect angle. You’ll see a whole lot more angles by walking across a city than by merely walking from the bus stop into the museum and back.

Better photos are also more unique photos. Photograph the everyday aspects that you walk past: the people, the houses, the little touches that are different from home. I had a couple of days walking around Irkutsk in Russia and now have a great collection of photos of the doors of old Russian wooden houses, and I love it!

Walking the Sand Dunes, Iran
Walking the Sand Dunes, Iran © Hamed Saber

Planning Your Really Slow Travel

There are two ways to do some really slow travel: either by criss-crossing a city on foot or by hiking in the countryside. Both are improved with a little bit of forward planning.

City walking:

Make sure you have a good map. Often the local tourist bureau can supply the best map, so if you can’t find one before you arrive, don’t despair. Just make sure you have one before you head off on your big stroll.

Don’t be strict about the route you plan to follow. Be prepared to wander down interesting side streets and alleys, and allow time for detours into churches, museums or shops along the way.

Wear good walking shoes, too. I’m not talking trainers: they’re for the gym. In fact, I wear my hiking shoes when I hit a city, but they’re the kind that look neat and tidy enough for a cafe at lunch time too. Take a small daypack – big enough to stow any spontaneous purchases, though.

Country walking:

Be prepared. I had a fantastic walk one Easter along the south-western edge of England, from Land’s End back along the coast to the Minack Theatre. But it would have been rather miserable if I hadn’t packed enough water and food, and added my raincoat, a good map and of course, my camera.

Most country hiking is best considered in advance of your trip, because you might have to rely on infrequent bus connections to your walk’s start and end points. Talk to locals once you get there to confirm which directions make for the most interesting walks.

Tie Up Those Shoelaces And Go!

Convinced yet? The most common counter-argument I hear is that you don’t have time to do this on your precious few vacation days. I’d argue that you don’t have time not to.

Remember that travel is not about collecting entry tickets, it’s about experiences, and I guarantee that you’ll have a more memorable experience if you travel really slowly. Try it and see!

14 Responses

  1. james emmans

    Another thing about walking is it is an intensely individual experience. One thing I have noticed on returning on the same route is you see a lot of things you missed of the outward journey. Walking also calms your mind and helps you to really relax and enjoy the experience. When two walkers cross paths their is a shared bond even if words are not spoken.

    Reply
    • Jeff

      Hi Amanda,

      I am interested in walking around the world and would like to do as a fund raiser for charity. What helpful hints/advice do you have to get started? Can you provide info sources on logistics, cost estimations, etc. ?

      Reply
  2. Amanda

    Yep, nice point James. If you keep your eyes open you’ll see new things every time on the same route, I think. And I’ve struck up some interesting conversations with fellow walkers (especially in country towns where everybody is surprised to see you, they thought they knew everyone in town!).

    Reply
  3. Jon

    Hi!

    I have just arrived a week ago for a trip on the Inca Trail in Cusco, Peru. My mother’s homeland. We undertook the long road to explore centuries of history in every step. We learned in touch with nature. 4 days of relaxation and intense experience while enabling us to explore every corner of the millenarian culture of the Incas. Although we returned to Cuzco and we are staying at the Libertador Hotel(http://www.libertador.com.pe), the journey had not yet ended, there’s a lot to go yet. Let´s keep walking, we will keep you posted!

    Reply
  4. Leo Laps

    Hello, Amanda. It’s good to see people spreading the news of how beautiful it is to know a city or countryside by your foot. I had that experience in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and hope to do the same – and with a six month time – in Brisbane and other australian cities. See ya!

    Reply
  5. Amanda

    Hey Leo, you’ll definitely enjoy walking around Aussie cities … if for no other reason than our public transport is so bad that it’ll be faster on foot!! Enjoy your trip.

    Reply
  6. Laurah

    Everytime i have traveled the us I’ve spent 75% percent of my time walking. (The most formidable was San Fransisco-up and down!!) It’s the only way to truly see the place you are in. Giving time to stop and enjoy. But i also like to try public transport just for the hell of it. (Seattle has been the best)

    To get there i opt for my auto, or Amtrack. Both can take me places that no plane ever could!! I prefer hostels or camping to sleep.

    One day i want to walk the Trail of Tears, the Continental Divide and the Appalachian trail. This year it is the Camino!

    The best bumper sticker i’ve ever seen (and bought) “My other car is a pair of hiking boots”

    Happy walking!

    Reply
  7. Chris

    I walked a ton on my last RTW trip. More because I’m really frugal and was trying to save money, but you really do see things you don’t get to see when you’re in a taxi or on the bus the whole time. Good way to clear your head too. Good article!

    Reply
  8. Alexander

    This is a great article! I prefer this type of traveling as you get many more things to take pictures at then you would from a bus, taxi or train. It saves you some money too :)
    I enjoyed reading this blog post. Thanks for sharing

    Reply
  9. Diana

    I find my first day walking around a city is nearly always the most fun part…

    Especially somewhere I am aware of through seeing them in magazines or brochures – it’s the small details and seeing the every day life that really interests me.

    The Walking Tours in London I have been on were also great :)

    Reply
  10. Walking travel | Onerbuck

    […] Really Slow Travel: Walking Your Way Around the WorldFeb 23, 2008 … Amanda Kendle advocates slowing down on your travels and truly absorbing your surroundings. […]

    Reply
  11. Renuka

    Beautiful article! Although simple, you have explained something important. I love walking on my travels. And I agree, you are able to produce better pictures that way.

    Reply

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