Trains are too romantic. Buses don’t stop enough. Motorcycles too fast. And forget about planes.
But not walking.
“Walking reminds us of who we are.” says Paul Theroux in an interview about his new book, The Tao of Travel.
We feel the earth beneath our feet while walking. We are one with the weather. We need the strength and energy to propel ourselves onward.
I’ve always loved walking. It’s probably my favorite thing to do anywhere in the world that I go. I’ve cruised down the massive sidewalks of wide open Berlin on foot, through crowded bazaars of central Asia, to the tops of Colorado 14ers, and all over sultry Bangkok. And I’ve loved every minute of it.
I didn’t know just how happy walking made me until I embarked on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. Not only did I delight in the fellowship of other pilgrims, soak up the history of Spain’s hinterland, indulge in the regional food and drink, endure my ever-important spiritual journey, but I enjoyed, above all, the simple act of walking. Walking every day, eight or nine hours per day, made me completely happy.
Walking through Spain I felt alive. I felt connected to the terrain. I felt spiritually energetic.
There are few better ways to educate and immerse oneself in a place than to walk through it. During a eulogy for my University Geography’s Department’s Professor Emeritus, Robert Leblanc, who died in the 9-11 plane crash, my Geography professor, Alasdair Drysdale described to us how LeBlanc used to travel.
“He would take the Tube out to one of the last stations, get out, and walk back to central London through all the different neighborhoods.” This would allow him a taste of all the distinct districts that most tourists and travelers never see. “If he got lost, he’d have to ask his way back. He would do the same thing in many cities, wherever he traveled. If you went on a trip with him, you’d prepare to walk a lot,” Drysdale added.
This style of travel was really inspirational to me, especially as I listened to this as a fourth-year university student. It stressed to me the importance that a simple and free action, that of walking, could be such an important tool to learning and experiencing place, culture, and society.
We get the images, the smells, the interactions with people of that place. We connect better. It’s the best introduction to place we can get.
And if you travel with me, be prepared to walk a lot.
Do you use walking as a means to connect to a culture or a place? Have there been any places that you’ve gotten exceptionally good insight into by walking?