Five Reasons for Travelers to Walk. “In August 1992, when the dog days were drawing to an end, I set off to walk the county of Suffolk, in the hope of dispelling the emptiness that takes hold of me whenever I have completed a long stint of work,” the author W.G. Sebald once wrote. The result: Sebald’s 1995’s Rings of Saturn, one of the great books of the late-20th Century. It’s a reminder that walking while traveling offers rewards forbidden us when we solely rely on cars and other faster modes of transportation.
- Speed kills. That’s to say it kills the ability to slow down and really see our surroundings. Rather than the rushing blur of the world as seen through the window of a car or train, our surroundings sharpen. When speeding past those surroundings, everything simultaneously approaches in the extremely-near future and vanishes just as quickly into the past. It’s all gone before we know it. Walking allows us time to pause and contemplate whatever catches the eye.
- Time to think. As Nietzsche wrote, “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.” Though that’s perhaps an overstatement, it’s true the physical act of walking enhances the imagination. It’s easier to see beyond our usual assumptions with fresh air and unfamiliar sights. The mind, too, relaxes and breathes. A long walk in new surroundings eventually unleashes new insights. Later, it’s often the case that longtime problems have seemingly worked themselves out not by our thinking about them but simply by walking with all senses fully engaged in the moment.
- Time out of time. “I like long walks, especially when they are taken by people who annoy me,” said Noël Coward. The reverse, too, is true. Sometimes we need a break from others. There’s no better way to make the most of solitude than a solitary walk. It puts us in touch with ourselves but – because we’re moving – less prone to decorum and others’ expectations.
- No expectations. It’s best if we walk without goals beyond the walk itself. Charlotte Eriksson writes, “Don’t try to make use of it, because you can’t. And that’s the point. Just walk, see, sit down if you like. And be. Just be, whatever you are with whatever you have, and realize that that is enough to be happy.” Despite all the benefits of walking mentioned above, we do best to forget them when we set out for a walk. We need only walk. The rest will take care of itself…and us.
- Wandering. Sometimes, we need to get lost on purpose…and without purpose…leaving our maps, travel guides and cell phone apps behind. By doing so, we nearly guarantee we’ll find ourselves in a place we otherwise would have never seen. We come to know a city better if we avoid visiting only tourist attractions and locations mentioned on top ten lists. We’re likely to head somewhere a local might go. What was hidden reveals itself. The same applies to ourselves.
In a world of instant information, instant everything, we need more slow motion. Walking provides the cure to our ever-shrinking attention spans. We need time to pay attention…and it doesn’t cost a dime.