Guest blogger Caroline Simpson is a writer, a translator and a travel addict who's always looking for ways to make life easier. She works as a freelance blogger for Le Yeti, a Montreal-based bike dealer and Tourism Montreal, an organization that helps travelers enjoy their trip in Montreal.
Walking trips are gaining in popularity. Perhaps because, in our past paced lives, they are a great way to slow down, relax, and take some time off to think ourselves through. You could stick to the classics and walk the St-James' Way in Northern Spain and Southern France, the Shikoku Pilgrimage in Japan, the John Muir Trail in the States or the Great Ocean Road in Australia. But you could also make up your own trip and walk from a city to another during your journey in Europe, for example. Should you go on a walking trip? Here are a few thoughts, hints and tips on this great way of traveling.
A Proper Training
One doesn't decide to go on a walking trip on an impulse. Walking several hours daily is harder than you might think and training is absolutely essential. Even if you are in great shape, you'll have to train weeks in advance in order to get your body – and your mind! – ready for longs hours of walk. Start slow, by walking for 30 minutes, about four or five times a week. As you feel your body getting stronger, gradually work up to 1 hour, then 1 hour and a half, then 2 hours, etc. According to studies, your body will need about six weeks to establish a habit. Be patient and persistent!
Along with adapting your body to walking, you should adapt it to carrying the weight of a backpack. Start by carrying a small, light backpack in your weekly training walks, and gradually increase its weight. This will not only strengthen your muscles: This will reinforce your knees and ankles joints. Ligaments and tendons adapt very slowly: If you do not train them properly, you may get injured.
Important hint: Do NOT count on the walking trip in itself to get you in shape. If you need to lose weight, to become more flexible, to improve your cardiovascular capacities... do it before you leave.
1. Gather information. Read as many books as you can on the region you're going to walk through. If you opted for a renowned pilgrimage such as the St-John's Way, read blogs, forums, web sites of fellow pilgrims and look for hints, anecdotes, and pictures. Literally every drop of information you can get will be useful.
2. Remember that this is not a competition. You must go at your own pace, respect the limitations of your body and avoid trying to see your walk as a “performance”. Not only could pushing yourself lead to injury, it'll also take all the meditative fun out of the experience.
3. Bring music. Of course, you'll often enjoy the sound of silence or a conversation with a fellow traveler... But an MP3 player filled with your favorite music will come in handy more than once. Music will help you get through the rough patches of the trip.
4. Learn a few words of the language. If you are walking in a foreign country, do not expect everyone to speak English and learn a few words of the language. Bring a dictionary along if you wish! One of the major perks of a walking trip is the privileged contact with the locals. Don't deprive yourself of this amazing experience.
5. Keep a journal. Even if writing is not really your thing, try and keep a daily journal in which you'll recall the events of the day. Your journey will be full of little daily wonders that you'll most likely forget, unless you write them down. You'll be so grateful for this journal when you read those pages, several years later!
And, in conclusion, to inspire you, here's a quote from Ruth Cosgrove, a Lonely Planet staff writer who walked the Camino de Santiago: “You will cry and scream and shout and hate people, things and trees. You will rail against the world, yourself, your shoes and your pack (but never your stick). You'll be jealous, petty, hungry, thirsty, furious, ecstatic, joyful, silly, sick, stupid, inane and perfect. You'll be intensely involved with the intricate workings and changes in your own body and you'll be thrown up against a wide variety of people from all over the world. You'll essentially be given a crash course in what it means to be human. Enjoy the hell out of it.”
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