Walking – it was the first way we as humans got around, but it can seem like many people do anything they can to avoid it these days. But walking can be one of the most rewarding ways to travel, especially for those adventurers bold enough to plan a long-distance walk. But why exactly would you want to head out to explore the world on foot, for miles at a time? Let’s take a closer look.
What Kind Of Long Distance Walk Do We Mean?
When we talk about a long-distance walk, there are a few key elements we’re considering.
First, we’ll almost always be referring to multi-day itineraries. While you can certainly walk a long distance within a single day and return to your starting point, this typically isn’t the immersive travel experience we’ll be focusing on. Without multiple days on the road seeing the sights, sleeping in the hotels, and dining in the restaurants, it’s difficult to get an accurate, on-the-ground feel that makes these adventures so rewarding.
Secondly, there should be thematic or geographic cohesion to the route. Sure, there’s some value in just walking here to there and back again. But there’s much more in experiencing nearly every step of the Jersey Shore, or from Richmond to Baltimore, or the geographic extremes of New York City. Each successive stop or sight enriches the previous ones with a new understanding.
Finally, while portions of your route can be on remote trails, we’re not talking about wilderness backpacking. While you may wish to carry a tent and camp as a matter of preference, proximity to and interaction with civilization is a distinguishing feature between traditional backpacking and our conception of long-distance walks.
What About Length?
You’ll notice that distance itself is missing from this list of requirements. Everyone’s fitness level is different. But other than those with severe physical limitations, most people can plan reasonable routes that cover at least a few miles over the course of a day, split into various segments. Those with better physical capabilities can tackle 10-15+ miles per day if they so desire and their terrain allows it. The average person walks about or just over 3 miles per hour on normal ground without carrying significant weight, and somewhat less than that with a pack and over long distances. That means with just 2-3 hours of active walking per day, you can easily cover 5-10 miles.
Top 5 Reasons To Plan A Long-Distance Walk
So why should you go through all the trouble of planning a route, packing your gear, and actually hoofing it across a long distance just for the sake of exploring? Here are our top reasons.
1. A human-speed perspective of popular or overlooked locations.
Human speed is the key here. So often, we spend our lives watching much of the world zooming from the other side of a windshield or out a plane window. How often, even when traveling or on vacation, do you truly take some extended time to experience your surroundings? Walking has long been a way to help achieve mindful awareness of one’s surroundings and is an easy and enriching experience when exploring new places. What’s the sidewalk, or trail, or grass, or sand under your feet feel like? Watch how the houses from one town or neighborhood slowly change as you reach and pass the border. What do you smell, hear, feel in the air?
You may sometimes find walking through even familiar areas you’ve driven through can reveal new details you’d never noticed – now, just imagine this awareness as you explore new areas, too. The world is right in front of you and under your feet, ready for you to interact with.
2. It’s exercise that anyone can do.
Walking is the most basic form of exercise. We all do it, likely dozens of times a day, ranging from a few steps to the refrigerator for another drink to a long, brisk walk to work. Other than those in very poor physical shape or with a health condition, just about everyone can walk, and chances are you can walk farther than you think. There are no special skills or techniques needed, and only a minimal investment in quality walking shoes or hiking boots is necessary. Don’t worry about getting 10,000 steps or any other arbitrary number because they’re probably nonsense, anyway. Still, you’ll likely be shocked at how far you’re able to comfortably walk when you have interesting things to see and do and a goal in mind.
3. You can set your own route, pace, and schedule.
In the same vein, a long-distance walk is an excellent choice because you can customize them to your route preferences, physical abilities, and time. As opposed to traditional long-distance hikes like the Appalachian Trail or Pacific Crest Trail, you’re not tied to one definitive route, well-trodden by hundreds of thousands of feet before you. You may have an idea and find that, as far as you can tell, you’re the first to try the route.
Worried about your fitness? You can see the pace as lightly or strenuously as you desire, with plenty of built-in rest and sightseeing time or full days of traveling. And best of all, when designing your own routes, you can create one to fit the time you have available. Whether you’ve only got a long weekend or a month off between semesters or jobs, the only limit to designing your own on-foot adventure is your creativity.
4. It’s an adventure!
All too often these days, travel has fallen into predictable patterns. See these sights. Go to these museums. Drive this scenic road. For those with an adventurous spirit, it can feel like something has been lost amid crowded tourist spots and guided bus tours. However, setting out on foot is inherently an adventure. While the well-prepared walker will have an idea of what’s ahead of them, there’s no telling what might happen, who you might meet, or what you might see on this particular day, on this particular route. A long-distance walk involves getting intimately comfortable with those spaces in between the popular attractions and hot spots, and these can be some of the most interesting and unusual places to explore.
5. There’s no better way to get to know an area.
Truly, there’s nothing like simply exploring on foot to get a handle on an unfamiliar area. You’ll see and consider the local businesses, how the streets connect, the kind of people out and about. You’ll learn about how and where people live, where they eat, how they get around. The little details of a community are easy to miss as you speed through in your car, music playing, and mind focused on your destination. Not so when you’re placing one foot in front of another, progressing slowly but steadily through an area. This simple extra time for contemplation and observation can’t be underestimated in helping shape your perceptions of a new place.
Start Planning Your Long-Distance Walk Adventure Today
The world is a big place to explore, and one of the best ways to do it through the power of your own two feet. You’ll improve your fitness, gain unique perspectives on well-known places, and truly embrace the uncertainty of a one-of-a-kind adventure.
For some inspiration, read about how Road Goes On Forever editor Nick Pisano completed a roughly 130-mile, 13 day walk along the entirety of the New Jersey Shore during summer 2021. Happy walking!