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Why I Walk

Why I Walk

Why I Love Walking

“Just take the taxi” she said, “it’s only a 5 minute ride.” “Exactly,” I replied. “That’s why I’ll walk.”

No matter which country I visit in the world, I am always drawn to the most primitive of exploration methods: walking. I’ve found no way better to get to know a city, a country, or a people rather than to walk around and attempt to enjoy it as if it were your own. It does not matter if it is just a twenty-minute stroll through a marketplace or a several hour walk across a city, I am always interested in taking it.

I am often perplexed by people who tell me that it is too far to walk or that I must take public transportation. In fact, that is one of the things that have always puzzled me when asking for directions abroad. I realize that some things are far and that not everyone likes to walk, but for me at least the first time around, I’d prefer it. I’ve walked great distances in many of the cities that I have been to ranging from Turkey to New York City to Morocco, and I have no intentions of stopping anytime soon. I often watched in the more touristy cities, such as Barcelona, where bus loads of tourists will be shuttled around the city stopping for quick audio guides in all the most ‘famous’ places, but then I sit back and ask myself rhetorically, “How much do they miss by not walking?”. To each his own, but that just isn’t my style.

“Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.”
― Steven Wright

I remember one time in Morocco I decided to walk between the city of Ait bin Haddou, where a scene from the movie Gladiator was filmed, and another one called Ouarzazate. (Truth be told, in this instance I wanted to walk because I was frustrated by a scheming taxi driver from the previous day, and refused to have a repeat experience.) Although I didn’t end up making the full trip because I ended up being offered a ride, which turned into my first hitchhiking experience, I did enjoy the solitude of walking through beautiful nothingness at the beginning. There was something calming and serene about it. The summer desert heat wasn’t bothering me. In every direction all that I could see were rocks and hills. It was certainly memorable. (You can see a clip of that walk in my Morocco video)

Since arriving in New York City, I have been walking so much. I do use the subway increasingly more now as I have seen many of the streets around where I am currently living, but the first few weeks I spent nearly every day walking and exploring new neighborhoods. I crossed the major bridges, walked through some of the more ‘ethnic’ neighborhoods, and saw some nice things. It has been with these experiences that I have been reflecting upon this question of why I choose to walk everywhere when others typically don’t or won’t.

I’ve been giving it a lot of thought. Although I do not go to extreme methods of traveling the world, I think that there are several reasons why I choose to walk when in a city. So, here is a list of things that I love about walking around a city.

7 reasons why I like to walk and you should consider it too:

1.) Awakens the senses

At least to me, nothing awakens the five major sensory abilities of human beings than doing that which is most common to us as a species. Being out in the world walking and exploring the streets of a city tests all of your senses. You smell the best and the worst. You hear the most pleasant sounds of musicians, nature, and even the cities natural rhythm. You see things from a completely different perspective than you might in a car where you’d only get a glimpse. One can feel the true the sentiments and attitudes of the different neighborhoods. Lastly, even stop to taste the best it has to offer. This to me is one of the best feelings that a traveler can have. The opportunity to experience things first hand. That is after all why we travel, no?

2.) Find good deals and cool shops

In my experience you’ll never find the best deals and unique places by searching for them online. (Well, maybe not never, but not commonly). You never know when you are walking the streets what store you will pass by, or what strange shop you will find. Walking the streets and exploring shows you what a city has to offer but likely never knew about.walk2

3.) See the best street art and other forms of expression

It seems to me that when I walk I always seem to stumble upon some of the most unique and exotic works of street art. An article that I wrote recently about the street art scene in Puerto Rico depicts how that was true for me in Puerto Rico. I wouldn’t have found many of those works had I not walked the cities through and through. Also, it is quite common in other cities like New Orleans to encounter street performers playing jazz classics.

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4.) The opportunity to see a range of the city’s demographics.

Outside of the other things listed for reasons why I enjoy walking, I like the constant sociological experiment of exploring a city first hand. You can see the sharp contrast between different demographic groups and ethnicity in each neighborhood.  In New York City for example, it is almost like traveling the world without leaving one city. I feel sometimes like one only has to walk a few blocks and you’ll be in a different country. Sometimes, I’d swear I was in Israel, others in the middle of Latin America. I’ve passed through extremely rich and extremely poor neighborhoods, even abandoned ones, in the cities that I have been to. At times, there are subtle transitions other times it seems to be a definitive line marking a neighborhood.

“Walking . . . is how the body measures itself against the earth.”
― Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking

“Many people nowadays live in a series of interiors…disconnected from each other. On foot everything stays connected, for while walking one occupies the spaces between those interiors in the same way one occupies those interiors. One lives in the whole world rather than in interiors built up against it.”
― Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking

“Walkers are ‘practitioners of the city,’ for the city is made to be walked. A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities. Just as language limits what can be said, architecture limits where one can walk, but the walker invents other ways to go.”
― Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking

5.) Gives you scale and direction

Walking also offers one of the best methods for getting scale and finding one’s cardinal directions within a new city. Recently I walked from Yankee Stadium to Brooklyn. If you know New York, then you know quite well that repeating that trek is no short stroll. I calculated it to be about twelve miles, which didn’t include any of the side detours I took. I now have a better grasp of the neighborhoods that I walked through as well as the time required to cross through each one of them. It helps you to navigate better for future walks.

6.) Opportunity to interact with people

People are one of the main reasons that I travel. Sure it is amazing to see some of the world’s most adorned sights or incredible works of art like the Hagia Sofia, but people are what fundamentally make travel so amazing. The opportunity to learn someone’s perspective is one of the great gifts that traveling offers. It gives you the ability to put yourself in another’s shoes and walk a proverbial day in their life. This is something you can’t always get unless you see it in person. Sometimes a picture or a book just doesn’t do a thing justice.

7.) Healthy alternative

Last, but certainly not least, are the health benefits of walking daily. Walking has been known to do everything from helping one to lose weight to improving their overall mood. It is green and healthier.

Anyway, I thought that I would share with you some reasons why I enjoy walking. Perhaps, I am just weird, but to me it is a great way to get to know a place. Are you a walker?

If you’re a walker, what motivates you to walk? What do you like about exploring a city by foot? Any experiences to share?

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3 comments

  1. I’m a walker too. I love exploring that way, just following your nose or something that catches your eye. Thinking back I’ve some great memories from those random walks while travelling. Thanks for the prompt to reminisce!
    Ruth Elisabeth recently posted…How learning styles affect language learningMy Profile

  2. I love walking, both at home and when I’m traveling. I work in downtown San Francisco and regularly take “urban hikes” after work up the numerous giant hills surrounding the neighborhood – it’s the perfect antidote to sitting in an office all day. And walking really is the best way to get to know a new place, geographically and culturally.

    Found your site while looking for Puerto Rico travel info, but love lots of your articles! You are a very thoughtful writer.

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