Sometimes when I tell people how we walk everywhere most of our trip (in Paris and Lisbon in particular) people think I am crazy. Some of these cities have great metro systems that can get you anywhere you want in and out of the cities, why would you want to walk?
First of all, many people complain that they end up gaining weight on trips. They eat too much. They lounge around too much. They stop going to the gym or working out for the time they are on vacation. This usually equals a sense of the feeling like they are getting out of shape, or gaining weight. But this doesn’t always have to be the case. Sure, we could allow ourselves to do as little as possible, it is our vacation after all, but by walking whenever you can, you can stop yourself from getting to that point. We go to the extreme and walk anywhere within a 1-2 hour walk away, as we don’t like to rush things. So when getting somewhere for a certain time isn’t an issue, taking your time and walking somewhere within reasonable distance. is a nice option to keep in shape.
Having to work to find your destination makes it all the more satisfying when you get there. Have you heard about how exercise releases endorphins? Well think about how much better an experience you will have flooded with endorphins from a nice brisk walk all the way to the eiffel tower? or Pena National Palace? Not only a sense of accomplishment from finding your way, and walking 5 kilometres up hill to reach the castle on the hill, but actual feel-good brain chemicals making it all the more enjoyable.
Another reason I love to walk places is that you get to really take it all in. New cities are meant to be explored. Why rush from thing to thing, as its not about the destination, it’s the journey. You get to see so many things along the way when you choose to walk somewhere. You may think you are ‘missing out’ because you don’t get to see 5 different tourist attractions in one day, instead you only see two, but you get to see things you wouldn’t have seen, along the way. In Lisbon, where we were exploring last week, we came across wall after wall with such incredible graffiti during our walks around the city. Everything from the typical tags of the artists, to intricate buildings covered in well thought out pieces of art. You find local restaurants that you wouldn’t have if you just googled places to eat and took a train there. When exploring Paris, we wandered around until we felt like a coffee or lunch, and when we did we stopped at local cafes along the way. In Lisbon, we stumbled upon markets along the street, that we may not have come across had we taken a bus or train. We found amazing little lemonade stand that had some of the best lemonade I’ve ever had.
And the views, sure you can take a train to Montparnasse in Paris and get an incredible view of the city, or take a bus up to the Pena Palace in Sintra to see the incredible colourful castle. But when you go by foot, and wander up the hill, you get to see different views of the attraction you are going to see. We spent time wandering up from the metro stop (had to take a train from Lisbon to Sintra, it’s a little too far for walking) up to the castle, while everyone else drove by in buses and cars. We got to see the cool unique houses along the way, and the view of the castle from different points. We also walked the path around the hill the castle is situated on, to get other perspectives. And managed to see probably the most breathtaking view of the castle itself, where we were alone, as most people just take the bus up to the castle, and the bus back down. You get views others don’t, because they are rushing to get to the attraction, without truly seeing it.
Beyond all that, traveling for me is all about the experience and the adventure of it all, and who doesn’t want to remember everything that can about an experience. Sights, sounds and smells can all evoke emotionally charged memories, meaning by letting all your senses be stimulated while exploring a new city, the more likely you are to remember. So by taking your time, taking it all in, every sight, every smell, every taste, every touch and every sound, that a city has to offer, you really get the whole experience, and it will last a lot longer. I can tell you that I will never forget going to the abandoned Monsanto Panoramic Restaurant, even though we took a bus up to it (it’s a pretty far walk, all up hill), we walked back to our Air BnB from it, and through the Monsanto Ecological Park which had a distinct smell of forest (one we don’t get here in the desert) and the views over Lisbon, along with the sounds of the birds chirping, wind blowing, and a natural silence, as barely a person or car was seen along the walk down to the city. It was unforgettable.
And I suppose for some people, when you are on a budget, walking can reduce your costs. Saving a few dollars a day on transportation eventually adds up on a long trip. Might as well walk the few blocks somewhere than take a metro, cab, uber or bus. I can see how that would be appealing for the budget-conscious traveler. At the moment, I am lucky in that though I do appreciate saving dollars whenever I can, it is not necessarily a worry of mine.
So I encourage those who travel to take the extra time to walk to the attractions they are going to visit. Spend at least one day in a new city walking with no purpose. Some of my favourite days of travel in new cities have been simply setting out on a walk around town with no destination in mind, just finding my way around and seeing what I find along the way. Nothing beats getting lost in a new city on purpose.