Walking trips offer a unique and memorable way to explore new and interesting places. For more than 20 years, my sister, Betsy Smith, and I have explored many parts of the world, mostly on foot. Our preference is feet-on-the-ground exploring rather than cruises or other travel options. It’s the ultimate slow travel, taking your time to get from one place to another. You are close to the ground and close to experiences you would never have if you were traveling by car or bus. And after a good long walk, you can eat all you want!
We challenge ourselves not only by walking each day of our trip, but by exploring new parts of the world. Our trips have ranged from exotic (Egypt, South Africa, and Patagonia) to more traditional (England, Scotland, Italy, and Spain). We have traveled with several different companies that offer walking and hiking trips, including Wilderness Travel and Country Walkers. The trips are rated, allowing travelers to determine the one best suited to their level of walking. The tougher walks might be longer and include more elevation.
The groups are small, ideally ten or less, and usually congenial, as everyone shares a love of walking. You should be in good shape and have accrued some mileage on the ground at home before you commit to a trip, and wear good shoes or boots. As our annual trips approach, we ramp up our walking miles. All our trips involve some altitude. It’s not easy to practice climbs when you live on a very flat island in Florida or a coastal community in Maine!
The companies do all the planning. They take your luggage from place-to-place and arrange accommodations and meals. Best of all, they offer experienced, local guides who know the best places to walk and stay, as well as all the points of interest. Some trips are self-guided, in which they move the luggage and arrange hotels, but you plan your walking days using their maps and guides.
When I’m asked to pick a favorite trip, it’s almost impossible. Each trip is a new experience, with unexpected insights and, yes, some not-so-fun experiences. We have had our share of scraped knees and even black eyes. Sometimes a serendipity moment is the most memorable. We have stumbled on wedding ceremonies in some of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world. Simple “aha” moments can be the best.
A trophy walk for many trekkers is the famous Camino, or the Way of St. James. It was one of our most memorable. Starting in Burgos, we followed the famous pilgrim path for 10 days to the holy city of Santiago de Compostela. We mixed with real pilgrims who carried everything on their backs and walked 20 to 30 miles per day, staying in hostels. Our mileage was more modest, and accommodations much gentler.
In 2020, Covid forced us into a time-out. Planning our first walk in two years, we selected the Lake District in England, a place we were familiar with, and a relatively short flight from the East Coast. Over the years, we have enjoyed a variety of trips in England, including the famous 182-mile Coast-to-Coast Walk (across Northern England from St. Bees on the west coast to Robin Hood’s Bay on the east coast), Cornwall, and the Cotswolds.
The Lake District was a good choice this year. It offers beautiful scenery, gentle walks, and all things English. We walked each morning, enjoyed a pub lunch, and set out again on an afternoon walk. We averaged between miles 6 to 9 miles a day, across relatively flat terrain and around lakes. Sometimes we included “culture” stops, like Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage and Hilltop, the home of Beatrix Potter.
We look forward to more walking adventures. Choosing and planning the trip is part of the fun. We are looking through catalogs and discussing the pluses and minuses of different places we might visit. We are very glad that travel restrictions have been eased and we are back on the trail!