A walking vacation
January 19, 2020 5:23 PM   Subscribe

I have long had a notion of taking a trip which involves, largely, walking from one place to the next. How can I make this happen?

I have a nascent concept in my head of just….walking, for several days, more-or-less consecutively. Something along the lines of a British walking holiday (I understand this is a thing) is probably what I have in mind, although I’m not certain, exactly. I want to walk for most of the day; stop late afternoon/evening, putter around a town perhaps; rise, rinse, repeat. I’d like to make this happen sometime this year, if possible.

What do I need to know in order to make this happen? How do I prepare? Some relevant information below:

-I am a 35-year-old man. I’m not in terrible shape but I’m not an outdoorsy type and don’t get much exercise beyond walking. I have decent stamina for walking (I think), but I do have a history of back pain.

-When I say walking, I mean walking. Hills and moderate elevation shifts are fine, but I am not interested in scaling mountains (and probably couldn’t). There should be reasonably decent facilities for walking for the most part, although I don’t mind walking along the side of the road for short stretches as long as it’s safe.

-I have no experience camping, and am a light sleeper. I’d want an actual bed to sleep in every night.

-Assume I’d be doing this alone.

-I’d prefer a locale with interesting scenery and a good chance of consistently decent weather. I understand that the latter will vary with the time of year; I also understand that “decent” does not mean “perfect.” Note that I rather intensely dislike hot, humid weather.

-I would likely have a few days to about a week for this. At the longer end, I’d probably want to take a day in the middle to rest. At the shorter end, it might just be a long weekend.

-I live in NYC, and would like to consider local options, if any, and possibilities that involve flying or driving somewhere. Budget isn’t a huge concern.

Considering this, here are my questions:

-Where might I want to look into for doing this? As indicated, I’m aware of British walking holidays, though I’m not sure how that works in practice. I also understand that El Camino de Santiago in Spain may perhaps be something like this in parts. I’d be particularly interested in possibilities in North America, as I may not have time to travel abroad for this, but feel free to suggest places in Europe or Latin America that meet my criteria (I almost certainly will not have time to get to Asia, considering the jet lag).

-What gear should I get? A backpack, I assume? A walking stick or something like that? Boots or rain gear? What else?

-How should I prepare? If the answer is “walk” - and I’m sure it partly is - how much should I walk? Should I practice walking while carrying heavy loads? Elevation changes?

-What other questions and subjects should I be asking or looking into? What else should I be thinking about? I’m really just at the “let’s see if this vague notion is even a feasible idea” stage of thinking about this so any resources or information would be helpful!
posted by breakin' the law to Travel & Transportation (24 answers total) 128 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Go to REI and have them set you up with a backpack and boots. Practice walking similar distances in these boots that you would during your holiday.

I think what you want is most easily found by doing a British walking holiday, El Camino, or another pilgrimage walk (look into those in France to Mont St. Michel). Truly, why you have described (walking every day and sleeping in a real bed) is exactly what all of these provide. I’m planning on doing El Camino from Porto, Portugal this May and not only is what you describe available, also with a variety of price points for hostels and hotels along the way (and companionship from other pilgrims on the walk). The other advantage of these is the ability to sign up with a company and for a moderate fee they will bring your bag on to the next location each day if you don’t want to carry it or find it too taxing.

I think your biggest obstacle would be finding towns in North American that are 15 or so miles apart, have decent hotels available and allow you to walk through something other than cities but also have the infrastructure (paths, sidewalks) that would just be trudging alongside highways.
posted by raccoon409 at 5:39 PM on January 19, 2020 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I asked a similar question in 2018. It was great!

We used Contours, which a) booked the b&bs, b) provided luggage transfer each night, and c) provided an ordinance map & a detailed guide of our particular walk. We plan to use them again this summer for another walking trip in the UK.
posted by crazy with stars at 5:57 PM on January 19, 2020 [11 favorites]

Google self-guided walks.

For Europe, On Foot Holidays seem like a great fit. They are a British company offering self-guided walks in a number of countries. They have a good range of walks, with different difficulty levels and lengths to choose from. The accommodation providers will carry your luggage from A to B, and pack you lunch so all you’ll worry about is getting there. We used them for our honeymoon a while back and had a lovely time and we did mostly just walk, arrive at a new place by evening and do it again the next day. There’s other companies too of course, but I’ve only used On Foot. On preview Contours, which crazy with stars recommends sound very similar.

Agree that it’s a good idea to train in the boots you’ll be actually using by walking similar distances (or maybe just shorter but more regular walks if that’s more doable). A similar terrain too, if possible. Walking poles can be useful for going down hills and general stability. Plasters are good friends and I love Compeed blister plasters myself. As you have back pain, consider seeing a podiatrist to see whether you need orthotic insoles - they are a game changer. Otherwise, once you settle on the walk you’ll be able to look up a gear list that’s appropriate for your plans. For what you describe, I don’t think you need much specialist gear, just what you’re comfortable in.
posted by mkdirusername at 6:04 PM on January 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

Given your parameters, maybe this wouldn't fit with the current trip you have in mind, but if, after the first trip, you find yourself wanting to do a bit more walking, and you can make it to Japan, there's the Shikoku pilgrimage route, a complete circuit of the island that takes you to 88 temples along the way. It's been going on for so long that there's a whole industry based on it, with places to stay all along the route at a bunch of different price ranges. Walking the whole route takes about 3-4 weeks, but people have done it in bits and pieces, too. It's been on a list of things I'd love to do for years.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:11 PM on January 19, 2020 [6 favorites]

I walked the Coast-to-Coast in England with Mac's Adventures. It was great. They give you detailed directions, book your rooms, and shuttle your bags. They have plenty of trips, varying from strenuous to easy.
posted by suelac at 6:13 PM on January 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: With respect for preparing to walk (rather than setting out a specific itinerary), I have done a great deal of walking and I would recommend doing the following:

* buy ankle-supportive walking boots now and start wearing them in. Sneakers are not enough. There is no horror like trying to wear in new boots on a hike. Don't worry about buying the best or the most advanced boots, how much you pay is far less important than the number of times you've worn them before you start out.
* Just start walking, it doesn't matter how far you go or how much up or down, it's far more important that you just go walking over and over again. That's when you find out where you're going to hurt.
* get a hiking pack that rests on the strap that sits on top of your pelvis rather than on the shoulder straps. Your hips are stronger than your shoulders and carry weight more easily. Most packs designed for longer walking do this, most 'day packs' don't.
* walking poles are a matter for personal preference. Some people swear by them (especially people with existing injuries), others feel it's just more stuff to carry. Go for a walk, pick up a long stick, see if you like it.
* Rain/sun/cold gear to suit the climate you choose your holiday in. I have a broad-brimmed sun hat I like, in my country it's a necessary item.
* You will most of all need some means of carrying water. Assume 2-3L per day if you're walking hard. Your pack might come with a hydration bladder, they're pretty good. If it doesn't, bottles work fine but you should practice packing your bag around them, as the water is the heaviest---and most necessary---thing you'll carry.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 6:17 PM on January 19, 2020 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I've just been researching this! Apparently it's often called "inn-to-inn" hiking here in the US. Vermont has some inns/B&Bs that work for this, as does the Appalachian Trail in various states.

Retailers such as REI offer Backpacking 101 classes. Even though you won't be doing full-on backpacking, you'll want to be comfortable fending for yourself during the day.
posted by toastedcheese at 6:32 PM on January 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

Double. :-)

I settled on the Rheinsteig, which runs along the ridge of the Rhine valley. Although you're mostly hiking through nature (and the occasional vineyard or castle grounds) public transport is so easy and thorough that you'll only need to move hotels every few days, and you'll do that on a train so baggage weight doesn't matter. All you need is a pack for day hikes. (of course if you _want_ to lug your stuff along every day you can do that instead)

What caught me off guard as an office dweller was what it means to be on your feet eight hours a day. I had done some moderate training (I was in terrible shape) and I could handle any given day of hiking -- it was the cumulative day after day that caught up to me.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:01 PM on January 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: In 2018 I had the most wonderful walking holiday along the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path in Wales. We booked the tour through Great British Walks, but there are loads of companies that do this. What they did for us was book Bed and Breakfasts along the way, arrange for our luggage to be transferred from each B & B to the next, arrange drivers when needed, create a booklet with our itinerary and helpful information about pubs and places to eat, tides and things to watch out for, maps, lists of necessary equipment. We got ourselves there, though, and it was a bit of a journey (from NYC) I will admit, but omg when we got to that first B&B in the late afternoon and the landlady gave us tea and homemade cakes in the garden!!!

All we had to do was show up and start walking. It was the best vacation of my life. We'd have a big breakfast and typically get started by 9am. We walked between 8 and 12 miles each day, stopping for lunch at a pub on some days, on others grabbing a sandwich before heading out. Always ending the day at a pub. I live in NYC and typically walk 3-4 miles a day, and otherwise do nothing special in the way of exercise.

The only special items I really needed were hiking boots, a light weight raincoat, and a day pack.

My friend and I are probably going to go again this year, perhaps to Scotland.
posted by maggiemaggie at 7:17 PM on January 19, 2020 [13 favorites]

The Ice Age trail in Wisconsin is 1,000 miles long. I'm fairly sure you can plan a hike that would fit your wants. Probably you wouldn't want to do it in the winter.
posted by baegucb at 7:23 PM on January 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

Also I see you dislike hot, humid weather. The Pembrokeshire Coast in August was never above 80 degrees and certainly not humid. Be prepared for some drizzle here and there. One day was very foggy.
posted by maggiemaggie at 7:24 PM on January 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There are many places to stay, and at least one shuttle option, for walking the Superior Hiking Trail in Northern Minnesota. Depending on stretches you choose to so, some are very 'close to civilization' feeling and some stretches are far more 'hiking trail'. This might be a good introduction to 'walking for vacation' if it's close-ish to where you are. Also, it's gorgeous!
posted by Northbysomewhatcrazy at 7:26 PM on January 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

You can build a trip like this using a service like https://www.sherpavan.com/ or Contours as mentioned above.
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 10:54 PM on January 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

Again, UK/Euro-centric, but we used Inntravel to book a holiday doing more-or-less exactly this in Switzerland last summer. As with others, they book the accomodation and sort out transfer of luggage, provide (incredibly) comprehensive maps, directions and notes (including variations for difficulty/weather conditions) and you just... walk. It was brilliant, and we will very probably do it again.
posted by parm at 1:58 AM on January 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I walked out of the city a couple years ago along following the route of the Old Croton Aqueduct- did it in two epic days, you could easily space it out, I think four would be nice (it's roughly 40 miles). You're in civilization the whole way but once you get past Yonkers it's a nice wooded trail. Super easy!

I'm sure you could walk out onto Long Island, I've been dreaming of tracing the path of the Long Island Motor Parkway, much of it is still extant. Let me know if you do.
posted by Admiral Viceroy at 3:29 AM on January 20, 2020 [7 favorites]

I’ve done this sort of holiday. You need to go somewhere with a reasonably dense population where the current towns and villages were developed at a time when being walking distance apart was the only way to develop. England is wonderful for this with a lot of infrastructure in place for this style of holiday and many signed long distance walks.

I’ve tried to research this sort of trip in North America and anything more than a couple of days seemed to require camping (a hard no from my partner) or the host picking us up to drive to accommodation (a hard no from me).
posted by TORunner at 4:48 AM on January 20, 2020 [3 favorites]

New Zealand is famous for walking trails.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:07 AM on January 20, 2020

The Camino de Santiago is a pilgrimage in Spain that meets your needs. There are several routes; I did the Portuguese route and started in Portugal and walked to Santiago in Spain. I carried a back pack with clothes and a few personal items, but we stayed in pilgrim hostels every night so I didn't need camping gear or food. Every day, I walked in the morning and early afternoon following the yellow arrows, then stopped in a village or city and looked through the guidebook to decide where to stop the next night. It was really lovely!
posted by ceramicblue at 6:48 AM on January 20, 2020

I think you could do something like this on Cape Cod, though it might not be super-scenic - there’s a nice rail trail but it goes down the center of the cape, i.e. not along the beach.

I think the most important thing you can do in terms of getting ready is to do long walking days back-to-back. Like, if you’re thinking you’ll do 10-mile days, see how it feels to do 10 miles on Saturday and then another ten miles on Sunday.
posted by mskyle at 11:17 AM on January 20, 2020

From experience of UK and NZ tramping ...

Just saying if you walk in New Zealand you will need a car and be willing to camp in some cases or stay in huts. There are not as many services as in the UK so it’s more independent and back to nature. But if you want a nice walk punctuated by nice pubs in local villages UK is more that scene.

I like both countries but for different reasons.
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 12:12 PM on January 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you'd like to stay local, look at the Long Path and its side trails that lead into civilization. Unlike official walking tours, this would not include luggage transport, but if you plan it out to stay in a hotel or B&B each night, you'd only need to carry clothes.
posted by metasarah at 6:56 PM on January 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks to all! This is super-helpful info and definitely gives me a lot to look into! I could've marked every answer as a favorite even though I opted not to...

metasarah: What is the Long Path? I've never heard of it.

Admiral Viceroy: The Old Croton Aqueduct has actually crossed my mind! It also strikes me as a possible way to get my, erm, walking shoes broken-in (metaphorically, I realize I'd want to actually break them in prior to that) before looking into something a bit more complex and further afield. I'll have to check the Long Island Motor Parkway route, never heard of that - the history itself looks interesting, just glancing at the Wikipedia link.
posted by breakin' the law at 8:10 PM on January 20, 2020

Just to add that there are many excellent, long-established walks in Britain that fit the bill. The classics would be the Coast to Coast in England, and the West Highland Way in the Scotland (one of the best, scenery-wise). St Cuthbert's Way is a nice, short alternative in lowland Scotland. Weather is variable.

Personally I would vote against spending money on a company to organise it for you. All you really need is maps (Ordnance Survey), a guide-book (well worth it for the local knowledge and wisdom honed down the decades), and to book some B&Bs for accommodation. Doing it yourself is more flexible and in-tune with the independent, non-corporate vibe of long-distance walking. But it's up to you.
posted by matthewr at 8:51 AM on January 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

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