I did a lot of traveling last year. And by that I do mean, in fact, a lot. Hopping from America to New Zealand to Australia to Shanghai, I have partaken in a lot of different cultures and have seen a lot of different sights. But more than anything else, I walked. I would have a hard time guessing just how many miles I put into my boots this past year, but suffice it to say that they’ve all but fallen apart. Not even counting the actual trails that I’ve walked (750+ km over the past 12 months and counting), a far more significant portion of it that was just day-to-day getting around. A strange experience for a Dutch guy – as mentioned in an article on this site way back, in this country it sometimes feels as if kids can bike before they can walk.
And hey, there’s a lot to be said for taking a bike to get to places. Now that I’m back, I’m very happy that I’ve got my trusty steel beast to take me from A to B. In the busy daily lives we all lead, there simply wouldn’t be time to get everywhere we need to be if we went on foot every time. After all, why take an hour walk when you can get there in 10 minutes on your bicycle, and save yourself weary feet while you’re at it. It’s not just because my hiking boots look, I admit, rather non-fashionable in the middle of Amsterdam. It is also a matter of time, a matter of convenience.
This highlights precisely what I found so liberating about traveling, about taking the time to simply walk wherever I needed to go (and saving some money on bus fares while I was at it). On my bike, I don’t take the time to look around. For example, you end up failing to notice the myriad of adorable little shops lining the street – hell, just last week I found a shop I’d never noticed before on my way to Science Park, a trip I have made five days every single week for more than four years. When you’re walking, it’s no longer just about getting somewhere: it becomes much more about the in-between. On a bike, you’ve only got eye for getting from A to B, and, even though it is admittedly a bit of a cliché, you forget to take the time to enjoy the journey.
When was the last time you took a walk? When you simply allowed yourself a breather from your studies, went outside, and wandered? Hell, I did that maybe once a year, and I’d usually start wondering about that homework question or what I was going to do tomorrow or something else, which I could be (or should be) doing right at that time but wasn’t.
That’s the gift of traveling: allowing yourself to let go, just for a moment, and just exist in the moment. That’s something I’ve never felt so strongly as when I was hiking – surrounded by nothing but nature for miles, with nothing I could possibly be doing other than just putting one foot in front of the other, free from any thoughts to cloud the mind, flâneuring myself into utter calm. Perhaps we don’t need to stop and smell the roses. But we could get off our metal racing machines every once in a while, and walk past them, slowly.