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How about walking on sunshine ... on trails all over the world

May 2012

You are a walker.

Sometimes, you tread for two or three hours. You find nothing more exhilarating than meandering in the open air. In your mind, you’re tuned to a channel called calm, a station called mindfulness. Your face glows from the warm sun.

Inspired by this joy, Ben Magagnin took on a “distance” challenge by joining the Camino de Santiago de Compastela. “For 24 days, I forgot about my troubles. This walk takes you away from your personal stuff … it’s like an act of cleansing, and when you return home, you feel emotionally refreshed.”

Magagnin, an English as a second language teacher, walked 805 kilometres—backpack in tow. He started in France, wound through the Pyrenées and ended his journey at the burial place of St. James the Apostle in Santiago, Spain.

Camino organizers offer a number of less-arduous options like escorted tours where they move your luggage and pre-book accommodations along a trek-friendly route.

For Magagnin, the social aspect is paramount. “When you spend unhurried time with people, you can’t help but be touched in some way.”

The combination of camaraderie and physical exercise has propelled walking tours into a significant travel niche to explore such natural wonders as Hadrian’s Wall, Machu Picchu, the Scottish Highlands, the Canadian Rockies and even Bhutan.

Country Walkers organizes vacations and provides difficulty ratings for on-foot tours in 60 destinations including Africa, Asia and South Pacific, South America, Europe, Latin America, Antarctica and, of course, North America.

Backroads offers tantalizing mixed-ability challenges. Ramble through the hills of Tuscany to savour the cuisine and wines of the area with treks through the countryside and medieval hill towns. Or how about a more exotic ramble through Cambodia and Vietnam to explore Angkor Wat, Halong Bay and Hoi An.

Walking Adventurers International hosts tramps in Brazil, Scandinavia, Alaska, Sicily and even Quebec and the Maritimes. These itineraries don’t mean you walk from one country to another. They provide transportation.

Check out Walking Connection’s New York Walking Weekend September 7-10. For $1,000, not including flight, they promise excellent accommodations and visits to award-winning restaurants, museums and attractions.

To give you an idea of difficulty levels, a walk considered easy lasts up to four hours and covers three to 10K. A moderate walk could last six hours and covers six to 16K. A moderate to challenging walk lasts about seven hours and covers 10 to19K.

For specific destinations, talk to the tour operator and ascertain the degree of challenge. Magagnin recommends training for a number of weeks before the event.

To sample a walking holiday, try a city walking tour such as Toronto, which posts self-guided tours on its website. You can even download an MP3 audio component from the site.

My favourite is New York’s Big Onion Walking tours. These last three and a half hours. Unique tour ideas (The Gangs of New York) or old favourites (the Brooklyn Bridge, Harlem, Lower East Side) make for fascinating mini-journeys guided by history or architecture students.

To complement your stroll, you can download an iPhone app from CityWalks Guides that focuses on walks in major cities. To keep a scientific tab on your walking challenge, a free app called MapMyWalk acts as a pedometer, GPS, calorie tracker and a “connector.” to share your experience.

Perhaps an on-foot vacation is just the gift you need to get fit and explore the world, one step at a time.



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