Urban or rural, easy or challenging, guided or independent -- somewhere out there is a walking tour to suit your interests and abilities. We'll show you the types of trips that are available, the pros and cons of walking independently, and whether a walking tour is right for you.
For travelers who are reasonably fit and enjoy being out in the open air, walking trips offer a number of benefits. Traveling on foot is the best way to get an intimate look at a local landscape and culture, whether you're strolling down cobblestone streets or hiking along forest paths. It's the ultimate in slow travel; you'll experience each destination at a leisurely pace, getting within a few yards of the local wildlife and examining the architecture up close rather than whizzing by in a car. As with other forms of slow travel, walking is also a great way to lower your environmental impact and minimize your carbon footprint.
If you tend to pick up a few pounds on every vacation, a walking tour is the perfect antidote. You won't feel guilty about eating that extra cream puff with your cappuccino at breakfast if you're climbing the Tuscan hills that afternoon! And unlike other adventure activities such as biking or kayaking, walking is something nearly any traveler can do any time, anywhere, without special training or equipment besides a comfortable pair of shoes.
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Why Not Walk?
Walking tours are geared toward a variety of fitness levels, but they aren't right for everyone. If you can't walk at a relaxed pace on level ground for at least an hour or two at a time, you may not be physically prepared for a walking tour.
On foot, you may encounter a wide variety of weather conditions, from light rain to extreme heat and humidity. Walking is a more physically demanding experience than riding in a climate-controlled car or bus. Travelers who book a walking tour should be willing to accept some occasional discomfort, including blisters or achy muscles.
Finally, walking is by nature a leisurely style of travel, enabling you to see a limited number of places in an intimate way. Travelers seeking to pack a lot of sightseeing into a small amount of time may be frustrated by the slow pace of a walking trip. If you prefer a faster-paced style of travel, a walking tour may not be right for you.
Walking Tours vs. Traveling Independently
If you want to make walking a major part of your next trip, there are several ways to do it. The easiest way is to book a trip with a tour operator that specializes in walking vacations. (Several are listed below.) They'll plan and guide all of your walks, organize lodging and meals, assist in case of injury, and transport your luggage each day so you don't have to carry it as you walk. Tours are generally led by knowledgeable local guides.
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The alternative is to travel independently, either by planning your own walks or by booking individual guided walking tours in each destination that you visit. (Guided walks and city tours are available just about everywhere; to find them, do an Internet search, consult a good guidebook or contact the local tourist office.) Traveling independently allows you a bit more freedom and is usually cheaper than booking a pricey package tour.
If you're an inexperienced hiker or headed out into an unfamiliar natural environment, we strongly recommend taking a guide, whether it's someone you hire just for the day or a group leader from a package tour. For in-depth backpacking and hiking tips, see REI.com.
Types of Tours
There are walking tours to suit nearly every interest and every level of fitness. You can choose an Italian culinary tour that involves easy strolling through small villages, or you can challenge yourself with a week of mountain hiking in the Andes. Accommodations vary widely as well, from camping tents to four-star hotels and luxury inns. Group sizes tend to be on the small size, ranging from 6 to 30 walkers per trip.
The easiest tours blend walking with traditional sightseeing -- so you may spend the morning on a country hike and then go shopping, take a cooking class or ride a bus to your next stop in the afternoon. More intense trips may involve walking or hiking steadily throughout the day, or combine walking with other outdoor activities such as kayaking or horseback riding. The most difficult trips are better described as trekking, and typically involve high altitude, rough conditions and specialized equipment. Many companies offer tours in several of these categories, so be sure to read each trip description carefully and choose the appropriate level for you.
Some companies offer special trips for different types of travelers, such as families, women or single travelers. Other tours focus on particular interests, like cooking or history.
Recognizing that some walkers may have different abilities and interests than their traveling companions, some tour operators such as Country Walkers offer multiple options each day -- like a moderate hike instead of a difficult one, or a museum visit instead of a walk around the village. Some tours are flexible enough that if you wake up one morning and simply don't feel up to hiking, you won't need to.