A mother walks with her daughter through the streets of Cuzco, Peru.
I’m in Southern California at the moment, staying with my parents, and I decided to go for a long walk last night. I didn’t go far, but I was gone for more than an hour and there wasn’t a soul in sight. During my walk, I saw quite a few cars, but very few people. In fact, I saw only one other individual the entire time I was walking – an old man with his dog, who seemed to run in the opposite direction when he saw me walking his way.
This got me thinking, “Where are all the American walkers?”
During my travels in South America, Europe, Africa and Asia, I’ve grown accustomed to seeing people walk. Walking, it seems, is the main way to get around in many parts of the world. To run errands… people walk. To meet with friends… people walk. To socialize and do business… people walk. For millions and millions of people all over the world, walking is a normal, everyday activity!
Here in the United States, however, you rarely ever see people walking – at least not for any real length of time. If you do see someone walking here in the USA, they are usually walking from their home to their car… or from their car to some nearby business or store. Few people seem to walk just to walk.
Large crowds of people walk through the streets of Istanbul, Turkey.
I’m sure that anyone who has ever lived in the United States and then traveled overseas has noticed this phenomenon. Or maybe you’ve lived overseas and then come to the United States and noticed the same thing? The truth is, my observations are not unique. There are a number of reasons why American’s don’t walk (i.e. an increased reliance on vehicles, the greater distance between cities and buildings, the negative social pressure that is exerted on those who walk, etc.), but it troubles me in a small and strange kind of way just how foreign we Americans are to the concept of walking.
More importantly, I now realize the social benefits of walking. In much the same way that riding a bicycle allows you to interact with the locals and stop to chat with those you meet along the way, walking is a great way to meet and get to know other individuals. When you don’t walk and instead shield yourself inside the safety of a motorized vehicle, you are shutting yourself off from the possibility of talking to another human being.
This, of course, is fine in some situations. There have been many times in my life where I simply did not want to talk to anyone else at that given moment. But now that I’ve experienced both worlds (the world that walks and the world that doesn’t), I have to say that I desperately miss the walking world.
Now that I’m back in the United States (for the time being), I miss being able to walk outside my door and talk to my neighbors. I miss not being able to easily walk to my local market (because it’s too far away for me to easily walk to). And more than anything, I miss the easy social interactions that walking provides. I miss all that, and even though I know I’ll be returning to Europe soon (where walking is the norm), I wish that when I left my parent’s home this evening I weren’t walking all alone.
An old woman walks through the streets of Lviv, Ukraine.