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Travel on Foot
The Ultimate Slow Travel

hiking Los QuetzalesLos Quetzales, Panama

Travel on foot - it's called different things in different countries: walking, trekking, tramping, rambling, hiking, bushwalking, bushbashing...

It's the ultimate slow travel, taking your time to get from one place to the next, as close to the ground and the people as you possibly can.

It's more than just sport - walking places is about proximity, intensity and experience. Rather than seeing as much as possible, it's about going as deeply as possible. To a backpacking woman, travel on foot should at least be c onsidered, if not for long distances, certainly for short ones.

Why should you even consider travel on foot?

  • it's sustainable and environmentally friendly - it's hard to pollute when you're walking (especially if you pick up after yourself)
  • it keeps you fit, destressed and serene
  • it puts you in touch with nature
  • it allows you to meet local people along the way
  • it brings you close to the tastes, smells and sounds of your host country
  • and, it's free!

There's not really much to it: you make the decision, point yourself in the right direction, and begin walking, right?

Almost - because walking does have a few rules to it. While solo travel is admirable in most cases, walking is one activity best undertaken with other female travel companions - especially if you care about safe travel.

Here are a few basic rules to help you stay safe when you travel on foot:

  • always wear something bright enough to be seen
  • let someone know where you're going, and when you expect to arrive
  • try to team up with other hikers
  • talk to incoming backpackers to assess the situation, especially from a safety point of view
  • carry a good map/GPS/personal locator beacon
  • bring along plenty of water and food - and possibly a walking stick to help you walk and to ward off snakes and wild dogs

While trekking from one place to the next has plenty going for it, there are some downsides...

  • you'll see less than someone whizzing by on motorized transport
  • this kind of travel requires more time - it's not so viable if you're on a short trip and have limited time
  • you'll spend a lot of time dirty, sweaty and tired, with no shower in sight
  • it's physically demanding so your health and fitness are factors
  • your equipment will wear out faster
  • depending where you are, distances can be huge and walking nearly impossible as a result
  • it can be dangerous, in countries with conflict, disaster or extreme poverty

Despite these constraints, travel on foot remains a viable alternative. I'd love to do more of it - the best I've managed so far is to walk over a mountain from one town in Central America to another.

There are two types of this kind of travel. One is hiking, as in following a long trail, such as the pilgrimage to Santiago or the tour du Mont-Blanc. The other is long-distance travel or trekking for long distances, like walking across a continent or country.

Plenty of women practice the art of walking long-distance. Paula Constant walked more than 4200 kilometers across the Sahara, much of it on her own. And remember Ffyona Campbell? Her walk around the world broke all records but was controversial - it was publicity-laden and she later admitted to having hitched a ride for a short stretch while she was pregnant, a revelation that somewhat diminished her undertaking.

Slackpacker pulls together hiking resources and tales from across Africa. For Asia, try Real Travel, a collection of trekking blogs. A starting point for South America can be found at About.com's South America travel page.

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