To Let Your Mind Wander, Travel on Foot

From a Times Insider column by Sarah Bahr headlined “To Let Your Mind Wander, Travel on Foot”:

Not every walk is a walk in the park.

One might decide to trek 1.6 miles through Singapore’s red-light district, for example, and stop along the way to sample local delicacies like mud crabs and frog porridge. Or take a 750-mile pilgrimage across 28 days and 88 temples on Shikoku, the smallest of Japan’s four main islands. Or even run through the rocky trails of the Dolomites, a mountain range in Italy.

But no matter how challenging or relaxing the journey, every one of the nearly two dozen long walks the Travel desk features in a new collection is designed to encourage people to slow down and contemplate their surroundings.

“One of the great things about walking is that your mind can roam, and you can contemplate a place and understand it at a slower speed than the way we usually travel,” said Amy Virshup, the Travel editor at The New York Times.

In a recent conversation, she shared how the Travel team selected the strolls to feature and her own favorite walking route in New York.

How did the idea for this project come about?

We had been thinking about walking coming out of the pandemic, when people rediscovered it as a way to stay sane — I know I did. Then I got a pitch from a freelance writer who wanted to do something on all the new pilgrimage walks. I shared it with Suzanne MacNeille, another editor on the desk who spearheaded a lot of this, and I said something offhand to her like “2023 is the year of the long walk.” She said, “I love that title; we should do a whole issue with that idea in mind.” We started really planning it in February.

What factors did you consider when choosing the walks?

We wanted to make sure we covered a diverse geographic spread — we have a walk on every continent except Antarctica — and that we had a variety of urban, wild and rural locations. We also wanted to make sure we had a balance of narrative approaches. Some articles are very first-person, like the ones about Wales and Dolomites, while the Singapore piece is not first-person; it’s much more informative and atmospheric about what it’s like to be there.

Something we take seriously at The Times is that all different kinds of people travel. When we’re putting together a big package, we make sure that we’re including as many people as we can. For example, we have the guide to accessible hikes in national and state parks in the United States because we wanted to say, ‘Walking is not just for those of us who are able-bodied, but also for people, like those in wheelchairs, who might need more help.”

How much guidance did you give the writers?

We had kind of a checklist for the writers in the urban walks piece, because we wanted to make sure they were walks people could do in an afternoon that included places to eat, shop and see the sights. Others were a bit looser in terms of what we wanted.

I would just like to take a moment to commend whoever decided a food crawl counted as a walk.

Just because you’re stopping and eating along the way doesn’t mean it’s not a walk, right?

Do you expect that most people will take one or more of these walks?

There are some of these, like the roundup of urban walks, that I could see somebody either saving on their phone or clipping and saving from the Sunday print section, and going on. I could see that with Singapore, too — you take that with you and find the restaurants the reporter, Christine Chung, wrote about.

Others are just inspiration for approaching walking and a vacation — do I think that people are going to do the pilgrimage of the 88 temples? Probably not the whole thing, but maybe they’ll get inspired to do something similar, or they’ll do a little bit of it sometime if they’re going to Japan.

Of the 17 walks you featured, do you have a favorite?

I’m a swimmer, so I love the Sydney walk because I love the idea of being able to stop and hit the beach, take a swim and then start walking again.

What is your favorite walking route in New York?

I’ve lived in New York for most of my life, and still, when I walk around in the West Village, I feel like I’m always discovering something and going on a street that I’ve never been on before.

Sarah Bahr is a senior staff editor at The Times. She has reported on a range of topics, most often theater, film and television, while writing for the Culture, Styles and National desks.

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