January 17, 2023
I love that so few words in Latin can inspire a vast collection of thoughts. Solvitur Ambulando translates roughly as “It is solved by walking”, and for most of us we can immediately pinpoint more than one meaning to this expression. For the body, for the mind, for our peace of mind, for our problem solving, for resting our attention, for our disconnecting, for our re-connecting, for our contemplation, for our restoration.
The human body, imperfect it may be, is designed for walking. Our bodies benefit from even a modest amount of mobility. For certain our minds do too. It comes as no surprise to conclude that I feel better after a walk.
My body is typically reluctant at first. It requires some convincing at times, especially if a demonstrably comfortable option is also on offer. I am lazy by nature. As a young fella I was very very active and “full of beans”. Now in my fifties, those beans have long been replaced with guacamole. And yet I do feel better after a walk.
When I’m travelling in the Himalayas or the Arctic there is no shortage of inspiration to get me moving. I want to see the first light hit the snow-capped mountains, or listen to the glacial waters flowing down a valley, or meet the monks as they chant at the Gompa. Most of the time it doesn’t even feel like I’m pushing myself – more like being drawn forward. The walks become their own reward.
That’s not so much the case back home in the centre of Melbourne. I walk these streets every day, but for purpose more than pleasure. The footpaths are often clogged with smokers taking respite from their desk, or students with nowhere they need to be, or tourists waiting in a queue for a croissant they saw on TikTok. My favourite thing about trams in Melbourne is they give me a chance to avoid the footpath chaos.
Too often I give myself excuses to avoid a walk. When it’s too hot. When it’s raining. When I’ve just had a big lunch. When I’ve missed breakfast. When I have too many emails to respond to. When there’s a festival in town. When there’s a movie on TV. When I won’t get back in time for a Zoom. I have more excuses than walking routes.
But walk I must. In the past decade my health has been up and down, so keeping myself on two feet has been challenging at times. Trouble with plantar fasciitis. Trouble with osteoarthritis. Trouble with being too short for my weight; It feels as if gravity gets stronger with age! I’ve tried to keep active over the decades, but I was never going to run a marathon or cycle across Mongolia. My body is built for comfort instead of speed.
It turns out that keeping your body comfortable requires at least a modicum of movement. It’s a difficult equation because some of the ailments that prevent me from walking are best avoided with, you guessed it, regular walking.
Some folks just love exercise. They go to the gym and workout or go climb a mountain peak 1000m up. They speak of the endorphin rush; the same giddy buzz I get from rushing a few flights of stairs. I like my exercise like my coffee; nice and slow and without any drama. I like walking at a pace that lets me stop and listen to birds in the park. I like being surrounded by trees and nature. I like the sound of leaves crunching under foot. I like having all the time in the world to get where I’m going. I like when I don’t even get there because I stopped to watch a platypus in the creek.
The best walks are when I forget that I’ve even been walking. Your body gets into a rhythm, the breeze cools you down, and your thoughts wander like an ocean-going seal that got lost up the Yarra River. Solvitur Ambulando: your mind has time to contemplate the problems of the day and maybe even resolve a few of them.
There is a mindfulness practice that uses walking as a form of meditation. I won’t tell you I get anything near that level of focus myself, indeed I tend to err on the side of de-focused if anything. But I love that state of being disconnected with the online world and fully connected with the real world. Walking can do that.
For many people the major hurdle to walking every day is simply the time. Not everyone can spend two hours a day meandering in National Parks. Not everyone can get to a National Park without adding another hour or two to the journey. I’m very lucky that by leading Be Your Best tours I get a chance to reset my bad habits from home and make good habits on the road. We get out and about every single day. We eat well. We rest well. We laugh well. We are inspired by the wilderness and our companions. We get to meet wonderful people in wonderful places.
I always lose weight on these trips. Not because I’m pushing myself, but because I’m nurturing myself. I don’t go on a diet or do workouts at the gym, I just step into a better routine that my body appreciates. You could say that when I’m on a tour I am the best version of myself.
I have no trouble getting inspired to walk a little in the Himalayas. I’m not battling crowds on the footpath. I’m not distracted by emails from the accountant. I’m not listening to a podcast to block out the sound of cars and trucks. When walking in the Himalayas I am in the moment, and absorbing how lovely it is. Time moves slowly on these walks, and I move slowly too. There is never a rush.
One of the tricks we design into the tours is having additional guides at every step of the journey. If there’s a few people in the group who feel the need to push themselves harder than me, or walk a little faster, or take a longer route then we send them off with one of the guides to enjoy their walk at their pace. We try to accommodate their wishes. Everybody is on their own journey.
For me, a big key to making walks enjoyable is to walk slowly. Anyone who lives with chronic pain may recognise this wisdom. By taking a slower pace I can avoid causing trouble with my shins, or the plantars, or the hamstrings or the meta-tarsal joints. For me, the decision to walk slower means I can walk a lot further. I know slowing down feels like punishment to some folks, but for me it feels like salvation.
Solvitur Tarda Ambulando. It is solved by slow walking.
This is how we arrived at the idea of “Slow Travel”. It was no accident. We recognise that we often achieve our best by taking things gently. Too much of the travel industry is focused on maximising a checklist, instead of maximising your experience. Travel has been turned into an Amazing Race instead of delivering meaningful adventures. Our goal is to give you a deeply rewarding experience that you can genuinely call a holiday, not a workout. A holiday that leaves you feeling better in both the mind and body.
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