Want to get outside and go walking alone, but feel nervous about getting lost / hurt / bored? Let me help…
It’s funny to think that we all dream of travelling to far off places but rarely do we give our backyards, neighbourhoods and cities much thought (until 2020 hit of course). When we do make our way overseas, we sometimes blitz through attractions via trains, buses and car rentals. What happened to the good, old-fashioned way of exploring – walking?
With our wanderlust stifled due to the pandemic, many people finally realised the freedom in walking their locale (me included).
It’s not as easy for some people though. Whereas some waltz along with confidence and earphones, others find it intimidating to be out walking alone. Depending on where you live, your life experiences, and who else is around, walking alone can actually feel pretty overwhelming.
I actually love walking alone – it gives me chance to listen to my podcasts, to gather my thoughts, and to go at a pace that suits me, to where I want. I’ve walked alone all over the world and so want to share some tips for anyone who’s feeling anxious at the prospect of solo walking, whether that’s in the city or the countryside.
Benefits of walking alone
Walking in general has plenty of health benefits, but why walk alone? Simply put: you can focus on you.
There’s no pressure to be good company or to compromise on the route. You don’t have to think about anything or anyone else that you don’t want to. Reduced noise makes reflection easier too; there’s no running away from conversations with yourself.
1. Choosing your path and pace
One obvious benefit of walking solo is choosing where you want to go and how quickly you move. Whether you plot a route out or go where your feet takes you, it’s all up to you.
2. Walk on your schedule
It’s difficult to scrape out a consistent walking schedule, not to mention coordinating a walk with friends.
Walk alone and there’s no standing around waiting in the cold for someone else. Taking walks by yourself means much more flexibility regarding time – you can literally walk out the door now if you’re free!
3. Concentrate on your form
No walking buddy equals no chatting buddy. You can focus on your walking posture and form (if you’re treating this as an exercise session) without any immediate distraction.
If you do want to reap the physical benefits, make sure you’re keeping your elbows close to your body as you pump those arms; engage your core and glutes.
4. It is what you make it
Why do you walk?
Meditation, adventure or exercise – we all have our own reasons for walking. Depending on the day, you might want a gentle stroll with plenty of rest stops or a fast brisk walk through town. In going solo, you can adjust to the purpose. You can focus on what you started out to achieve.
5. Walk to the beat of your playlist
I don’t know about you but I curate playlists just for my walks. I also love going for a walk when Spotify tells me there’s a new album by one of my favourite artists too. Perfect opportunity to really get into it.
With no obligations to make conversation, I’ve never felt freer to pop my earphones in.
I also love listening to my podcasts when I’m walking alone. My favourites are all these brilliant podcasts by ladies in travel, as well as The Guilty Feminist, Travel Goals and the Global Newscast.
Of course, while it’s nice to move to the beat of whatever musical you’re into at the moment; it’s also nice to spend some time taking in the natural sounds around you. Take them out every now and then to soak up the soundscapes.
6. Maybe make some new friends
Chances are, you may be drawn into friendly conversation when you’re out alone! Especially if you have a dog. It could be someone walking in the same direction or that friendly coffee vendor; you never know where connections happen.
I mean, not now, obviously. Or for the rest of 2021 in fact, but one day. When we’re allowed to make new friends again…
7. Stop anytime, anywhere, for anything
When you’re walking alone you can make as many pit stops as you’d like – whether it’s a coffee break, new boutique store or attractions you haven’t had the time for.
Or maybe you’re building up your stamina, so you can take as many breathers as you need.
I feel like this is a big plus for people who tend to be slightly anxious around others, or who are people pleasers – the time to be alone and walk just makes it all the more relaxing.
8. Learn to spend time with yourself
Knowing how to spend time alone is extremely important – especially with enforced social distancing. Often, we’re kept busy with social gatherings, work obligations and off-work distractions. Walking alone puts a distance between you and those external noises. You get to actually reflect or process things that you’ve experienced or are struggling through.
I spent three years travelling the world solo, so I know how to spend time alone. I’m perfectly happy in my own company for long periods of time thanks to all this training!
My favourite walking alone quote….
“I love walking in the woods, on the trails, along the beaches. I love being part of nature. I love walking alone. It is therapy. One needs to be alone, to recharge one’s batteries.”– GRACE KELLY
Town and city walks alone
For first-timers who walk alone, the city or town is generally a great place to start. It’s nothing you aren’t used to when going to work or going out to meet with friends; just slower and with different purpose.
Start with walks you’re familiar with so you can get used to the feeling it evokes. Explore your neighbourhood or take in your commute route at slower speeds.
Next, bring out a map!
Mark down places you haven’t been before but have wanted to check out. Organise them into clusters and plan routes that will check-off your ‘to-see’ points. Finally, when you’re comfortable in your own skin, lose the map.
Part of the fun of going for walks alone is being spontaneous and not knowing what you’ll find. You might find cosy corner cafés or hidden library three-stories up. You might stumble across a beautiful alcove or serene green spaces.
That said, do:
- Keep your phone fully charged and with you at any time. Safety is paramount and you need to be able to contact someone.
- Watch out for cars or pedestrian traffic; don’t get lost in your head.
- Wear comfortable shoes even if you’re on paved streets.
- Allocate sufficient time. You don’t want to rush it.
- Prepare your playlist if you’re planning on listening to music; choose something relaxing or jazzy to lift your mood. Sometimes I will wear just one earphone bud, just so I can listen out for people or any approaching danger. Depending on how well I know the city I find it just helps me to feel more confident.
- Go out in the mornings or shoulder hours so you’re not squeezing through the rush hour crowd.
- Dress appropriately – I don’t mean like that. I mean, if it’s raining, wear a raincoat. Sunny? Take sunglasses. If you’re faffing around walking in the rain trying to cover up, or take clothes off, that’s when you’re vulnerable.
- Visit places you haven’t been before – part of the experience is discovering new spaces!
After living in London for 7 years, and travelling to cities all over the world, I now feel confident enough walking alone, one earbud in, and my phone always charged, with a spare battery pack in my bag.
“The more you go out by yourself, the more ‘normal’ it will seem. Go on that first walk, keep it simple, and push yourself further out of your comfort zone each time.”– ME
Countryside walks alone
On the other hand, those with handy access to rural areas can enjoy some fresh air and extra sun, with a side dose of beautiful landscapes and a sense of freedom.
Something about nature makes it easier to connect with our spiritual side. At the very least, it takes your mind off everyday stresses and digital exhaustion. If you’re worried about walking alone, start with a well-trodden, popular path that either loops or takes you to a convenient transportation stop.
If you want to go to the next level try one of the physically challenging hikes that take you up high or further out. You could also go on challenge weekend getaways, where you can fully immerse in exploring the countryside. Or maybe even have a go at wild camping one day.
There are downsides to this rejuvenating distance however. Being away from urban comforts mean you have to pay extra attention to your safety, but in a different way. You’re not going to get mugged, but you might fall over.
You don’t have the herd safety that walking with friends would bring. If you’re walking alone in the countryside there are a few extra precautions you could take…
- Stick to familiar or populated routes; it’s good to have people around whether to negate human dangers (like being mobbed) or to help during medical emergencies.
- Avoid deep-forest trails in case of health emergencies such as bad falls, broken bones, allergy attacks, animal attacks, etc.
- Pack a little first aid kit – bandages, allergy medicine, anything else you may need.
- Bring along a walking stick or pole to navigate uneven terrain or ward off animal attacks.
- Let someone know what route you’re taking and how long you expect to be out.
- Check the weather forecast; don’t go out if there’s an incoming storm or seasonal risks.
- Don’t walk with earphones in if there could be a threat of animals. It’s better to be alert when you’re out in the wilderness. Enjoy the silence.
Of course, you don’t have to do all these things. I’m just trying to calm down your anxiety levels about walking alone here. If you bought all that you’d end up with a huge bag full of ‘just in case’ things weighing you down.
Another tip, for both walking along in the city and countryside is not to carry too much. The more you have dragging you down, the more distracted you’ll be. Stay as light as possible to stay nimble. I love walking through Portsmouth and on Southsea Beach with just my coat and my keys and phone in my pocket. I feel so much lighter.
“Always take plenty of water and snacks!”– ME
Safety in walking alone at night
Sometimes, our need for space doesn’t just come in the day!
Walking alone at night can be peaceful and pleasant, but it comes with additional dangers too. For one, crime happens more frequently when the crowds have retreated home, it’s unlikely anything will happen but also totally pays to be prepared.
There are a few extra precautions to stay safe when walking alone at night. To stay safe, follow these tips:
- Walk purposefully. When you walk like you have a destination, it implies two things: that you’re alert, and that someone may be waiting for you. Holding your head high and walking with good posture also gives off ‘don’t touch me’ vibes – confidence can be intimidating.
- Be engaged. And I mean engaged with your surroundings! Don’t get distracted with your phone or walk with your eyes down. That makes you easy pickings. Again, careful with earphones and headphones – especially noise cancelling ones.
- Use safety devices. Make sure you have a way to call for help if necessary. This can be a whistle, pepper sprays for disorientation, or alarms that function as a GPS tracker. Or, a really loud booming or piercing voice.
- Carry something in hand. Anything heavy or potentially dangerous (like an umbrella or even a key) will put off potential attackers. I used to live in a dodgy area in London and would hold my key outwards in between my index finger and middle finger so if anyone gave me any grief – I’d be prepared.
- Stay in well-lit and populated areas. Definitely avoid alleyways and dark corners where would-be criminals can hide from you. Be smart about how you walk – try to stay near areas with people; if you have to pass an alleyway, give it a wide berth.
- Trust your instincts. We have ‘bad feelings’ for a reason. If you feel uncomfortable, there’s probably a reason for it.
- Choose help carefully. Don’t just stop a random stranger for directions or help unless you trust they’re safe. It’s better to drop by an open store or restaurant, or a police station.
- Let others know. Let someone know you’re going out and when you expect to return. When you’re walking alone at night it’s good to have someone check you get back in, if possible.
“Almost three-quarters of young women aged 16 to 24 years in England and Wales reported feeling fairly or very safe walking alone in their area after dark in April 2019 to March 2020 (74%), an increase of 16 percentage points compared with five years previously (58%). Despite these gains, young men of this age continued to more frequently report feeling safe in these circumstances than young women in April 2019 to March 2020 (86% compared to 74%). ”– Office for National Statistics (ONS), October 2020
Apps for walking alone safely
What Three Words – if you need help and your location is ‘by a river on a cycle path in the park’ you’re pretty screwed. Download What Three Words so you can tell any services or friends exactly where you are on a tiny grid.
The ‘Lifeline’ feature on the AllTrails app – upload a route, send it to up to five ‘lifelines’ using either their email or phone number and while you’re out it will track you and keep these people up to date with your progress. If you stop for a long time, go off route or are behind schedule, it’ll automatically message them and they can see your location. You can also send messages through it to let your ‘lifelines’ know how you’re getting on. Costs around £20 for the year.
Walking alone gifts you with so many benefits, from physical health upgrades to some much needed mental downtime. Actively engage with your surroundings for the best effect. Whether you’re walking 1000 miles or just a few, it’s so good for your all round health.
Embrace your curiosity about new shops, parks, repurposed spaces and more – there’s no one to hold you back from going where you want to go when you walk alone.
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