Why go hiking?
Hiking is the most popular adventure activity for travelers according to a recent study from the Adventure Travel Trade Association. But why is it that more and more people choose to spend their holidays walking up and down mountains – and why might you?
Standing on the top of a snowcapped mountain or in the middle of a valley covered in colourful flowers with nothing but spectacular views and the sounds of nature around you is quite the opposite of staring into a computer, trying to concentrate on the next item on your to-do-list in an open plan office where you’re constantly disturbed by phones, social media and other people’s conversations. I might be painting a very black and white picture here, but it seems like a lot of people are drawn to hiking because it is so different to their normal day-to-day life. A hiking holiday is all about simple living; all you basically need to do is hike, eat and sleep. This forms a stark contrast to a typical modern lifestyle that tends to be filled with obligations and chores. When it comes to hiking the emphasis is on being rather than doing, which is a need experienced by more and more people.
Back to nature
So a hiking holiday is a chance to slow down, but it is also a chance to connect with nature, which will actually help the slowing down process according to more and more studies. Apart from being hectic, a modern lifestyle (especially in cities) also tends to be quite disconnected from the natural world, so a lot of people experience a yearning for the great outdoors. A hiking holiday is an ideal opportunity to comply with that yearning. Because hiking is a slow-paced activity you have time to really take in the surroundings – not just with your sight, but with all your senses: You can feel the air, the sun and the rain on your skin; you can smell the trees, the flowers, the sea; hear the birds sing and the rivers babble. If you’re lucky you can find blueberries or wild strawberries along the way and thus engage your sense of taste as well. In recent years many scientific studies about nature’s influence on our health has been carried out, and it turns out that nature offers one of the most reliable boosts to our mental and physical well-being from improved short-term memory and concentration, stress relief and reduced inflammation to a better vision and a stronger immune system.
Picture this: You have been hiking for five or six hours, your body is tired, all your senses have been stimulated and after a chilly start with some wind and showers the sky is now clear blue and the sun is beating down. You can see your accommodation in the distance and know you are close to the finish line. Then you reach the accommodation: you check in, leave your daypack in the room, substitute the hiking boots for flip-flops and then sit down on the outdoor terrace with the cold beer you have been dreaming of for the last hour. Never has a beer tasted better or felt more deserved! A natural, physical tiredness fills you along with a deep satisfaction and a sense of having achieved something. And you have! Because while you have taken in landscapes and let your mind wander your body has been at work and you will be rewarded with the numerous physical benefits of hiking: it improves your cardiovascular fitness (especially if the route is hilly), the slightly uneven surfaces provides a natural way to engage your core muscles and hones your balance skills, you burn calories and increase your general fitness, it decreases blood pressure, lowers cholesterol and improves your quality of sleep. To be honest the list just goes on, and the great thing about hiking is that it’s so adaptable to individual needs and circumstances; you don’t have to be super fit to do it and you’re in complete control of the pace.
To many people – including me – the community spirit and camaraderie with fellow hikers is another great appeal. On a hiking holiday you often end up meeting some of the same people again and again and the first evening’s short chat might turn into a longer conversation on the second or third evening. By the end of the week you might have exchanged contact details and made friends for life. In my experience hikers are generally very friendly and open-minded people curious about the country they are in and the people they meet, who usually come from many different countries. This means that striking up a conversation is normally very easy, so even if you’re hiking on your own you won’t have to lack social interaction.
Few recreation activities offer as much benefit in return for as little as hiking does. It’s hard to find any downsides to a hiking holiday really – unless you’re very unlucky with the weather of course. Before I did my first hiking holiday it had been on my list of things to try out for a while, but I had no idea I would get as hooked as I did. I hiked around Mont Blanc for a week and it was one of the best holidays I had ever had. I now go on hiking holidays a few times a year and it has become an important part of my life. After a few days of hiking I have forgotten all about my to-do-list and my brain gets into a much more relaxed and creative thinking mode. When I get back I feel recharged physically as well as mentally. What’s not to like?
“Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So… get on your way.” – Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!