Traveling the World from My Sofa

Is Walking the New Traveling 1

By Bethany Browning,

Sure, Squid Game is exciting, but have you seen those videos where people walk through a city for an hour?

The concept is simple. You’re immersed in a specific time and place, observing a corner of the world through someone else’s camera. You don’t see the person filming unless you’re lucky enough to catch a glimpse of their reflection in a glass door or vending machine window. You see what they see.  Most of them don’t speak, which is a massive plus, in my opinion.

These videos are gripping. Will they turn left into the park or right toward the shops? Will they obey the crosswalk laws? Is that a cat? Why is it running? Why doesn’t anyone wear masks in public in Britain? Isn’t it cute how the Japanese wrap their statues in coats when it’s cold out?

My boyfriend and I love these videos so much we watch one every morning.

Today we observed the sacred deer at Nara National Park south of Kyoto as they nibbled rice cakes out of tourists’ hands. Yesterday, we watched women dressed as angels on stilts “floating” through a dazzling holiday display in London. In the past year, we’ve taken a train ride through the Alps, ambled through the Scottish Highlands and strolled under the Arcades du Cinquantenaire in Brussels.

We’ve figured out how to appease the travel bug without ever leaving the house, which has been pretty handy considering we’re taking this COVID business seriously. You’re not going to find us jetting off around the world any time soon. I prefer to stay home, where I know the people breathing on me.

But the honest truth is that we were done with travel before the lockdowns began. After several negative experiences with canceled flights, overpaying for basics and one nasty bout of whiplash in Hawaii, we decided to put a pin in travel plans for a while. Then COVID came along and made the decision easy to stick to.

We like adventure, though. We’ve always been big walkers. Our walking journeys through our own home region provide us with interesting scenery (and cardio!) that doesn’t require a pricey plane ticket or paying through the nose for substandard accommodations. Sometimes our walks are ankle-popping twenty-mile hikes on rugged trails and hard-to-find fire roads. Other times, we step outside the front door, pick a direction, and ramble along the sidewalk for a few hours.

We’ve walked every single street in the town where we live, and almost every hiking trail in our county and the next one over. It’s nothing for us to cover ten miles on a normal Saturday.

During lockdown, when many of us were going stir crazy, I noticed an uptick in an interest in walking. It’s healthy, it’s free, and most people can participate. Walking is also prescribed by doctors for mood elevation (and who hasn’t needed a lift over these past two years?). It’s nearly impossible to be in a bad mood while you’re on a brisk walk.

Plus, you discover things about your locale that you may never have seen if you only drove through it. We’ve seen hidden sculptor’s studios, exotic back yard pets, secret swimming holes and mysterious meditation labyrinths—all within a few-mile radius of our perfectly normal suburban house.

We’ve continued our walks during the new dystopian normal, but now that the unmasked crowds have discovered some our favorite spots, we’re staying home more—and these videos are scratching our itch. We’re curious about new places, and not necessarily the tourist hotspots or Insta-worthy destinations. We enjoy those, too, but we’re just as happy spending a morning sauntering through a snow-covered Shirakawa-go or checking out the food stalls at some homegrown, neighborhood festival in a suburb of Tokyo.

We giggle at little kids who mug for the camera. If I leave the room for a minute and a cat appears on screen while I’m gone, my boyfriend will rewind so I can see it. We Google things when we don’t know what they are. For videos that are comprised of nothing more than watching someone walk, they’re all surprisingly interactive.

What’s great is that you can stroll through Seoul, saunter around Seattle, and roam most of Rome any time you want. Every notable tourist destination has a walking video made by someone. It’s also a delight to find tours of off-the-beaten-track towns to see normal people going about their day. Kids playing in parks. Office workers on a smoke break. Old men walking their dogs.

The other day on one of our neighborhood walks, my boyfriend asked me if I remembered seeing the Gundam statue in Fukuoka. I said I did, and I smiled as I waited for what he really wanted to talk about.

“Maybe, when we can travel again, we can go there? See it in person.”

“Sure,” I said, taking his hand as we turned onto the street that led us home. “As long as we also get to hike that trail we saw in Scotland, the one that winds through the Craigvinean Forest.”

We shook on the deal. When we got home, we clicked on a video of Dotonbori at night, ordered sushi and pretended we were there.

Bethany Browning was once named Most Likely to Lie on Her Resume. Her hobbies include collecting her thoughts and spending her time. She has excellent credit and a need for speed(ers to be pulled over and ticketed. A car is not a toy). Follow her on Twitter @buzzwordsocial.


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