When I embarked on my first long distance walk last summer in Scotland, I was confident it would be a great experience. I had been climbing mountains since I was a little girl, had recently (almost) reached the top of Mount Kilimanjaro and had a pair of hiking boots my feet seemed to love. I had signed up for four days in the Scottish Highlands, walking along the West Highland Way from Crianlarich to Fort William. I had recruited two friends to join me and was prepared to set off. But I didn’t expect was happened next.

I got hooked.

Solo hiking on the Isle of Bute in Scotland.

I started researching all the trails in Scotland I wanted to explore next and made a bucket list of treks across the UK. To develop my skills further, I signed up for the Fjallraven Classic challenge in Sweden, and joined a group of 15 female journalists, hiking together through the Arctic wilderness.

This time our bags were not transported from hotel to hotel for us. We had to carry everything we needed on our backs, including the tents we would sleep in. All of a sudden, my feet didn’t like my boots so much anymore. Add 18 kg to your normal body weight and tell your feet to carry you 20-25 km each day, and blisters are inevitable. Luckily, I had blister plasters, bandages, and whisky, so I could avert the worst.

This year, I’ve already done two long-distance hikes in Scotland, and have got another two-week adventure coming up in July.

You see, ever since that first experience on the trail, I was in love with long distance hiking. And if you ask me, you should be too! Here are six reasons why.

1) Unique perspective

The view from Ben Aigan Forest towards the sea on the north coast of Scotland.

Traveling slowly lets you experience a country with much more detail than racing through the main attractions within a few days. Walking is the ultimate way of slow travel – you literally couldn’t go slower!

Walking through a country gives you a unique perspective on the destination. You’ll slowly see how the landscape changes from day to day. You meet locals along the way, who can tell you about their home region and who will take a guaranteed interest in your experience on the trail. You see a side of the country, that no road tripper could ever imagine.

Walking lets you appreciate the size and distances of a country; I tend to always think back to the days before cars or trains when it took days to cross the Scottish Highlands on foot or on horses. By walking, you’re going back to that time, so to say, and experience first-hand what it means to travel against the odds.

 

2) Overcoming the physical challenge…

One of the main concerns I had before going on that first proper trekking holiday in Sweden, was whether my body would manage to carry me and my stuff through the wilderness for 5 days. Would my back hurt from the weight of the backpack? Would my feet erupt in blisters? Would I be able to eat enough, given my vegan diet and the limited availability of vegan trail food? I was always reasonably fit and did a few short hikes to prepare for the challenge, but I was not sure I had prepared enough.

Nothing beats the feeling of accomplishment when you reach the end of a long-distance trail and you know your body was strong enough to carry you all this way!

 

3) …and the mental one

Next came concerns about the mental challenge of walking. Hiking can be a very isolating experience, especially if you walk on your own, or with a group of people, you don’t know so well. Sometimes trails can be monotonous and views limited, so that it gets boring to keep walking.

Personally, though, I enjoy nothing more than all the me-time I get on the trail. I like having a chat with other walkers, but mostly I look forward to being alone with my thoughts.

I think about recent experiences, relive moments I enjoyed, find distraction from the things that usually bother me and get time to re-order my thoughts and plans for the future. A long distance walk makes for a great opportunity to think through the past and to plan ahead.

 

4) Go off the beaten track

On an isolated beach on the Isle of Bute in Scotland.

Long-distance hiking gets you to places most tourists won’t go. Many treks might start in popular locations, but once you’ve left those behind, it’s just you and the trail. If you chose a trail that isn’t super popular (but even if you do), you’ll come past towns, villages, valleys or mountains that are off the beaten track – simply because it takes quite a lot of effort to get there.

 

5) Bonding experience

Bonding with my friends on the Speyside Way.

Whether you walk by yourself or with someone else, I guarantee you will have a bonding experience on the trail. I did two walks with friends, one by myself and one with strangers, and every time, I came out with stronger relationships than I had before.

My bonds with my friends grew over long days on the trail, and I found new friends over aching feet and a desire for fresh vegetables. I got to know myself better and learned more about my skills, my limits and my strengths. They say, travel helps you to find yourself, but I think a long-distance walk speeds up that process like nothing else!

Solo hiking on the Isle of Bute in Scotland.

In less than a month, I’m going to hit the trail again. I’ll be walking by myself this time and cover the longest distance I’ve ever walked. My plan is to walk for two weeks across the Outer Hebrides, an island group off the west coast of Scotland. I’ll be covering around 150 miles, staying in my tent most of the way.

If you’d like to keep up with my adventure and get inspiration for long distance walking before you make the decision to try it yourself, make sure to follow along on Instagram @watchmesee.

Have you ever done a long distance walk before?

All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.