By Josie Bryan
For thousands of years, individuals have embarked on walking pilgrimages around the world. While traditionally a religious experience, pilgrimages offer a unique travel opportunity to clear your mind, move your body, and feed your soul. According to Adventure and Spiritual Restoration: Older Adult Motivations for Undertaking a Pilgrimage on El Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage experience consists of three key parts “the motivation, the journey, and the destination.” It’s an adventure like no other, leaving you with a renewed sense of well-being.
Pilgrimages offer a purposeful travel experience, which can be embarked on alone or with a group depending on what appeals to you. Even if you are walking solo, you will encounter others along the way and in spirit. Nonprofits such as Trek Epic, offer walking adventures based on the pilgrimage model for adults, with guided facilitation around topics of gifts, gratitude, and purpose. Whether you choose to participate in a group pilgrimage or go at it alone, there are many life-changing benefits of traversing where many before you have walked:
Build relationships with fellow walkers: As you make your way along the path, you’ll encounter fellow pilgrims, all of whom are on a shared journey with you. There’s a unique bond formed that can bring joy and connection. If you are traveling with a group or a friend, this is a great time to dig deeper and focus on radical listening. If you are traveling alone, it’s essential to stay open and be ready for whomever comes your way.
Connect to nature and yourself: One study points out that walking pilgrimages engage a multitude of processes from “mental, physical, spiritual, social and nature processes / sensations while walking.” As you walk in nature, you can tune into these feelings, which can lead to catharsis about problems in everyday lives, gain a deeper self understanding, or determine a new meaning of life––all which creates a deeper connection to nature as a whole.
Improve personal mental health: Not only does walking connect you to nature, it also has ample benefits for your mind. The International Journal of Religious Tourism and Pilgrimage cited that in the past pilgrims shared that walking decreased their anxiety, improved their outlook on life, and increased their self-confidence, and awareness due to the reflective nature of walking.
Move your body one step at a time: Walking regularly has been shown to “increase happiness and improve mental health among the elderly,” as mentioned by The Atlantic, so no matter what age you are, you can reap the benefits of moving your feet everyday. Many individuals who went on a pilgrimage found that walking improved their physical health making them feel stronger and leaving them wanting to stay active. Some even mentioned how daily walking improved their digestion. Walking is the most natural form of exercise for the human body, so it is not surprising how much better people felt after walking miles and miles, day after day.
Explore a new culture and geography: Going on pilgrimage is a chance to immerse yourself in a new culture and landscape, from Spain, to India and beyond. Each person is called to a different place of pilgrimage based on what they are seeking.
Ground yourself to the present moment: When stripped away from the noise of everyday life, you are able to focus on what’s right in front of you. The focus of a pilgrimage is about the time spent walking, not the destination, thus helping you embrace the beauty of a slower, more present life.
If you feel inspired to venture on your own pilgrimage, you have many paths to choose from. While the Camino de Santiago and Via Francigena are popular, well-known options, there are many other pilgrimages around the world to explore. Check out these 15 ideas on Let’s Roam to help you decide what journey is meant for you.
Josie Bryan is a multidisciplinary freelance writer and creator whose work is focused on life writing, poetry, copy editing, content creation, and curated travel. She published her first book of poetry, Strawberry Daydreams, last year. Currently based in Seattle, WA.
Throughout this “Going It Alone” section of this blog, we will share learnings from others navigating retirement alone, so that you don’t have to do it all alone.