Ahh, the concrete jungle.
Ever since the advent of passenger airfare opened up the globe to affordable world travel, exploring the “Cities of the World” has become accessible by the majority in the developed world.
Increasingly, Urban backpacking has become the activity of choice for more and more travelers: teenagers, young adults and now, retirees.
Whether it is seeing the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, or exploring the UK’s capital via the London Underground, world travelers are focusing on cities as their “base camp” into countries throughout their trip.
Whether it is a smaller regional city, like Reno, Nevada, or a large mega-city like Sao Paulo Brazil, exploring a city, without renting a car, can be a daunting task.
Before you start your next urban challenge, keep in mind these suggestions for making your city trek happy, safe, and fulfilling:
- Securing your valuables – While it may be fun to see the sights of your dream cities, burglars, and pick-pocketers don’t care. They even look for “touristy” looking people to take advantage or commit theft. Consider wearing your valuables, like wallet, and phone in your front pockets. Better yet, consider using pants with zippered pockets, which keep unwanted hands out.
- Use lockers or hotel storage – no one wants to lug a heavy backpack or clunky luggage through steps, public transportation, and across crowded spaces. Yet, for the sake of “saving money”, many city travelers often forego small expenses that could save them headache and risk. (tripsavvy.com, 2)
If you plan to store your night-items in a hostel, definitely ask about their security measures, and if they have lockable storage. If you plan to store with a hotel, prior to checking into your room, ask about how they store. Your essentials (phone, key, wallet, id, and perhaps some documents), should be with you. Clothes and books . . . let them stay.
- Use trekking poles – Nordic hiking poles, are not just for the outdoorsman. Urban backpackers, and world travelers are using these sticks more and more. Not only do they provide added support for your back, knees and joints, going up and down steps and hard concrete surfaces of city environments, but they provide an added level of security from stray dogs, and questionable people. Don’t be fooled by the thought that you are not climbing a mountain . . . city hikers often hike more than the average camper in one day, often times 10,000+ steps, and mostly on hard pavement. Poles for walking give you stability on wet surfaces, and reduce impact from all those steps, stairs, platforms and streets.
4. Pick your shoes carefully – Toss the sandals and flip flops. City hiking is not for cheap open-toed shoes. The firmness of the ground, along with the distance and impact of concrete steps make thin shoes a big mistake. The thought of making a casual walk across a city, using casual shoes, leads to ankle and knee pain, along with heal and food pain due to lack of support.
Pick shoes that provide support along the sides and back of your feet for planar support, along with thick, comfortable soles. Running shoes with proper insoles are a good start. (Journal of Occupational Health, 1)
- Wear layers. Often, layers are suggested for cold weather use. But it is also useful for hot weather, and being in crowded environments with long-distance treks. Consider bringing in your daypack an additional shirt, and wearing 2+ layers, which gives you the freedom to remove one if you become sweaty, which often happens during transit in city environments. Also consider bringing along a light-wearing coat to cover from rain, while providing pockets for additional close-at-hand essentials.
Large cities provide the benefit of convenient public transportation, with access to major sights and on-the-road eats.
Bonus advice: Don't try to do it all walking. Use public transportation where available, to save your legs for a more enjoyable experience.
Our top pick global city for exploring on foot:
While densely populated, Taipei is one of the most “backpackable” cities we’ve visited across Asia and the Americas.
Large, yet not too large. Taipei’s MRT metro system is fast, convenient, and leads to most of the city’s major points of interest. Combine this metro, with frequent busses and easy-to-use U-Bike bike share, and you can explore nearly every pocket of Taipei without a car or taxi. Even more fun, consider tagging along on a local’s scooter!
What makes Taipei unique from other cities in Asia is the proximity to natural outdoor environments. Taipei sits in a bowl, surrounded by densely forested mountains, with well developed network of trails and paths.
The Taiwanese locals frequent these parks often, during breaks, and weekend treks. You’ll often see a group of seniors practicing Tai Chi, in parks. Many of these parks provide a contrasting environment, creating the feeling of being far away from an urban center, yet, only being a couple of miles away from the center of Taipei.
Try Shiang Shan, a steep and mountainous natural area, with sweeping views of the Taipei 101 tower.
A close second, is San Francisco.
Mike Cutler is a trail and travel blogger, sharing his joys of hiking and global treks. He is currently a product tester for EarthTrek Gear, living in the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Reno Nevada.
1.) J Occup Health. 2016 Sep 20; 58(5): 404–412.