Lately, I have been traveling a lot due to my long spring break before exams. I travel solo because it is convenient for me and I can budget tightly. I can also push myself to the limits and experience problem solving by myself. This experience has allowed to observe cultural differences in numerous aspects of life, including eating habits, interpersonal communication, and locals’ receptiveness of foreigners. However, for this blog I want to focus on cultural differences in what we think as acceptable walking distance.
Some hostels I stay at would introduce me to the city I am staying at and point out some landmarks and must sees on maps. The hostel I stayed at in Zadar, Croatia was out of the city center. Sometimes I choose hostels out of the city center s so I can people watch and observe local people’s day to day activities. While checking in in Zadar, the front desk lady told me there are two ways to reach the Old Town. One was to walk towards the bus station and keep walking straight ahead, which would take 30 minutes. However, there is a better route along the coast that would take about 50 minutes. I was not showing it on my face, but at that point, I was thinking how could she say it so casually. It was not a big deal for me to walk 50 minutes because I rarely take public transportation within cities. However, just how she came across in a “no big deal” tone surprised me.
From my experiences in the US, any length of walking greater than 15-20 minutes is not within walking distance for the majority of the population and is worthy of driving a car. We normally only think of cars as the way to get around to anywhere. Furthermore, most of the American travelers I cross path with would take public transportation for going anywhere that is more than 1-2 miles, while most European travelers would walk. This also goes back to analyzing the layout of most American cities. Cities in the US are huge and everything is so spread out. Therefore, walking would get you nowhere and cars become a need. Due to the convenience of cars for Americans, it is an ingrained cultural ‘habit’ to use it whenever and to wherever. However, European cities are often compact with limited space and smaller roads, making driving less desirable. Public transportation, at least in Western Europe, is extremely well connected, so the convenience and ease is desirable to most people. There is often no need to drive.