I Walked To Work (And Home) For A Year–And It Changed Everything

PARIS, FRANCE – FEBRUARY 17: Emilie Joseph wears sunglasses, golden earrings, a beige trench coat from Gestuz, bronze shiny metallic bras as part of a dress from Paco Rabanne, black leather cropped pants from Sportmax, high heels pointy shoes from Cosmo Paris, on February 17, 2021 in Paris, France. (Photo by Edward Berthelot /Getty Images)

When I first started working at British Vogue on a regular basis back in 2017, I was living in Surrey Quays in south-east London. The morning commute to Vogue House seemed simple in theory–a short walk to Canada Water Tube station and then a 13-minute ride to Bond Street, from which the office is just around the corner. The reality, though, was anything but simple. Somehow every single morning, no matter how early I left home, there was always a giant mob scene outside Canada Water. To prevent overcrowding on the platform, only one ticket gate was operational, meaning it took ages to get down to the trains, after which it was a literal battle to board one, with people packed in like sardines and pushing off those who were still trying to push their way in. I arrived at work feeling extremely stressed, but I felt like I had no other choice. After all, everyone’s commute was as hellish as this, right?

A year later, I moved and realized there was a bus which could take me straight from my door to the office in half an hour. Finally, I’d get a seat, I thought, and read on the way to work. Once again, the reality didn’t quite live up to the expectation: the bus was always crowded with school kids; I sometimes couldn’t get on and had to wait for the next one; and once I did, I would eventually get a seat, but usually after a lot of standing. The buses were also seemingly always on diversion and would sometimes terminate abruptly, with no explanation. With all the waiting around and delays, the journey would occasionally take almost an hour. It was a better, less physically strenuous way of getting to work, but the frustration I felt was the same.

After a long day, the last thing I wanted to do was to get on a bus again so after a while, I decided to try walking home. It was a picturesque route–past St James’s Park and Westminster Abbey, across Lambeth Bridge and down through Kennington–and took me an hour and 10 minutes. That might sound long, but the time flew by–I’d sometimes listen to a podcast, or have a long phone call with a friend, or just watch the city’s lights switch on as darkness fell.

After a few weeks, I knew the route off by heart and could just zone out. It was meditative, the perfect way to wind down after work. Sometimes, it helped me creatively, too–whenever I got stuck with a piece I was writing, I’d have a think about it on the walk. By the time I got home, I felt like I’d already written it in my head. And physically, I felt great. Before then, I might have gone to the gym occasionally but it always felt like such an effort. Now, this was something I could do every single day, something I could build into my routine so that I started doing it almost without thinking. Even if I had plans after work, went to a screening, the theatre, or out for dinner (providing it wasn’t too late), I still walked home afterwards.

Then came a pandemic which, for a time, put a stop to the long walks. By the time I returned to the office, though, I had changed neighborhoods once again, realizing that if I started walking home again, it’d take the same amount of time as it had before. So I did it, and after a few years, in January 2023 I decided it was time to up the ante–could I walk into work and walk home?

Most of the people in my life were concerned. Wouldn’t I be doubly tired if I did? Wasn’t that just too far for someone to walk in a single day? Wouldn’t I have to wake up much earlier? I wasn’t sure, but I wanted to try it. I decided to start on the first working day of the year because I knew it couldn’t possibly get more grim than that–it was dark and cold and all the commuters I passed seemed weighed down by the usual post-festive gloom, but I was amazed at how weirdly good I felt. My new route took me past Shakespeare’s Globe, the Tate Modern and the National Theatre, across Waterloo Bridge–a whistle-stop tour of London, and I felt like I was seeing and appreciating everything for the first time. As I crossed Waterloo Bridge, I was suddenly blinded by sunshine. I looked around–the Shard, Canary Wharf, the skyscrapers of the City and St Paul’s to my right, and Big Ben, Westminster and the London Eye to my left. I had the city all to myself. When I got into the office, I felt energised and ready to start the day, as opposed to harassed and exhausted, as I’d been after commuting.

After weeks and then months of walking in (and continuing to walk home), I was able to allay everyone’s fears: I wasn’t feeling tired in the mornings, quite the opposite, and I realized that I was, instead, starting to feel more (pleasantly) tired in the evenings and ready for bed. I even started sleeping better. And I was waking up at the same time (7 a.m.) as I would have had I been getting the bus or Tube. On public transport, factoring in the usual delays, the journey would take between 40 minutes to an hour–it took me just 10 more minutes to walk, and I wasn’t stressed because I was guaranteed to get into the office at the same time every day.

It’s worth adding that I didn’t walk in and back every single day. Like many other office goers, we at Vogue House work from the office three days a week, and work from home the other two days. (On those days, though, I started taking shorter lunchtime walks.) There were also days when it was too stormy to walk (though I don’t mind a bit of drizzle, providing I have an umbrella), and other days when a very late night made it necessary to take the Tube–but these were exceptions, not a regular habit.

Now, more than a year on, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I average just over 12,000 steps a day (compared to, say, 4,000 when I was commuting), and I feel the difference in my body: I’m stronger, I have more energy, I’m a lot less lethargic. In the past, I’ve woken up with a slight twinge in my back, or knee, or foot, but now, I find that walking–just the act of putting one foot in front of the other–seems to sort everything out. I feel my body realigning, recalibrating, as I move.

I also, like many people, have seasonal affective disorder and have found that this routine lessens its effects. Often in winter, I’d spend almost no time outside during the day–I’d commute back and forth in the dark and maybe pop out for a quick lunch in between–but now, I get a mandatory hour of daylight and fresh air every morning. Yes, sometimes it’s cold, but I wrap up warm and after 20-ish minutes of walking I’m often very, very warm.

And I feel the mental health benefits year round, too. My walks provide a self-imposed pause–a period of time I can use to reflect, but not to write, reply to emails, work through a to-do list or scroll mindlessly through a news feed. In a world where everything feels uncertain and anxiety-inducing, it’s also something that gives me a degree of consistency and stability. It’s something I love; something I look forward to; something I do just for myself.

After a while, I started walking further on weekends too, taking buses and trains only when going significantly further afield. Over time, I’ve found that it’s helped me know London so much better and love it so much more. When you’re taking the Tube from one place to another you usually have your blinkers on, but when you walk, you get to see the in-between places you’d have no other reason to go to or stumble upon restaurants and cafés you’ve never heard of. And you realize how much of a city, away from the bustling main roads, is quiet and serene and incredibly picturesque.

Oh, and the money I’ve saved from walking is staggering. It would cost over $30 to use public transportation back and forth from the office three days a week, but now I spend less than $30 a month on travel in total. During a cost of living crisis when fares are rising rapidly, that’s no small thing.

I’m not the only person on the Vogue team who does this, either. When Jessie Heyman, American Vogue’s Executive Editor was in London for Vogue World last autumn, we discovered that we both spend exactly the same amount of time walking to work each morning. Jessie’s route, from her home in Brooklyn to the US Vogue offices in One World Trade Center takes her over the Brooklyn Bridge. “So, regardless of what my day holds, it starts off spectacularly strong,” she writes from New York. For Jessie, the decision to start walking in was prompted by her team’s return to the office after the pandemic. “As we started to go back in, I wanted to find ways to limit my time in enclosed spaces–specifically the New York City subway,” she adds. “Walking gives me control of my commute while also allowing me to feel connected to the city.”

And that’s the thing: so many people truly don’t have the option of walking to work–they live too far from their workplaces; the route might not feel doable (I’m lucky that mine is generally well lit and feels safe even at night); they might not have the time (though, if you’re in the habit of booking after-work workout classes and then commuting home, I’d posit that maybe you do?); or have other responsibilities that totally consume their non-working hours. But, I promise you, it is possible to take at least some control over your commute–if it’s a total nightmare, it needn’t be. If you can’t walk, could you cycle? Could you even, like one of my colleagues, take a train most of the way and then walk the final 25 minutes into the office instead of taking a bus? Even that can make a huge difference to how you start your day.

So, if there’s one thing you do in 2024, I’d encourage you to walk (or cycle, or jog, or whatever it may be) just a little bit more. I think, more often than not, we can default to taking public transport without a second thought because that’s what we’re used to doing. I have colleagues who’ll take the subway stop–a 3 minute ride that would take 10 minutes to walk–just because it’s the quickest route. Except, a walk is almost always so much nicer. So, the next time you’re plotting a journey, why not incorporate some walking into it? You never know, you might just love it.

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