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On pilgrimage - putting everyday life on hold

To go away and set out for a holy place—but what is it exactly that motivates a pilgrimage? Every pilgrim has their very own answer to that question.

Going on pilgrimage means understanding the journey as the goal. It can enliven you or leave you breathless, inspire or irritate you, dissolve yet connect you; and create something for both body and soul that can be described as inner peace.

Why do people go on pilgrimage to begin with?

Rustling leaves, crunching pebbles, humming bumblebees. Fresh air flowing through the body, cleansing it as if it needed dusting off. A pilgrimage makes room for yearning: arriving in the here and now, feeling contented, breathing happiness.

It's quite simple: Pack your backpack, choose your route, and off you go! The longing for nature, the luxury of deceleration and having time for yourself are what makes pilgrimage popular. It was already very popular in the Middle Ages when people set out for Rome or Jerusalem in search of spiritual salvation or out of gratitude.

In the 21st century, people are more mobile than ever before. Our own two feet, however, have taken a back seat as a means of transportation over the past few centuries.

With that development, a sort of regularity, evenness or consistency has been lost. On extended periods of walking, however, a smooth rhythm establishes itself after a while. Anyone who has ever gone on a short hike knows this feeling. Putting one foot in front of the other again and again, when it suddenly happens: thoughts start drifting away, your head becomes clear. Finally, you get a break from everyday life.

Pilgrimage or "Wallfahrt"?

The hallmark of every pilgrimage is this freedom; a pilgrimage is never forced. Already in its very meaning, "pilgrimage" is all-encompassing. It is not bound to any specific religion, origin, heritage, education, age, or gender. This sets very different people in motion who are united by one credo: The journey is the reward.

Therefore, each pilgrim determines their own motivation, route, and pace. Good to know: The difference to "Wallfahrt", a German term for a more narrowly defined version of a pilgrimage, is that the religious goal is in the foreground. Normally, a person sets out on a "Wallfahrt" to fulfil a religious commandment or vow, to do penance or to make atonement. 

Going on a pilgrimage—with or without a religious background

Many wonder if pilgrims necessarily need to be spiritual or even religious people. The answer is: certainly not. While in times past, people set out for religious reasons, today they are mostly motivated by secular goals. One of them is the idea of "me-time": taking a break from everyday life is a popular motive.

There is only one goal: the journey itself. On this path, stringing together kilometre after kilometre, you will soon find yourself confronted with our own limitations: Do I have enough water with me? My feet are burning like fire. Why does it have to rain now?!

It is obstacles like these that we have to overcome. Pilgrims grow with every little stone they move out of the way. They report feelings such as contentment, soulfulness, mental balance and more arising as they continue on their path. In other words: During a pilgrimage, you will be very likely to find a state of inner peace.

Seven great reasons for long-distance hiking

As you hike along your path, you will get stronger and also get closer to your inner self. So a pilgrimage is something that is bound to make you feel good. Other great reasons to discover beautiful Austrian pilgrimage trails such as the Via Sacra or the Vienna Pilgrimage Trail are the following:

  1. Spending time in nature
  2. Taking a break from everyday life
  3. Seeking an athletic challenge
  4. Religious motives
  5. Consciously slowing down
  6. Strengthening body and soul
  7. Finding variety in simplicity

What a pilgrimage can bring about

Those who go on pilgrimage gain new experiences and insights and strengthen their trust in themselves. "The path does not give you what you want but rather what you need," says an anonymous proverb. The following are also possible goals: addressing one's own needs and realising how little it takes in life to be happy for a moment.

Finding your personal approach to pilgrimage

You would like to figure out pilgrimage on your own? Here are some introductory tips for beginners. If you are looking for concrete support for planning your route and booking accommodation along the way, simply send us a request. And for those who would rather join a group and go on pilgrimage with others, look out for guided pilgrimage tours.

Into nature, leaving everyday life behind: Pilgrims set out on a journey. They discover new things, hike alone or with others, enjoy the here and now. Because what all pilgrims have in common is the type of movement: walking. And if you want, you can embark on your quest right outside your own front door.

Step one.