Cold, wet, hungry, and in the middle of nowhere… I was happy for a plan. We’d just climbed out of a slot canyon in the Kingdom of Jordan. Luckily, beds and hot meals were waiting for us at Rummana Camp. Sometimes, I like improvising adventure travel itineraries, while other times I enjoy having arrangements made in advance.
Whatever your travel style, chances are you’ll have to make at least a few plans, especially if you are thinking to add outdoor sports to the schedule. Here are six tips to make your planning process easier.
1. Select a Destination
Daydreams shift to reality during this phase of planning. Smart research, paired with self-evaluation, will help you make the best choice. I have an extensive list of destination ideas, so I understand how overwhelming choosing only one can be. Here is how I sort through my list:
Make a Wish – Start with your bucket list. Select 3-4 ideas, and write them down. Don’t try to choose one just yet. That’s what you’ll work on in the next steps.
Identify Limitations – Backpacking New Zealand has been sitting at the top of my bucket list for years and, unfortunately, the cost of the trip has kept it there. In the meantime, I’ve explored more budget-friendly options such as hiking Glacier National Park, canyoneering Southern Utah, and backpacking the Desolation Wilderness. All were trips of a lifetime, but at a price I could afford.
As you look at your list, consider the money and dates that you have to work with. For example, planning an adventure trip to Glacier in May would probably not be the best idea as many trails and some roads would have been snowed packed. Additionally, the hostel I wanted to stay at wouldn’t have been open for the season. Because I visited in the first week in July instead, the roads, most trails, and the hostel were accessible. As it turned out, the Going to the Sun Road also opened the day I arrived.
Comparing your list to your limitations will likely strike out some options immediately. Factors to consider are: weather, crowding, expense, and available tour dates (if applicable). You might find you have to create a new list of ideas and start over.
Make a Decision – Now that you have a short list of viable options, or possibly just one, commit. I suggest selecting the option that tugs at your heart the most. Of course, any pick from your short list will likely be enjoyable.
2) Do More Research
Now that you’ve picked a destination, use online resources, guidebooks, maps, blogs, and social media to research what activities and sites you shouldn’t miss. Read reviews on sites such as Trip Advisor, Yelp, etc. to get a sense for the reputation of various tour operators and lodging options. On social media, ask locals who seem actively involved in the area for suggestions.
3) Evaluate Your Health and Fitness
Be honest with yourself. Planning activities beyond your physical ability will only make you miserable.
4) Outline an Itinerary
This is another point where you need to make some decisions. Look at everything you want to do, determine how much time each requires and the distance from one point to the next.
Now, leave a few gaps for improvisation. Yes, I’m suggesting you DON’T plan everything. Instead, leave yourself some downtime in a location with lots of potential. Another philosophy is to adlib the schedule after arrival.
“I like to book a destination with plenty of potential, but only plan the first day. Once there, I ask locals what areas or activities I shouldn’t miss. Often, they have tips that can’t be found in a guidebook,” shares Steve Seliger, a lifelong adventure traveler.
Hostels are a good source for adventure beta. Their guests tend to look for less touristy, and often more adventurous, activities than the average traveler.
Some destinations are better suitable for this relaxed planning style than others. I found that Glacier National Park is ideal for impromptu adventure, while I enjoyed having a set itinerary while exploring the Kingdom of Jordan.
Consider at least these two things when deciding if you can wing it. First, is there a long distance between attractions/activities you’re interested in? A long drive or additional flight may require you to plan in advance. Second, do you need to book with a guide? If you do need to book, don’t leave it until the last minute unless you hope to score a great deal (with the risk you might not get the dates you want).
5) Book It
This is where the details get pinned down. Be flexible as you book, since available flights or reservations might not be available on the exact dates you need. By now, you should have at least done a preliminary check of tour dates and lodging, which will help things go smoother. Here’s another little tip…avoid booking flights over the weekend when rates seem to “creep” up. Search midweek instead.
Art meets practicality when packing. Cruise the web for packing list ideas and then customize them to your needs.
For example, I like clean underwear each day, but I don’t mind hand washing them. This dictates that I won’t join the “one pair of undies” crew, but they won’t need a dedicated suitcase either. Some lists include dressy clothes, but I’m casual all the way so I strike out those items… Do you follow the strategy? Canned lists help you think of things you may have otherwise forgotten, but don’t let them dictate your packing.
Now that you have an idea of the process, start planning your next adventure. Not ready to take the leap? Use these tips to get a sense for the cost and logistics of a destination so that you can plan and save over time.