Choose Your Adventure
The best use of your precious vacation time? Depends on what you want most.
Raw wilderness: Go with New Zealand, southern Chile, the Canadian Rockies, or anywhere above the Arctic Circle.
Light pack, great food: Take a hut-to-hut trek in Europe, where you often need to carry only clothes and snacks.
Physical challenge: Climb into the high, rugged terrain of the Himalayas or Andes.
Cultural immersion: Share the trails with indigenous communities in Peru and Nepal.
Lonely Planet's Thorntree forum (check the "Walking, Trekking & Mountaineering" thread): lonelyplanet.com/thorntree
Rough Guides' Travel Talk forum:roughguides.evecommunity.com/eve/forums
Lonely Planet, Cicerone Press
Contact one of the member clubs (in more than 60 countries) on the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation's website, theuiaa.org.
Do I need a guide?
Some trips–the Inca Trail, Mt. Kilimanjaro–require guides. For others, it's up to you–outfitters can take care of logistical hassles, provide technical coaching and gear, and show you the best trails, campsites, and wildlife-watching spots.
If you decide to go guided, research options in advance at hireamountainguide.com or adventuretravel.biz/resources.asp. Look for someone with internationally recognized certification (the International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations is a great place to start). When hiring a local guide at your destination, make sure he or she has first-aid certification, English proficiency, and client references. Henry Beyer, program director of the American Mountain Guide Association, also suggests asking to see valid permits and equipment use records (to judge gear safety), as well as asking the guide to explain your chances of success and risk of injury on the trip or climb.
How to be a good client
"Guides want to have a good time as much as the client does," says Beyer. Help them do it, and you might find yourself on the winning end of a few perks, like side expeditions, secret campsites, and post-hike brews at locals-only bars.
- Disclose all health concerns or limitations pre-trip. Neglecting to mention your severe vertigo can sabotage the whole group's activity plans.
- Lay off the after-dinner tequila if your group has an early start the next day.
- Offer to pitch in with camp chores like setting up tents, food prep, and dishes.
- Be sensitive to differences in ability. If you'd like a bigger challenge, politely ask if you can split into two groups, add an optional side hike, or head out on your own.
- Don't be a martyr. If you need help, ask.
- Follow advice–your guide is a professional who likely has years of experience.
10 months out:
Buy plane tickets & book hotels for high-season trips
6 months out:
Start foreign language lessons
Apply for a new passport
Begin hepatitis A vaccinations (for travel to developing countries)
3 months out:
Apply for visas (check travel.state.gov/travel for visa requirements)
Renew passport (if it expires within the next six months)
6 weeks out:
Schedule all other vaccinations (cdc.gov/travel lists required and recommended shots)
Do I need travel insurance?
If you can't afford to lose the investment you've made in the trip, then yes. Here's how four popular adventure travel policies stack up, plus one option for backcountry rescue service. Compare details at insuremytrip.com or squaremouth.com. (Prices vary depending on your age and trip cost; estimates are for a 40-year-old traveler on a $5,000 trip.)