My wife and I are about to retire, and we’re trying to decide between taking a big trip around the world or going on a thru-hike. Are there long-distance paths abroad that would offer us a similar thru-hiking experience to the AT or PCT? How are they different from long trails here?
Yes, you can thru-hike abroad. By going for a long walk internationally, you and your wife will be able to experience new cultures, learn new histories and languages, and see the world through different eyes—all while walking enough to keep the exciting new foods you’ll be trying from staying on your belly after the trip is done.
If you’re looking for summer sun during North America’s wintertime, consider hiking in the southern hemisphere. Australia and New Zealand are famous for their long distance tracks (what they call trails). The Te Araroa is a 1,850-mile long tramping (what they call hiking) route across New Zealand’s two islands. The 623 mile-long Bibbulmun Track in Western Australia gives hikers a chance to walk through karri forests and see kangaroos and emus.
Europe may be a good option if you are worried about dealing with trail logistics in a foreign tongue; especially in the western part of the continent, it isn’t hard to find English speakers. Some of Europe’s long trails, like Scotland’s West Highland Way or Spain’s Camino de Santiago, are contained entirely within one country. The E-path system also includes twelve trails that connect at least three different countries.
Many European long trails are designed so that hikers can sleep in a hut or lodge every night. There, your stay often includes a hiker-worthy meal. Pilgrimage trails in particular are set up to be logistically easy for walkers and to offer plenty of cultural experiences—though they often include walking on roads and fewer natural experiences.
Asia and the Middle East also offer great walks. The most famous, like the three-week trek to Everest Base Camp or the 145-mile-long Annapurna Circuit, may require you to hire guides and porters. Japan has numerous long-distance walks, including several pilgrimages. The Lycian Way in Turkey is marked with red and white painted stripes, not too different from the white blazes that mark the Appalachian Trail; It attracts international visitors each year and even hosts an ultramarathon.
Aside from different flora and fauna, you will find while hiking abroad that other countries have a different history of land use and property than we have in the US. You won’t necessarily find the large open protected areas like we have in the States—but you will often walk through small towns and villages, allowing for the perfect “typical travel” experience. Sometimes, long trails abroad may require you to walk on roads longer than you are accustomed to here in the States. Camping in the backcountry while on a backpacking trip (what Europeans often refer to as “wild camping”) comes with different rules in different countries, too. While any traveler abroad should attempt to learn some of the local language, learning basics can be especially important while traveling on foot in rural areas, as a thru-hiker is likely to do.
Your experience thru-hiking abroad will be as varied as the places you visit. With a little research, an entire world of walks awaits. But just as with any journey, if you pack a good attitude and an open mind, often you will find the world smiles upon those willing to take the leap.