Tips for Planning Your Dream Trip

trip planningWin­ter is the time when we dream about big trips for the upcom­ing warmer sea­sons. The New Year spawns res­o­lu­tions, and almost every­one says they want to trav­el more.

What are the trips you dream about? Raft­ing the Grand Canyon? Trekking in the Andes? Pad­dling among Alaskan glac­i­ers? A month-long road trip of California’s pre­mier surf spots? What­ev­er your dream, here’s the way to make it go from a dream, to the actu­al trip.

Plan­ning Is Fun
Big trips take a lot of plan­ning: research, fig­ur­ing out who should (and shouldn’t) be in the group, find­ing climb­ing route and riv­er rapid beta, what vac­ci­na­tions you need, how to nego­ti­ate shut­tles, small plane flights (poten­tial­ly in dif­fer­ent lan­guages), and how to be sure you get the expe­ri­ence you want when invest­ing a lot of time and mon­ey. Plan­ning is work, but the first step is to decide that it’s also fun. It’s a trea­sure hunt, a puz­zle, and a jour­ney in and of itself. I love pour­ing over maps of dis­tant coast­lines and moun­tains or read­ing guide­books to far­away places, even if I may not get there for years.

Write It Down
Keep a list of trips you want to do, from quick week-long and cheap get­aways to vast expe­di­tions on the oth­er side of the world. Don’t be too spe­cif­ic and don’t wor­ry about whether or not you know much about the place at all. This list is to keep the juices flowing.

Do Basic Research
Pick the spot on top of your list and start the research. Get guide­books from the library. Have a beer with friends who have been there and look at their pho­tos. Surf the web. Start to fig­ure out the basics. What time of year? What sub­re­gion of big places like Prince William Sound or the Scot­tish high­lands? What’s the main appeal of that place to you and your pals?

Ear­ly Adopters
Even­tu­al­ly, you’ll find some­one you like adven­tur­ing with who will say “yes” in a seri­ous way. Now you’ve got a co-con­spir­a­tor. There may be obsta­cles that pop up lat­er, but for now, you’re plung­ing into the jour­ney of plan­ning the trip togeth­er. Split up things to research—transportation, routes, risks, per­mits, and get back togeth­er. Talk about what the group should look like: size, skills, and personalities.

trip planning
Find the Local Knowledge
Get beyond the guide­books: talk to locals or peo­ple who have done sim­i­lar things in the same place. They can tell you what it’s real­ly like, and you can learn from their mis­takes. Not every­one likes to give up their secrets, so expect it to take some friend­ly cajol­ing and rec­i­p­ro­cal shar­ing when the time comes. Spread out the maps, talk spe­cif­ic routes, out­fit­ters, or cul­tur­al, tech­ni­cal or logis­ti­cal challenges.

Trust…But Ver­i­fy
Don’t take all the info at face val­ue. Not every trip has the same goals, con­di­tions change, and for many remote places, logis­ti­cal info is spot­ty. A friend found that a guide­book under-record­ed the length of a stretch of the Arc­tic by a whop­ping 100 miles. Anoth­er friend sea kayaked in an island chain the charts were last sur­veyed in 1912. And land­scapes change. New rapids form, trails wash out, glacial land­scapes in Alas­ka are still ris­ing as they rebound from the last ice age, cre­at­ing new islands.

Time and Money
Trips are expen­sive and take time. Have an open con­ver­sa­tion about cost, what peo­ple can afford, and what you’re will­ing to sac­ri­fice if costs come high­er along the way. This saves a lot of stress and pre­vents inter-group ten­sion down the road.

Talk About Goals
Be overt about what you want your trip to be like. Are you dri­ven to climb the peak? Will you be con­tent if the weath­er turns your trip from a sum­mit push to a high-alpine trekking cir­cuit? Do peo­ple want to do long miles, and are they will­ing to train for it before­hand? When you have this con­ver­sa­tion, some peo­ple will drop out. It might feel like your trip is falling apart, but this is actu­al­ly a good thing. It’s bet­ter to have this hap­pen now than lat­er in the game.

Iden­ti­fy the Crux
Most trips have some sort of crux move: a high-ele­va­tion a pass to get over before the weath­er turns or a big rapid. Oth­ers have logis­ti­cal cruxes—how to get kayaks to a remote set of islands, or how to arrange a food drop and what to do if the weath­er pre­vents small air­craft from fly­ing. Then plan the rest of your trip around that crux.

To Flex or Not to Flex
Beyond the crux, decide how much of the itin­er­ary should be planned and nailed down in advance. Some will depend on the destination—permits, out­fit­ter reser­va­tions, etc. In some places, great deals are avail­able when you sim­ply go there and take advan­tage of unre­served spots on trans­port and trav­el at the last minute—but you’ll need to be flex­i­ble if this doesn’t hap­pen. Every group lives on a spec­trum between plan­ning every­thing and mak­ing it up as they go. Decide where on that spec­trum you want to be.

group trip
Reform The Group
By now, sev­er­al mem­bers of your group may have dropped out because they can’t afford it, can’t take the time off, or don’t have the same goals. This may a good thing. Big trips require an almost intu­itive trust and you’ll have to get along well when things aren’t going as planned. This is the time that your group reforms. Then you’ll take the plunge: buy­ing a tick­et, mak­ing the core reser­va­tion with an out­fit­ter, and lock­ing in the dates on the calendar.

Micro-Plans
On big trips, micro-plans can mat­ter as much as the big idea. The next step is to cre­ate them. I like to have a list of things I’d like to do while I’m there, as well as big objec­tives. This gives me ideas I can work with quick­ly when things change. They can be as sim­ple as a great side hike if I have time or a set of con­tact num­bers of out­fit­ters that can pro­vide a diver­sion if I sud­den­ly have two extra days to kill.

No New Gear
Don’t bring new gear. Even if it’s great, you don’t know it well, and on big trips, you want to be able to set up your tent blind­fold­ed. If you have new gear, give it a sol­id shake­down trip first. And remem­ber, prep always takes more time than you think: plan­ning menus, dehy­drat­ing food, repair­ing gear, and training.

Not All Dreams Come True
A lot of big trips won’t hap­pen. Think of your dream trips like base­ball players—many don’t make it to the major leagues, and some take a few years to blos­som. But these trips def­i­nite­ly won’t hap­pen if you don’t plan them. And like dreams, often it’s the dream­ing that mat­ters. It sparks the imag­i­na­tion and sense of pos­si­bil­i­ty. As Vin­cent Van Gogh said, “I dream of paint­ing, and then I paint my dream.”


Ready to take your dream adven­ture? Check out The Clymb Adven­tures page for an epic selec­tion of unfor­get­table trips.