trip planning

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.

Of all the things that can make us grumpy, like a morn­ing with­out cof­fee or being stuck in traf­fic, there’s one, in par­tic­u­lar, that’s tough to shake: the down­fall­en feel­ing that can over­come you when a trip ends.

Tran­si­tion­ing Back is Tough
Trips should renew our spir­its, but some­times the pos­i­tive effects can feel short-lived. When a trip ends, our brains strug­gle to absorb the ben­e­fits when we start think­ing about email, work and which day the recy­cling needs to be out on the curb.

Why It’s So Hard
In the most fun­da­men­tal way, what we do in the wild makes sense. When we’re back­pack­ing, we’re mov­ing across the land­scape as small rov­ing bands of nomads, pay­ing close atten­tion to wildlife, water sources, and weath­er. We’ve replaced hunt­ing and gath­er­ing with freeze-dried food, but we’re basi­cal­ly doing exact­ly we did back in Oldu­vai Gorge a mil­lion years ago. No won­der it feels right. It should be hard to come back. If it wasn’t, we didn’t have much of a re-set expe­ri­ence. No pain, no gain.

And then we’re thrust back into a world of peo­ple who didn’t share our expe­ri­ence. The cul­tur­al divide between out­door adven­tur­ers and the teem­ing mass­es of “reg­u­lar peo­ple” is at its most stark after a trip. Like George Mal­lo­ry and his famous “because it’s there” line, we mum­ble inar­tic­u­late­ly about why sleep­ing on the ground, not show­er­ing, and strug­gling up steep ridges is great. No won­der out­doors folks are so clan­nish: we seek out oth­ers who “get” why these trips aren’t just fun, but are hard-wired into who we are.

The longer the adven­ture, the hard­er the re-entry. After expe­di­tions, we real­ize that our friends have sim­ply got­ten on with their lives. Matthew Strum, a snow sci­en­tist who spent entire sea­sons out of touch in the high arc­tic, returned to find that his place in his fam­i­ly and friends’ lives had sim­ply been filled, “as smooth water in a pond”. In strong if not macabre terms, he said it was a win­dow to how life would move on with­out him if he died. He learned to adjust, but it wasn’t easy.

What to Do About It
One option is the choice of the addict: sim­ply chase the next fix and plan anoth­er trip. Pio­neer­ing expe­di­tion kayak­er Paul Caffyn used the pur­pose­less­ness he felt after a long jour­ney to plan his next adven­ture. Even if you’re not cir­cum­nav­i­gat­ing con­ti­nents, the Sun­day evening rest­less­ness can be used to lay plans for next Friday.

Anoth­er option is to hang onto trip rit­u­als in the urban world. Sit­ting on my front porch drink­ing cof­fee regard­less of the weath­er reminds me of morn­ing cof­fee in front of my tent in any num­ber of places. After long trips, I whip out a tool from the pre-iPad world: an actu­al paper note­book. I jot down notes about sounds and smells from the trip, try­ing to lock them into mem­o­ry before I get caught up in the return to laun­dry and restock­ing groceries.

Re-entry will nev­er be easy. And we can’t avoid it unless we either ditch our jobs and become Ker­ouack­ian vagabonds, or strike it rich quick, retire, and spend all our time play­ing out­side. Nei­ther is like­ly. So let’s prac­tice hang­ing on to our short trips longer. And remem­ber: the post-adven­ture hang­over is a sign that we did it right.

One of our favorite per­son­al hob­bies here at the Clymb is to rank peo­ple’s “out of office” replies. Usu­al­ly you see the typ­i­cal, “I am out of the office until blah, blah, blah.” not with one mem­ber though. Here is our favorite out of office reply so far:

I am cur­rent­ly on a white­wa­ter kayak­ing trip in the moun­tains of Chile until 1/1. My email access will be spo­radic at best, but I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

Chile… That trumps my trip to my par­ents in Oxnard.

This got us think­ing about all the amaz­ing sto­ries that our mem­bers must have. So we want­ed to open this blog up to you. If you have pic­tures, sto­ries, video, or any­thing else you would like to share about a trip you took, an event you par­tic­i­pat­ed in, or even about your favorite gear we want to hear it. We will pub­lish it on our blog, drop a link to your blog, and give you some Twit­ter love.

We asked the per­son that wrote that out of office reply to share his trip details, hope­ful­ly we end up even a lit­tle more envi­ous with some great trip pictures.

(Oh yeah don’t for­get today is the last day of our Helly Hansen brand event.)