Five years ago, I went on my first adventure: climbing the Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain. Nine months after that I stood on the summit of Mont Blanc and so far I’ve scaled more than ten mountains all over the world. Most recently, I paddled into some of the most remote fjords of Svalbard, encountered beluga whales and polar bears and sailed to the high North. Right now, I’m planning my next big adventure to learn how to scubadive in Belize.
You can do this stuff, too. I’m not a super athlete. I’ve never been that good at sports. In the first 25 years of my life, I didn’t even spend that much time outdoors. I never went backpacking growing up. I didn’t learn to ski until two years ago. By no means am I an expert on these things, but I can do them now, independently. This is to say that it’s never too late to learn something new.
Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way.
Choose a destination
The destination facilitates the adventure. Go wherever your heart desires. Explore places that inspire you. It doesn’t have to be far. But there is no doubt that doing a hike in Scotland is easier than go on a paddling expedition in Svalbard.
That being said, if you really want an adventure (out of your comfort zone), then you’ll probably have to leave the crowded places behind. Try getting out there. Like way, way out there. You don’t necessarily have to leave the country or go very far, but adventure is an entirely different experience if you go where there are no people.
In 2014, my girlfriend and I did a 200 kilometer hike through the Alps, from Chamonix to Zermatt. Though the first three stages were similar to the famous and well-hiked Tour de Mont Blanc trail, our experience got better when we didn’t see people for days at a time. We saw mountain sceneries only rarely seen by other hikers.
The same can be said about my recent trip to Svalbard. While the area is definitely remote and takes some effort to reach, once you’re there, it’s not too difficult to venture out on your own and get the experience of being totally alone in one of the world’s most incredible environments. What makes that place particularly unique? 60 percent of the surface being glaciers that spill directly into the sea, impressive peaks all around and lots of wildlife. Everywhere you look, whales are breaching, taking in new air to breathe. Polar foxes and Svalbard reindeer will visit your camp every night, and you might even catch a glimp of the mighty polar bear. There are no roads outside the villages, so to move around the fjords, you must take a boat or do like I did and paddle. The experience is larger than life. As a result, it makes you feel incredibly small.
Choose an activity
In many ways, your activity will depend on your location. Scubadiving in Svalbard or Greenland might not be the best of ideas, but most of the times, your interest in a particular destination will go along with the activities you can do.
Any mountain range in the world will provide nearly endless opportunities for adventure, whether it’s climbing snowy slopes or steep ice and rock, hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, or even paragliding. Rivers running through remote regions are best to be crossed by paddling. Or do you love rainforests and tropical waters, then why not scuba dive and see the underwater world?
Do your research
Let’s say you have chosen your destination and activity. Now it’s time to start doing research to make sure your adventure stays safe.
When to go?
When is the best time to go on this adventure? Maybe you want to go a bit earlier or a bit later to avoid the crowds? But will the weather be stable enough?
Plan your route
Planning your route is a must if you want to explore a remote region. Buy some maps or look for an online map to figure out exactly where you want to go. There are some programs and apps that can help you with this.
Getting there and getting back
Transportation can sometimes be one of the hardest logistical challenges you will face while preparing your trip. Can you use public transportation, will you need to rent a car or are none of the options available? If the journey there will be extend over multiple days, will you need to sleep in places along the way? Can you stay in an Airbnb, mountain cabin or will you use your tent?
Planning your adventure can be quite challenging. When we traveled to Finland in 2015 we thought we were well prepared only to find out that none of the information on the internet was correct. After this I’ve started writing adventure e-guides to help everyone planning their trip. These adventure e-guides will provide all the information you need to plan your next adventure.
Sort your gear
Going on a day hike will require less gear than going on a multiple day expedition. Still, making a list of all the gear you need and not bring too much is quite tricky. On my first expedition on the Kilimanjaro, I brough way too much food, so even though we had porters available, I still had too carry a heavy backpack. Carrying too much is a mistake everyone makes and making the perfect gear list is a process you will learn while going on adventures.
To get started, create a list organised by category. Your first category should be the Big Three (shelter, sleeping and kitchen), clothing, activity-specific items, electronics and miscellaneous. You can add the brand, weight and quantity to every item.
Solve problems before you go
When going on an adventure, problems will arise. Some of them you could solve even before they occur. This can be as simple as creating a kit to make field repairs on your gear (patches for sleeping pads, cleaning kits for your cooking stove, duct tape to fix everything else) or packing backups in case a critical item totally fails.
Having an adventure means you sometimes have to be flexible. When my girlfriend and I are on an adventure, we also like to say that it’s not an adventure if everyhting goes as planned. Some things you have no control over. Bad weather, lost luggage on your way over or gear breakdown can be a good reason to change your original plans. Don’t feel disappointed if your adventure isn’t going as it should have. Most times, these are the best stories to share afterwards. Our best stories are when we had to come up with a whole different last stage during La Haute Route in the Alps, had to improvise on food while in the wilderness of Finland or when we didn’t had a place to stay and ended up in the house of our mountain guide and his friends in the Italian Alps.