Just Returned From → Rossland, British Columbia. Headed To → Golden & Invermere, British Columbia.

Before you scroll any further, let’s take a second to connect…
Because if there is one thing I’ve learned from my adventurous life—it’s how to BE PREPARED.

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…And travel bravely, friends!

Preparing For Adventure: Your Guide to Self-Reliant Travel

Photo: Elena Luria/Dreamstime.com



My Essential Adventure Traveller’s Handbook.

In This Adventure Travel Article You Will Discover:

  • Tips for Preparing an Adventure Trip
  • Orienteering & Navigation Tips
  • What To Pack
  • Dealing With Border Crossings
  • First Aid Advice & More!

The singular definition of “adventure travel” is: self-reliance. Any time you’ve put yourself in a situation where help is more than a concierge call away, you’ve undertaken an adventure.

Don’t let the Colin Anguses of the world tell you that you need to bicycle through Siberia in winter or river raft through Mongolia to have an adventure. “Adventure,” like “travel,” is subjective.

Right now, I’m preparing for one of the biggest adventures of my life thus far — a solo motorcycle ride from Vancouver, British Columbia, past the Arctic Circle, to Inuvik, Northwest Territories, via the famed Dempster Highway (update: done!). It’s only two weeks. It’s entirely within the borders of my home country. And, make no mistake, it’s adventure travel.

Since I’m the king of procrastination, I’ve decided that dispensing a to-do and to-pack and to-consider list to you, the reader, is a better use of my time than actually packing my bags myself.

Hell, I’ve got a couple of weeks before I leave anyway.

So here it is, my guide to Preparing for Adventure Travel:

Stay Dry

Saharan adventurers can skip this section. Those who plan on visiting any other climactic zone, take heed. If you’re wet, you’re done. Sometimes literally, most times figuratively. So prepare to get wet, or, more specifically, prepare to stay dry.

  • Waterproof-breathable clothing is a must. If it’s not breathable, you’ll be just as wet from your own sweat as you would be from the rain, so never skimp on breathability. Don’t be afraid to stray from the Gore-Tex status quo. The most waterproof and breathable garment I’ve ever owned in my life had Gore-Tex peer “Entrant” as its modus operandi. Just remember: you ALWAYS get what you pay for.
  • Love your feet. This one is so important I’ve made a new bullet point. There are two types of adventure travellers: those who use Gore-Tex socks, and the miserable kind. If you are trekking through a wet environ, slip into waterproof breathable socks and they will change your life. No more clunky, heavy waterproof boots that always leak anyway. After all, who cares if your shoes get wet? It’s your feet you need to keep dry!
  • You perspire. Your camera doesn’t. The only truly waterproof substance I’ve ever encountered in my life is PVC, preferably with some thickness to it. Think: three-fold dry bag. Even triple-layer, taped-seam Gore-Tex will, eventually, leak. PVC never will. Consider this when you’re packing your brand-new Nikon D3X or iPad. (One caveat: PVC melts like butter next to heat sources.)
  • Bonus tip! Keep those little silica packs you find in new clothing and luggage and stash them in your camera and/or laptop case. They create a humidity-free environment for your electronic gear.

Dress for the Crash

There’s an old motorcycle adage, “Dress for the Crash, Not For The Ride.”

Consider this when packing your gear. After all, what will make you more uncomfortable? Packing three pounds of extra clothing into your bag, or uncontrollable shivers because you aren’t wearing enough layers?

Conversely — lugging 20 pounds of extra gear will be more uncomfortable, in the long run, than a bit of shivering. So use common sense, and remember, layering is key! Better to pack three thin layers than one bulky jacket. The lesson here is: ensuring you’re prepared for a bad situation will make the good situations a breeze.

First Aid

On my first overseas trip, I was convinced simple items like Band-Aids and Tylenol would be as hard to come by as Ketchup Chips. I was mistaken. Today, though, I still buy all my painkillers, antihistamine, band-aids, aloe vera lotion, eardrops and so on before I board the plane. Why? It’s simple — when a splitting, sunstroke induced headache hits, or your stomach starts doing somersaults, you’ll want that medicine right beside you right now. The last thing you’ll want to do is head out in an unfamiliar town in search of a drugstore with your bowels about to explode. Enough said.

  • Your kit should contain: over-the-counter painkillers (no codeine!), antihistamine (even if you swear you have no allergies), band-aids/gauze, aloe vera lotion, calamine lotion, cortisone cream, antibiotic eye/ear drops, antibiotic cream, stomach/diarrhea medicine, moleskin and tweezers. (If you’re really getting off the grid, a flashlight, matches and water purification tablets can be added to that list.)
Arctic Adventure

The author fishing north of the Arctic Circle. When the nearest hospital is 750 km away, self-reliance is key.

Location, Location, Location

My Blackberry has a handy little GPS in it. I also have a Garmin Nuvi 255 GPS for my car that is about one-thousand times better. Both are luxuries, and if my life depended on either, I would be very, very worried.

Simply put, there is no substitution for a proper, paper map and a quality compass. Not a digital compass, but a magnetic compass. Batteries die. Satellite signals get lost. Electronics break. Real orienteering skills may one day save your life. Here are a couple of tips for finding your way when your map is lost, your GPS won’t work and your compass is smashed to bits:

Find the North Star

  • First locate the Big Dipper then follow an imaginary line commencing at the last two stars that make up the end of the “cup;” these line up with the last star in the Little Dipper, which is the North Star and always lays smack dab over the northern horizon. NOTE: this only works in the Northern Hemisphere. Finding south with the stars in the Southern Hemisphere is much tougher. You need to locate the South Celestial Pole — the spot that all stars seem to rotate around. Tips can be found HERE.

Daytime Bearings

  • Pick a sunny spot and drive a one-metre-long stick into the ground. Place a small stone at the end of the shadow the stick casts. Wait about 20 minutes or so then place another stone at the tip of the shadow the stick now casts. The first stone is the west end of the line running between these rocks, the second stone is east. NOTE: Only when the times used to mark the tip of a stick’s shadow span local standard noontime will the resulting line run exactly west to east. The line will be just a bit east of true north near 6:00 a.m. and will be west-to-east at noon and eventually become just a bit east of true south near 6:00 p.m., so try to do this when the sun is high.
  • If you have the luxury of a wristwatch you can utilize it to better orient yourself with this method: the sun “moves” 15 degrees per hour. At 6:00 a.m. it is due east; at 9:00 a.m. it is southeast; at noon it is south; at 3:00 p.m. it is southwest, and at 6:00 p.m. it is west.
  • No watch and no compass, but lots of sun and all day to think about it? Start marking the tip of the stick’s shadow in the morning and continue until the shadow begins to lengthen. The point of shortest shadow is true north from the base of the stick.

Border Crossings

Like Forest Gump said, “…you never know what you’re going to get.” That’s why, when it comes to dealing with border guards, there are some universal pieces of advice that will never steer you wrong:

  • Remove your sunglasses and hat.
  • Keep calm and remain polite.
  • Be patient and always keep a relaxed smile on your face.
  • Never show your irritation, even when provoked.
  • Obey all instructions happily.
  • Accept delays with a smile.
  • Never carry anything across a border for someone else — even for a friend.

All this being said, trust your instincts, and understand that at times and in some countries, tariffs and fees can be negotiable. Just don’t force the issue or appear to be offering a bribe.

In some (usually developing) countries, simply asking the guard. “Can I pay this fee directly to you?” will get the message across nicely. And remember: the penalties for smuggling will always outweigh the duty on the item.

Self Defence

Have you considered self defence? Self defence can be a lot of things beyond Kung Fu and concealed handguns. For example, in some parts of the world, solo women are well-advised to wear a phony wedding ring — a pre-emptive form of self defence against unwanted advances or worse. Conversely, I read a great quote in Chris Scott’s book Adventure Motorcycling Handbook, “I can’t think of any situation, personal or otherwise, where a handgun would not have made things worse.” Mind you, Chris has obviously never trekked through Kodiak Island, Alaska.

My point? Always ask yourself, “Will my actions resolve the situation, or escalate it?”

And in any situation, in any country, on any continent, common sense is your best form of self defence. If a situation seems dodgy, get out. Finally, leave your weapons (knives, pepper spray, etc.) at home — they’re more likely to land you in jail than actually come in handy.

Adventure is truly a subjective term. So explore your limits — but always respect them.

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Interested in more adventure travel? The Backpacker Herald has been recommended in a post on Simonseeks.com about Adventure Travel. Simonseeks.com is a website where a community of travel enthusiasts, experts and celebrities can share their tips on the best places to stay, eat and visit. Ranging from the top Rome Hotels to best nightlife in London.

Motorcycle Image From Dreamstime.com

About the author: David Webb is a Vancouver, BC-based travel writer, photographer and magazine editor.

6 comments… add one
  • Herman Sep 14, 2010

    nice!

  • Trip Tips Jun 14, 2010

    This has been a most thoroughly researched and well written article. Certainly provides a new slant on the meaning of “Adventure Travel.” Never really considered the parallel between “self-reliance” and being adventurous. Thanks for putting so much work into this detailed travel article.

  • veterinary technician Jun 11, 2010

    Wow this is a great resource.. I’m enjoying it.. good article

  • Photogenius Jun 9, 2010

    Ohh – good tip, re: the silica packs! That would totally work!

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