by Jimmy Chin
1. Stay flexible. Not the yoga kind (although that helps). Plans can change. Buses run late. Luggage gets lost (see #4). Ultimately, the success or failure of your trip from a happiness/fulfillment standpoint will come down to how well you managed the unforeseeables. Remember this: the best stories you later tell will be of the chance encounters, the follies and the unexpected. Roll with it.
2. Know the customs/culture of your destination. This is part due diligence and part survival skill. At the very least, you’ll avoid an embarrassing or awkward situation. No joke — it can also keep you out of jail, or worse. Remember Michael Fay? While we’re on it, it won’t hurt to learn a little of the language. Just some basic phrases will be enough to make you feel like you’re fitting in, and shows you care enough to try.
3. Play the guest. Respect + humility. Those two concepts will get you everywhere, in my opinion.
4. Pack lightly. You may be going for two weeks, but pack like you are going for one. Ditch the four “night out” get ups and the three pairs of board shorts. The extras will only weigh you down, especially if your adventure consists of a significant amount of foot travel. If you can get away with it, pack only what can be carried on the airplane. Nothing is worse than arriving at your destination airport only to find your checked luggage never made it out of Phoenix. Here are some of the essential items that I always take with me.
5. Have a connection. If you don’t have one, find one. Tap into the 6 degrees of separation and find that friend of a friend living in or around your adventure destination. This is particularly helpful on trips to foreign countries where tourists are targets and hustlers are rampant. You’ll want someone you can trust advising you on the best places to eat, stay, explore, etc. If you don’t know ANYONE, make a connection. Stay wary and on guard, but don’t be afraid to make friends. Not everyone is out to fleece you.
6. Document the trip. Take photos and keep a journal. You may think you’ll remember every last detail, but once the trips start adding up (and hopefully they will) you’ll be thankful that you have some old pages to pore over and photo galleries to click through. And when the grind starts wearing you down again, pull this material out to get motivated for your next adventure. (Read my journal entry after surviving an Avalanche.)
7. Know your strengths and limitations. You can’t just decide one day to climb K2 and go do it the next. While it’s absolutely okay to try something new on your next adventure trip, you might not want to make Half Dome your first rock climbing experience. And even the most seasoned mountaineer needs to train before tackling an Everest. Do yourself a favor and brush up on the skills needed for your adventure and work some fitness into your daily routine.
8. Aim high. This is adventure travel, not R & R at a beach resort. Challenge yourself. Try something new. It could turn out to be your next passion in life. (That’s how I found surfing.) If you’ve made the commitment to adventure, make the commitment to get out of your comfort zone at some point along the way. Trying something new, getting humbled is always exciting and makes for the best trips. A good schooling and little suffering along the way of an epic adventure can make the daily challenges of life back home infinitely more manageable when you get back.
(Here are some more thoughts on Leaving Your Comfort Zone.)
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