Adventure travel: what I wish I’d known

If there’s one thing that’s true about travelling, it’s that sometimes things don’t go as planned – you forget your passport, you get on the wrong train, you use the Spanish word for “pregnant” instead of “embarrassed” (they’re very similar!). The good news is, even experienced adventurers mess up sometimes. Learn a thing or two from a few well-known wanderers and avoid making similar travel blunders.

Tom Avery

Tom Avery world record explorer

World Record explorer and mountaineer, part of the fastest team in history to reach the North Pole and youngest Briton ever (at 25) to ski to the South Pole

Piece of advice: Always double check you have all your baggage through every leg of a trip.

The story: “After two-and-a-half years of organising, I was ready to achieve my record-breaking expedition to the South Pole in 2002. My team met in London where we had all of our expedition kits, including a bunch of big trunks. An oversized taxi came to collect us (and our bags) to take us to the airport. After a long flight, we arrived in Chile.

Once at the baggage reclaim, we realised there was one bag missing, which had our skis we needed to ski 700 miles to the South Pole. As prepared as we thought we were when we left, we forgot the skis back in the flat in London! As these were quite essential toward the success of our journey, we had to try to find second-hand skis in Chile as a replacement – and it was a disaster. Eventually, we found 1980s fluorescent yellow skis and were able to fix them up, but it very nearly scuppered the expedition.

We still shipped our forgotten skis from the UK to South America in hopes they’d arrive before our expedition, but there was only one flight from Chile to Antarctica and we had to make that flight – whether we had our skis or not. Unfortunately, we got on the flight before the delivery came and we never met our skis. But we made it to Antarctica and still broke the record… with our 80s skis!”

How you can avoid the same mistake: If you are travelling with a lot of luggage, count the number of bags you have in the beginning and count them in and out of every taxi, hotel and airport. It’s amazing how easy it is to leave a bag behind. Don’t fall victim to the same fate and get stuck with vintage replacements!

Annette White

Annette White adventure travel

Travel writer and adventurer. Follow her adventures on Instagram

Piece of advice: Before leaving for an overseas or international trip, make sure you are set up to stay connected back home.

The story: “In Ireland, I turned on my data roaming for ten minutes to get GPS directions… and it cost me a whopping $66! Then in Ecuador, calling my airline to straighten out a cancelled flight without an international phone plan cost me $180! If I had been wise enough to go through Skype or any other Wi-Fi enabled calling, the same call would have cost about $3 – or nothing on free Wi-Fi. Lesson learned.”

How you can avoid the same mistake: The easiest and cheapest way to stay connected is using your smartphone’s Wi-Fi. There are plenty of options, like talking via Skype, video chatting through Facebook or texting on WhatsApp.

Another option is getting an international calling or data plan through your carrier. But be careful: each plan typically only gives a set amount of data, and watching YouTube videos or streaming music can eat it up quickly.

Purchasing a SIM card is also a good choice. These microchips give you a local number and cheap calling and data rates. You can usually find them at your destination airport or a local phone store. In order to use SIM cards, you must either have an unlocked phone or purchase a cheap phone from the country you’re travelling. Contact your provider to enquire about “unlocking” your phone – some will do it free of charge.

Edurne Pasaban

Edurne Pasaban mountaineer Greenland peak

Professional mountaineer and adventurer, speaker and first woman to complete the ascent of the 14 highest peaks on earth. Follow her adventures on Instagram

Piece of advice: Check the visa and passport requirements for any country you plan to visit in advance. Some countries require a number of free pages on the passport or a pre-visa before departure.

The story: I have been travelling around Asia throughout my life without any visa problems, but recently travelled to unfamiliar Kenya where travel rules are much different. One day before flying out, I realised I needed empty pages in my passport upon arrival. I had to run to the police station in order to obtain a new passport before I left!”

How you can avoid the same mistake: Politely ask the immigration officials to try to use a full passport page before stamping on another page to make use of all the available space.

Anna McNuff

Anna McNuff adventurer cyclist

Adventurer and speaker. Follow her adventures on Instagram

Piece of advice: Never underestimate the weather in an unfamiliar country. Until you’ve travelled to places like Cuba, Thailand or America do you truly get a taste of what Mother Nature can do!

The story: “I found myself on a bicycle trip in Colorado during the September 2013 floods. It was the biggest flood in 40 years, and for five days I watched it unfold on the news – although I didn’t pay too much attention because I was in a town clear of the floods. When the time came to leave, I assumed that the impacted areas were miles away, and that I’d be able to find a way to “make it through.” I cycled about 50 miles on my bike before coming across collapsed bridges and closed roads. I continued to wiggle northward as the sun began to set, until I came across a point where the road in front of me had entirely crumbled away leaving a huge river where the road should’ve been! As I turned around, a car came whizzing down the road toward me… I assumed it would see the crumbled road and stop, but instead flew straight past me, flipped off the road and landed in the river! I ended up having to pull two people out of the car wreck and call 911. They survived, but it was the scariest situation I’d ever experienced in my life.”

How you can avoid the same mistake: Pay close attention to the local news! Suss out whether locals are travelling or steering clear of bad weather. Ask for advice – don’t be a hero about it and think you can just plough through. Mother Nature doesn’t take too kindly to efforts of adventurers trying to battle on through her. I learned that one that hard way! If you’re in any doubt, play it safe. Take some more time to explore the town and place you’re holed up instead. That’s what adventures are about – the interruptions as much as the journey itself.

Sam Horine

Adventure travel Sam Horine photographer

Photographer and educator. Follow his adventures on Instagram

Piece of advice: Keep an open mind when travelling. You never know what sort of adventure or friendship might unfold through a chance encounter or meeting.

The story: “A couple years ago, I was in Rome and happened to overhear a stranger mention the university they’d attended from across the bar. One thing led to another, and after a few drinks, we’d nailed down some mutual friends and were invited to a big party she was having later that week. I ended up meeting some folks at that party who then later hired me to come back to Italy for a job, as well as some others who remain good friends to this day.”

No mistakes here! How to make the most of your adventure: The main takeaway is, you never know when or how opportunities could arise, so try to go into situations – whether they are domestic or foreign – with an open mind and willingness to meet the locals. They know all of the places and details that will help transform your experience from tourist visitor to local explorer.

Got it? Get going and off the beaten track with your newly found adventure travel confidence.

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