Walking holidays are a fantastic way to relax, keep fit and experience things that you would never encounter in your day to day life. The feeling of release born of being hundreds of miles away from work, email and washing up can bring a tremendous clarity of mind and freeness of spirit. That being said, walking holidays are a difficult needle to thread, and it is quite easy for a relaxing walk to transform into a stressful nightmare. With that in mind, here are four of the best ways to completely spoil your holiday.
Number 1: Don’t Bring a Map.
It sounds like the most basic of common sense, but you would be amazed by the amount of people who contrive reasons to go exploring unknown terrain without proper guidance. Generally this comes in the form of technologically savvy people who quite reasonably point out that their phones can multitask as maps, compasses and GPSs. This sounds good on paper, but there are a couple of fairly major flaws with the plan. For one; mobile phones can and will run out of power, and have an unerring tendency to choose the least convenient moment possible to do this. Secondly, cell phone coverage is still far from universal, and the places where you are most likely to be enjoying a walking holiday (forests, mountains and national parks) are also the places least likely to be able to establish a connection.
Then you get the hardcore walkers who think that bringing a map is somehow cheating and that doing so ruins the wonder of exploration. It’s a romantic notion I’ll grant, but I’d wager the attraction will start to wear thin after three days walking in circles through Snowdonia National Park. If you’re the adventurous sort then there’s no reason why you need to depend on a map, but not bringing one at all is simply begging for trouble.
Number 2: Bring Inadequate Footwear
It doesn’t matter if they match with your rucksack or not; if you are going to be hiking significant distances then comfortable footwear is an absolute must. Obviously you shouldn’t bring anything impractical such as high heels or platform soles (you may snigger, but I’ve seen it done) but you should also avoid depending on those brand-spanking-new walking boots you just purchased. For one, new shoes usually require breaking in, and a twenty mile hike is not the place for it. More importantly though; the half yard of ground you cover in the shoe shop is not going to provide an accurate reflection on how comfortable your boots actually are, and you don’t want to discover that they’re giving you blisters half way up a mountain.
My advice would be to bring a minimum of two pairs of shoes. Changing footwear regularly helps to prevent aches and pains building up and guards against blisters. In addition, you never know when a pair of shoes is going to finally give out. I’ve had shoes fall apart on me, I’ve had a boot sucked off my foot by deep mud and I once saw a friend accidentally kick her only left shoe down the side of a mountain. If you look after your feet then your feet will look after you.
Number 3: Fail to Acknowledge Your Limits.
We’re all human, and very few of us have the stamina of Sir Edmund Hilary. Setting out to walk across the French Alps or to attempt the Snowman trek in Bhutan may sound exciting, but those walks are not appropriate for most ordinary people. Don’t try to run before you can walk; or in this case, don’t try to walk before you can walk a shorter distance over kinder terrain.
Almost all established walking rounds have been categorised according to difficulty, usually ranking as: introductory, moderate, strenuous and very challenging. There is absolutely no shame in confining yourself to easier walks until such a time as you feel ready to take a swing at something more challenging.
Number 4: Have Faith in the Weather Forecast.
Meteorology is a fickly fiend that will trip you up if it can. It doesn’t matter if Michael Fish, NASA laboratories and US naval intelligence are unanimous in their proclamation of clear skies; if you are going to be hiking in a part of the world where rain is a possibility then you need to be prepared for it. A waterproof coat is of course standard equipment, but I’d also recommend packing a couple of bin liners. In a torrential downpour even the best rucksacks have a tendency to be considerably less waterproof than one would hope, and whilst walking around with a bin bag on your back may make you look like a bit silly, but it’s better than all your stuff getting wet. The sky is not your friend.
All of these mistakes can be happily summarised into a single sentence.
“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”
If you pay proper attention to your equipment, your surroundings and your preparations then a walking holiday can be an immensely rewarding and life affirming experience. Be smart, be sensible and don’t forget to plan.
Neil Park is a freelance writer and outdoor enthusiast. He owns a great deal of outdoor gear and recommends Gear Zone for those preparing for a walking holiday. For those interested, he eventually had to climb back down the mountain in search of his friend’s shoe.