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HOW TO: Prepare for Adventure Trips & Treks the Globetrooper Way

by Globetrooper Todd | 22 Responses
Prepare for Tough Adventure Trips & Treks

Most of us avid travellers are fit enough to enjoy most adventure treks. Maybe we’re not ultramarathon’ers, and maybe we can’t do 100 military pushups without stopping (hey, there’s a challenge), but you know, we tend to take care of ourselves because we love to travel and we can’t think of anything worse than being hindered by our own physical limitations.

So why then, despite adequate training, do we often run into discomfort when we embark on our most epic adventures? Well, I have three secrets for you, and they have nothing to do with physical fitness.

Don’t get me wrong, physical fitness certainly matters. If you can’t run 10km in less than 60 minutes, then it’s time to hit the streets for a little tune up. But even though most of us Globetroopers keep relatively fit, we tend to struggle (especially compared with locals) when we venture abroad. Why? Well, here are a few tips from our latest expedition.

Foot Care

Foot Care

Care for and toughen up your feet - Håkan Dahlström

The Problem

We Westerners tend to have very soft and sensitive feet. Even for us Aussies who walk the streets and beaches without shoes, we still tend to have tender feet. When Lauren and I recently hit the jungle for 8 hours of straight trekking, our feet were destroyed. There’s nothing as frustrating as having the fitness to break new ground, but being thwarted by blisters the size of jupiter.

The Prevention

Prevention = tough feet + excellent footwear + non-cotton socks. I think Lauren faired a little better than me because she’s used to enduring the pain and destruction of regular women’s footware. Me? I tend to wear shoes that afford a lot of comfort. And while I previously never understood a woman’s acceptance of pain for fashion, I now know the secret: they’re all in training for epic adventures. Seriously though, it doesn’t hurt to toughen your feet up beforehand.

What is excellent footwear? It really depends. And, it takes a lot of trial and error. Less weight and less friction is usually best, but both of those characteristics come at a cost, namely warmth and protection. Sandals are great, until you fracture your ankle or end up in sub-zero temps, which can literally kill. So it’s really up to you to prioritise each factor: weight vs. protection vs. warmth vs. breathability. As for socks, they must be non-cotton to wick away moisture. Damp enclosed feet soften and blister very easily.

The Cure

Whatever you do, you must pack the following if you hope to fix problem feet:

  • Lubrication to apply to hot spots before they become blisters
  • Very high quality blister strips, such as Second Skin
  • Cotton bandages for the most stubborn blisters

Stomach Health

Stomach Health

An upset stomach can debilitate - atomicpuppy68

The Problem

Most great expeditions take us away from home into less developed regions. And while we all love to get out into new cultures and learn a thing or two, our poor little sensitive Western stomachs are often the last to come to the party. Just like damaged feet, an ill stomach renders the highest levels of physical fitness virtually useless. I’d much rather struggle a little due to under-training than be plagued by a constant upset stomach.

The Prevention

Prevention = hygiene + immunity + good bacteria. We all tend to get more and more lax with hygiene the longer we go without illness. Then bang. But there’s a paradox here. Being a ‘hygiene nut’ back at home is probably the worse thing you can do for your immunity. Sure you shouldn’t eat out of a garbage bin, but when you start refusing to shake people’s hands due to ‘germs’, it’s time to get a grip.

Also the right type of yoghurt (probiotic) can do wonders to build immunity against infections. It can even cure antibiotic-related stomach problems, which often occur when you initially try to blow bad bacteria out of the water with pills.

The Cure

You have to be careful here. Most stomach issues in developing countries are the result of infection by bad bacteria. But anti-bacterials and anti-biotics also create stomach problems. Often you don’t realise you’ve transitioned and then you make the problem worse by treating chemical-related problems with more pills. With that said, anti-bacterials can save the day when you’re on the move.

Apart from pills (always carry an anti-bacterial), eat plain foods such as bread and pasta and drink lots of pharmacy-grade electrolytes (or Gatorade if it’s the only option). Don’t be tempted by crappy food; it’s much better to go without eating (but drinking lots of electrolytes) than surrendering yourself to foods that will upset your stomach.

Weight Reduction

Rolf Potts

The ultimate light traveller - Rolf Potts

The Problem

So you have comfortable feet, a healthy stomach and you’re relatively fit. Sure, you could have trained much harder, but there’s an easier way. For every kilogram you shave off your pack, you save 13.7 megajoules of energy per hour. Okay, I just made that up, but seriously, shedding weight has a seemingly exponential effect.

On our recent jungle adventure, my pack was about 10kg, but it felt like 50kg after only a couple of hours. We could have put our packs on mules and walked without any weight, but we reasoned that it would be good training for Gobi 2011.

Oh my were we wrong. After getting stuck in the jungle in the dark and becoming very unbalanced while crossing waterfalls, I wished we had focussed more on shedding weight.

The Prevention

This is an easy one… Prevention = shed weight. But be a little careful here. Most people have no chance of under-packing, but some of us love the idea of travelling light and take it a little too far. An easy rule is to take things that will save your life, save your feet and keep your stomach happy; ditch everything else. As mentioned, weight doesn’t just lead to exhaustion, it also hinders your balance and reduces agility.

The Cure

Once you travel for a while, you’ll realise that most things aren’t worth very much. My MacBook is about the only exemption (and not everyone would agree), but everything else (clothes, footwear, etc.) can all be replaced for a pitance. If you find yourself really struggling under weight, start donating items to anyone around you in need.

Conclusion

It’s very easy to get caught up in training hard for epic adventures. But when you sit down for a moment and think about what could really spoil the adventure, you’ll realise that there’s much lower hanging fruit. Keep your feet healthy, your stomach happy, and your pack light, and you’re on your way to enjoyable travels. Except for extreme expeditions (or very unfit people), physical training is usually just the icing on the cake when it comes to enjoyment.

Posted in Adventure Travel, Featured, Gobi 2011, How-To Guides | November 20th, 2010

22 Responses to HOW TO: Prepare for Adventure Trips & Treks the Globetrooper Way

  1. Hi Todd,

    This article makes great (and often overlooked) points about fitness and preparation for trips. To me, being comfortable (i.e. happy feet, stomach, light backpack, warm, etc) can take you just as far as being “fit”.

    The first time I hiked up a snowy volcano in Ecuador, I was definitely fit enough, but ill prepared comfort-wise and was soaking wet from the rain/snow due to not having a proper rain jacket and ended up turning back early (which is kind of a variation of not having proper footwear).

    In a high altitude hike in Peru, I was super comfortable (comfortable shoes, warm breathable clothes, carrying almost nothing but a small DSLR and a bit of water) and though I’m not super fit, I seemed to have less of a hard time (especially going up hill) than the more fit people who were carrying video cameras and other electronics in their bags.

    Thanks for the reminder to pack light (I’m currently packing my bag for a trip in a few days!)

    - Lily

    • Hey Lily, thanks for the kind words. Where are you heading this time? Is this your big trip that you’re leaving for in a few days? Which direction? Maybe we’ll bump into one another.

      • Hi Todd!

        Yep, I’m flying out in 2 days – headed to India and then Southeast Asia/South Pacific for a few months. It’s the longest time I’ve been away from home, so I anticipate it’s going to be an eye opening experience (outward and inward).

        I’m doing a small group tour in India with Gap Adventures, but Southeast Asia will be really solo – which means I’ll be putting up a trip on Globetrooper soon :)

        I do hope we bump into each other sometime! I’d probably end up asking you a thousand questions about your travels, launching a web community and even finance. I hope you like to talk :)

        - Lily

      • Well good luck Lily. Not sure if we’ll be there in time; we’re heading to India in late Jan or early Feb. Either way, hope you have a ball. And willing to talk anytime on Skype or over email; love talking shop.

  2. Great post. I once had what was supposed to be a speed-trek in the Scottish Highlands turned into a slow, injury-blighted trudge due to carrying far too heavy a pack. Never again!

    • Hey Faraz… great to hear from a fellow crazy Gobi 2011 team member. I hear that you also caught up with Mike in NY. Wish we could have caught him in South America too, but alas, plans changed on a daily basis. We’ll have to both keep this “light packing” stuff front of mind when shopping for Gobi 2011. I already have a daypack in mind from golite.com :)

      • Indeed, although I’d like to take a tiny laptop and SLR camera with me. I suppose it shouldn’t be too much of an issue because we have camels to bear the brunt of the weight. That said, given there will be 14 of us, we should probably go easy on them!

      • We’ll be taking our Macbooks, but plan on making good use of the camels too. It’s more the daypack that I’ll try to really keep light.

        Do you already have a camera? I’d be interested to know what you’re bringing. We have a pretty good compact at the moment, but I’m thinking for an epic trip like this, we should also bring a micro 4/3s or a DSLR.

      • Todd, I’m probably going to buy a new SLR for general use anyway. Perhaps we can make sure we bring an assortment of lenses so we’re not doubling up too much? Also, I’m going to post something in the forum asking Emmanuel and Ripley for advice on cameras and laptops with regards to dust and sand…

  3. Awesome post! I love the Seconds skin blister plasters, they are the only ones that I find work well. Totally agree on the weight reduction, you don’t want to walk around with a hunch back for a whole week after a trek because of a heavy backback..!

    • Thanks Sofia. Agree, Second Skin is like magic. Hope all is well otherwise; your blog looks better and better every time I visit.

  4. Wow this is just what every traveler should know. The basics of preparing ourselves to traveling is really very important but most overlook these important things. I do like the idea of always carrying antibiotics coz tummy upset will definitely ruin everything.

    • Thanks Rick. I just came across http://www.e-pax.co.uk/, which is a company that makes a first aid kit for travellers. So none of the unnecessary stuff, and lots of useful stuff like antibacterials, antihistamines, etc.

  5. Really great article, just the advice i’m looking for. Keep up the good work GlobeTrooper!

  6. Any tips on what to do in case of revolution?

  7. Hi Todd & thanks for the information. I loved how specific it was. Some similar articles are just the usual generic travel tips whereas yours was pleasantly and helpfully focused on three major problems and their cures.
    I would love even more information about your first focus-topic of foot problems while traveling. I haven’t had huge issues with blisters, but I do have an incredibly persistent (11 years) case of plantaar fasciitis that was made even worse by a nasty fall down some stairs.
    Do either you or your readers have any tips for dealing with plantar fasciitis? Over the years, I’ve used orthotics, bought expensive shoes, stretched, went to numerous physical therapists, etc., but the problem persists and limits my travel & trekking ability. So far, my only remedy is to ride my bike a lot, but I’d love to be able to hike again. I’d appreciate any tips, tricks, &/or advice.

    • Hey TN, I don’t have specific suggestions, but will pass this on to Lauren, who just walked 1,000 miles across the Gobi Desert. By default she’s now an expert in foot care and maintenance. Thanks for dropping by.

    • Hey there, I don’t know anything about plantar fasciitis but just had a quick search – you can talk to your doc about a boot cast for 3-6 weeks, or even steroid injections (as it’s been a long-term problem).

      I’ve also asked our pre-Gobi medic (Steve Blethyn – http://www.steveblethyn.co.uk) for some advice on this, so hopefully he can provide some more tips for you soon.

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