Great trips start with great plans. Review the fundamentals with this checklist, then use our Google Doc template to get started.
There are two types of peoples outdoors: those who’ve honed their outdoor trip planning skills, and those who have days of avoidable disappointments ahead of them. Whether you’ve just started hiking or are fully committed to going on a rugged traverse, planning goes a long, long way towards making sure you’ll have the experience you want outdoors. Learning how to plan the best outdoor trip now will save your frustration later. These are good guidelines to get you started planning trips in North America. Plus, these rules are broad enough that you can customize them for any outdoor trip.
1. Choose your ride or die activity
Free time is hard to come by. Make the most of it by prioritizing activities you enjoy. The more realistic you are with yourself about what activity you want to do the most, the more you can focus on doing one thing successfully. Cut the fluff to avoid overpacking gear and bloating your vacation schedule.
2. Pick a place that matches your skills, timeframe, and budget
This takes research. Does that hiking traverse need a permit? Can you afford a motel option if the weather turns bad? We’ll be releasing some starter destination guides soon to point you in the right direction, but know that traveling outdoors is inherently less streamlined that stepping onboard a cruise ship. If you’re new, start with more popular destinations or places closer to home that your friends recommend so you can have more support as you begin to explore.
Tip: Make sure you’re on the same page as your group about daily mileage goals and must-do activities. Coffee by a lake? Hike to a hot spring? Write it in permanent marker so nobody goes home bitter.
3. Plan for Fun
Just because it has the word “plan” in it doesn’t mean it needs to list out every corner store you’re buying a can of beans from. This is where you make sure to plan for the specific trails or routes that inspired the whole trip in the first place. In addition, a good plan always needs to include the following:
- Specific info about the activities you want to do on the trip
- An overview of daily travel, including approximate locations of campsites
- The maps or location references (waypoints on a GPS) you’ll be using
- Dates and times of when you’ll be returning and how you’ll communicate when you’re home safe
- Basic contact info for everyone in the group (if not already known)
- How to contact emergency services for the are where you’re traveling
- Extra credit: locations of nearest medical facilities
The plan can be as simple as a Google doc shared with everyone who’s going, or a text message to your emergency contact and/or mom. The process of making a plan will help you anticipate logistical problems and fix them before you’re on your trip. It’s also a best practice so rescue teams have some information to work with in case anything goes terribly wrong.
Open the link, click “File” then “Make a Copy” and fill in your info. Then share with your emergency contact for the trip.
4. Reserve Whatever You Can
If any part of your trip is non-negotiable and can be booked, do it ASAP. Not only will you have the most non-wildernessy feeling parts of the trip out of the way, but you can also learn more about your destination. It’s a lot easier to get area info from a business you’ve already paid a deposit to. Plus and they can give you a better idea of how busy other parts of your trip might be and how necessary other reservations are. This is particularly important if you’re traveling in less popular seasons and need to check what’s open.
Tip: Set the right tone for the trip by choosing a reservable campsite or motel for your first night. It’s an easy way to avoid Day 1 meltdowns.
5. Evaluate your gear
Based on your itinerary, and your experience in your chosen sport, put together a list of what you need to bring or what needs to be bought or fixed before you go. Leaving town is stressful enough without after-work pickups from the bike shop or night before panicked searching for a lost gaitor. This is a good time to think about your food options on the trip, and making sure to buy shelf-stable things on your next grocery run instead of making a special trip.
Next: Head out!
While it’s fresh in your mind and after you’ve showered and rehydrated, think about the main packing and planning lessons from the trip. Was your gear list good? What were the biggest frustrations as a group, and how can you lessen the friction next time?
Bonus Tip: Pick a place for everyone to share photos online, since everyone’s gonna want to pick and choose which ones to post.
Inspired yet? Share on social and tag someone who could use a step-by-step kick-in-the-pants to plan their next trip.
Photo: Patrick Hendry from Unsplash