Planning Adventure

Death Valley National Park

The following is a small example of the philosophy I apply when traveling and planning adventures. 

Two things before I delve deeper:

  1. You must overcome the recoil of the idea of planning, contrasting with the notion of “spontaneity”. I sense that popular culture emphasizes the spontaneous and wanderlust-ish vacations following the young adult backpacker without a plan and two pennies to their name. Of course, these travelers do exist, but I think the amount of planning behind their experiences is undersold and I do not think they make up the majority of travelers.
  2. To complement the above statement, the philosophy that is necessary or at least the philosophy that can make your adventures more rewarding is the idea that you can do anything, but you can’t do everything. This brings awareness to the fact, at least in the majority of travelers/adventurers, that you are operating on a limited time budget. Aside from finances and will power, time will likely always be the limiting factor.

Moving forward, I would like to share two trips of mine that were very different experiences all because of planning.

In 2016, I went on a walking trip with a friend in Ireland. I had intentions of spending two weeks with him and then I had arranged a farm-stay (via Workaway) in Wales for 10 days following. I had a return ticket already purchased back to the states at an arranged date four weeks from my time in Wales so I had an idea of where I needed to be at the end of the month. I had a completely open canvas before me. Armed with a travel map and an iphone, I arrived in a small town in Wales I had read about and I was eager to vagabond. As you can expect, I spent a wonderful day sight-seeing and scaling the local castle and when it came time to rest for the night, I had no place to sleep. At dinner I sat down to search through the local Couchsurfing listings and sent out a few hopeful messages. I then went through the hostels in the area to find a backup place to stay should I need one. An hour went by and I had yet to receive a response. I started to sweat. 

All of the hostels in the area were booked and despite the confidence and spirit of adventure I thought I was brimming with, I had yet to receive a response from Couchsurfing. Night was falling and I felt uneasy. Suddenly my off-the-cuff tramping adventure was beginning to feel a lot like I was homeless. Needless to say, as the street lights were starting to turn on, I knocked on the door of a Bed and Breakfast and pleaded for a room. I had to take the only room available and begrudgingly paid 3x what I was prepared to pay initially. 

Image of Conwy Castle

Contrasting with my 2016 trip, in 2018, I spent two months in Las Vegas, Nevada for a clinical rotation for graduate school. While there I planned a trip to explore Death Valley National Park with my girlfriend. We were operating on a limited time budget as my girlfriend was working at the time and was only able to take 2-3 days off, thus I wanted to plan accordingly in order to maximize our time together. In the end, we had around 24 hours to utilize in Death Valley so I spent the appropriate time planning beforehand. 

Death Valley National Park
Image of Death Valley
Death Valley National Park
Image of Death Valley

What I learned

One can already see the stark difference between these two experiences. As one can guess, the Death Valley experience was a great adventure despite being 24 hours total. The planning I did beforehand made for a great day and allowed us to thoroughly explore the park and see it’s varied landscapes. 

Meanwhile in Wales, after that first fateful night without a bed, I learned to spend more time constructing the days ahead of me. Of course, being in a different country, I was forced to move wifi hotspot to hotspot, however, I learned from my first night.

My Wales trip and the urgency of the situation catalyzed an organized approach to planning that I have taken forward with me to today. Though it has seen some evolution:

Ireland Travel Journal 2016
Death Valley National Park 2018

How I plan my Adventures

  1. Brain Dump: This is a journal tactic i’ve utilized in the past which is a good exercise to get any and all ideas on the paper before you. Simply put, create a list of every site, hike, etc. that you may wish to visit during your adventure. Rather than come back later and edit I always take the initial bit of energy necessary and also include links to trail descriptions or websites as well as average duration, distance, and special instructions. Doing this at the time of your initial planning saves a lot of time in the future.
  1. Start with a bed: Whether you are planning a day trip or exploring for several days, it is best to have a home base from which you can operate from and return to after your trip. For a camping adventure, this may mean identifying a site outside of a park from which you can set out from and then perhaps identifying your sites within the park. Identifying and reserving, if necessary, the rooms or beds you are traveling between provides a framework and structure for your trip moving forward. When I am planning a multi-day trip, I identify the towns or cities that will serve as a base for me throughout the trip. I plan to stay in each town for 2-3 days and so I make the appropriate reservations moving forward.
  1. Travel: Now that you have your list of towns and a framework is starting to develop, I recommend that you take time to research travel in between your towns. This includes public transport if applicable and the associated reservations, ie depart times, travel times, and arrival times. If you are using a personal vehicle or you are walking between towns, travel time still applies. This is an important step and can be a strong reminder of the philosophy that you can do anything, but you can’t do everything. Appropriate research and planning around effective travel time will allow you to maximize your time during your adventure.
  1. Activities: Now it is time to refer back to your “Brain Dump” planning document. Ideally at this point you have identified a list of hikes or sites you would like to see, you have reserved or identified towns that act as central locations from which you can then explore these hikes and return to at the end of your day, and your travel is arranged so you know when and where you have to be in order to get town to town. With this framework in place, you can now add the activities to the canvas before you. 
  1. Final thoughts: As with all things, this is not an exhaustive list. This is simply a synthesis of the way I plan my adventures and it is an organized way to approach planning that you may benefit from. 

Some of the principles that underly this approach, of course, relate to the philosophy I mentioned at the beginning of this post. One of the principles I did not mention before is the idea of “Slow Travel”. I will take time to flesh this idea out more in the future especially concerning how it pertains to me, but for now, slow travel is an intentional approach to travel and exploration. Rather than a more traditional tourist approach of “get in and get out”, slow travel means getting to know one place at a time intimately. Putting it simply, travel and know a place as a local rather than a short term tourist. 

This approach to travel has brought me great joy and creates an amount of depth to my adventures that is missed when you are running one site to another.


I hope you enjoyed this post and I hope it assists you with crafting a rewarding and fulfilling adventure. 

I will share the specific documents I have created for my past adventures in the future. 

Please feel free to share with me your thoughts on this reflection as well as how you are applying this in your life.


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