How to Choose the Right Activity Level

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Larissa and Michael, Petra, Jordan

Adventure travel will encompass a wide and varied range of adventures. Some are soft while others are extreme. Choosing a trip with the right activity level is one of the most important factors to consider to fully enjoy your experience. Here are great tips from Larissa & Michael Milne. They have been to six continents since 2011, when they became digital nomads, a year after turning 50. With a focus on slow travel and years of experience in the field, they have learned a few tricks on how to select an adventure and ensure the most rewarding experience.

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The Monastery at Petra awaited: only 432 more steps to go… and we had already climbed about 400. Whose brilliant idea was this, anyway?

We had expected to channel our Indiana Jones. We trekked several kilometers through sandy slot canyons exploring the wonders of Petra, Jordan. But the ancient World Heritage site was even more vast than we had realized. Climbing up the side of a mountain at the far end of the national park was going to take a bit more stamina than our 50+ year-old bones had reckoned with. The alternative didn’t appeal however; we didn’t like the option of teetering atop a donkey as four rickety hooves plodded up the edge of the abyss. It was going to have to be our own two feet. Onward and—after a short break every now and then—upward.

Petra, Jordan

Photo Credit: Joel Young

Travel to exotic destinations and immersion in new cultures can be a dream vacation. But too much—or too little—activity can turn that dream into a nightmare. The definition of an “expedition” varies for everyone. For some it might be scaling a rock wall in the Andes, while others might relish haggling over rugs in a Middle Eastern souk. Both are memorable experiences that require stamina and a willingness to step outside your comfort zone. However, they each require different skills and temperament.

Valleys and hills on the Inca trail, Peru

Tips for choosing the trip with the right activity level

The key to enjoying a destination is finding a trip with an activity level that matches your interests and abilities. A few points to consider:

  • Be sure to include enough activity:

    Don’t pick a trip with too little activity, thinking “I’ll squeeze a run in at some point.” That opening may never come, and spending hours in a museum or market will make you fidgety and grumpy. Instead of trekking or scaling a cliff, the only thing you’ll be climbing is the walls. Be sure to book a trip with daily activities built into the itinerary. Then you won’t have to carve out exercise time on your own.

Walk in Namibia

Larissa enjoying a leisurely walk in Namibia

  • Be brutally honest with yourself about your capabilities:

    For folks with less trekking experience, the reverse of the above tip is true. Don’t book a trip where you will exercise more than you’ve ever done before. If you don’t spend a lot of time hiking or cycling while at home, it’s unlikely you’ll enjoy spending entire days doing so on vacation. You’ll run yourself ragged and drag your more active trip mates down in the process. While we try to stay fit, since we’re in our 50s it takes us a bit longer to recover from rigorous physical days. Now we choose travel itineraries with a lower level of daily activity, or with rest days built in (or hot showers/tubs nearby!).

Mount Popa, Myanmar

Go for a refreshing swim with spectacular views on Mt Popa, Myanmar

  • Do your homework:

    Most tours provide an extensive description about the amount of activity in a given itinerary. Often you trek or cycle from one town to the next. Perhaps you’d rather spend your time at a museum or watching the world glide by from the deck of a ship. If so, seek an itinerary with more culturally-oriented activities. A recent excursion to the Galápagos Islands involved a fair degree of hiking, swimming and snorkeling. One of our fellow passengers suffered from a bad knee and couldn’t navigate stairs or climb in or out of a panga (dinghy). This was an integral part of our visit to each island. Had he chosen a trip better suited to his abilities he would have gotten much more out of this incredible destination.

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

The stunning landscape of the Galapagos Islands

  • Be prepared:

    You can’t get into shape on the plane ride to your destination. While you’re not training for the Olympics, it’s wise to ensure you engage in daily activity leading up to your trip. Even low-activity vacations generally involve more exercise than your normal routine. Hoisting and wheeling suitcases through the airport and touring cities and museums can be taxing. If you haven’t been walking at home, you’ll feel it early in the trip. Follow the recommendations provided in your travel documents. You’ll then be able to enjoy the new experiences without fatigue.

World Expeditions offers an excellent grading system that ranks each of its trips. This gives you a snapshot of just how much activity to expect. Once you’ve determined an activity level that matches your ability, search for destinations that pique your travel bug.

And the Monastery at Petra? Seeing that massive temple carved out of a stone cliff was definitely worth the climb, even if it did take us a while to get up there. Fortunately, the 5K trek back to town was (mostly) downhill, and we had a warm shower back at our hotel.

Petra Monastery, Jordan

The Monastery at Petra, Jordan

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Guest blog post by global nomads Larissa and Michael Milne. #BestMountainTrek stories.

Larissa and Michael Milne are a 50-something couple that have been global nomads since 2011. They chronicle their journey at ChangesInLongitude.com. They dream of someday trekking Hadrian’s Wall and exploring The Silk Road.

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