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So you’re a travel gumby. We’ve all been there — that first trip overseas. I’ve had a few such adventures, dream trips to Venezuela, Greece, and Spain with their fantastic climbing, bluebird weather, and succulent food and drink. Still, travel can be exhausting, confusing, and irritating, especially when you’re disorganized and unfamiliar with your destination. Prepping is essential, so follow these seven savvy tips.
Do not book an international flight with layovers of less than an hour. It’s worth the extra $100 or so for flights with decent layover times. I learned this lesson the hard way in 2007 when I was headed to Spain for a comp. After missing my connection in Newark, I practically circumnavigated the globe to reach Bilbao. I arrived five flights and almost 40 hours later, completely wrecked. The competition was a disaster, and I regretted even going.
Keep your essentials with you — put vital climbing gear (shoes, chalkbag, belay device, and harness) in your carry-on, as well as key personal items like passport (duh), wallet, toothbrush, change of clothes, medication, and some food. Luggage gets lost, and it might not arrive for several days. At least with some gear, you can boulder or borrow a rope until your bags come. Also, beware weight restrictions. The weight limit on international flights is usually 50 pounds, which is easily exceeded when carrying a rope, draws, etc. The airlines will try to charge $50 to $100 extra for checking another bag, but I’ve figured out a system:1. Bring one large duffel bag packed with minimal clothing (you’re on a climbing trip — no one cares if you wear the same thing every day), 15 to 20 quickdraws, two pairs of rock shoes, and the rope on top.2. At check-in, wait till they tell you your bag exceeds the limit (if your bag’s just a few pounds over, you might skate through).3. If your bag is deemed “too heavy,” put the rope in (or lash it to) your carry-on — ideally, it won’t exceed the volume limit. Do not try to carry on quickdraws. I’ve been sent from security back to the counter to check them. This only happened in the European Union, where carabiners, apparently, are a major terrorist threat.
Transportation and Lodging
Once arrived, you’ll likely be exhausted, ready to fall into a coma-like sleep — you won’t want to tackle logistics in a foreign language. So have transportation and a place to stay already lined up. Look into a train/bus pass or rent a car to reach your final destination. Make a reservation at a hotel or hostel. If camping, bring all the gear — sleeping bag, pad, tent, etc. Just don’t arrive without a concrete idea of where you’re going to stay and how you’ll get there — you’ll end up bivying in a ditch or dropping your entire trip budget on some rip-off hotel. Thusly unprepared, I once wandered for three hours in the dead of night around the not-so-safe-and-tourist-friendly part of Athens, Greece, trying to find a decent hotel.
Before you book flights, figure out which months have the best temps and the least precipitation — check with guidebooks or Web climbing forums. Of course, you might still encounter rain/heat/cold. Just don’t book a month-long trip to Thailand during monsoon season. Also, make sure your destination has some steeper terrain/cavelike areas. That way you can climb even if it pisses down rain. Most European limestone crags are safe bets — that is, if they don’t seep too much. If you do end up in the never-ending rinse cycle, research surrounding areas that might have different weather patterns. A good example is Spain, with its countless world-class sport areas one to three hours apart with varying weather.
Language and Locals
Research the local culture and language: dressing appropriately and knowing just a few phrases can go a long way. Buy a phrasebook (or Lonely Planet guide) and rehearse a few survival sentences and basic climbing terms — “May I try this climb?”, “Rope!”, “Rock!”, “Nice send!”
Look into travel insurance, especially if you’re headed somewhere remote and/or with risk of injury, theft, etc. The American Alpine Club has its Trailhead Rescue membership in association with Global Rescue; AAC members receive $5,000 of coverage for rescue or evacuation. Visit americanalpineclub.org/globalrescue, or check out Global Rescue directly at globalrescue.com.
Even if you follow this advice to a T, be prepared for misadventure. My most memorable moment came in Venezuela, where police pulled us over for a routine passport check — no big deal, right? Well, we ended up getting frisked and having our car searched. Then the police pocketed a cellphone, and we had to bribe them $40 USD for its return. It was unfortunate, but we survived with minimal damage. Epics like these will happen to you. Be prepared. Start your trip with patience and a spirit for adventure, and you will succeed. It’s always worth the memories (and the stories).
Emily Harrington is a professional rock climber who enjoys being in foreign places but hates traveling to get there.
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