Your definition of adventure probably means more than doing the conga on a Caribbean cruise ship. Maybe you’ve set your sights on something really big this year—say conquering Rainier or exploring the Arctic. For these once-in-a-lifetime dream trips, the hands-down, most important component is the guide or adventure company you choose. So you don’t run the risk of being stuck without a flight in Namibia or waiting for your out-of-shape guide, we asked AMC Major Excursions chair and seasoned world traveler Stacia Zukroff for her tips. “A trip like this is not something you want to put on a credit card and then regret for two years,” she says. “Be sure to ask a lot of questions up front.” She offers the following advice. Don’t leave home without it.
1. Before you research, decide on your level of adventure and choose a destination. Are you up for a gentle bicycle tour in the French countryside or an Annapurna or Everest expedition? Ask friends for references, search the Internet, “and don’t forget to browse AMC Major Excursions, too,” reminds Zukroff.
2. Find out everything you can about the guide or outfitter. A slick website does not guarantee a perfect trip. Ask for the itinerary and the details of all in-country travel. Do they speak the local language? Are they insured? What kind of certification and medical training do they have? How well do they know the culture? “They might not know it’s not OK to chew gum on the street and you might end up in jail,” warns Zukroff.
3. Know the climate. For example, Zukroff says, avoid the summer monsoon season in tropical regions. “With an African safari,” she says, “you don’t want to go during the major rainy season, but don’t go when it’s too dry to see any animals, either.” Believe it or not, some companies might not readily provide this information.
4. It’s fine to push yourself a little, but “this is definitely a time to be truthful about your abilities,” says Zukroff. “You’re not just cheating yourself if you’re not prepared or in shape, you’re cheating the whole group.” Some outfitters are so desperate for customers, they’ll take just about anyone with a credit card. “If it’s too much for you, it could be expensive or dangerous or impossible to turn back,” she says. Make sure the guide knows your strengths as well as your limitations.
5. Create a budget of how much you’re willing to spend, including extra for unexpected surprises. Don’t just shop for the rockbottom price. After all, it might be worth it to pay a little more to have an extra day to acclimatize at altitude. And don’t forget to figure gear into your calculations. The hassle and expense of flying with tent and backpack can make renting attractive. Be very clear about the company’s refund policy. “And consider trip insurance,” says Zukroff.
6. Decide on how much luxury you can do without and choose your guide accordingly. Is there fresh water for washing? Will you be eating only local food? What are sleeping arrangements? While you may think you are Survivor-worthy, you may find yourself sorely missing your morning shower or cup of coffee.