In February 2021, Valerie Joy Wilson arose at sunrise, packed a water supply, and set off with a guide for a stunning maze of pink-hued caves. She was in Jordan to hike through Petra’s archaeological sites and caverns. Her Bedouin guide’s expertise was personal — he’d lived in a local cave until age 16. While many visit Petra, Wilson notes, few spend the days necessary to explore one of the world’s seven wonders.
One such hike: The Monastery, among Petra’s largest monuments. More than 850 steps lead to an ancient place of worship carved out of a single piece of stone. “It would be miraculous today with modern technology, but to know this was created over 2,000 years ago is just mind-blowing,” Wilson says.
The Los Angeles-based travel expert Wilson blogs at Trustedtravelgirl.com, and is one of many heeding the call of wilderness from around the world, prepping their hiking plans and backpacks, and booking flights for treks from Kilimanjaro to Kathmandu. Qatar Airways offers flights to a variety of epic hiking destinations to explore, and it’s easier than ever as flights are now starting right from SEA Airport. Here’s what to consider as you prepare for an international adventure.
Truly understanding your upcoming challenges is key to preparation. For example, many attempting to summit Kilimanjaro, Africa’s tallest peak, misjudge the undertaking, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Before heading out for the 19,341-foot summit, travelers should plan to ascend slowly and bring any necessary medications to cope with malaria or acute mountain sickness. Most healthy people can handle a trek up Kilimanjaro with proper training and gear, so a little preparation makes all the difference between sideline and summit.
A wealth of online resources are available to help navigate lesser-trekked paths for those interested in big adventures. Transcaucasian.org is the website of a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit focused on building a new trail network through the Caucasus Mountains. Consider starting off from Tbilisi, a gateway to hiking Caucasus trails. Trail-building volunteers are welcomed, and the website offers downloadable maps and accommodation recommendations for multiday routes already in service. For example, one very challenging and unmarked trail (once taken by caravans) navigates the Geghama Mountains, to the east of Yerevan, Armenia.
Eric Stoen of Ojai, California, often takes his three children (ages 11, 13, 15) on rambles while traveling. The travel blogger at Travelbabbo.com has hiked with penguins in Antarctica and from sheep farm to sheep farm in a roadless Greenland.
Stoen researches a destination in advance to find suitable trails. “I really trust the travel-blogging community,” he says. So he dives deep into the online world to find recommended hikes.
Residents are also a great source of information for Stoen, whether a taxi driver or hotel concierge for local hikes. And in many destinations, hiring a guide is necessary. If a rental car isn’t required or desired in some locations, he opts for a local guide who includes transportation. “You don’t want to be at a Southeast Asia trailhead, waiting for an Uber,” he notes.
In Sri Lanka, Stoen hired a guide to escort him to the short hikes found on the island’s stunning tea plantations. “You’ll barely see anyone else there, and there’s nothing touristy about it,” he says.
There’s also a serendipity some excursions, particularly in city-based locales. In Cape Town, South Africa, Stoen wandered out of his hotel to Kirstenbosch Gardens, where he found a trail leading upward. He kept going and found himself atop the distinctive plateau of Table Mountain, which overlooks Cape Town. “It was a relatively easy hike,” Stoen says, “and absolutely amazing to be all of a sudden standing on top of one of the world’s iconic mountains, looking down at one of the world’s great cities, when all we intended to do for the day was visit a garden near our hotel!”
Attack the pack
Whether on a hike or skiing adventure, Wilson brings along a CamelBak, a backpack with a portable reservoir of water. “I drink a ton of water, and it’s important to stay hydrated,” she says. “This makes it much more convenient.” She took the backpack to Jordan and to Kathmandu, Nepal where she day hiked to the Jamacho Monastery for a 7,000-foot high views of the Himalayan mountain range.
Although the trail might seem easy, always bring hiking shoes, Wilson suggests. “Most tourists don’t realize they should definitely have hiking boots for Petra, so I can’t emphasize that enough.” She also dons a baseball cap that wicks away moisture, like the Nike Dri-FIT hat.
“Layers are always key because when you’re not familiar with the weather patterns, you can’t make predictions as well,” she says. Stoen also relies on layers, typically consisting of a synthetic T-shirt, fleece and lightweight rain jacket, long zip-off pants and wool socks.
Stoen packs several liters of water, broken-in hiking shoes, and granola bars in his daypack, along with some basics: cash, bandages, ibuprofen, zip-top plastic bags, tissues and blister wool for hiking hurts. Wilson recommends a “dust bag” to separate dirty boots and clothes for repacking your bags, post-hike — or at minimum, a trash bag for your dusty or muddy boots.
Make sure to put your pocketknife or multitool in checked baggage, suggests Lauren Braden, Seattle-based travel writer at nwtripfinder.com and author of the upcoming Mountaineers book, “52 Ways to Nature: Washington.” “Once you get to security, it’s too late and they make you toss it in the garbage,” Braden says.
A full backpack can be checked as luggage on many flights, she notes, but ask your airline. A backpacking stove with small amounts of leftover fuel inside may run awry of flight regulations around transporting fuel, so make sure it’s completely empty.
The list of gear can seem daunting to new trekkers, but more travelers should pack up and explore the world, Stoen notes. “We love exploring cities and cultures, but the world is spectacular and virtually all of the amazing natural wonders are away from cities,” he says. “You need to explore and hike and wander to discover them.” Take it one step at a time, and before you know it, you’ll be atop Kilimanjaro.
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