South from Bergerac, chemin de Vézelay, France, 2005.
Getting Ready ~ Pre-Walk Checklist
One year timeline to the trail
If you’ve decided to leave your footprints on the sentiers de grande randonnée in France, make your own camino in Spain, or trek somewhere else, here’s a one-year timeline to keep your planning on track and your getaway gone. If you have less time before departure, do what it takes to catch up on the earlier checkpoints.
It’s time to start getting ready. There are a lot of tasks to accomplish and decisions to make in order to realize a fantastic, engaging, life-changing, healthy, robust journey over the land on foot.
Checklist ~ 12 Months
Commit. Tell your family and friends. Expressing a dream with words is the first step to making it come true. ✔
Subscribe to Longwalking. Seriously. This and other websites have a lot of detailed information about your objectives. Stay in touch. ✔
Self-navigated or guided? ~ It’s important to settle this issue as soon as possible. There are positive and negative aspects to each choice. It will effect how, where and when you can travel, and for how long. It will affect the cost. You can mix and match them, too, if necessary. Self-navigated, ✔
Start thinking about budget. ✔
Decide on a country. The region and itinerary aren’t essential at this point, but you need to focus somewhere on the globe. I don’t stress about this too much. Just tell yourself, “It’s all new to me”. Wherever you wander it will be a whole new world of adventure. Central and southern France, a little bit of northern Spain, ✔
Research ~ Start reading about your destination. Start a notebook. Gather books, maps and explore websites. There’s a growing body of RESOURCES on this one. ✔
Learn a foreign language. There’s no substitute for being able to communicate with people in their native tongue. You don’t have to be totally fluent, but the better you can speak, read and understand, you’ll have more fun and less confusion and frustration. Find local schools, tutors or language programs. As an example, here are some suggestions for learning French. ✔
Learn about the country. Read books by previous travelers and walkers, read novels and guidebooks, read history, learn about the culture. You’ll be wandering through a new world. Get to know it. ✔
Other than study materials, books, guides, maps, etc., don’t buy anything. Save your money. You’ll make better gear and clothing choices in a few months. I’ve got most of what I need, but continue to test new alternatives, ✔
Think about some of the other things you’ll need to take care of over the next year, like when to tell your employer, banking vacation days, or applying for a leave of absence. ✔
Brainstorm other needs, desires and possibilities. For example, even though you won’t need clothing and equipment for your hike for another year, you might be able to save some money along the way at end-of-season sales. There’s only going to be one of each before you leave. Don’t overemphasize this. It’s better to pay retail if necessary for the right gear, than buying the wrong stuff at discount. ✔
Checklist ~ 11 Months
Flight reservations ~ Most airlines don’t release their future schedules until about 330 days beforehand. At this point you can check your options for the outbound leg. Learn the rules your preferred airlines have about changing your flight times or itineraries. If you can purchase a one-way ticket, you can buy your departure flight now. Flight to France is booked for late April, ✔
Mark the date on your calendar when your return flights will open up. ✔
Checklist ~ 7 Months
Pre-walk medical appointments. Many doctors and dentists are fully booked months ahead of time. Schedule any necessary doctor, dentist, and optometrist appointments 6 weeks or so before departure, in case you’ll need any follow-up. You should be able to get whatever appointments you need this far in advance.
I’ve scheduled a five week series backtimed to my April 2011 departure. ✔.
UPDATE >> On the gear front, I recently received my custom-built backpack. I’ll have a few review as soon as I put it through its paces and hauled a couple of light loads over some hills, but so far, it looks like a great pack, and a few ounces lighter than my last one, too! ✔
Checklist ~ 6 Months
If you haven’t started training yet, Start Now. Walk. Walk some more. Find ways to drive less and walk more. Walk up hills and down stairs. Walk in parks, at the beach and on mountain trails. Explore. Find new routes from here to there. Don’t worry about carrying a pack yet, just get out there and be a pedestrian. Don’t overdo it, but make walking a habit. It needs to become routine. In a way, longwalking is like having a full-time job in which your only task is to cover as much ground as you can in 8 to 10 hours. There’s no extra pay for overtime, either, so be creative. Enjoy yourself. ✔
Get to know your feet. ✔ See if all this extra walking causes any problems. Learn how to deal with them. Try out shoes. Try out insoles. Try different socks. If you start getting blisters, figure out why – they’re preventable. Make notes in your notebook. I suppose you can never be too sure, and should never get cocky, but after two blisterless walks, I’m hoping I have this one squared away. ✔✔
Passport. ✔ Make sure it’s up to date. Some countries won’t accept a passport that will expire within 6 months. If you need a new passport, apply for it now.
This is a good time to write a personal mission statement. What is your purpose, what are your goals, what do you hope to achieve? It doesn’t need to be heavy, in fact, “just for fun”, is a good enough reason. Whatever it is, it helps you focus on what you’ll need to do, and what gear you need to assemble to make it be a success.
By now, you’ve spent half a year thinking about this and talking about it. When you tell people you’ve, “Decided to walk across Spain”, you’ll get the inevitable question, “Why?” Most people just don’t get it. If it’s simpler, just reply, “It seemed like a good idea at the time”. Usually they laugh. They still won’t get it. Then go for a walk.
Begin focusing on gear and clothing. You’ve probably been thinking this over for a while. It’s time to start deciding what (little) you’ll need. Write out a preliminary packing list. Gather what you already have. Weigh everything. See if you can trim off any extra weight. Store it together in one place. A legal/letter file box is a good, convenient container and should hold about everything you’ll need, except, perhaps, shoes.
Checklist ~ 3 Months
Serious training. You should be walking a few miles, at least a couple of times a week.
Tourist Visas. Over the next month, apply for any that are required.
Equipment and wardrobe and supplies. Complete purchases. If you have a good backpacking store near you, carry it all there and find the smallest, lightest pack that will hold it. Carry the various parts of your kit in stuff sacks so it’s easier to move it from one pack to another. Have a knowledgeable salesperson measure you for proper fit. Try out as many packs as you can or need to. Take notes, especially of the volume of the pack. If they don’t have a suitable pack, or don’t sell ultralight backpacks, you can use this size information to order one from one of the small specialty vendors.
Checklist ~ 2 Months
Medical checkup, as required. (You scheduled this 3 or 4 months ago). Make a list of any medical questions or concerns you have and take it. Discuss these and your plans with your doctor. Discuss the physical demands of your journey. Get vaccines or booster shots, as need. Update prescriptions and prepare to purchase enough for the duration of your trip. List all prescriptions, strength and dosage. Include both the US brand and generic names. Many drugs are sold under different brand names and have different generic names in other countries. Research these for your destinations and include them in your list. Get an extra copy of your prescriptions, signed and dated by your doctor.
Dental cleaning and checkup. (You scheduled this 3 or 4 months ago). Schedule and pre-departure a follow-up, if necessary.
Eye exam. (You scheduled this 3 or 4 months ago). Get new glasses or contacts if necessary. You’ll be outside all day, so consider prescription sunglasses, if needed. I only take one pair of glasses, but they have scratch resistant, polycarbonate, Transitions photochromic lenses. Get a copy of your latest prescription, signed and dated, to carry with you.
Checklist ~ 1 Month
Apply seam seal to any seams in your backpack, pack cover, stuff sacks, and waterproof clothing.
Apply waterproofing and anti-stain spray to clothing
Finalize packing list.
Purchase anything left on your “get list”.
Repackage supplies into the smallest, lightest containers that hold enough for your trip. If you’ll be gone long enough, prepare a resupply box.
Buy a shipping tube for trekking poles. Print two copies of packing list for shipping tube. Other things you can pack in it are your knife, razor blades, sharp tools, gels, creams and liquids. Thay way you can carry your backpack onto the flight, which you should consider essential.
Checklist ~ 2 Weeks
Flights. Confirm them, and verify schedule. This may have changed since you made reservations several months ago.
Inspect all your clothing. Reinforce all buttons.
Checklist ~ 1 Week
Keep walking – Take as many walks as possible, especially longer ones. It will be hard to get much exercise for the couple of days either side of your flight, which will be a long day of sitting. So you’re going to have several back-to-back days of forced rest, and de-training. In the mean time, try to keep up your pace.
If your friends insist on a farewell party, try to schedule it the weekend before. No matter how well you have your act together, there’s going to be a lot to do the last few days. Making guacamole doesn’t need to be part of it.
Checklist ~ 2 Days
Final packing. Pack everything you’ll carry into your backpack. Reserve the clothes you’ll be wearing for travel. Check off each item as you pack it. Double check. I like to check it off as I lay each thing on the table. Then check it off again as I pack it. For anything that can’t be packed yet, like a battery charger, for instance, highlight the item on the list.
Wax shoe laces – Though not necessary with all laces, this old hiker’s trick helps keep your laces tight.
Abstain from alcohol – If you’re flying to Europe or beyond, you’ll have a much quicker recovery if you keep hydrated. Alcohol makes that impossible. It’s a bummer, I know, but there will way more than enough on the other side of the hop, and in France, they’ll be bringing it to you by the bottle.
Install fresh batteries – If you carry any electronics with disposable batteries, start off with a full tank.
Checklist ~ 1 Day
Charge batteries – Top off all rechargeables: camera, phone, iPod, whatever you’re taking. Reinstall them. Pack the chargers.
Nail Jail – One of our favorite rituals is a trip to the salon for a pedicure. There’s just nothing like that final foot massage, trim and shiny polish to get your feet ready to hit the road. Go with friends. Have fun. Through in a manicure. Tip well.
Go to bed early. Yeah, right… But really… Good rest helps minimize jet lag.
Checklist ~ Blast Off
Get to the airport early. Walk there, or part way, if you can.
Bon voyage… buen camino… bon chance… ultreia…