Master of the Itinerary

By Beverly Atkinson, Girls Who Hike Pennsylvania Ambassador

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When it comes to something I want to do I very rarely let anything slow me down. And when it comes to travelling, I’m not the type of person that is very willing to let something like going alone stop me. Over the past couple years, I decided that if I was going to see everything I wanted to see in this lifetime that I needed to start travelling and hiking alone. It’s just not feasible for me to try to convince another person to live out my personal travel dreams. That being said, it’s not uncommon for me to pack up my gear, get in my car, and travel ten hours north or jump on a plane and fly across the country all by myself. 

But travelling alone is not something I take lightly, especially when it involves camping out and exploring new terrain. The most important thing that I do to ensure my own safety is planning. Preparedness is the key to success, which is why I have become a master at the art of the itinerary.

Having a detailed itinerary is not only helpful for piece of mind but very integral for safety reasons. When planning my hiking itineraries, I like to account for my whereabouts at any given time of the day. This way, if something were to happen someone would know exactly where I was supposed to be at that time. I do this by knowing exactly what hikes I will be on and researching them thoroughly. This is super important when going on any hike. When you know exactly how long a hike is, the elevation gain, and the type of terrain it’s not hard to determine how long it will take you to complete it. If you know your hikes before you head out you’ll be less likely to put yourself in a situation for getting lost or running out of daylight. If you’re new to hiking and aren’t comfortable with being completely alone on a trail, try picking some more popular hikes with higher traffic. I found out about GWH while I was hiking alone in Zion National Park. A woman saw me solo hiking and thought I would appreciate knowing about the group. Also, there’s usually no shortage of people willing to take your photo!

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While researching your hikes, don’t forget to print out hard copies of the helpful information, for example; maps, directions to the trailhead, helpful blogs, reservations… etc. Cell phone service is never guaranteed so always have your resources available on paper just in case.

If you’re staying in one general area, travel information might not be as important, however if you are like me and enjoy the open road it is important to plan how long it will take you to get to each trailhead. When looking on a map, two hikes may not seem very far away however roads to trailheads can be VERY tricky. What looks like a 20-minute drive could take an hour due to road conditions Similarly, what looks like a 3 hour drive could take 5! Bodies of water and desserts can make a drive dramatically longer when you have to keep driving around obstacles. It could mean losing out on a day of hiking completely if you don’t plan accordingly. Be aware that not all trailheads will be accessible to a regular car, especially during winter and mud season. Not planning appropriately could leave you stuck in the mud and miles away from a main road. 

And after a long day of hiking you’ll be glad to know exactly where you will be able to go to get some much-needed rest. Whether you will be on the trail, at a campground, or in a hotel; sleeping arrangements are not something you want to be without. Personally, when I am travelling by myself I prefer a reservation at a campground. Having some other people camping around me close by helps to make me feel a little bit safer when I am by myself. But, considering that campground reservations can sometimes book up a year in advance do not assume you will be able to get a spot last minute. And if you’re camping on a trail it is imperative to know where shelters and designating camping areas are. Certain states are very specific about where you can set up camp.

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The important thing here is safety. Know how much you can do and know your limits. If you’re travelling alone the last thing you want is to get hurt or stranded so, do yourself a favor and be the most prepared you can be to help avoid any unfortunate incidents. And do your loved ones a favor and give them some piece of mind while you’re out exploring the world by sending them copies of your itinerary before you go. Make them aware that you may not have cell service the whole time and try to reach out when plans change. 

Below is an example of a day from one of my trips last year. It isn’t very formal, but it’s quick and easy to reference for important information.

Sample itinerary: Day 6: Wednesday April 12th

I got a hotel at Bryce Canyon Resort from the 11th-13th since temperatures in this area will be much colder than the rest of the areas and most campgrounds aren’t open yet.

Starting the day around 9am depending on the temperature and heading to Bryce Canyon from the hotel (about 5 minutes away). I will take the Navajo loop trail which goes at a fairly steep decline down into the canyon. At the end of Navajo loop trail, I’ll take a short connecting trail to peekaboo loop. Peekaboo loop will be about 4 miles long with some incline. Most of the incline was cut out due to doing the loop as opposed to the normal hike. I’ll finish the trail by taking the connecting trail back towards Navajo loop and continuing onto Queen’s Garden Trail to Sunrise point and back to the where I started. The entire loop will be about 7 miles total.
Here are some good websites describing the two hikes separately and combined.

** I usually have reference materials like maps and reservation confirmations stapled to each day

So, there you have it. It might seem a little overkill but having a detailed schedule planned out helps me make sure I get to see the best parts of every place I go. It also helps give my family a little piece of mind when I’m out discovering new places on my own. So go ahead and start planning your next trip already!

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Beverly is the Ambassador for our Pennsylvania chapter. You can join her local meetups and discussions through the Pennsylvania chapter by clicking here.