Michael is our distinguished friend from Paris, who is an avid hiker. Together, Michael and Marlys make up the lovely couple whom we all know as @ParisBuff. Michael is an accomplished writer – many of you will know him from his ever so popular guide book, Paris Movie Walks and here he is as today’s Blogger in the Spotlight, on the 10 Commandments on Hiking in Europe.
Oh, there’s nothing as satisfying as a good hike.. If I were planning to travel to Europe anytime soon, I would certainly pack my hiking shoes. Hiking is one way to burn off all the calories from the delectable pastries and Pot-au-feu (not to mention the wine) that I will surely have. For those contemplating a trip to Europe, follow these ten easy tips to the greatest holiday of your life!
1. Do not be afraid of doing something for the first time
So you have never done any hiking before? Not to worry: there will never come a better time for trying out something new.
2. See this as a complementary way of exploring Europe
Nobody asks you to go the whole hog, a fortnight on the Pilgrim’s Path to Santiago de Compostela for example. All I am suggesting is the following: when you go to Europe, make a hike one part of your itinerary. Instead of adding one more town to your travel schedule that you only half care about, say Brussels or Bordeaux, why not make room for a three-day trip along the Rhine, around the Lake District or in the Pyrenees?
Or, if you don’t want to do that, at least a day hike somewhere in the area of one of your destinations? It is very uncommon to find “pure” nature in Europe, forests or even mountains untouched by human hands. Civilization is never far away – fortunately, however, that cuts both ways, and many pretty impressive landscapes are just a short, one-hour or two-hour train ride away from a major city.
3. Do not overestimate yourself
Anybody who can walk can also hike. That does not mean, however, that anybody who can walk can also master daily stages of 30 km and more, uphill on stony ground. Which is why you should start with short daily distances of 10 to 15 km, and – if you have survived and, possibly, even enjoyed the experience – gradually take it from there.
4. Do your homework
Check the transport connections in the area you are about to explore. You don’t want to spend the first two hours of your hiking day waiting for a bus to the trailhead. And your day’s destination should be a town large enough to accommodate a couple of inns – or, alternatively, a town with a local train or bus connection that takes you to a larger city. Thanks to the Internet, all of this can now be easily checked from the comfort of your own home.
5. But don’t overplan
A hike should always be a little bit of an adventure. That’s the whole fun of it, after all. (Otherwise, it’s just a walk in the park.) But how much is “a little bit”? There is no one- size-suits-all answer to that. Everybody has to find the level of risk that he or she is comfortable with.
I personally tend to under-organize, my wife is exactly the opposite, and though I am willing to go a long way to assuage her fears, even she can’t get me to pre-book the hotels along our hiking trail. I simply like to feel in the morning that we are setting out “into the unknown”.
6. Get yourself the right level of equipment
Proper hiking shoes. A backpack. A map. I am not saying that there are no other potentially useful items of equipment that one could bring on a hike, but for starters, that’s enough. If you plan a two-day hike in the Black Forest, at elevations between 3,000 and 4,000 feet, you will not need an oxygen tent. Or that super-ultra-high- resistance fibre jacket for sleeping outdoors in the Arctic. You will not want to become a hiking bore, so let’s start this on the right foot.
7. Bring enough food and water
On many hiking trails, you can find roadside inns that offer you reasonably priced food. But an improvised meal outdoors in the forest is one of the great joys of hiking, and you should not deprive yourself of that experience. No simple snack – bread, cheese, salami – will ever taste as good.
Other things you should pack: paper tissues or a roll of toilet paper. Band aid. A big bottle of water – 1 litre at least, more if it’s a hot day. And diarrhoea medication. Ideally one that takes effect immediately.
8. Be realistic in your expectations
Do not expect to “bond with nature”. There is no single right way of approaching a hike, but there are many wrong ways, and this is surely one of them.
9. Leave enough room for a cultural experience
Cities are the same wherever you go. Take a glance at the skylines of Shanghai and Chicago, and you will need to look carefully in order to say which is which. The same is not true for rural Illinois and the Chinese countryside.
So wherever you go, you should make the most of your trip: enjoy the food and your trips to the local shops, even the vagaries of the local transport system. And be grateful for the unexpected: it is the stuff that interesting travel experiences are made of.
10. Find yourself a companion, but if you cannot find the right one, better do it alone
Spouse, family, best friend: you should not cast your net any wider than that. Only ever choose someone in whose company you are absolutely and totally comfortable. Always bear in mind: on other trips, you can go your separate ways, and even in those rare cases where you do not succeed in shaking off a bore, there are always distractions that somehow alleviate the pain. This is far less true on the 20 km walk from A-town to B-hausen.
About this week’s Guest Writer: Michael Schuermann aka Easy Hiker is also the author of guide book Paris Movie Walks – 10 Guided Walking Tours in the City of Lights! Camera! Actions! He discovered hiking rather late in life but has gotten into it with gusto since then. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook.