A Tool for the Weary Travel Planner


Every trip requires making choices. Where should we go? When should we go, and for how long? On which airline should we fly? At which hotel should we stay? At which restaurant should we eat?

It’s easy to become paralyzed by the volume of choices. (Do check out this TED video from psychologist Barry Schwartz about this very interesting topic.) We’re travel weary before we even begin our travels.

Not for me, though. Not when it comes to traveling, at least. I get an obsessive rush of pleasure in researching every, single option, weighing the pros and cons of each, and ultimately making a confident and informed decision to achieve the optimal vacation experience.

But I have finally met my match. A destination so big and vast that it gives Texas small-dog syndrome.

I’m planning a trip to Alaska.

And I’ll just say it—I’m overwhelmed.

There are a zillion things to do in Alaska. And a zillion places to do each one. Innumerable options for boating, national park visiting, flightseeing, fishing, hiking, wildlife viewing, dog-sledding, gold-panning, native cultural experiences, rafting, ice climbing, hiking. A bajillion glacial treks on a half a bajillion glaciers, a cajillion kayaking options to two cajillion shoreline destinations. (If you’re keeping track, that all adds up to a zillion.)

So today I attempted to zero in on one simple thing: choosing a kayak trip. Even that turned out to be overwhelming.

Should we paddle somewhere on the Kenai Peninsula? Or perhaps on Prince William Sound? Each of these areas has dozens of kayaking destinations. Dozens of outfitters offer half-day trips, full-day trips, and multi-day trips. They have combo trips like water taxi + kayak or helicopter + kayak. Different trips have different scenery: alpine glaciers, tidewater glaciers, calving glaciers, icebergs, or “bergy bits.” Wildlife viewing options like whales, otters, goats, or bears. Oh my.

The sheer volume of choices makes comparisons extremely difficult. Without grounds for comparison, how do we make the best choice?

Travelers, I don’t have an answer. But I have found something that helps a lot. YouTube. The new tool for the would-be traveler.

Surely someone has video of kayaking the Columbia Glacier, and Bear Glacier, and Aialik Bay. Surely I can watch these videos and get a taste of what the experience will be like.

Better than someone else’s opinion, better than a still photo or a blog post or a tourism website, a YouTube video creates an instant reaction—“I would like this,” “This looks boring,” “That’s not what I expected,” “That is going to be worth every penny.”

With the help of moving pictures, preferences are beginning to take shape. Paddling through “bergy bits” versus icebergs now makes sense. I still haven’t come to a decision yet but I at least feel like I can make one, and I’ll be using a lot more YouTube for future travels.


Resources for the Beginning Hiker

The first time I went hiking in a national park was in college. A friend had all the gear and a fair amount of experience. Without him, I wouldn’t have known how to make a trip like this happen.

Planning a hiking trip is different than any other kind of trip. You not only need to learn about your destination, but you need to choose trails suitable to your ability and experience. You need to know what gear to bring. You need a little bit of emergency preparedness.

If you’re interested in getting into hiking but aren’t sure where to start, I though I’d share a few of my favorite online resources today.

(Assuming, of course, that at some point, the government shutdown will end and the country’s public lands will once again be made available to the public.)

REI Expert Advice
In addition to selling expensive but awesome outdoor gear and gadgets, REI provides a large amount of articles and videos amount all kinds of outdoor topics related to hiking, cycling, running, climbing, paddling, and snow sports. I recommend starting with the Ten Essentials, which is the widely used term for all the things you need to keep yourself safe during a hike.

Leave No Trace
If you are a fan of the outdoors, then you’ll want to learn how to leave it in the same or better condition than you found it. You may or may not appreciate the importance of this initially, but the first time you come across someone’s initials carved into a tree along the trail, you’ll start to care a lot. So check out the Leave No Trace principles before heading out.

Where to Go
Need help figuring out where to go? Browse these lists from National Geographic, Backpacker Magazine, and GORP of top day hikes and see what gets your blood flowing.

Now, before you get too excited about  a particular hike, make sure it’s a good fit for your experience and fitness level. It’s also a good idea to understand the weather conditions of your destination of choice. Mountain and desert regions can have some pretty harsh weather, and the period of time in which conditions are amenable to novice hikers can be pretty short.

So visit the Tripadvisor forum for your destination and run your plan past the Destination Experts. Contact the national park service or forest service and talk to a ranger.

If it’s overnight trips you’re interested in, check out Backpacker magazine’s Backpacking 101 guide. Also buy a copy of the NOLS Wilderness Guide, which is an enjoyable read that covers the basics of backpacking, including foot gear, clothing, food, campsite selection, and route planning.