Not All Who Wander Are Lost: A Blog for Adventurous Women

Five mistakes to avoid on your next international trip

Posted by Marian Marbury on Jan 13, 2017 9:08:37 AM

We love international travel! We do it not only to see new things and meet new people, but AmalfiCoast.jpgto enrich our understanding of the world and humanity, and our own place in it. But there is no doubt that it takes more work and more preparation. Over the years we've made lots of mistakes and thought that sharing them might help you avoid the same ones.

1. Not looking for your passport until a week before your trip. 

  • First, you want to make sure you can find it. We had a participant miss a long and expensive trip once when she couldn't find it and couldn't get to the passport office in time for a replacement.
  • Obviously you need to make sure it is not expired, but many countries require that you have at least 6 months of validity from the date you enter their country.
  • In addition you need at least one completely blank page for each entry stamp. So if your passport is close to full, save yourself anxiety and renew it 2 months before you leave.

2. Trying to take your trekking poles through security

Our experience is that people have been rarely stopped in security when they have their trekking poles in their carry on in the U.S. However it has not been uncommon when travel abroad, and being stopped at security means you either lose your poles or pay to have them checked. Since most airlines still allow one free bag on international flights, it's better to put your trekking poles in a checked bag to begin with.

3. Taking a long nap or going to bed the morning you arrive

It's so tempting!! Especially if the hotel offers early check in. But the fastest way to combat jetlag is to get on the right schedule as soon as possible. If you have access to your room, take a 20 minute nap (or none at all), then get up and shower, and start exploring your new surroundings. Stay up through dinner and get up at your usual time the next morning. It's a tough day but you'll feel so much better the next day.

4. Thinking the entire world eats meals at the same time and the same way as you do.

  • While North Americans have been taught that a hearty breakfast is important, for many European countries breakfast is a coffee and a piece of toast or a pastry. This is less of an issue in hotels that offer buffets (and many hotels outside North America include breakfast in their price) but if high protein breakfasts are important to you, be sure to bring some cans of tuna and/or peanut butter.
  • All the southern Mediterranean countries (e.g. Italy, Spain, Greece) are known for eating large dinners late i.e. 8 to 11 pm. There are restaurants that cater to North American travelers and open earlier, but the food and experience aren't nearly as authentic because they are also catering to what they imagine are North American tastes. If a large meal late at night doesn't work for you, try eating a larger lunch and then know you'll be pushing away a half filled plate at dinner (or, depending on the restaurant, bring a plastic sandwich box and put your leftovers there to eat the next day). Don't expect traditional restaurants to serve you dinner when you wander in at 6, any more than Spaniards can expect a U.S. restaurant to serve dinner at 11pm. If this is potentially an important issue for you, make sure you know what to expect and how to prepare for it before you go.

5. Bringing travelers' checks or getting foreign currency before you go

Travelers' checks are increasingly difficult to use; frequently, the only place you can use them are banks. If you are traveling to a vcountry with a good ATM system, the easiest thing to do is withdraw cash at your arrival airport (be sure to let your bank kow you're traveling). ATMS associated with banks tend to charge less fees and give better rates than non-bank ATMs. But I've made the mistake several times of relying on ATMs in countries with more fragile banking systems that may have limited ATM availability, limits on how much you can withdraw at once, and sometimes don't work or run out of currency. In these cases, bringing cash as Plan B and either exchanging it at banks or currency exchanges (not the ones in airports, they always give terrible exchange rates). 


 

We're currently updating our EBook on International Travel. If you have any tips or suggestions, please add them below so we can share them with everyone else. 

 

Topics: adventure travel, travel tips

We Cannot Be Safe, We Are Not in Danger

Posted by Marian Marbury on Jan 12, 2016 8:40:17 AM

I woke up this morning to the news that a bomb had gone off in Sultanahmet, the Old City of Istanbul. Along with sadness for the victims and wondering who they were and what they had been doing when the blast occurred, I wondered how it would affect the thinking of the women who are signed up for our trip to Turkey next fall. And I thought of how two realities that appear to be contradictory are in fact simultaneously true.

We cannot be safe. Helen Keller recognized this long ago. Many people know the last sentence of a famous quote: "Life is either a daring adventure or nothing" - often interpreted to mean that we should live our lives adventurously or they are empty.

But that really isn't what she was saying. The whole quote is "Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. God Himself is not secure, having given man dominion over His works! Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold. Faith alone defends. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable." 

Her point is that no matter what we choose, the belief that we can be safe is an illusion. While she was writing before random acts of terror became almost common, she lived through the two World Wars and the Great Depression, surely times that felt as insecure and uncertain as our own. She lived during a time that over 50,00 people a year died in car accidents in the U.S. We cannot be safe, whether we stay home or travel widely.

We are not in danger. At the same time, most of the world's population, and especially in the United States, is not at risk of sudden unexpected death from a bomb blast. Of course there are places in the world where that isn't true - Syria most obviously right now - and the terror of living with that as a daily reality must be more horrendous than most of us can imagine. For those who lost loved ones in Sultanahmet Square or San Bernadino, it cannot be any comfort to know how unlikely the death of their loved ones was.

But how many of us have lost people we know that way? When I think back to people I know who have died unexpectedly, it was car accidents, cycling accidents, boating accidents. None of those made me think I should give up driving, biking, or boating. Like the vast majority of people in the U.S., I don't know anyone who has died in a terrorist attack. With the exception of a friend who lost her sister on 9/11, I don't know anyone who knows anyone who died in a terrorist incident. The purpose of terrorism is not the deaths it causes but the fear it instills, and how that fear cripples us and reorders our priorities.

At the same time, we have to acknowledge that we cannot enjoy travel if we are gripped by fear. Fear is largely an emotion that cannot be conquered by rationality. If we know we will be constantly worried about our safety and we feel more comfortable staying in the United States, than that is the choice we should make. North America is an amazing continent with tons to explore.

Understand, however, that if we wait until we feel safe, there are large parts of the world that we will probably never see. It seems unlikely that, in my lifetime, the world will have the illusion of safety it did in the 1990s. If we decide not to go someplace this year, we are likely deciding not to go ever.

Topics: adventure travel, safety

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Adventure Travelers

Posted by Marian Marbury on Jun 2, 2015 9:58:21 AM

Having been in the adventure travel business for over 16 years, we've seen a lot of people have truly amazing experiences during their travels. What habits do they cultivate?

1. Responds with flexibility to unanticipated changes. While all group trips have a schedule, the likelihood that the itinerary will go awry on adventure trips is greater. The effective adventure traveler knows that the itinerary is a guideline, not a promise. And of course she always carries good rain gear and snacks in her daypack.

2. Lets go of goal orientation. She truly embraces the saying "It's the journey, not the destination." Sometimes that's harder than other times. But its possible even when you trained for climbing Mt Kilimanjaro for 5 months and the worst weather in 20 years descended on the mountain the week of your summit attempt, making an attempt impossible.

3. Practices patience. Group adventure travel is pretty much guaranteed to try your patience at some point, whether it's the other people in your group, the guide, the food, the accommodations, the weather, the logistics snafus.  The effective adventure traveler recognizes when she is becoming impatient, takes a deep breath, and realizes how lucky she is to be where she is and doing what she’s doing.

4. Takes things as they are. On an adventure trip, particularly when traveling in other countries, everything will be different- food, customs, etiquette, time sense etc. The effective adventure traveler embraces those differences as part of why she chose to visit that country, rather than comparing everything to an external standard (often how it is at home). She sees herself as a travel Ambassador who wants to respect and understand the differences.

5. Knows the level of challenge she enjoys and prepares for it. She knows that at the end of vacation, she wants to feel refreshed and rejuvenated, not exhausted and drained. With that in mind, the effective adventure traveler chooses adventures that either match her current level of fitness or require a level of fitness that she can reasonably commit to achieving.

6. Stays present - or knows when she is choosing not to. The effective adventure traveler doesn’t distract herself from where she is by checking in at home, surfing the net, or immersing herself in a good book. She may choose to do any or all those things, but it is always a choice not a habit.

7. Laughs at herself. Whenever she starts getting bent out shape about how things aren’t going as she expected or starts beating herself up for some way she wasn’t adequately prepared, she takes a step back and enjoys the total absurdity of the moment and recognizes that everyone, including herself, is doing the best job they possibly can.

Some of these may seem more like personality characteristics than habits. But each is a habit of mind, a practice, that can be cultivated – if that seems worthwhile to you. Take patience as an example. Yes, some people seem to be naturally more patient than others. But anyone can learn to recognize when she is feeling impatient and, more importantly, choose to redirect or reframe whatever she is feeling. The great thing is that many of these habits not only help you get more out of travel, they're pretty useful habits in the rest of life too.

Topics: adventure travel

How We Price Our Adventure Trips

Posted by Marian Marbury on Jun 30, 2014 7:49:59 AM

Like many women, I was brought up not to talk about money.  But as I schedule our 2015 trips and determine what we'll charge for our adventure trips, I wanted to share some of our pricing principles.

1. Everyone here at Adventures in Good Company loves travel and the outdoors, and has a passion for sharing that love with other women. We want to be accessible to as many women as possible, while making a reasonable living for ourselves.

2. Our prices are based on the actual costs of the trip, plus an additional amount to cover the overhead. We don't use a percentage markup that makes trips with higher costs even more expensive. We don't charge what we think the market can bear. We don't charge more because it's a popular trip. We don't practice premium pricing. We do charge more for trips that take more of our time here in the office. 

3. We don't try to make our prices appear lower by not including meals or items that you will end up paying for out of pocket. Some additional costs, such as internal plane flights, are so volatile you would end up paying more for us to make sure we didn't lose money on it. Sometimes we offer optional activities we know not everyone will choose to try (zip lining comes to mind). And some meals may not be included when the flexibility for you to choose where or when you eat outweighs the convenience of having it paid for. In those cases we try to be transparent about exactly what additional expenses you can expect.

4. We don't keep prices down by increasing the group size. Our typical size is 10 to 12 - a manageable number that promotes good group dynamics. The few exceptions are trips that would become prohibitively expensive with our standard group size and that can easily accommodate a larger group.

5. We don't cut rates by not sending an Adventures in Good Company group leader on international trips when we're working with a local partner. It is much easier to untangle problems on a trip and prevent them from occuring again if we have someone there, thus assuring continuing high quality. In addition most international guides have little training in how to enhance the group experience.

6. We don't cut rates by only having one guide on domestic trips. One downside to group travel can be feeling locked into a schedule that might not reflect what you would choose to do or how fast you choose to hike. So for any trip with more than seven participants (again with rare exceptions) we have two guides for maximum flexibility.

7. We don't look for the cheapest local partner. We look for people who pay their employees fairly and who share our vision of sustainable travel. Tourism can be a force for improving the opportunities available to the people who live there, or it can be exploitative. We opt for the former.

8. We know that travel is a luxury and that it isn't possible to make all of our trips available to everyone. What we can do is look for ways to offer trips that are lower cost and still offer incredible value. In the United States we offer several trips that stay at hostels. Internationally we go to at least some countries where costs are lower. Spain and Italy are wonderful - and they are expensive. Bulgaria, the Balkans, and Nicaragua also provide fascinating travel experiences at a lower cost. We offer both.

While the nominal inflation rate may have stayed low, the travel inflation rate certainly has not. Airfares, hotels, meals- all have seen significant increases in the last two years. We will continue to work to design trips that, regardless of price, offer great value.

Topics: adventure travel

How Adventures in Good Company got its start

Posted by Marian Marbury on Mar 24, 2014 1:10:00 PM

March 22 was our 15th anniversary. People on our trips often ask how the company gotwomen on an adventure started so this seems like an appropriate occasion to tell the story more broadly.

Choosing March 22 as our starting date is a little arbitrary, but it was the date that Woodswomen officially closed its doors. Woodswomen was a Minnesota-based non-profit, the very first company that offered trips exclusively for women. 

Guiding outdoor trips had a been a lifelong dream for me. In 1987 I moved to Minnesota to work at the Minnesota Department of Health and it was there I found Woodswomen (this being pre-Internet days). They offered exactly the kinds of trips I had always hoped to guide so I enrolled in their leadership course as a way of exploring that longtime fantasy. It was only then that I discovered that Woodswomen needed women who could guide trips occasionally throughout the year, a perfect fit with my fulltime job. Anne Flueckiger, Deb Malmon, Brenda Porter, and I all guided there in the 1990s. We learned our guiding philosophy from Denise Mitten, the Executive Director of Woodswomen, and we honed our passion for supporting women as they gained new skills and knowledge, new perspectives, and new friends. 

As it started to become apparent in the late 90s that Woodswomen was having financial troubles, I started volunteering in the office in various capacities. I discovered that I enjoyed that end of it, too. When Woodswomen finally closed its doors in 1999, I was ready to make the leap and try starting my own company. I was incredibly fortunate to be able to build on the knowledge and experience I had gained, to employ Woodswomen guides I already knew (Anne, Deb and Brenda), to buy the Woodswomen mailing list, and to adopt many of the trip itineraries. Although our trip calendar has radically changed in 15 years, it was a solid foundation.

Except I knew nothing about running a business, having been in academia or government my whole life. Marketing? Sure, that means going to the grocery store for the week's groceries. Sales? Love 'em, what a great way to save money! Accounting? It can't be that much more than balancing a checkbook.

In a word, I was totally clueless. Fortunately those were all just the details and I had learned everything I needed to know about business from rock climbing. The three most important lessons I continually thought about were:

  • When you're standing at the bottom of a climb looking up and you think you want to attempt it - but you're really not sure you will get to the top - the only true failure is to give up before you give it a try. If you try and fail, at the least you will have learned something.
  • You don't have to have figured out the entire route before you start. If you make that first move, the second one often becomes apparent. And then the third, the fourth etc.
  • You need to trust your belayer, the person who is holding onto the rope that will catch you if you fall. If you don't trust her/him, you shouldn't be climbing with them. I would trust all of our guides with my life, absolutely.
You would assume with such a great foundation and such positive determination that the business would quickly take off. You would be wrong. I had to repeat those three lessons to myself frequently, especially the first one about failure.

The only reason we survived those first three years is that I was still getting a halftime paycheck from the Minnesota Department of Health. In retrospect, that slow start was beneficial in the long run. Because marketing, sales, and accounting may be details, but they're pretty essential if you want a tiny company to survive and you don't have the capital to hire people who actually know what they're doing. Not to mention public relations, legal matters, permitting, and logistics.

But we did survive. Starting and growing this company has been the biggest adventure of my life, and everything an adventure should be: challenging, thrilling, scary, rewarding, a chance to try new things and learn new skills, learn from mistakes, and learn about myself in the process.

You might also assume that the best part of owning or guiding for a company like this is the incredible places you get to go and things you get to do. And those are wonderful, yes. But really, it's about the people you get to meet.
  • Our guides: Deb, Anne, and Brenda still guide with AGC. Jan started in 2001 when she took a rock climbing class in Joshua Tree and afterwards told me that we needed a basecamp manager for the trip and she would be perfect (she was). A few years later she was guiding a backpacking trip and noticed that the owner of the hostel where they were staying seemed very interested in what she was doing - that was Leigh, who joined us the next year. Deb came back from guiding a kayaking trip in the Caribbean and told me I needed to recruit the local guide who actually lived in New York state; Anne Brewer joined us the next year. Deb is also responsible for Stephanie Lingwood who was on a Boundary Waters trip and ready to try leading someone other than Girl Scouts. Katie found us on her own and at the age of 26, I was sure she would never keep guiding with us. I'm so glad to be wrong: watching her get married, finish a PhD and have a baby has been wonderful. And Lisa was a friend of a guide who just happened to call at the right time with the right experience.  I am so fortunate that they have all chosen to make Adventures in Good Company part of their lives.
     
  • Our partners around the world: Sometimes I 've found them, sometimes they've found us. My favorite story is meeting Giuliana. We started chatting while we were sitting in the departure lounge at Newark, both headed for Geneva. It turned out she owned a small company in Italy that did hiking and biking trips and gave me her contact information. A year later when we were planning our first trip to Italy, I emailed her. She has been organizing our Italy trips ever since and in the process has become a good friend.
     
  • Our participants: Guiding has given all of us the opportunity to meet some of the most interesting, amazing, and courageous women you could ever hope to know. It takes alot of courage to sign up for the first trip, especially when you come alone. And it also takes a leap of faith - that you'll be safe, looked after, and supported in meeting your goals. 

Thanks to all of you who have been willing to leap over the last 15 years. It certainly has been, and continues to be, an Adventure - and the Company we've shared it with has been most excellent.

Topics: adventure travel, womens travel, women only travel

Buying airline tickets for your next adventure vacation - Part 2

Posted by Marian Marbury on Feb 6, 2014 7:40:00 PM

So after reading "Buying airline tickets for your next adventure vacation - Part 1" you have decided not to use a travel agent and that now is the time you should start looking. These recommendations are primarily for people who have to be somewhere on a specific date by a specific time. If you have flexibility, there are additional options that will be addressed in another blog post.

1. Do you live some place that Southwest Airlines serves and if so, do they fly to where you're going? Southwest has excluded themselves from all the search engines so the only place you can find their schedule and prices is on the Southwest website. Although they are no longer truly a discount airline, there are 3 reasons they are my airline of choice.

  • They don't charge baggage fees. If you need more than a carry on, this means you can subtract $50 - $100 from their price when you compare it to their competitors.
  • They have a great cancellation policy. They won't give you a refund, but you will have a credit for the full amount you paid to use for up to 365 days. And they make it easy to use that credit.
  • Their employees' morale is high. I've chatted with several flight sttendants and I'm convinced that it isn't just for show. I like to support companies that treat their employees well.
2. Regardless of whether Southwest is an option (and it isn't for international flights), you probably want to see what else is available. Here are our favorite websites and why.
Note: All the websites we recommend are actually travel-specific search engines, meaning that they search a variety of different websites including the major airlines (except Southwest). You may find different prices on them so it definitely is worth checking more than one. At the same time, there are lots of them; these are the ones we look at.
  • Kayak.com (http://www.kayak.com/). If I was only going to check one site, this is the one I would choose. Kayak has an intuitive interface and many ways to filter results all at the same time - by airport, duration, take off or landing times, layovers, airline etc. If you have lots of choices, Kayak can help you quickly sort through them based on your preferences. For common routes it usually has a Price Predictor, which shows you how low prices have fluctuated over the last 90 days and, based on an algorithm, their best guess whether this is a good time to buy or whether you should wait because prices might drop. You can also set up fare alerts for specific routes, which is a good way to get a feel for price fluctuations if you're not needing to buy now. However, these aren't flight-specific; knowing that the price has gone down $20 without knowing if it's on the flight you're interested in may not be helpful.

    The only cons I've found are that I've sometimes found better prices and flights on one of the other sites I'll mention.
     
  • Google flights (https://www.google.com/flights/). This is my new first stop website because it is blazingly fast and has a clean and simple interface. It also gives you tips such as being able to save X dollars if you fly a different day. In addition there is a world map on the initial page with prices for lots of destinations based on your departure city and date. Is it that useful to know I could fly to Tromso, Norway for $1,071 on February 21 from Washington, DC? Maybe not, but it's fun!! 

    The cons? It doesn't have filters other than other nearby airports. If, for example, you can't leave until 12pm, there isn't a way to limit your flights to those parameters. It also has a box at the top called Best Flights, about which it says "We chose these flights to give you the best trade-off between number of stops, duration, and price." Sometimes that seems accurate but sometimes not (like an American flight that was $10 more expensive and 30 minutes longer was listed over its Delta counterpart.) Is there an advertising consideration? If so, you can still see the other options so just be sure to look.
     
  • Hipmunk (http://www.hipmunk.com). Hipmunk has my favorite interface. It uses bar graphs that allow you to instantly see how long flights are, how many layovers and how long each one is, and what time they take off and land. Another great aspect is the default sort order, which is their "agony index": a combination of price, layovers, and length. This absolutely assures that you don't overlook a much better flight that costs $10 more but saves you 4 hours of travel time. It may or may not find you the cheapest flight.

    So why isn't this my go to site? Three reasons: 1) it's slow, sometimes mind-numbingly so - although that may be improving. 2) There have been several instances where the flight I selected "was no longer available". Really? Why waste my time then? 3) You pick your outbound flight and then you pick your return flight. So you might really like your outbound flight only to find there is no good return flight paired with it. It's still worth a look but don't spend too much time there.
There are a couple of other websites to use in specific situations.
Skyscanner (http://www.skyscanner.com) covers all the small discount airlines in other countries, of which there are a growing number. If you have trouble finding an acceptable fare, consider flying to another city and look for a cheap flight from there. When I was going to London and then Dublin last year, it was less expensive (and actually a better connection) to book a roundtrip ticket from Baltimore to London and a roundtrip from London to Dublin. The only caution with this strategy is that your two tickets will not be connected electronically; if you have trouble on one flight you aren't entitled to any help, even if it's the same airline.
If you have a multicity itinerary: For test purposes, I looked at an itinerary that went from Baltimore to Managua, Managua to Madrid, and then back home from Madrid. Using a website that only lets you search leg by leg (e.g. Google flights or Hipmunk might take forever as you go down blind alleys on your second or third leg and have to start all over again). This is another case where Kayak.com really shines as it searches for all 3 legs and presents the options as a package. The best option I found was $1932 after I filtered out flights that took more than 16 hours.

It's also worth taking a look at Orbitz (http://www.orbitz.com) one of the oldest and largest online booking websites. Personally, I have never found them that useful and they are another site where I've had the "flight is no longer available" experience. But you can look at itineraries that involve more than 2 cities. Still, when I tried it just now, the only flights it showed from Madrid to Baltimore were on LOT Polish Airlines with a time of 49 hours and 41 mins. And it was more expensive than the one Kayak came up with.
But the winner in my test case? Google flights, which quickly found acceptable flights and was $1751 because it combined flights on American and United.
One other suggestion here - if you go back to a website that you have been looking at, delete your browsing history first. The websites say that they won't track your activity and show you a higher fare just because they know you are very interested. But honestly, I don't believe it. The last time I returned to a site and only found a fare that was higher than the first time, I deleted my browsing history. When I returned for the third time, I saw the same fare that I had seen the first time. While Google is probably one of the biggest collectors of personal information that exists, the Google chrome browser has easy to use privacy settings and makes it simple to delete browsing history.
If you have websites that you like that I haven't mentioned, please leave a comment with what and why - we're always interested in learning!
Incidentally, we just updated our Ebook on Getting Ready for International Travel. If you haven't downloaded the previous one or if you've misplaced it, you might want to download it again. It's clear, concise, and practical and it's free. For once, you'll get more than you paid for!
Our EBook will help you get ready ready for your next interational trip

Topics: adventure travel, preparation, how to

Climbing Kilimanjaro: 5 decisions to make

Posted by Marian Marbury on Jan 17, 2014 6:10:00 PM

KILI1 copy

Climbing Mt Kilimanjaro is a dream for many women. It's non-technical, meaning you don't need mountaineering skills or even to be an athlete. It is also truly a physical and mental challenge. If you are finding yourself thinking about it, here are some of the decisions you need to make.

1. Are you healthy enough to climb Kilimanjaro?

It is our heartfelt belief that anyone who is healthy can get in the condition required to successfully complete the climb. It requires determination and commitment to training, and acquiring hiking experience if you don't already have it. But what do I mean by healthy? There are several common conditions that should make you think twice:

  • Bad knees The descent is challenging for everyone, even those with healthy knees. If you have significant knee pain, it is unlikely you could train sufficiently. Even if you could, your knees will be incredibly painful when you descend. That being said, many people with some knee pain find that a regular program of strengthening the muscles around their knees (e.g. lunges and squats) will significantly decrease their knee pain. This was true for me.
  • Chronic lung disease Air has progressively less oxygen as you get higher on Kili. If you have lung damage that impairs oxygen exchange, trying to get enough oxygen into your bloodstream can leave you literally gasping for breath, even when you are hiking quite slowly. If you have never been diagnosed with lung disease but have a history of heavy smoking, having a pulmonary evaluation would be a good idea.
  • Heart disease This is not automatically a disqualifier because there are several kinds of heart disease. If you have had stents for Coronary Artery Disease and can exercise vigorously at high heart rate, you may be fine - check with your doctor. But if you have angina, even if it is controlled with medication, then climbing Kilimanjaro is probably not a realistic goal. The combination of the physical stress of climbing with the thin air means that your heart has to work extra hard to keep up with the demands.

2. What company should you go with?

Tanzanian law requires you to have a Tanzanian guide and at least one porter to climb Mt Kilimanjaro. You can either go through a local Tanzanian company or an overseas company (like us) who works with a local Tanzanian company.

Booking directly with a local operator will cost less. If you want to climb Kilimanjaro alone or have your own group to do it with, and feel confident in your travel planning skills and your ability to pick out a good local operator, this can be a great way to go. If you prefer having all the details arranged for you, having access to people who can give you advice as you prepare, having a Western leader who works with the local leader to make the trip go smoothly and provides extra medical backup, and you like the idea of being part of a group of people with the same goals, then it may be worth the extra cost of going with an overseas company.

Regardless of which direction you take, you should think twice about focussing only on the price. Trips are cheap because porters are inadequately paid and inadequately clothed. We highly recommend that you start with looking at the Kilimanjaro Porter's Assistance Project to familiarize yourself with the issues. Unfortunately they have had to suspend their Climbing Partners program because they are now denied access to the Mountain (due to the government bowing to pressure from local operators who did not meet their standards). However, you can educate yourself about the questions you should be asking any company you want to go with.

3. When is the best time to climb Kilimanjaro?

Kilimanjaro is close to the equator, so you can climb it year round.  January, February, and September are considered to be the best months in terms of weather (warmest with the lowest precipitation). The tradeoff is that they also tend to be the busiest and therefore more expensive. The longer rainy season goes from the end of March to early June; you will likely deal with more clouds and lower visibility, plus wetter and muddier trail conditions - but there will be fewer people on the mountain. The summer months (June, July, and August) are drier but colder. There is a shorter rainy season that lasts from November through the beginning of December, where skies are clear in mornings and evenings and afternoon rains are common. So it's all tradeoffs and what is most important to you.

We always plan our trip in February because it offers better weather and coincides with the time that many animals are giving birth - which is an amazing sight during the safari. The specific timing depends on the full moon - we always plan for the final ascent to take place on the night of the full moon because when the weather is clear, the moon is so bright that headlamps are unnecessary - truly a magical experience.

4. What is the best route for climbing Kilimanjaro?

You can read about the 6 different routes on Kilimanjaro on Wikipedia. Again, there are tradeoffs. We have chosen the Machame route for the last several trips because 1) it is very scenic, going through five different eco-zones; 2) it allows adequate time for acclimatization (we break up the route from Barranco to Barafu with an overnight at Karanga to allow one more day for acclimatization); and 3) the drive to Machame Gate is only a couple of hours. The main drawback is that it is a popular route so there are more people on it.

One option some choose is to sleep in the crater at the top (called Crater Camp), which means that they only have 800 feet to climb to the summit at sunrise. We don't offer it because it is colder than most people have ever experienced (it's not only the air temperature but the fact that you feel cold more when you are oxygen-deprived) and sleeping at 18,000 feet significantly increases your risk of altitude sickness. However, one of the advantages is that your summit day is shorter - 800 feet up, then 8,000 down. I know several people who have done it that say it was an amazing experience. Our summit day is 4,000 feet up and 8,000 feet down and it is a very, very long day. However, climbing the 4000 feet up in the dark by the full moon will remain one of my most treasured memories - I wouldn't trade it. But you might!!

5. Can you guarantee success on Kilimanjaro?

Absolutely yes!

But not if your measure of success means getting to the top. While we all talk about "it's the journey, not the destination", that attitude often seems to fall by the wayside when climbing Kilimanjaro and only reaching the top is deemed success.

No, we can't guarantee you will reach the top. That will depend on your conditioning and your luck. Your conditioning is about the only thing you can control - but fortunately, it is under your control. But luck? Not so much. When I say luck, I mean

  • weather - one year there was an unsual amount of snow and no one made the summit, on our trip or any other trip going on at the same time
  • acclimatization - whether or not you are affected by altitude is largely a matter of genetics (although Diamox can help). Some people will have been fine at altitude their whole life and suddenly become sensitive to it.
  • your health during the trip - if you get a cold, bronchitis, or diarrhea, you may feel too weak for the final summit attempt.
On the other hand, if your definition of success is to get as prepared as you can, give it your best shot, and then be open to whatever experience you have (and it will be amazing!!), then absolutely, we can guarantee your trip will be successful.
Hiking Tips for Women

Topics: adventure travel, international destinations, hiking trips

How to start an adventure travel company

Posted by Marian Marbury on Oct 28, 2013 10:24:00 AM

Occasionally someone calls to ask advice on how to start an adventure travel company. Since I love talking about business in general and Adventures in Good Company in particular, I'm always happy to share my experience with the emphasis that it is simply my experience. So here it is:

The best advice I ever got was "Don't quit your day job"! At the time I was working halftime for a boss who was very flexible about how I worked my hours, so it was perfect. But I was past ready to leave and thought that the business could grow faster if I spent all my time working on it. Maybe that's true, who knows? The fact is that it grew much more slowly than I anticipated and I had alot to learn. When 9/11 happened 2 years later and for a few months the phone stopped ringing, I was very happy to have a source of income. It was almost 3 years before it felt marginally safe to leave my job.

The best decision I made was to not be the only guide but to work with women who had guided with me at an organization called Woodswomen. I knew and trusted them. While I would have made more money initially if I had done all the guiding, having other guides gave me the time to build the infrastructure and figure out marketing (two things I knew nothing about) while offering more trips. I did continue to guide because I loved it (one of the reasons I started the company) but by employing other guides too, I was able to build a business, not just create a job for myself.

Many people want to start travel companies because they love to be outdoors and/or they love to travel. There is a difference between loving those and wanting to be the guide responsible for other people loving those (see the post on becoming an adventure travel guide). And there is a difference yet again between loving the outdoors and travel, and guiding, and wanting to be in business. Fortunately it turned out that I loved all three and I loved the steep learning curve of how to run a business. But when I am not out on a trip, I spend just as much time in front of a computer as I did at the job I left. And it was 7 years before I had real vacation (no, guiding is not paid vacation). I'm still lucky if I take 2 weeks of vacation a year. It is also true, however, that when you love what you do, vacation just isn't as important.

Something else I learned was that developing itineraries, while important, was not actually the most important challenge in the first couple of years - marketing was. We could offer the coolest trips in the world, but if no one knew about them, it wouldn't really matter. I thought buying the mailing list of Woodswomen, the company we had worked for that had been around for 20 years, would be enough. It wasn't. Having that connection gave AGC some credibility but basically we mostly had to start from scratch. Fortunately it was just as the internet was becoming more common. The major investment I made of money was having a professionally designed website and the major investment of I made of time was learning how to do internet marketing.

Another key thing I learned was to be careful about how we spent money but to focus on making each trip excellent, not to focus on pinching pennies. This can occur in small ways, like buying a birthday cake. Or it can happen in more major ways. One of our recent trips was supposed to take place in a National Park that was shut down when the government shut down. Since it seemed entirely possible that the shut down would end any day, and since people had already planned their vacations and bought their flights, we didn't want to cancel the trip. But running it meant more lodging and restaurant meals than we had planned. But that was OK, making sure people had a good experience was way more important than making a profit on the trip.

Starting Adventures in Good Company was the best decision I ever made. It has combined constant challenge and learning with meeting lots of amazing people and getting to travel in fascinating places. I'm not sure if having a business plan is critical (I still don't have one and I still can't answer the question of what Adventures in Good Company should look like in 5 years) but knowing yourself, what you love and what your motivations are, is definitely the first step in deciding whether starting an adventure travel company is the right decision for you.

Topics: adventure travel

Adventure Travel for Women Over 60

Posted by Marian Marbury on Jun 25, 2013 11:13:00 AM

I've written before about adventure travel for women over 50 - how, barring illness or physical disability, women over 50 were just as capable of hiking, backpacking, kayaking etc. as women moyher and daughter canoeingunder 50; and that the major element to consider when choosing adventure travel was not your age, but your level of conditioning and desire for physical activity. It's not so much the level of fitness you can achieve (unless you are into competitive sports) that declines with age, but how long it takes to get there, how soon fitness declines, and how many recovery periods you need. Age also has the advantage of experience and attitude, which often compensate for any physical differences.

But honestly I, and many of the women who have traveled with us over the past 14 years, passed the 50 year-old mark years ago. So how about adventure travel for women over 60?

I was very lucky to have a mother who went on a 5-day canoe and camping trip in the Boundary Waters with me when she was 79 - but not many of us have had the good luck to have such active role models.

This probably explains why, when women call the office about a trip, they may preface their questions with "I'm 52 or 62 (or whatever) but I'm very active". Whenever I hear this, knowing that I sound very young on the phone, I usually tell women that I am 61. This is always met by a relieved laugh, and agreement that I do indeed sound about 25 and they had just wanted to be sure they hadn't accidentally stumbled into a group for 20-somethings.

Fortunately as our generation has aged, our perspective on what is possible has changed - and our daughters have many more role models for active aging then we did. We continually see women celebrate turning 60 by signing up for challenging trips, be it trekking To Machu Picchu, backpacking the Appalachian Trail, or climbing Kilimanjaro.

Now most women (and men) actually have no interest in doing something that strenuous - but that lack of interest is not age-related. If you don't want to climb Kili to celebrate turning 60, the chances are really good that you didn't want to when you turned 40 either.

This is not to deny that as we age, the probability of developing a life-threatening or -limiting illness increases. And even if we have remained healthy, most of us have more morning stiffness and a variety of aches and pains. But there is a silver lining here; these consequences of aging strip us of THE ILLUSION THAT WE CAN PUT THINGS OFF that we want to do. We will not be fitter or more skilled next year  - unless we make that a goal right now and start actively working towards it. Our 60s are when we start realizing that making a decision not to do something this year could, through circumstance, become a decision never to do it. A choice to pursue one path is a choice not to pursue other paths -  so we better choose wisely.

Do we offer adventure travel for women over 60? Absolutely. It's called our Trip Calendar.

Topics: adventure travel, womens travel, miscellaneous

Should you have expectations for adventure travel?

Posted by Marian Marbury on Jun 11, 2013 5:25:00 PM

I started thinking about the issue of expectations
and adventure travel after receiving a trip being open to adventure travelevaluation from a woman returning from her second trip with us. To paraphrase, she said that there had been some disappointments on the first trip so she had gone into this trip with no expectations; she had had an amazing time and totally loved it. My first (internal) response was - yes, exactly, when we don't have expectations, then we can be fully open to whatever happens. And since the nature of adventure travel is that there is some inherent unpredictability, we want to be open to embracing what presents itself, not clinging to our expectations of what we thought it should be.

Bu then I thought - OK, but does it follow that a company can offer anything and you shouldn't  complain because you're so living in the present moment that you don't notice that all the cool things on the itinerary aren't actually happening? That doesn't seem right. Not having expectations shouldn't mean that there are no standards and that anything goes.

Many adventure travel companies do try to set expectations in their trip descriptions, either implicity or explicitly. From a purely business standpoint, much less an ethical standpoint, you don't help your business by misleading people about the experience they've signed up for. Yes, sometimes things change, but no one wins by setting it up for that to happen.

Sometimes people don't even know what their expectations are until they're not met. A minor example? Americans often dislike that dinners in Italy are usually large and late; in Spain they are even larger and later. You probably wouldn't have put dinners at 6pm on your list of expectations until you were trying to get to sleep with an uncomfortably full stomach. Experience is how we learn what is truly important to us and how to deal with an expectation that can't be met. Maybe we learn to leave food on our plate; maybe we carry Tums with us; maybe we just don't travel in Italy.

The bottom line is that we all have expectations, and to the extent possible, we need to know what they are. If we do, then we can decide if they are something we can let go of, adapt to, or make sure they will be met. So read the itinerary carefully. Ask the company questions. Chat with people who have been on the trip. Do everything you can to make sure you get on the right trip. And then be open to the experience that unfolds.

Topics: adventure travel, miscellaneous, trip preparation