Monday, January 20, 2014

How Outdoor Adventure prepared our family for World Travel

When we decided to halt all outdoor adventure for a few months, just the multi day adventures, in order to make room in our lives to plan for family travel, financially and time to get things done, I thought I was in for a steep learning curve. I envisioned hours dedicated to researching the destination, reading travel blogs, getting our shots up to date, learn some basic Mandarin as a family and prepare the kids for backpacking across China.  Funny thing is though, once I dived in, I found our years of outdoor adventure experience, planning and executing, was very similar to world travel and was not lacking the knowledge as much as I had first thought.

Of course there are tasks that are unique to world travel. There are travel documents, VISA's, vaccinations, travel insurance, currency preparations, contacting bank for travel notifications, and purchasing cell phone travel plans that had to be taken care prior to traveling to China.  None of which I have ever had to do for outdoor adventure.  The wild is tame when it comes to these tasks.  Yet, there are so many similarities between the two.

With the planning and tedious tasks done, all that was left was experiencing China as our first family world travel adventure.  Was I completely calm, cool, and collected?  Absolutely not.  I was still stepping into the unknown and had fears of what to expect, will we be able to handle it all and what if something goes wrong?  I still do this on the eve of outdoor adventure which is exactly the reason why I love adventure so much.  It challenges me and provides opportunities to grow personally and to experience amazing things with my kids.  Early into our 3 week China adventure, about four days in, I knew everything was going to be fine.  Our years of outdoor adventure prepared all of us for this moment.

If you have traveled to China or anywhere in Asia you quickly learn that squatting versus sitting is the preferred method of doing your business.  This is also true when out adventuring in the wild and nature calls… Our experience with a wide variety of outdoor facilities; some modern, some rustic, and sometimes behind a tree contributed to a smooth transition from the bathrooms we know and use everyday to the very basic, almost primitive facilities.  

Left photo: Very modern backcountry facilities.  Right photo: Public washroom in Shanghai

In order to get to the wild places we love, sacrifices are made.  There are some remote beach front locations that rival what a five star resort can offer, hands down.  The rugged raw beauty of nature is priceless and in order to fully appreciate it all, we sacrifice our comfort.  Sleeping in a tent on sandy beaches, moss covered forest floor, pebbled riverbanks, or on a wooden tent pad is our families norm.  Both Ben and Liv love sleeping in tents because it means we spend more time playing in the wild.  Same goes for world travel.  We chose hostels as our accommodation, which is hardly a sacrifice.  A warm dry place to come home to, wonderful staff, family friendly and a place to meet new friends from all over the world.  The small, lumpy hard cots, cramped space, and views of nothing forced us to spend less time in our room and more time exploring the life, history and culture around us.   

Left photo: Spacious and cozy 2 man tent.  Right photo: Closely knit family room in China Hostel.

When heading into the back country on a new trail or paddling across a body of water, map reading and navigation is important.  To rely solely on GPS, cell phones or Google maps is foolish.  Ben and Liv are 8 and 6 respectively and we review our location, maps, and basic compass skills with them on all of our adventures.  Often what we research ahead of time is not always accurate or we come across signs and maps that show areas we were unaware of.  Then decisions need to be made, do we continue on the path intended or explore further?  Many of these practices were used while navigating the streets, subways, and trails in China.  Everyone knew where we were going each day, how we were getting there, and what to do if we became separated.  Map reading in China was taken to a whole new level! 

Stumbling upon a map that shares local trail knowledge. Where shall we go?

  Stumbling upon a map at the Longji "Dragon's Backbone" terraces rice fields.  Where are we?

Adventuring with kids requires an enormous amount of food.  As long as you know this and plan for it, the adventures survive.  Foraging for food works great when in the wild.  On Vancouver Island we are blessed with many berries ready for the picking throughout the seasons.  They have become our staple trail side snacks.  Salmon berries, blackberries, huckleberries, salal, and blueberries are our favorites.  I had not considered this to be part of our travel in China but somehow it became a part of our daily routine.  Sometimes the foraging was purchasing fresh fruit from roadside stands or street markets.  Sometimes it was given to us by locals who welcomed us to their country.  Other times we picked the fruit right off the tree, with the farmers permission of course.  Our daily foraging in China consisted of pomelos, mandarin oranges and kumquats.  So fresh and yummy.

 Left photo: mmm...fresh wild blueberries. Right photo: Fresh, hard to peel, pomelos.

Pack light and only what you need.  That is key for any outdoor adventure.  Over the years I have learned the hard way on what to take and what to leave.  Do you really need a pillow? Did I use the two extra pairs of pants? Perhaps canned food was not the smartest choice.  Packing only what you need means the freedom to travel where you want to go.  This was huge for us in China.  With only having one pack each we were able to travel the streets, hop in taxis, use the subway and make our way through airports and train stations easily on travel days.  For our daily adventures to and from the hostels we stayed at, we used Liv’s backpack.  Less is more!

Left photo: Packed and ready for 2 weeks of adventure in the wild. Right Photo: Packed and ready for 3 weeks of adventure in China. 

You never really know what to expect when heading into the back country.  Weather has a huge impact on trail conditions.  Windstorms can fall trees onto or across trails.  Rain can add mud to the experience.  Wildlife encounters are always a possibility.  Even fellow back country goers can add to or wreck the experience.  Ben and Liv have experience being faced with all these situations.  What I find remarkable and amazing is they just take whatever challenge is presented to them and rely on their own personal experiences to guide them in the right direction.  They climb over the trees, stomp through the mud, handle wildlife encounters properly, and are stewards of the trail.  In China the landscape and wild spaces were very different from our usual adventures but they accepted them and moved on.  There was no finger pointing or comments of disgust or disrespect.  Sure, questions were asked, as they should, and answers were given.  Walking though the alleys of China was every bit as adventurous and enjoyable as hiking a coastal trail.  

A muddy walk through the west coast forest

After all  the research, the effort of adventuring, and time put into the experience, there is always room for fun.  So many factors are thrown at you during outdoor adventure and world travel but as long as everyone is still having fun then the experience is a success. 

Some campfire fun!

Ni Hao from the Great Wall of China

The full blog series on our China Adventure: 
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  1. Just awesome. Looks like a wonderful experience!

  2. So cool! Loved following you trip on Instagram!!

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