Wilderness travel advice

Switching off

Breanne Quesnel, co-founder of our partner Spirit of the West Adventures, introduces the manifold charms of British Columbia in Canada: “The areas in which we operate are truly spectacular wild, open spaces teeming with wildlife and beauty. It only takes five minutes in one of these places to have something shift in your soul, and a sense of peace, calm and reverence to fall over you. These places remind us what is important in life and allow us to recharge in the truest sense of the word.”
Dane Stewart, founder of our partner Tistel Wildlife Guiding, on remote camping in Scotland’s Cairngorms National Park: “One of the biggest things is shutting off and getting away from the world. Although they can charge them, most people only touch their phones to take photos. They gain a greater appreciation for home and family – things you take for granted in your normal life. You think about the bigger picture.”

Why visit wilderness areas?

Julie Gough, marketing and communications manager at the conservation charity John Muir Trust, believes spending time in the wilderness carries numerous benefits: “Immersion in natural environments benefits human wellbeing in myriad ways, from improved physical health to psychological and social wellbeing by reducing stress and anxiety and increasing self-esteem and resilience. Additionally, spending time in nature positively impacts on children’s cognitive processes, with benefits to academic performance, interest in school, social and emotional skills.”

Managing expectations

Riitta Kiukas, founder of our partner Skafur Tours, recommends managing expectation and preparing children for long journeys: “People often want to go to a wilderness area and expect lots of restaurants to choose from. But in these places you’re going to have one or maybe two at best. These aren’t ski villages; you’re in the middle of nowhere. Wilderness areas are far out. There might be a nice hotel, but very few of the services people are used to in resorts.”

“Families with children need to be aware of the distances involved when going to wilderness areas. You’re not just flying into the airport and you’re there. You’re talking 1-2 hours on the bus, so not too far, but if you have kids with you then you need to be aware of the transfers involved.”

Community-led conservation

Carmel Hendry, product manager at our partner, Explore Worldwide, discusses some of her most enjoyable wilderness experiences: “My favourite wilderness areas to explore have been Guyana, and Patagonia. Two very different experiences as you have the vast open scenery of Patagonia and the dense rainforest of Guyana. In Guyana you see some really interesting Indigenous community-led biodiversity projects. You stay in small villages that run the project themselves, and all the money earned goes back into that same community. “

Julie Gough, marketing and communications manager at John Muir Trust, explains the vital role of volunteers in conservation efforts: “More popular routes can very quickly become eroded by footfall as well as rockfalls and adverse weather, which makes them less stable and more likely to infringe on fragile habitat. So our maintenance work is about both protecting plants, animals and soils, as well as providing safer access to wild places for people to enjoy. This work is funded entirely from donations, and often carried out by volunteers.”

Accessibility

Julie Gough, marketing and communications manager at John Muir Trust discusses a few of the ways the trust is working to improve accessibility: “Positive experiences in nature encourage further engagement and responsible pro-environmental behaviours, which is why we launched the John Muir Award in 1997 to inspire people to connect with and care for wild places that feel accessible to them. The award encourages outdoor activity, learning and personal development as well as positive action for green spaces and nature, and it’s used in youth work, mental health support, addiction recovery, and with unemployed, ex-offenders and the elderly.”

“An average of 40,000 people achieve their award each year... and at least 25 percent of participants are experiencing inequalities due to financial circumstances, disability or health challenges. We also run a Junior Ranger programme for school children, provide volunteering opportunities to engage people across the UK with hands-on wild action, and we’re excited to be partnering with the hillwalking group Boots and Beards from 2022.”

Before you go

Carmel Hendry, product manager at our partner Explore Worldwide, emphasises the value of doing some research on your destination in advance: “In terms of being prepared – it depends on where you’re going, but be ready for remoteness and a lack of connectivity, and keep an open mind. I always suggest reading up on the local wildlife – not only what you might see, but how you can have a positive impact on the environment such as by choosing carefully the accommodation you stay in, for instance lodges that help with conservation projects.”
Marcus Eldh, founder of our partner Wild Sweden, shares our belief that using local guides can make a good holiday great: “I would recommend using our public right of access, hiring a car and a cabin, and getting out there. It’s very easy in Sweden; hardly any traffic. As far as seeing wildlife goes, however, I would say that the services of local guides are indispensable.”

Wilderness by water

Breanne Quesnel, co-founder of our partner Spirit of the West Adventures, on the joys of kayaking around Vancouver Island: “You won’t be disappointed anywhere in British Columbia, but our favourite area is in and around Vancouver Island. This area is home to mountains that drop into the sea, towering trees, whales that ply the waters and endless opportunities for exploring by kayak. Exploring at the water level and the quiet of travel under your own power is really an incredible way to experience Canada.”
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Wilderness or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.

Health & safety on wilderness holidays

HEALTH

Depending on where you’re travelling, but especially rainforests, vaccinations may be necessary. It’s always best to check with your own doctor if unsure. In some countries there are major issues with poaching of wildlife, and you will often see bushmeat on sale in markets. You should also avoid eating it because many animals such as monkeys carry diseases. If you require any regular medication, ensure you take a little extra, as in some wilderness areas you’ll be far from the nearest hospital or pharmacy, and the transport infrastructure can be quite basic. Transfers out may not always run precisely to schedule. If your holiday involves trekking, ask your travel company what kind of terrain you can expect. Most of our wilderness holidays aren’t massively demanding, but getting some practise in with a few long and steep walks before departure will be useful. Mosquitos and other biting insects can be a problem in some wilderness areas – Scotland's tick population in summer is notorious. Bring eco-friendly bug spray and long-sleeved clothing, and try to stay away from water around dusk. Always ensure you have adequate travel insurance in place before departure, and that it covers the places you’re visiting and the activities you’re doing.

SAFETY

On a wilderness holiday you will be exposed to the elements at times, so pay close attention to what your travel company advises as a packing list. Wildlife-watching is a major draw for many wilderness holidays. But where you’ll be in the same areas as big predators such as wolves and bears, it’s essential to follow your guide’s instructions closely. For the animals’ benefit as much as your own, because if they are perceived as becoming a risk to humans they may have to be killed. While responsible holiday companies will always have their own safety procedures in place, when heading into the wilderness it doesn’t hurt to let a friend or family member know your proposed route, and when you intend to return. That way if they can’t get in touch with you by an agreed date, they can let the local authorities know. Mental preparation is just as important as physical. On most wilderness holidays you’ll be accompanied by a guide and other members of the group, but spending long periods in remote areas, out of contact with the outside world, can still be taxing. Don’t expect mobile phone coverage or WiFi – in fact, assume there will be none. And embrace that feeling of disconnection rather than worry about it. Updating Instagram with photos of your trip can wait until you’re home.

Tips from our travellers

At Responsible Travel, we think the best people to advise our travellers are often... other travellers. They always return from our tours with packing tips, weather reports, ideas about what to do – and opinions about what not to. We have selected some of the most useful tips for wilderness holidays that our guests have provided over the years to help you make the very most of your holiday – and the space inside your suitcase.
Be aware of the temperature and humidity when trekking in the jungle
- Lisa Lawton on a Colombia trekking holiday
“You need to be open to whatever happens (and not tied to an itinerary), prepared to go without a shower every day, be happy to wash your clothes in a stream or wherever you can (certainly without a washing machine), be happy to enjoy what's happening right in front of you – the scenery, the changing landscapes, the passing flocks of sheep and goats, herds of horses, yaks and cattle – and not worrying about what time it is or what's happening online. You need to be comfortable going to the toilet behind a sand dune or a tree, you need to care for the environment by responsibly disposing of toilet paper, drinking the local water (it's clean and safe) and you need to accept and enjoy the accommodation for what it is – not for what you might expect 'back home'.” - Viv McWaters on a Mongolia adventure holiday

“Pack clothes for every weather condition you can imagine. Weather in Kamchatka changes very quickly and often. Travelling in July, we experienced all seasons, from snow to heavy rain, cold and cloudy days to almost 25 degrees and sunshine.” - Sarah Prange on a small group tour of Kamchatka

“Be aware of the temperature and humidity when trekking in the jungle. I had not really taken into account that the entire trip would be in the jungle and therefore hot and humid every day.” - Lisa Lawton on a Colombia trekking holiday
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Eelco Bohtlingk] [Switching off: Hendrik Morkel] [Managing expectations: Derek Owens] [Before you go: David Kovalenko] [Health & Safety: Tristan Pineda] [Lisa Lawton quote: Franz Schafer]