Our Community - Reflections on Adventure

How To – Prepare for a Backpacking Trip Abroad

This September, Emily is returning to Scotland to hike The West Highland Way and summit Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the country. The 96mi route goes from Milngavie, just outside of Glasgow, to Fort William. This will be her second thru-hike, but her first time wild camping solo, which is one of the main draws for her! Connect with Emily on instagram at @emily_goes_exploring and donate to her campaign here: Em’s fundraiser.

Pre-Trip Thoughts

I have attempted wild camping in the US, but end up spending the whole night too worried about bears, mountain lion, and moose to sleep. Fun fact: the largest predator in Scotland is a badger!

em is wearing a large backpack and walking away from the camera

What I’m Doing Differently (than if it were a trip stateside)

The major differences I’ve noticed so far are:

Transportation to/ from the trail: 

Normally, in the US you’d drive yourself or arrange some sort of costly shuttle service. Fortunately, most of Europe has extensive public transportation so I’ll be taking the train from Glasgow to Milngavie, where the trail starts. At the end of the journey, I’ll hop on a bus from downtown Fort William.

Airline Regulations: 

I purposefully bought a pack small enough to be considered as a carry- on (if I don’t fill it to the brim) and have a list of items I will need to purchase upon arrival because they cannot go on the plane like propane and aerosol bug spray. Camping items such as silverware and knives also have to go in checked baggage and will be confiscated from carry-ons.

Multi-purpose Packing: 

I don’t want to wear my technical hiking gear to explore the cities before and after my hike.so I need to pack my technical gear and the essentials for daily life before/after separately. I’m keeping in mind pack weight and luggage security for the items I’m not carrying on the trail, as they’ll be shuttled from the beginning of the trail to the end for me. This takes some serious prep and thought to separate the two types of clothing and pack them in a way that both are accessible when the time comes to use either.

How to Find A Route in the Big Wide World

This where social media and the internet come in handy! The first thru-hike I did abroad was the Finisterre section of El Camino. I had heard about El Camino by word of mouth and researched the route online, then followed #elcamino on Instagram to see other people’s pics to get an idea of the route. I first heard of the West Highland Way through one of the stars of Outlander’s Instagram and started researching from there. When I’m route shopping, I like to learn as much as possible not only about the route itself, but the country it’s in. My main research areas are usually:

  • What kind of predators / wildlife might I find on the trail?
  • What is the camping / hostel / refugio / albergue situation?
  • What will the weather be like?
  • Will there be access to shops or restaurants along the way? What are the resupply options?
  • What language is spoken? Do I need to pre-download a language on GoogleTranslate?
  • What will the cell phone service situation be?

Words from the Wise

You may get some pushback from friends and family about traveling solo in a foreign wilderness. I know I certainly did the first time. Of course do your own research on safety, but as I like to remind my family: There will almost always be less guns and a lower likelihood of getting shot than in the US.

Navigating Logistics

So far, I’ve found the major European routes much easier to plan for than trips in the US – or at least that is the case for El Camino Finisterre Route and the West Highland Way. For both El Camino and the West Highland Way, public transportation can be taken to within a few blocks of the trailhead and buses/trains back to the major cities from the end point. Both routes also have private sherpa services you can hire to transport your bags each day, so if you only wanted to hike with a daypack you could! Each little town the trail passes through/ nearhas accommodation you can book online in advance (or just show up), but booking online can help tremendously with any language barriers. In researching the routes, there are plenty of blogs and official sites that provided detailed itineraries complete with mileage, elevation gain, and services available for each segment.

For me, planning for food throughout the day, both while on outdoor adventures and inner cityones, is a little more complicated. I have an extremely sensitive stomach and intolerances to gluten, dairy, soy, and peanuts. For my West Highland Way journey, I am working with a dear friend and registered dietician to plan out the food I’ll be bringing on the hike to make sure I have enough (safe) fuel for the adventure. The UK isn’t the easiest place to source allergen-free foods, so I’m bringing along the bulk of what I’ll be eating on trail.

Final Thoughts

I’m so excited to share more with you about the planning process and the journey. I hope you follow along and donate to @thecairnproject to help other women build their confidence in the outdoors. Please consider donating to my campaign if you can!

Em Blaha | Dirtbag Dreams 4
Em Blaha

Em is a passionate creative problem solver who hates to be told she can't do something. She is a digital nomad with a thirst for Type 1-1/2 Fun, insatiable curiosity to see the world, and is still working up the courage to wild camp solo. When she's not logged into work, she can usually be found on the move - rock climbing, hiking, trail running, paddle boarding, or practicing yoga.