Tips on Tours If You Go With a Walking Group

Walking has become such a popular activity that many travel agencies as well as university and hostel groups are now specializing in such tours.

Accommodations and prices vary widely.

Here are some useful reminders:

* Check out the group thoroughly; read all information carefully. How long have they been in business? What kind of repeat business do they have? What are their demographics, who are they marketing to? How do they determine level of competence for the group? What are their accommodations? Read carefully the information on meals, drinks, etc., so you know what you are paying for. I prefer an all-inclusive trip with the exception of mixed drinks. Clarify if they will supply whatever beverages you chose to drink.

* Determine who checked out the route. Was there a process for walking it to be sure it was safe, accessible, etc. Are the meal and snack times well defined and on your schedule?

Are you staying in one place for several (or all) of the nights, or are you moving every night. Moving is more interesting, but requires greater organization on your part as well as on the part of the tour leaders. Staying in one place and walking out from it each day is easier on the packing side, but usually requires roundabouts on your part, which some people find monotonous.

* How experienced are the personnel on whom you are dependent? Do they speak the language of the country well? What was their training?

* Get sturdy suitable shoes. These need not be hiking boots unless the terrain requires them. Frequently I've found conventional walking shoes more comfortable for the long haul, and easier for country to village walking. Learn about all-weather shoes and the pros and cons of letting your feet breathe vs. never getting wet. I opt for the leather-type top with a comfortable sole. and plenty of support inside rather than the expensive shoes that don't breathe. Take a second pair that are a bit lighter so you have a good change.

* Pack a large, lightweight poncho in your backpack for rain storms. It will keep you dry until the next pickup. Keep your heavier rain-proof gear (be sure you know what is rain-proof and what is rain-resistant) in the car unless you need it when you start out. I've never encountered a full day of downpour. Only once was I sopping wet enough to be uncomfortable and that was very brief.

* Purchase foot aids such as inserts for shoes, blister aids, bandages. I particularly liked a product that goes under the bandage that keeps any blisters moist.

* Clarify the groups position regarding medical assistance and insurance and get their policy in writing so you may be sure your wishes will be followed if you have any doubts.

* As with any trip, determine cancellation policies in writing.

* Make sure you are able to walk the full day's walk over the kind of terrain they describe. Be able to walk at least half the distance, over similar terrain, for a week in a row at home.

* Learn stretching exercises for your feet and legs and perform them regularly for several months before you go.

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