Let’s get one thing out of the way: multi-day backpacking treks are not for everyone. Some people prefer the comforts of traditional city sightseeing and urban exploration. Some simply need a detox from the daily grind, with nothing more than a book and beach chair. Others might opt for group travel, a variation of voluntourism, or even a food tour of a country’s revered and raved-about gastronomic experiences.
But for those who seek to venture off the beaten path, and who pursue travel experiences that are as authentic as they are adventurous, one type of travel reigns supreme: the multi-day trek.
A multi-day trek can take on many different forms. Accomodations can vary from primitive campsites to amenity-filled hostels. Trails can be snaking singletracks or a hodgepodge of paved roads and nature paths. Lengths can vary greatly, but in general the ethos of a multi-day trek has a few defining ingredients. There’s an outdoor component, a “Point A to Point B” simplicity to the itinerary, and intimate cultural exposure that simply can’t be matched by other types of travel.
Here are a few reasons why the multi-day trek is such a worthwhile way to travel abroad.
YOU’LL TRULY SEE THE PLACE
Getting an intimate sense of your surroundings is where multi-day treks shine. Sure, it’s possible to find hidden pockets of culture in urban environments that aren’t overrun with tourists, but it’s not easy. With multi-day treks,more of a guarantee. Often, these types of excursions have backpackers traversing rural countrysides, traveling through empty expanses of wilderness, and dropping in and out of quaint villages that rarely see foreign travelers.
It’s not at all uncommon to encounter everyday miracles like weather-worn farmers tending their crops, remote and forgotten ruins that you’ll never read about in guidebooks, and natural landscapes so stunning they’ll put even the most beloved and ornate manmade structures to shame.
The beauty of trekking resides in its inherent aversion to the norm and its propensity for unscripted serendipity—like completing a long day of hiking through the sun-kissed Tuscan countryside only to arrive in a tiny taverna dishing out handmade pasta and locally made small batch wine. Or collapsing in an exhausted heap in your sleeping bag beneath an endless sea of stars after a day of summiting jagged mountain passes in the French Alps. Or spending an entire afternoon locked in impenetrable Irish fog only to have the sun eventually burn through and materialize a colorful rainbow in an unbroken arch over the emerald countryside. It’s these types of magical micro-moments that consistently define the multi-day trek.
YOU’LL BE TESTED (PHYSICALLY & MENTALLY)
Physically, the benefits of trekking are unbounded. With traditional urban travel, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of overindulging—I might as well eat this 5th buttery croissant because I’m on vacation!. With trekking, you’re always on the go, always moving and staying active, burning and earning your calories. Generally, you cover anywhere from 10-20 miles on your feet each day. This keeps your endorphins flowing and ensures the creeping sense of urban claustrophobia after too many days in a busy city will be kept at bay.
Mentally, you’ll encounter a variety of interesting challenges. There will be moments when the trekking gets tough, when the prospect of scaling yet another 3,000 feet of vertical gain with a heavy pack will sound like senseless Sisyphean suffering. There will be moments when you’ll need to be alert and aware of your surroundings, able to potentially wayfind with only a map and compass and without the luxurious tools of the technological trade. And there will be moments when you might encounter language barriers or cultural communication issues as you’ll be trekking through rural lands where locals have had less exposure to the globalized world.
But, much like the euphoria that comes from completing any of life’s most lofty efforts, the joys of overcoming these challenges makes approaching them one-thousand percent worth the effort.
YOUR PERCEPTIONS WILL CHANGE
Everyone sees the Eiffel Tower, not everyone explores the highest peak in Europe. In other words, there’s a novelty that comes from multi-day trekking. With city travel, the experiences are often designed to take you to popularized destinations like museums and monuments. With trekking, you’re off the grid and away from the masses. You’re not updating your Instagram story at every Wi-Fi hotspot. Instead, you’re creating your own real story—something that isn’t predicated on the vanity-fueled hubbub of social media sharing, but rather geared towards a mutual discovery of place and self.
Another underrated plus is how trekking allows your relationship with time itself to change. In the fast-paced commotion of city life, time has a tendency to slip by undetected. In the outdoors, with nothing more than a winding trail and your own two legs to take you down it, time seems to slow down a little. When all you have for entertainment is the natural scenery bobbing by at 3 miles per hour or a paperback book to be read in your tent at night, you begin to appreciate the surroundings just that little bit more; you become more mindful of your thoughts and your environment. And it’s this sort of slowing of the senses that makes the twitching hands on your internal clock tick by more deliberately. Given the likelihood that your vacation days are limited in the first place, if time slows down a little, this can only be a good thing.
Trekking frames adventure abroad with a unique narrative that broadens our understanding of far away places, and if we’re lucky, deepens our understanding of ourselves.
A FEW OF OUR FAVORITE EUROPEAN TREKS
Finding the perfect trail for a multi-day trek abroad is a bit like the quest for a “Goldilocks” Grail. There’s an artful science to discovering a trek that matches your desired criteria for the distance, duration, and scenic payoff that’s “justttttt right.” Here are three of our favorites in Europe that strike a good balance:
TOUR DU MONT BLANC
For 105 miles, the Tour du Mont Blanc circuit passes through three separate countries (Italy, France, and Switzerland) as it circumnavigates the tallest massif in Europe. For expansive panoramas and jagged mountain vistas, there might not be a trail in the world that packs as much dramatic beauty into such a condensed distance as this one.
THE KERRY WAY
The 130-mile Kerry Way Trail connects some of Ireland’s most spectacular and iconic scenery by means of thousand year old footpaths. A bonus about the Kerry Way is how relatively unheard of it is compared to other distance trails in Europe, so solitude is all but guaranteed.
CAMINO DE SANTIAGO
As one of the world’s most storied pilgrimage routes, the Camino de Santiago—the “Way of St. James”—is comprised of a dynamic mix of routes across Europe, which all lead to its terminus at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. The most popular of these is The French Way, which travels roughly 500 miles through the French Pyrenees into northern Spain. Given the well-established infrastructure of this trek, it’s easy to embark on a shorter journey given time constraints.
Written by Ry Glover for RootsRated Media in partnership with Royal Robbins.
–Featured image provided by Jorge Luis Ojeda Flota