I put a lot of time into planning an adventure from kit to training and timings but I rarely put a lot of time into route selection for a few reasons. Let me explain...
On my bike trip around Asia, I actually printed this and took it with me to navigate. What was I thinking...
I remember audibly screaming at myself on numerous occasions in the past when I missed a junction on my bike and didn't realise until I had travelled a solid hour in the wrong direction.
A Loose Plan & An Open Mind.
The planning phase of an adventure is often exciting and stressful in equal measures. It's so much fun sitting down and thinking about where you'll go, what you'll do and day-dreaming about the amazing things you'll experience along the way.
Planning the route is something that I've always found so much joy in because, well, it's like being handed a blank cheque and being told go have some fun. You can literally go where you want, when you want. But over the years I've learned a couple of things that have massively influenced how I plan a route.
When I cycled through Southeast Asia on my own in 2007, my route was very loose. I had a rough idea of places I wanted to visit but how I got between those places I figured out as I went along. I had no GPS device or mobile phone and the only map I had was a 1:1,500,000 map of the whole of Southeast Asia. Essentially, it had main roads on it but very little else. It was so unhelpful I eventually left it in a hostel. I navigated largely by following road signs (which was hard in script I couldn't read) and by asking locals (in languages I couldn't speak).
Fast-forward 12 months and I cycled from London to Slovenia and back with a friend. Over the period of about 6 months, he had meticulously planned every stage on some really great maps. Each day we set off with an exact distance in mind with campsites identified for every night and even some hotels booked along the way.
Myself and Jon as we reached the border from Slovenia into Italy. A monumental stage in our journey.
The two trips couldn't have been different in terms of my approach to route planning, both with their pros and both with their cons. The Europe trip was great because we could plan rest-days and co-ordinate with certain events and people we wanted to meet along the way but it was also stressful. We were constantly referring to the map, trying to stay on-route and cycling in the dark trying to find the campsites we had booked even though we were passing plenty on the way. I remember audibly screaming on numerous occasions when we missed a junction and didn't realised until we were a solid hour in the wrong direction.
Asia was chilled. I made it up as I went along. Some days I did enormous miles because I had no idea exactly how far it would be to the next town to refuel and some days I was pleasantly surprised with a beautiful coastal road and a bed by the beach. I never got lost in Asia because, well, there was nowhere I actually had to be. As long as I was moving in the right sort of direction, I was always in the right place. That said, the unknown caught me out on a few occasions and I found myself desperate for food and water or had to sleep on the sides of roads or ride a few miles of motorway to get back on track.
What all these types of experiences over the years have taught me is to maintain a healthy balance between planning and remaining fluid. Do a bit of research and give yourself some rough parameters to work within but don't plan to such an extent that it impacts your enjoyment. For me, life is full of control and everything we do is restricted by time, distance and permissions. Adventure should be liberating and there is nothing more liberating than being able to change your mind or feeling free to make off-the-cuff decisions.
So when it comes to route selection, keep your plans loose and your mind open. It's ok to feel lost and it's incredibly satisfying when you find your way back on track. And I promise you, whatever happens between the moments of being lost and finding your way again, those will become your best stories.