With just one week until I board a plane to the States, I am finally starting to feel like I am prepared for my upcoming thru-hike attempt. It’s taken months of research, preparation and planning, and being from the UK, it has required a little more brain power – especially in terms of logistics and organisation.
Below, I’ve listed pretty much everything I have encountered along my planning journey. It’s been a mixture of fun and overwhelming – mostly the latter for me, but once I got on a roll and chipped away at the tasks one by one, my confidence grew and I now feel ready to take on the AT and do my very best!
Step 1: Make the decision
Blindingly obvious, I know, but deciding ‘I’m going to hike the Appalachian Trail’ is not a particularly straight forward process. To make such a decision, you should first probably know what you are getting yourself into. There are a fair few things you are going to need to think about before you even consider delving into the other stages in this post and I encourage you to ask yourself questions like this:
Can I afford to hike the Appalachian Trail?
Do I have time to hike for 5-7 months?
When do I want to start my hike?
What will I do about my current commitments?
The researching stage never stops, from the minute you decide that you want to hike the AT, until the second you set foot on the trail, you are forever learning. You could have hiked 1000 miles already and you’ll still be drinking in new information every day.
If you feel confident in answering the above questions and have not run away with your tail between your legs, then you’re definitely in with a shot and can delve deep into the fascinating, confusing and occasionally intimidating world that is thru-hiking; for instance, will you hike NOBO, SOBO or flip-flop?
There’s tonnes of information online about the Appalachian Trail and thru-hiking in general, which could help you commit to a decision. Here are some examples of where I got my inspiration:
Virtually everyone has Instagram, so it’s worth following all the relevant hashtags to connect with people in the same boat, as well as past hikers: e.g. #at2019 #appalachiantrail #thruhike #trektheat #atthruhike #thetrek.
There are also numerous Facebook groups which are filled with information and really helpful people with experience and advice (for the most part; just beware of the ‘armchair hikers’).
Step 2: Apply for your visa
Before you can dive too deep into planning your hike, you’re really going to need to know if you can get a visa. Without it, there will be no trip. I applied for the B-2 visa as soon as I made my decision to hike the AT, which was about 9 months prior to my planned departure from the UK.
I have written a whole post on this topic, as for us Brits (and other eligible foreigners), there’s a bit of a faff involved in acquiring your visa. Read all about it here: How to get a B-2 Visa for Hiking the Appalachian Trail.
Step 3: Research & purchase your gear
Gear is the most talked about subject when it comes to thru-hiking. Your gear could make or break your hike, therefore this area requires a lot of research and patience, especially if like me, you started out with very little knowledge about camping equipment.
You can read all about my chosen gear in detail here: My Gear List for the Appalachian Trail | Pre-Hike.
Step 4: Start saving money
Affording to take an extended amount of time off work is a question I am commonly asked by people interested in my travels. Over the years I have saved money in many different ways, some less desirable than others; from working 60+ hour weeks for a solid 6 months in Tasmania, to practicing a minimalist lifestyle and making conscientious spending decisions.
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) suggests that you will need to budget for around $1000 per month to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, which can take anywhere from 5 to 7 months to complete.
Hiking the AT can be done on a ‘budget’ if you wish, but even so, you’re going to need to shell out a fair bit of money before you even hit the trail. Pre-trail costs will obviously vary amongst hikers, but for me personally, I was starting from square one. I owned no gear, I needed to purchase my B-2 visa and I had flights, transportation and travel insurance to organise.
Whilst on trail, I will need to be able to fund my food resupplies, footwear and any necessary gear replacements, transport costs, accommodation and the odd national park permit. Not to mention leaving enough money to return to the UK and land back on my feet!
The following tips aren’t going to be viable for everyone, but adopting just a few new habits could really help you out; so here’s everything I have done so far to save for my upcoming thru-hike in March 2019:
Assess your accommodation options
As soon as I had my visa confirmed, I moved out of my Manchester flat and into a cheap, temporary basement room, which I found using SpareRoom. Four months down the line, I then moved in with my parents, to save even more money for the last few months before I’m due to start my hike.
Sell, sell, sell
Minimising my living situation then encouraged me to start selling as many of my belongings as possible; from furniture and old electronics to clothes and accessories. I found Facebook Marketplace and Gumtree really useful for this.
I keep my bills to a monthly minimum; I now only pay for my phone, which I will swap to a pay-as-you-go before leaving the UK; and Spotify, which I am keeping as a treat for the trail. I cancelled all of my ‘luxury’ subscriptions; I don’t watch TV, so don’t have to pay for a TV license, I deleted my Netflix account and stopped going to the gym – the wilderness is my gym now!
Getting from A – B
Prior to leaving Manchester, I would ride my bike everywhere – this saved an absolute fortune on commuting to work. I now work from home, saving further transportation costs. If you don’t have a bike, can you walk, car share or take public transport instead?
Become a savvy saver
I’ve always lived quite minimally, but being on a saving mission is the perfect time to embrace this lifestyle. I only buy the things I really NEED. I meal prep and cook at home as much as possible, because eating out is the quickest way to burn through your hard earned cash. I also try to keep my social life cheap; I’ll catch up with friends by going for a walk instead of a drink!
For £5 a year, I have a Go Outdoors Discount Card, which knocks at least 10% off everything in store. You can also take advantage of their price guarantee and make further savings on purchases – I once saved over £30 in one go. Similarly, becoming a member of the REI Co-op is another great way to pinch pennies once Stateside.
Don’t forget to shop around and compare prices of gear in different shops and on websites. Also, take full advantage of sales. I bought my down puffy with £100 knocked off the original price from Mountain Warehouse.
If you have a creative side, such as photography, art or writing, you could consider using your skills to build an online audience and work with sponsors for your thru-hike. For instance, you could review food and gear, write articles for relevant online magazines or vlog your journey.
Take advantage of birthday’s and Christmas
This one is a bit obvious, but worth mentioning anyway. I asked for gear for my 30th birthday and Christmas, which has undoubtedly saved me hundreds of pounds, I am grateful to say!
Be smart with your money
I have always kept some of my savings aside in NS&I Premium Bonds. Instead of earning interest, you are entered in a monthy draw with the chance of winning between £25 and £1 million tax free. The more you save, the higher your chances are of winning. You can either reinvest your prizes or have them paid directly into your bank account.
Monzo is a great way to budget your money. You can set spending budgets and use your card anywhere in the world for free.
The last thing you want to do is be stressing about money whilst mid-hike, so it might be wise to minimise your off-trail expenses as best you can. For me, this has been fairly straight forward, as I have been able to cut all contracts and ties beforehand; but if you are tied down to certain commitments, what can you do to reduce and improve their impact on your bank account? Rent out your apartment? Downgrade/cancel your subscriptions?
When it comes to gear, I would say that most of mine falls somewhere in the mid price range. I am currently unable to afford to go ultralight, but when purchasing each item, I’ve weighed up the quality, cost and weight against my budget. Having the lightest, best quality gear that I am able to afford, could help to minimise future injuries and gear replacement, thus saving money further down the line.
Step 5: Training and shakedowns
Although the best place to gain your ‘trail legs’ and figure out your gear is on the trail itself, learning as you go along; it also makes sense to start the AT as prepared as physically possible. Why? To help minimise the risk of quitting, injury and gear failure.
How? The best thing to do is hike! Fill your backpack with your gear and go walking, wear the clothes you intend to hike in on the trail to make sure they are comfortable and test out your tent (even if it’s just in the back garden).
I’ve spent a couple of days a week over the course of a few months testing out my gear and improving my fitness. Just remember, everyone is different and what works for some, may not work for you. Try not to compare yourself to anyone else; some people will opt to do zero training, whilst others will already have a number of overnight hikes under their belts. You do you.
Step 6: Get organised
By now, the bulk of your planning is complete and you’ve got most of the important stuff out the way. The final stages of organising your thru-hike really revolve around those last-minute ‘life admin’ tasks and tying up loose ends. I made a checklist:
✓ Book flights – obviously you can do this stage whenever, but I left it until I felt fully confident in my decision, which came from completing steps 1-5. The cheapest flights I could find flew from Gatwick to Boston with Norwegian Air, then Boston to Atlanta with Jet Blue.
✓ Bank cards – do you need to notify your bank that you are travelling abroad? I set up a Monzo card, because it can be used worldwide.
✓ Phone contract – I paid off the remainder of my phone contract, unlocked my phone and temporarily switched to a pay-as-you-go. I will pick up a US SIM card once Stateside.
✓ Health insurance – a must! I opted for Worldwide Insure.
✓ Student Loans – I needed to inform the Student Loans Company that I’ll be abroad and not working during my trip, by filling in an Overseas Income Assessment Form.
✓ Medical – do you have ongoing prescriptions that need organising for your time away? It might also be worth having a bit of a medical ‘MOT’ before you leave. I had a blood test taken (to check that I’d been maintaining a healthy vegan diet) and I had a dental checkup.
✓ Backup – I made digital copies of all my important documents (flight details, visa, passport), as well as addresses and phone numbers, and latest bank statements (in case immigration give me a hard time about not having a return flight booked). All of this is saved on my Dropbox, which I’ve made available offline, so it’s easily accessible. It’s better to be safe than sorry!
✓ Logistics – what will you do when you touch down in the States? How will you be getting to the trail? There are lots of trail angels who offer help, support, shuttles and more!
✓ Navigation – how will you be navigating the trail? I have a PDF of AWOL’s 2019 AT Guidebook. The Guthook app is also widely used by hikers and something I may purchase once in the States.
✓ Resupply boxes – if you have friends/family or a base in the US, you could look into organising yourself some resupply boxes (these are especially useful for people with special dietary requirements). I don’t, therefore will mostly be relying on trail towns. I may send myself a couple at the start of my trip from Atlanta.
I hope this information will help you when planning your thru-hike, or even inspire you to get started! If you have any questions or feel like I have missed anything, please comment below!