Guest Blog by Kevin Neft
It was circa 2012 when I first stepped out of my North American bubble. I was in my junior year at Sacramento State University, and about to embark on a 1 year study exchange in Australia. I was nervous, but excited all at the same time. My first real time abroad and pretty much on my own. That year turned out to be one of the best years of my life. The friendships I made and experiences we shared I will never forget. It was that trip that I token with my discovery of wanderlust and how hiking as a medium could be the best way to discover new places.
Australia was only the 3rd country I had visited, but fast forward 7 years and I am writing you while hiking around New Zealand with a total of 28 countries visited thus far. I had adapted that backpacker lifestyle, trying to experience places as best as possible without spending heaps (my Aussie and Kiwi lingo shining through) of money so that one can extend traveling as long as possible. The best way I’ve found to do that, hiking.
Not only can hiking be a cost effective way to see new places, but it also holds some of my fondest travel memories. It started with hiking through Australia’s bush to pristine swimming holes where I realized I didn’t have to spend a ton on tours to see some of the best countries have to offer. In Fiji I forgone the expensive boat tour that took tourists to the filming location of “The Blue Lagoon,” and went for a hike up the ridge. I was then greeted with views of nearby islands and more shades of blue then I ever seen before.
What were my favorite memories of my whirlwind Euro trip? Yes Oktoberfest was amazing, but I look back on that trip and my highlights come from days I spent hiking. We wanted to see the Alps, but Switzerland wasn’t in our budget. Instead we hopped on a train in Paris that took us through Switzerland, where we gawked out the window as we passed by, to a small alpine village in Austria just outside Innsbruck. There we took advantage of a secluded ski village that season was still a ways away, and used their chairlifts to get up amongst the mountains. Up until that point we had been mainly hopping from big city to big city, and I think we all realized how much we needed that taste of fresh air. It wasn’t enough. After our next destination, Oktoberfest, we craved that mountain air again. We headed back south to the Northern Alps in Germany where we hiked down a beautiful gorge that many take a chairlift to bypass.
Hiking in foreign countries can be difficult especially if you don’t speak the native language. Which makes it even more important to do extra research, route planning, and preparation then normal before taking on a foreign trail. In some circumstances, even for the budget traveler, it is worth it to splurge on those hiking tour experiences where they deal with the logistics for you. In China my Mom and I opted to take a small group tour that took us deep out into a section of the Great Wall that was unrestored. I feel like we got a more authentic taste of what the Great Wall represented by hiking a section that wasn’t commercialized and restored.
Last but certainly not least one of my all time favorite travel memories, started with a tour riding camels into the middle of the Sahara desert. The hike then pursued that evening when we traversed up the side of tallest nearby dune to watch the sunset. One of the most spectacular sites I have ever seen unfolded in front of me. The glow of the desert sun faded into a night sky where there wasn’t a moon to be seen. Countless shooting stars darted across the sky with remnants of the Milky Way galaxy. In that one night I saw more stars then I had seen in my entire life combined.
It was after the majority of these trips that I reflected on what I enjoyed most about them, and I found the common denominator was being outdoors. Then cue finding and finishing the 52 Hike Challenge in 2017, and it solidified that I found my happy place being on trail. This trip to New Zealand has already been one of my favorites and that is because I centered in around my love for hiking. You best bet any time I make travel plans now hiking will definitely be in the itinerary.