Planning An Overseas Wilderness Journey

Planning An Overseas Wilderness Journey

Men walking in snowy wilderness
Wilderness journeys in overseas territories provide experiences and opportunities not available closer to home. But there are practical considerations which must be observed. Good planning is a key component of any trip’s success. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

In a previous article on this blog, I’ve examined restrictions and opportunities around finding a place to practice your bushcraft skills in the UK.

I’ve also written about the virtues of taking your bushcraft skills further afield than your home territory (wherever you are based, UK or otherwise).

In the present article, I want to address the major considerations for planning an overseas wilderness journey.

Important Considerations

To me, the attraction of going further afield boils down to the differences that other geographies offer that the UK might not. On the face of it, this is an obvious statement.

But before you just stick a pin the map at random, I think it’s important to be clear about the specific reasons you might want to make an overseas trip. This is clearly a major factor in the overall equation of deciding where to go and what to do there.

Of course, every place has its own unique characteristics, even within a country. But it’s the combination of differences and, importantly, the opportunities these combinations provide, allowing the possibility of having experiences that you simply can’t have closer to home which are attractive. For example, consistent winter snow plus an excellent network of huts makes Norway a great destination for ski touring.

When we are talking about being able to make journeys where we can employ and extend our bushcraft skills, factors such as the following are amongst the most important:

  • More permissive laws on access and camping;
  • More permissive laws/regulations on lighting fires;
  • Lower population densities;
  • Greater levels of forestation/large areas of bush;
  • Different weather – warmer/colder, wetter/dryer;
  • Better access to or more extensive waterways;
  • Established networks of trails;
  • Established networks of cabins or huts;
  • Geography dictating the necessity of a mode of transport – e.g. canoe or 4WD;

Moreover, much of bushcraft revolves around knowledge of nature. If you are to extend your bushcraft skills, you need to travel to areas where the flora and fauna is different to what you are used to.

Wintergreen berries, Ontario, Canada
Travelling to different environments will expose you to unfamiliar species. Photo: Paul Kirtley

From firecraft to animal tracking, a new environment will test your skills in a way that your home turf cannot. Ultimately, you’ll need to travel further afield to extend your skills and experience.

Clearly these opportunities have to be weighed up against the time, money and risk involved in achieving them.

Wherever you go and whatever you do, there are some fundamentals which you need to consider….

Choose An Environment

You probably already have some ideas of the types of trips you’d like to make, or at least the types of environment you’d like to visit. A winter snow-shoeing trip may be a lot more attractive to you than a walking safari in Tanzania. Or, if multiple environments inspire your wanderlust, then you probably at least have an order of preference. If not, create a list that does this. Budget is also likely to be a factor in determining where you go next.

Beaver dam, Ontario, Canada
You probably already have an idea of the types of environments you want to visit… Photo: Paul Kirtley

Calculate Your Budget

One of the first things you need to do is work out what your budget is. A ballpark figure is OK to start with. Then roughly work out what it will cost you to get to a country. Remember also an important consideration is to budget for travel in country, not just to get to the country. Domestic flights can be more costly than international flights, for example. For many countries, however, you can easily research likely transport costs – flights, trains, buses, ferries, etc., – online these days. You can also get a good idea of general costs of transport and food from published travel guidebooks.

Animals in the Serengeti
Different types of trip often have particular price brackets, with some being typically more expensive than others. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

In terms of budgeting for making a wilderness journey, a self-contained backpacking trip utilising gear you already own, is going to be less expensive than hiring canoeing kit, for example. Your broad budget will determine what is feasible both in terms of getting to a country but also what you can afford to do once you get there. A hiking trip in Sweden is going to be a lot less expensive overall than a 4WD trip in the top end of Australia.

If you need to purchase or rent specialist equipment in order to undertake a particular type of journey, then make sure you budget properly for this too. Visiting cold environments tends to be more costly in this respect than warm and dry places, particularly in terms of the specialist clothing required.

How Much Time Do You Have?

Many young travellers manage to go far with just a backpack and not much money. The asset they have is time. If you have time, you can seek out the cheapest ways of getting somewhere, you can wait for connections, you can take the slow option, you can hitch lifts and you can organise accommodation and equipment as you go.

On the other hand, if you only have a limited number of days you can take away from work or family, you may need to pay for faster, more direct transport. You may want to pay someone to organise logistics or equipment for you ahead of time, rather than sort it yourself when you get there.

How Remote Is Remote?

Those of us who live in the UK, live somewhere on a collection of small islands. No-one is particularly far from the sea. Nor are they particularly far from a road or habitation. Hence, those of us who seek splendid isolation, look for the most remote parts of our small land.

We tend to carry this thinking over to other territories. This can be a mistake, particularly for the novice wilderness traveller. Like the country as a whole, the level of isolation of the most remote parts of Canada, for example, is on a completely different scale to the UK.

View of endless woods...
Travelling from a relatively small, highly populated country to a remote wilderness, the scale and emptyness can be surprising. Photo: Paul Kirtley

You don’t have to go to great lengths to find yourself in much more remote settings than you’d ever be able to in the UK. Think about what suits your level of experience plus your budget (more remote tends to be more expensive in terms of time and/or money).

Check The Access Rules

While a territory may have more permissive rules on camping and fires, the number of people allowed access to an area at any given time period may be restricted. Ticket systems operate on some hiking trails. You may have to book your slot a long way in advance. You may even need to obtain a government-issued permit to enter certain areas of a country before you travel to them.

Also, even though access to a national park, for example, may be open, access to designated places you are permitted to camp overnight may be limited to a small number of people at a time. Again you may need to book in advance.

View of wild forested land
Check the access rules of where you are going. Even remote areas can have restrictions or quotas, in order to limit the impact of visitors and preserve the wilderness. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

In the UK this is not something we are used to – we are used to just turning up and hiking off into our national parks and other wild places. Don’t let this potential difference catch you out when travelling overseas. Research ahead of time.

What Are The Objectives?

Think carefully about what you are aiming to achieve. If there are more people than just you involved, then this will need to be discussed with some or all of the others. The objectives of the trip should, in any case, be transmitted to everyone involved. A common cause of friction on trips can be a lack of common understanding of the goals of the trip.

Peole cooking on a fire
Make sure everyone is on the same page with respect to the objectives and ethos of the trip – even down to questions of whether you are going to be travelling hard and fast or are you going to spend a bit more time in camp, relaxing, cooking, etc. Even small differences in expectations can cause frustration and friction amongst a group. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Do You Have The Requisite Experience?

An important question you have to be objective about is whether you have the requisite experience to take on your adventure. For example, is your navigation well practised enough to be able to find your way in an environment with few man-made features and landmarks? Is your fire-lighting slick and sufficiently bombproof to work in the conditions you are likely to face? If you are undertaking a 4WD journey do you have the necessary driving experience and mechanical knowledge?

Do You Need Training?

For any wilderness, you should have good navigational skills and relevant first aid/medical training. You might also need training in trip-specific skills such as white water canoeing or 4WD driving. Make sure you seek out the training you need and leave plenty of time to consolidate your skills.

Tracking rapids in Canada
Wilderness journeys allow you to apply real skills in the real world, rather than only practise in your local area. Wilderness journeys test your skills in a way that domestic training cannot. Make sure you have relevant training before you depart. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Do Your Research

Find out as much as you can about where you are going. Read guidebooks. Research online. Study maps. Is there a best time of year to make the trip for reasons of weather, ground conditions, availability of resources, fire risk, wildlife, insects, length of day, etc.?

Make sure you are aware of important local customs from what offends people to when shops are likely to be open or closed. Learn some of the local language if you can – knowing how to say hello, please and thank you can get you a long way.

Give Yourself Plenty Of Time

You may need to order guidebooks and maps. Maps in particular can require either a bit of seeking out or just a significant lead time in ordering. In the UK, Stanfords in Covent Garden, London is a very good place to start for maps and guidebooks.

Assess The Risks

Be methodical in thinking about the objective hazards that are likely to be present in the environment you are visiting. Hypothermia? Hyperthermia? Moving water? Bears? Snakes? Other people?

Two men in front of a hut in near blizzard conditions
Harsh conditions in the mountains of Norway. Make sure you properly assess the risks of the environment you are visiting and plan accordingly with respect to clothing, equipment, emergency procedures and allowing contingency time if you need to sit out poor conditions. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Make A Solid Plan

Write yourself an itinerary. You can do this and format it neatly in a word processing or spreadsheet package. Think it all through carefully and leave time for contingencies. If you can, have someone else check the plan for robustness.

Plan For Things Going Wrong As Well As Right

Think about what happens if someone becomes ill or injured. What equipment will you need? Are you able to communicate with people who will be able to provide help/assistance? Will there be mobile phone coverage? Will you need spare batteries? Will you need a satellite phone? What happens if you are injured – will your travel companions be aware of where they are? Will companions know what needs to be done in terms of looking after you, raising the alarm or communicating with emergency services?

Make sure a copy of your itinerary is lodged with a responsible person not on the trip. Make sure they know when to raise the alarm if you don’t check in or return home.

Obtain Suitable Insurance

Travel insurance policies vary. You may have a policy already as part of your banking, home insurance or credit card package. Check the small print for what is covered. There can be territorial exclusions as well as restrictions on the number of days covered – both consecutive and total per year. There are often restrictions on winter sports and/or diving. Make sure you know what you are covered for and what you are not.

If you need to purchase additional insurance, make sure you do. Paying for rescues or even hospital treatment gets expensive quickly. The British Mountaineering Council offer a range of travel insurance policies, which are well-suited to the adventurous traveller.

If you have a European passport and travelling in Europe, make sure you have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).

Obtain Relevant Inoculations

Make sure you have all the relevant inoculations in place and up-to-date plus any medicines you may need to take while you are travelling. If you need any certificates of inoculations – such as for Yellow Fever – make sure you take them too.

Make sure you obtain the relevant inoculations for where you are travelling in good time. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Taking Your Cutting Tools On A Plane

I’m regularly asked about how to take cutting tools and other outdoor equipment overseas. The answer is usually simple – put it in your hold luggage. This is certainly the case with knives, saws and axes. Just make sure they are well packed and not somewhere in your pack or duffel where they are close to the surface and risk cutting through if the bag is dropped.

Let me and other readers know where you’d like to make a wilderness journey by commenting below. What’s on your bucket list? It’s possible other readers have some experience there already and can give you tips and advice. If you can help someone with information, please do. Also, if you have made a great wilderness journey, let us benefit from your experience – tell us what you learned, did right/wrong and any advice for travellers considering such a trip. Thanks and I look forward to reading your comments…

Helpful Websites:






Related Material On Paul Kirtley’s Blog:

Way Out North: A Boreal Forest Foray

Six Men, Three Boats and The Bloodvein: Paddling A Wilderness River

Winter Magic: Return To The Northern Forest

Enter A Virtuous Circle: Take Your Bushcraft Skills On An Adventure

A Personal Wilderness First Aid Kit: What To Include


A version of this article appeared in Bushcraft and Survival Skills Magazine.

31 thoughts on “Planning An Overseas Wilderness Journey

  1. Thankyou Paul, informative as ever! I have a week off next month so have a loose plan, it’s either take the canoe up to Scotland or fly to somewhere like Tromso, Norway book a cabin but hike off and wild camp somewhere darker to try and catch the Aurora for a few days. Anybody think this is a good idea or is there some better way of backpacking up in the Artic circle?

    1. Both sound like good plans to me. I’ve wanted to explore the north of Norway, Sweden and Finland for many years now (growing up in Orkney meant I was closer to Oslo than London). Since watching Lars Monsen’s programmes that itch has grown.

      There’s always the chance that if you are far enough north in Scotland there could well be aurora visible here. Perhaps not as spectacular as those around Tromsø, but still present. The display we got here in Caithness back in February was quite amazing though. At one point I was pointing the camera south to take shots!

      Either way, I hope you have a great adventure.


    2. Hei Neil, Im sure that Paul wont mind me replying to your plans. An excellent article by Paul by the way. Briefly; wondering around (On foot) in northern Norway in November isnt a particularly good idea; unless of course you have intimate knowledge of the climatic conditions that time of year, Ice thickness on the various lakes, local knowledge, experience in an arctic enviroment and can ski well:-) Once you have all that out of the way, can you start thinking about when during the winter the Northern lights will be most visual. I served three years running with 45 Cdo during the seventies; Febr is a very good month to experience this phenomen. After living here in Norway for over 33 years I have always utilized the different seasons to my best advantage (And own ability/experience) when planning expeditions to different parts of Norway. If I were you, I would try Southern/central Norway in the early Autumn; most of the snow has disapeared, fewer problems with streams/river crossings, an abundance of different types of berries, (important from a Bushcraft aspect) and the fantastic Trail system will make your trip one to remember. God Tur:-))

    3. Hi guys! If you want to see the aurora then you should wait til late december or january…..more chance to see the lights at that time…..a lot colder but better weather!

      best regards from sweden

  2. A few years ago I decided enough was enough and planned to leave behind my office job and see the world, testing myself and my skills along the way. For one reason or another this never happened – instead I left my job and spent months alone, living wild on the west coast of Scotland – testing myself and my skills. (I’ve repeated the adventure again since).

    I do not regret the lack of exotic locations – in fact I would suggest the west coast is a pretty good place to test oneself (firelighting being a very good example), but the itch to explore further flung corners of our world is still there.

    As such, I’ve been putting together a very lightweight kit (which will have to include a laptop, for example, so I can continue to work on the road) and making Plans with a capital P. As yet I have told no one of these plans though. I would like to head to different environments – both rural and urban, mixing time in the wild with time amongst different cultures. All this is good for my work (principally writing) and, dare I say it, my soul.

    This article is (again) spot on – and comes at a perfect time, again – the last article I commented on was the Bloodvein gear list, when you mentioned contact lenses – which also came at a perfect time (and thanks for your reply – which was excellent, I hadn’t even thought about the contact lens solution bottles needed with longer term wear lenses). I’m beginning to think you may be reading my mind, Paul!

    Many thanks for this article.


  3. Interesting article. Thanks Paul.
    Interesting , as Im doing the legwork at present in how to make a abroad trip feasible…so this is timely.

    My questions to you / and readers would be : any helpful tips would be appreciated.

    Colorado, USA; Sydney or any larger city, Australia- with aim to explore the wilderness, with city as base close by.
    : for a 4wd trip: are there any links for good/reliable4 wd hires
    link for maps and cabins/camping places- family friendly for kidz- any recommendations.

    Flam, Norway: .any ideas / recommendations on
    cost effective route from Uk, to here, ie once you fly in, what might be the best tried and tested hiking, basic routes / accomodation at around summer time( family friendly for kidz) ( any links would be helpful)

    1. Paul … Since I live in Finland, I can relate to a whole bunch of things written out in very simple English! Out here in the wilderness, the smallest of actions take on a heightened significance! Thank you for your excellent work!

      Leena … my recommendations for Flåm, Norway come from having been there:
      – Hire a car. It is worth the money because you can cut through huge distances in the mountains where there isn’t a very efficient public transportation system close to areas where you could hike in and around the fjord area.
      – Look for places where you can put up a tent. They mostly also have a place where you can stay. It costs more obviously, but the luxury of being able to dry out your tent for the next few days while on the move is priceless.
      – Regardless of the weather, make sure that you are adequately covered up … the area is infested with tics that can give you the life-debilitative Lyme disease (for which there is no cure as such if not discovered immediately)!

      1. Hi John,

        Thanks for your thoughts on this article and my work in general.

        Thanks also for adding to the conversation with your other comments to help other readers. Much appreciated.

        Warm regards,


  4. Another great article.
    Good advice that I was given was to buy bug-dope locally as the local outlets were likely to stock what works locally.
    Sometimes kit available locally may be just the thing. However, I once made a serious error in assuming that I could get a better tent in the US for an extended journey. Unfortunately, I found lightweight back-packing tents hard to find in Florida where I started and ended up buying the only one I could find. It had to be ditched and replaced in Colorado. This was a big expense on what was a shoe string trip.
    Moral of the story: do your homework and never assume anything.

  5. Thanks for the article, it’s nicely timed as my daughter is going on school exchange to New Zealand in the spring.

    I’ll be going out to bring her home and plan to spend c.3 weeks over there.

    I’ll have about 5 days on my own, so I’d like to do a bit of walking or canoeing or, even better native bushcraft. I am just starting to look into possibilities, so I’d appreciate any links or advice you can offer. I will begin on the South Island in Christchurch so it’s that area I need advice about.

    I look forward to anything you or the readers of your blog can offer.


    1. Hi Robert,

      It’s good to hear this was timely.

      I have some friends down in NZ. I’ll see if they can recommend something which would suit your location and timeframe.

      Warm regards,


      1. Hi, Paul,
        Thanks for that. I’ll keep an eye out for more info.
        Please feel free to use my personal email.
        All the best, Robert.

  6. Paul, thanks for this overview. As I head into the darker months, I like to pull out the maps and guide books. It is time to dream and plan for 2015.

    In my corner of the world I am blessed with a good road system and quick assess to wilderness. I can drive to the wilderness of Ontario or Quebec within 12 hours.

    You mentioned it in this blog article but time, money and objectives are key. As pointed out, there is an inverse relationship between amount of time available and money. However there is usually a direct relationship between enjoy and time. The more time the group has for a trip the better the overall experience. A week in wilderness is a good starting point.

    Your ‘Objectives’ I would define as expectations. For all major trips, I set out expectations in writing and share with the participants. Inexperienced participants need to understand not only the miles to be covered but also their role in making a successful trip and most importantly, that it is guaranteed that things will not go as planned and be comfortable with this. For example, we had a short, easy day planned on our Missinaibi River trip with only Long Rapids to run. Because of the low water level we lined the rapids and did not make camp until 7 PM. It turned into a long tiring day.

    Thanks again. I promise to send along a write up of the Missinaibi trip.

    1. Hi Paul,

      Great comment. Thanks for taking the time.

      I look forward to reading about your Missinaibi trip.

      Warm regards,


  7. Cool article Paul, full of great advice, always a nice read your blog.

  8. Hi Paul,
    Brilliant work and as always so good of you to devote all this time to these fantastic articles. Currently taking it easy recuperating from injuries to my back and elbow but always keeping up with your output.
    All the very best amigo.

    1. Howdy Kirkland, it’s been a while since I heard from you. What did you do to injure yourself?

      All the best to you too!


  9. Never fails to astonish me how simple and straight forward your advice is, yet so many people year in year out fail to keep themselves safe even on an over night trip.

    Proper planning and preparation is the singly most vital aspect (as you rightly pointed out) and yet in todays ‘iPhone’ world where people think everything is available on a 24hr basis, planning seems like a swear word or some thing to be laughed at.

    Great pic from Norway. Beast weather.

  10. Hi Paul,

    Thanks for the article – it’s really got me thinking!

    Maybe a trip somewhere closer to home, where I can have a relatively good idea of what to expect would be a good idea for my first bushcraft trip – maybe the Scottish west coast.

    Long term though a horseback trip to both Patagonia and Botswana have always been on my bucket list!

    From personnel experience though, I have always got more out of trips when you have someone with local knowledge and enthusiasm with you!

    Thanks again,


  11. hello paul . fantastic subject by the way. i to have a hanking to travel .but fortunetly my job and family comes first . i was born to travel .i am allways trying too find time to get out in to the fresh air .some of my time i build canoes in my shed down the garden i usually do 2 canoes every summer .i love canoeing .when i can i also canoe down the river wye as well as find time for a little bushcraft. but i have had this seed planted in my brain for a few years now about i think its norway where ray mears was on a lake with larrs falt .i really want to do that trip but dont know how to go about it. ime not sure if i could do it alone .no one else i know is in to the things ime in too so its sort of a stalemate if you know what i mean. guidence i think is what ime lacking as well as skills .dont get me wrong i do do overnighters in the woods but am knowhere near as competent as i would like to be . wicked blog mate your the man sir all the best

    1. Hi Ricky,

      Thanks for your message. Glad you liked this subject.

      It was Sweden that Lars and Mears were together, near Karlsbourg I believe.

      I do know what you mean about finding paddling partners. It’s not easy.

      What materials do you make your canoes from?

      Warm regards,


      1. white ash for the gunnells western red ceder for the hull . ime in the middle of making one from selway fisher catalogue stitch and tape method should be interesting . five planks per side twice as cheap as well. oh its made from marine ply.

        1. Hi again Ricky,

          Your boats sound great. I’d love to see a photo of one completed…

          Warm regards,


  12. Hi Paul,

    Another great article, thanks!

    I just booked us (me and Tineke) a cheap flight in February 2015 to Sweden once again. Our seventh time in three years time, it is becoming our second home (we even have an option on a house over there right now!). In the meanwhile we are planning bigger trips to visit Northern Canada and Japan.

    All the best

    1. Hi Ruud,

      Nice to hear from you. Glad you liked the article 🙂

      Yes, I think you two both really love Sweden. I can understand why. Whereabouts will you be going this time? Similar area again? I hope it is nice and cold for you this year. There’s nothing like a proper winter adventure…

      I’m interested to hear your plans to visit Northern Canada and Japan. You’ll have to let me know more in due course.

      Warm regards,


  13. Hi Paul,
    Another great article.

    When travelling to new places it is also important to be aware of hazards. I’ve travelled extensively around Australia and have encountered quite a few people who are completely un-prepared for the environment they are in.

    – Extreme heat (heat stroke, dehydration)

    – Snow (we can have snow showers all year round in the SE mountains – even summer)

    – Lack of water (yet alone potable water),

    – Animal hazards like snakes and crocodiles (up north), but there are other predators in other parts of the world which you should gain some knowledge of eg bears and wolves

    – You mention distances, be they on foot or in a 4WD or 2WD. Driving long distances is very fatiguing and there are many road hazards especially on dirt roads and tracks, but even on major highways. Animals like kangaroos, cattle and sheep regularly wander onto roads at night and driving at dawn, dusk and at night many accidents are caused, you don’t need to travel too far from a major city to start seeing dead animals.

    – Many of the “towns” marked on outback, and even country side, maps are not in fact “towns” at all and may be “place names”; I’ve encountered people low on fuel who tell me they will fill up at such and such town, they look very worried when you tell them “its not a town” … you need to check what sort of facilities are available and plan your resupplies. Small towns and roadhouses do sometimes run out of fuel, or have issues with their pumps, supply trucks etc, so you can’t 100% count on them.

    – In some countries it would pay to be mindful of the political / civil situation, you don’t want to be stuck in a war zone !


  14. Hi Paul,
    Been getting your newsletter for a while and have been checking out your videos from time to time. Great stuff. Keep up the good work.

    Question have you ever been in Sweden for a bushcraft Adventure?

  15. Please, get rid of those in-your-face pop-up boxes “inviting” people to subscribe to your newsletter. They are an active disincentive either to subscribe or even to come back to your site.

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