Making the decision to embark on an Adventure Treks trip for the first time can be a little unnerving and scary; after all, many of our new students have never done an outdoor trip before! We applaud our students’ choices to step outside of their comfort zone to do something completely new, including meeting new people from all over the country and world; trying outdoor activities like mountain biking, mountaineering, rock climbing, and backpacking; and living in a close community for two to four weeks at a time.
We recently asked our returning students and parents and alumni for their best advice for new students coming to Adventure Treks for the first time. As usual, they delivered with heartfelt, thoughtful comments! Below is part 3 of our advice series.
Any advice for packing and organizing the duffel bag?
“Use Ziploc bags or stuff sacks to organize different types of clothing and activities; this is really helpful when doing laundry and packing for different activities.” – Alex F., student from Winnetka, IL (2 trips)
“Keep your pants, shirts, underwear, socks, and jackets all in separate stuff sacks, and pack extra Ziploc bags for wet items. On the trip, put all your clothes in a trash bag in case it rains and the tarp doesn’t get put up in time. If you can get most of your clothes washed on laundry day, it’ll keep them from getting gross and gives you more options. Pack leggings for hanging around camp and make sure to pack a pair of sweatpants or pajama pants that you can keep in the bottom of your sleeping bag with a long-sleeved T-shirt. It makes sleeping more comfortable and clean because you aren’t sleeping in the clothes you wore that day. And make sure your flashlight works, or bring two. Mine died the first night of our first backpack, but luckily I had a tent light to use.” – Serena G., student from Erie, CO (1 trip)
“Just pack what is on the list. AT makes it easy! My kids did not use everything each year, but they never complained that they were missing something. My kids lost things in the bottom of their duffel bags, but found them again before the end of the trip. We had shoes that didn’t make it back home, but… oh well, that is part of it! Just don’t send anything you are super attached to. Kids have a way of misplacing things…” – Laura Cattabriga, parent from Miami Beach, FL (4 trips)
“Stick to the packing list. Our first year, I made our daughter take extra stuff, which she never used, and I still had to wash it all on her return. The stuff sacks are a really good idea; they help keep thing semi-organized in the duffel. Some things will get lost, but don’t worry about it; they sort themselves out and nothing is intentionally lost. These days, she packs her own bag.” – Anne and Roland Hooley, parent from Pinecrest, FL (3 trips)
“The first trip I went on, I made the mistake of not organizing my duffel, and by the end, my clothes looked like a giant salad in my bag. I couldn’t find clean clothes, and the lack of organization made it hard to get ready each day. If you organize all of your clothes into labeled Ziploc bags and bring a laundry bag, you can avoid chaos in your duffel. This will help you get ready quickly and efficiently, and even help the group out as a whole when we are trying to leave a campsite in a rush!” – Megan S., student from Franklin Lakes, NJ (4 trips)
“Try not to overpack, and pack everything very tightly into your duffel. Bring a laundry bag and synthetic clothing. And if you can, bring a waterproof duffel. Also, make sure your duffel isn’t too big, because you will be passing them around in a fireline fashion every night.” – McCallum K., student from Durham, NC (2 trips)
“Packing for an AT trip can be overwhelming, but they provide great packing lists. Don’t take anything they don’t list. And, as we have found in the past, our kids returned without even wearing some of the clothes they packed! (Remember, they don’t shower that often.) The gear doesn’t need to be the high price variety; look for deals. Plan ahead, and don’t wait until the last minute to order/find the items on the list. Most important, get good hiking boots early and BREAK THEM IN! A good quality duffel bag works great, and then we used a couple small, hard-sided containers (made for camping) inside the duffel to keep the small items that might be prone to damage in good order and to keep them organized!” – Michelle and Wade Eichhorn, parents from Ely, IA (6 trips)
“If you aren’t sure you need something (and it’s not on the packing list), it’s probably not worth the space. You’ll regret every extra item whenever you have to search through your duffel. Flair is the exception—bring as much you want!” – Erin H., student from Hendersonville, NC (3 trips)
“Organize things into Ziploc bags and label them. Once you have all your bags done, put the ones you are least likely to use on the bottom, along with any non-clothing bulky items, and the things you are going to use the earliest at the top. The list given to you is everything that you will need; overpacking just makes it harder to repack your duffel everyday. Before bringing something not on the list, think to yourself whether you are really going to use it. Don’t worry too much about anything because as long as you follow the packing list and AT’s recommendations on how to prepare, you will be well-prepared.” – Mackenna M., student from Durham, NC (2 trips)
“When you’re packing, make sure you bring things that will be comfortable to wear in the environment you’re going to, like athletic shirts and shorts… breathable clothes in general are a good idea. As for organizing, sort your clothes into categories based on articles of clothing, socks, underwear, T-shirts, etc., and put them each in a separate stuff sack. The only issue then is making sure all the sacks fit in your duffel!” – Gibson D., student from Madison, WI (4 trips)
“To pack for the first trip, I made sure I read every single instruction on what to buy and how to pack. When they give you quantities, they know exactly what is needed. And it’s exactly what fits in the duffel bag they travel with. Right quality socks and boots are of utmost importance. First year, we had her go to school with her boots to make sure they were broken into beforehand, and she was so excited she actually did it a few times.” – Hildegard Vasquez, parent from Panama (10 trips)
“Organization within the duffel is as important as the clothes inside; a duffel can become a black hole, so packing clean socks, underwear, shirts, and shorts in separate stuff sacks helped our daughter manage and balance clean and previously worn clothing. Also, a “dirty clothes” bag to take clothes out of circulation within the bag was helpful.” – Kyle Graham, parent from Erie, CO (1 trip)
“Parents need to know how smelly everything is when they come home. It may be because I have a son, but I would warn every parent to open the duffel bag outside!!! It never ceases to amaze me how bad it smells. I always send him with lots of plastic bags (big garbage bags and smaller Ziplocs) but there is always something damp with a bad odor. We laugh each time he comes home over the stink, but I have yet to come up with a packing strategy to avoid it. If someone else has one, please help me!” – Marni Eisner, parent from Winston-Salem, NC (4 trips)
“Make sure you have a Ziploc with a clean outfit for the last day because you’ll definitely want it.” – Lexi S., student from Mooresville, NC (3 trips)
“Use the list that AT provides, and definitely have all the required items. It’s helpful to pack the duffel yourself so that you’ll know where everything is! It’s not fun having to search for your lantern when dinner is waiting.” –Krithi D., student from Berkeley, CA (3 trips)
Any last-minute general advice for AT?
“Adventure Treks is the best experience I think I’ve ever had. You learn so much and do so many things in such a short period of time. Yes, some things are hard, but it is well worth it.” – Alex F.
“Don’t let any potential drama get in the way of the connections you make with people. And try not to cause drama because it takes away from the entire AT experience.” – Serena G.
“Make the best of your summer! Take advantage of every new opportunity, and always be ready to try new things!” – Claire T., student from Nashville, TN (5 trips)
“My best advice—set them free! It is an amazing experience. Our kids had lots of fun and still talk often about their adventures.” – Laura Cattabriga
“The first trip was quite daunting for us; we were new to the country and the whole camp experience, and our daughter didn’t know anyone else going. But she settled and made friends quickly. For us as parents, we couldn’t wait for that first contact. The return was hard as she didn’t settle at home for a couple of weeks, and she couldn’t stop talking about it. But it gave her a fresh outlook on life, which was refreshing. It was huge in learning to dealing with others and working things out and compromising. It has certainly given her an appetite for this type of trip: The activities are great, fun, challenging, and team-building. The food worked really well; our daughter has dietary restrictions, and we have not had any issues about it.
Great friends have been made through AT over the past two years, even when she had to leave early last year due to severe allergic reactions to something. (The staff kept us informed every step of the way with the allergic reaction and doctors’ visits; at the end of the day they could not compromise her or the rest of the group. We were very impressed with the handling of the situation.) She has managed to maintain the friendships and sees one of them at least once a year outside of camp. This has been one of the best experiences, and she has gained so much from the trips that just wouldn’t be possible otherwise. She has planned the next few summers in terms of trips with the aim of making it to Alaska. Also, we now work on the principle that no news is good news!” – Anne and Roland Hooley
“Don’t be nervous at all! I know it sounds scary to live with a group on unfamiliar faces for a few weeks, but everyone is so friendly, and it’s so much fun. Coming to AT each summer has taught me life skills that I would have never learned back at home. I have improved my social skills, and meeting new people is no longer a stressor for me. I’m also less nervous about my college interviews because I’ve learned how to talk to new people and introduce myself! But overall, words cannot describe how amazing AT is, and how much it has impacted my life. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend my last few summers. I am so sad that this upcoming summer will be my last trip, but I hope to be an instructor one day to watch kids grow from all the valuable lessons taught at AT.” – Megan S.
“My best advice to new Adventure Treks families: Enjoy the process and the trip. The world is a small place these days. The chance for our kids to go out on a trip by themselves, for them to meet kids from all around our nation and the world, in a safe and supportive atmosphere, is one of the best gifts we could have given them. They are more prepared to make the big step into college and the ‘real world’ because they were put into situations that challenged them, met people with different backgrounds, and were able to partner with them to achieve goals. In the great outdoors! Without phones!!!!! And they survived, and flourished! AT is one of the best decisions we’ve made as parents.” – Michelle and Wade Eichhorn
“Final advice: Keep an open mind. You’ll meet lots of different people and you’ll want to try to get along with all of them. The same goes for the challenges you face: Stay optimistic, because the happier you are, the easier everything gets.” – Gibson D.
“Just go have fun and be yourself! You’ll be with the same people for the next few weeks, so there’s no point in being someone else. And keep a positive attitude! It really brings the group down to be negative when things get stressful. And take lots of pictures and videos!” – Audi E., student from Ely, IA (5 trips)
“When you come to AT without a friend, don’t look at it like no one here knows you. Look at it like it’s a chance to see how many friends you can make.” – Sky W., student from Willard, UT (2 trips)
“All three of our daughters have caught the AT bug. As parents, our summers are spent with the certainty that the kids are having an amazing time. We check photos and blogs we receive on a constant basis and feel so happy when we find them on a picture that shows them smiling and connecting with nature. My husband and I also love to spend time with each other and travel a bit when our house will be an empty nest. When they come back full of memories, stories, and friendships, we know their summer has been a success. Just beware, you will drop one kid off at the airport and pick up a better one at the end of each trip.” – Hildegard Vasquez
“1: Be a yes person. Say yes to anything that comes your way (unless it breaks the rules). 2: Cherish the amazing memories you’re about to make, good and bad. 3: Stay in the moment. 4: Don’t freak out when you meet your fellow students. 5: Try your absolute hardest to keep in touch with the friends you’re about to meet. 6: Write your college admissions essay about your experience (it will only help you get in). Get ready for the trip of a lifetime!” – Ian M., student from New York, NY (3 trips)
“First, fully embrace who you are and don’t hold back. Push yourself—physically, mentally, emotionally—to do things and connect with people far beyond what you thought you were capable of. There is truly something special about the AT community and environment that fully embraces you, so fully embrace yourself. And second, go through the whole experience with an open mind, an open heart, a thirst for adventure, and a drive to always be putting yourself out there, helping out, trying something new, and making the best memories out of every moment.” – Kate W., student from Erdenheim, PA (3 trips)
“Just be yourself! Don’t be afraid to try something new… if you don’t like it, you don’t like it. That is totally fine! Plus, everyone at AT will be there every step of the way experiencing the same stuff. You’re not alone!” – Remi M., student from Columbus, GA (2 trips)
“Remember, there are a lot of other people that will be in the exact same situation as you! If you’re nervous about a specific activity, like mountain biking or backpacking, I completely understand. Mountain biking is terrifying to me! The instructors are there to help you get through the activities, and I learned you don’t always have to be the best at everything. I hope you guys have an amazing trip with really good instructors and activities!” – Krithi D.