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Learn How to Plan the Most Epic Adventure Vacation of Your Life

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Photo: Jordan Siemens 

Every year at the end of August, amateur adventure athlete Christy Mahon (who also finds time to work a "regular" job for 50+ hours a week) plans an epic fall/winter adventure for herself. Mahon, who works full-time at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, has planned crazy adventures in the past: She skied volcanoes in Ecuador, hiked Mt. Rainer, and ran a 100-mile ultramarathon across the Colorado wilderness.

Mahon says these adventures that get her out of her comfort zone and show her a new corner of the world always include a personal goal she can cross off her insane bucket list (like skiing all of Colorado's 14,000-foot mountains).

But planning an epic trip can be just as intimidating as the adventure itself. You probably know how to expertly plan a beach trip—book, bathing suit, sunscreen. How do you even begin planning a thrilling (potentially challenging...in the best way) adventure vacation? And what if you don't want to trail run, or complete a triathlon, or backpack through the jungle?

Take note as Mahon shares her tried-and-true guide for planning the most epic vacation of your life (until next year, that is).

1. Think about how you want to train.

"Take time to really think about what you want to achieve," says Mahon. "Going into this adventure, you want to set yourself up for success, so picking an activity that you can train for during your regular work schedule is key." Use your local resources to simulate training conditions that will be similar to your trip, she says. "For example, find a state park to run trails outside the city, or run stairs in office buildings to simulate hills, kayaking in pools, stationary bikes with the incline pumped up. You can also try urban trail running, connecting whatever dirt you can with road running to prepare for a trail adventure."

Not sure where to start? Here are seven adventure vacations to take for the fitness thrill of it!

2. Sign up strategically.

Think in-depth about the logistics. Once you have your desired destination, figure out the best season to visit and look at local event calendars to see what's happening during that time. Then ask: How will I get there? Where will I stay? How will I get my gear there (ship/carry/rent)? (Don't forget the 10 hiking essentials to pack for a "wild" adventure.) How will I fuel? How will I recover? What other places do I want to visit while there? The more prepared you are, the less your nerves will get the best of you, and the better your chances for Plan A going smoothly.

3. Create a Plan B...and a Plan C.

Mahon says to look ahead of time for a Plan B activity in the same area where you'll be traveling, in case the first option is canceled, the plane arrives late, or other complications arise. Sometimes entire trips can be called off last-minute if travel or safety bans are put in place, and you don't want to abandon your plans altogether. "Don't be afraid of change," says Mahon. "Plan B's happen a lot. Plan C's happen too. Just know in the back of your mind that if your first plan doesn't work out, that's okay! The whole secret to life—and especially travel and adventures—is to make lemonade out of lemons. Bumps in the road will come, and sometimes Plan B even turns out better than Plan A."

4. Carefully consider bringing a partner along.

While some adventures are perfectly fine to undertake alone, think about where you're traveling and whether it would be safer to bring a companion. A good partner can be a significant other, a coworker, or even a hired trainer, just as long as they are 100 percent supportive of your adventure and goal. But, conversely, Mahon cautions that the wrong adventure partner can turn a well-planned, well-trained-for adventure into a nightmare. Pick someone you know you work well with, someone you trust, and someone who will stay positive throughout the experience, she says.

5. Train in baby steps.

In the process of planning an awesome adventure vacation, doubt can naturally creep in. Can I really climb/run/hike/ski this route? What if I'm not fit enough? This is why it's important to pick an adventure you have the means to train for. You don't need to aim for the stars the first time around. Choose a smaller, more attainable, but still challenging goal that will help you prepare to tackle an even bigger obstacle next year. This was Mahon's approach to skiing those dozens of mountains in Colorado. She took baby steps (if you can even call a 14,000-foot mountain a baby step), completing the easiest mountains first. If your top goal is to complete the epic Jungfrau Marathon in Switzerland, but you're new to mountain running, make this year's adventure a 5K in Vail! Then next year a half marathon in Moab. Before you know it, you'll be ready to crush the 26.2 distance through the high-altitude mountains. "It doesn't happen overnight," says Mahon. "You build every year and get stronger."

6. Start your own list.

Mahon keeps an epic to-do list, which she's constantly adding to, that includes all the adventure goals by season that she wants to hit. Try starting your own list. (And no, it doesn't need to include skiing volcanoes or scaling rock faces.) Then keep another list of accomplishments. Pull them out side by side when you're feeling doubtful or need motivation.

7. Always go.

"When I've had a busy summer and consider not planning a fall or winter adventure, I tell myself to always go," says Mahon. (If you need more incentive, here are four reasons why adventure travel is worth your PTO.) "I can guarantee that once you get out there, you'll remember why you wanted to in the first place. You'll find yourself stronger, happier, and refreshed from the challenge. We all fight the voice inside our heads saying save the money, just run around the block, or better yet, sit on the couch and binge-watch Netflix. Eventually, how you respond to this voice becomes a habit. If you always go, you become an epic, strong explorer who loves her life."

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