Why I Love Vacationing Outdoors!
“The mountains are calling and I must go.”
– John Muir
Vacationing in the outdoors has been life-changing for me. Now, it’s pretty much a part of my lifestyle and the way I travel. As a matter of fact, it’s the way I prefer vacationing – involving some elements of spending time outside in nature – whether it’s hiking, sightseeing, camping, off-roading, backpacking or simply just taking a stroll through the woods. Being immersed in the elements takes me out of the normal day-to-day life and allows me the opportunity to just enjoy and live the moment, and appreciate the very simple things in life. The more I immerse myself into the outdoors, the more I begin to cherish the songs of the birds, the soothing rhythm of the creeks and the glistening stars that overtake the night skies.
I love vacationing outdoors and it’s pretty much the only way I travel now.
My love for nature is deeply rooted through my childhood. For as long as I could remember, trips out in nature gleefully overtook our family vacations in India. We’ve explored many remote regions of the Himalayas including Nepal and Bhutan, and even the deserts of Rajasthan, forests of Madhya Pradesh and backwaters of Kerala, just to list a few. These adventures would inevitably shape my childhood, leading me to the person that I am today.
Though mostly car-based trips, we spent a lot of time outside in the elements traveling through varying terrains and environments, high-altitude being my favorite. There’s just something about elevation and how it takes the breath out of you in just a few steps. Most of these vacations involved sightseeing, jeep safaris, picnicking and some hiking to get to hill-perched temples and monasteries. However, spending time with my family in truly unique accommodations that blow-you-away are what made these experiences even more memorable. They didn’t have to be luxurious or glamorous like a hotel room, nature was glamorous enough. Whether it was an isolated cottage in the hills, or a bird-watching retreat deep in the forest or a cozy home-stay in a village, I would always crave an additional night when it came time to leave (and I still do!).
Through the years, I had also taken many exciting road trips all over the States with my mother including the majestic Grand Canyon, mystical Ruby Falls & the Smokies and breathtaking Niagara Falls. We even visited some neighboring destinations including Stanley Park and the awe-inspiring Whistler region in Canada, and a memorable cruise to the pristine blue waters of the Bahamas (I had won a Bingo game with a prize of about $1,000, which I was absolutely ecstatic about at the time). However, it was on these road trips where I had my first visit to the picturesque Yosemite Valley and Glacier Point in California, a place I would eventually return to many times.
Asides from my family vacations, I had participated in a few summer camps through elementary and middle schools in the U.S., which also hold some of my most memorable experiences through my childhood. I remember hiking and spending a few days in the Santa Cruz mountains in California exploring and learning about the Redwoods’ ecosystem. There was nothing like the comradery of more than 50 kids singing songs around a large campfire as the sky darkened. This was something new to me, and till this day, those moments overshadow some of my most influential learning experiences growing up. However, it wasn’t until a high school trekking trip, where my indulgence for the real outdoors took the spotlight and changed the course of my life.
Many Chocolate Bars Later...
I was in my second year of high school when the opportunity arose to participate in a multi-week-long trekking trip to Pindari Glacier in the Kumaon region of the Himalayas in Uttar Pradesh, India. With an elevation of about 12,000 ft, Pindari Glacier lies besides the mighty Nanda Devi range, with the Nanda Devi peak rising to an impressive 25,643 ft, making it India's 2nd highest peak and the world’s 23rd highest peak. This was going to be my first real trekking/backpacking experience; although each night we would end up with a mattress and hot food prepared fresh by the local residents, which felt like a blessing after long and enduring days of trekking and eating mostly chocolate bars for snacks.
We were a group of about 15 people consisting mostly of us high school students, a few teachers and a local guide. I remember the night before starting the trek, there was much anticipation and excitement among the group as we had been preparing months in advance for what was to come. Our packs were all packed and ready to go with a lot of chocolate bars for energy – this was very amusing to me at the time, but by the end of the trip, I could not eat another chocolate bar. What we had on our backs were all the personal belongings that we would have access to for the next couple of weeks – this was the lightest I’d packed by this point for any trip; yet our packs seemed quite heavy anyways.
The physical toll of the path really began to kick in within the first few days of the journey with me getting a calf-muscle cramp by the end of the very first day. However, as the days progressed, the trekking became more natural and second nature. Through the trek, we encountered numerous unforgettable sights like lush and humid forests, ice-cold rivers, glistening waterfalls, panoramic mountain views, pristine glaciers and breathtaking high-altitude passes, which literally took the breath out of you during the ascents. There was a sense of gratefulness to be alive and in getting to explore these remote regions in such an immersive way.
Along the trek, we met many hospitable locals and their furry companions at their farmlands and idyllic homes. They welcomed us with soothing refreshments and hearty meals (mostly vegetarian). There was an occasion where I tried goat meat for the first time; it didn’t sit quite right with my mouth – I think it was the very chewy texture. By the end of the trip, we were all exhausted, but had just gone through a life-defining moment.
The trek had an especially profound effect on me. More specifically, maturing my life philosophy and providing me a better balance between convenience and personal growth. This was one of the most challenging and adventurous things that I’d done in my life up to this point, and the experience was truly eye-opening into the wonders of the outdoors and long-duration treks. The magic of venturing into the outdoors and spending days on end just putting one foot in front of the other; it really becomes a zen-like state where you get a chance to critically reflect on life, and build a desire to simply wander and explore. A chance most of us don’t get in the hustle and bustle of city life.
Up to this point, I valued convenience and comfort in a very high regard and had based a lot of my decision-making in life on such a premise. Moreover, trying to stay away from things that might seem difficult, challenging or uncomfortable. Ultimately, it’s what we are wired to do as humans and is a widely accepted philosophy regarding making life easier – the premise behind many machines and technologies. This is important and it enables us to get away from redundant tasks while redirecting our efforts to more critically and creatively engaging ways. However, we can often let this overpower us and prevent us from trying out or indulging in things which might seem inconvenient, uncomfortable or overwhelming – like being outdoors. I would argue that there are two ways to be uncomfortable, one that pushes towards physical discomfort, but the other that simply results from unfamiliarity – like something new that we might not be used or exposed to as being normal. It is the unfamiliarity-related discomfort which I learned a lot about through this trip and grew from personally; although I appreciated and learned from some of the physical discomfort in the trip as well.
Through my remaining years in high school, I participated in several other smaller school-organized trips where we took hikes through the forests in Southern India. In one of these trips, I experienced my first night in a tent, which was quite memorable in its own regard, although the tents were already set up for us. However, it wasn’t until my first year at university where I set up my first tent on a road trip, finally!
A Trip to the Keys, A Key to More Road Trips
My first camping night in the U.S. was during a road trip with friends to the Everglades and Key West in Florida. It was the beginning of summer, and we had just finished our second year in University. We had packed up the car and headed out for an adventure to the southernmost point of the continental U.S. We stayed at a RV park for two nights and this was the first time I had pitched a tent; it felt great! From what I remember, the set up was a smooth process without much hassle. It was great to come back to our tent to rest after eventful days exploring the Keys.
After the Everglades and Key West in Florida, a friend and I were inspired to embark on another road trip that same summer across the country from Florida to California. The adventure spanned across the southern portion of the U.S., all the way to LA and the Bay Area. Although we crashed for the multiple nights at a few friends’ places along the way and didn’t camp through this trip, this road trip opened me up to long-distance road trips as it was my first self-driven long-distance road trip. While in California, I explored a few Bay Area hikes, taking several road trips with a couple of friends across Southern and Northern California and portions of Southern Oregon, which included a few nights of spectacular tent camping along the coast.
It wasn’t until a couple of years later, once I had finished my undergrad, that I took another major camping trip. A trip to Utah and then Colorado; this is where things really picked up in a new gear, solo trips.
A New Gear, Solo Trips
The summer I graduated from my undergrad, a friend and I decided to take a road trip through Utah and Colorado. This felt like my first ‘real’ camping experience as this was my first multi-day camping road trip through National Parks and Forests, requiring more preparation, planning and gear than any other trip I had taken before. Also, I had to do the primary planning for this trip as compared to relying on my friends’ expertise from previous outdoor trips.
On the first day, we entered Zion National Park in Utah around sunrise. This being my first time in Utah, it left an awe within me. The memory I have of the sights are very vivid as I had never seen such a dramatic and unique landscape before. The multitude of colors, mind-bending rock formations, vast openness, just magnificent. We’d spent the first night at the Lava Point Campground in the park after exploring a few sights and hikes. The drive to the campground was along a long, empty and winding gravel road, eventually climbing to around 8,000 ft. The views were incredible and drastic with mountains, canyons and lava beds. Zion holds a special place in my heart. The next day, as we geared up for driving towards Moab, my friend got a phone call resulting in her having to return home early. So, we did. However, this is where an entirely new chapter began.
Once back from the abruptly shortened trip, my friend was extremely nice to encourage me to continue the trip by myself giving me the confidence to go on my own. Up to this point in my life, I had never taken a solo vacation, let alone a solo multi-day camping trip. Within a week, after much pondering and researching, I was convinced and ready to embark on the trip. So, I did. By the end of that week, I was well on my way with a revised itinerary and some additional gear. I didn’t know the profound impact this trip was going to have on me and how it would re-shape my thinking, and hence, my life.
I embarked on my 2-week solo camping road trip with my first stop being in the San Juan National Forest. For my first night, I’d camped at a dispersed campsite by the river in the National Forest, right off a state highway. Never had I spent so much time by myself, and this was only my first night! Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed myself, keeping myself preoccupied with reading, cooking and relaxing by the campfire. The picturesque scenery and gently flowing river certainly helped as well. It seemed the evening would come and go. I started the next morning with a refreshing wash on my face from the river's numbing water, and cooked up a warm breakfast as I waited for the canyon-blocked sunlight to reach me to let my tent dry up.
I planned a loop through Colorado, driving no more than 6 hours each day after the initial drive from Arizona. My loop consisted of Alta Lakes in San Juan National Forest, Telluride, Uncompahgre National Forest, Gunnison National Forest, Pike’s Peak, Golden, Denver, Independence Pass, Grand Junction, Aspen and the majestic Maroon Bells. The lavish mountain towns of Telluride and Aspen were amazing to explore with its ski-lift gondolas providing for spectacular scenery. Camping next to picturesque high-alpine lakes, on the banks of cold flowing rivers or on mountain sides overlooking lush valleys; all these experiences made the trip something which is etched through my memories. What topped it all off was all the amazing people I met and shared laughs with throughout my journey. It's the irony leading so many of my solo trips. It is when I am camping or am on the trail alone that I cross paths with some of the most remarkable, perfect strangers. There is a deeply rooted connection with them of that shared experience and being immersed in the outdoors, leading to more adventures yet to come.
At the end, I remember taking a serene drive back across Eastern Utah where the sky and road seemed to blend by the horizon. During sunset, the sky became disorientating with stunning views and contrasting colors. It was day to the right of me and evening to the left. The contrast was simply captivating.
Before I knew it, the trip was already over, and I was back at my apartment unloading gear, yearning to get back out on another trip. This trip had really captured my imagination for the outdoors, and I knew there were a lot more solo and camping trips to come. It essentially shaped a new framework for traveling and vacationing for me.
A New Framework for Vacationing
A few years down the line, with many more solo camping and hiking trips later, I often reflect on my first solo camping trip through Colorado and draw inspiration from it. That trip provided me with a new framework for not only vacationing, but how I approach life in general. I try to get outdoors as often as possible and have integrated it into my lifestyle. Even on my birthdays over the past few years, I’ve thrown camping-based get-togethers at group sites in National Forests; it made for epic birthdays.
Since my trip to Colorado, I’ve camped, hiked and road tripped across many regions in the U.S., including the Badlands, Grand Tetons, Shoshone Falls, Adirondack Mountains; and across the states of Nebraska, Maine, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Georgia, North Carolina, Utah, Colorado, Nevada, and most notably, Oregon and California. Also, I’ve taken several small backpacking trips through the Smoky Mountains in North Carolina and various regions in California, including the Lost Coast Trail in Northern California. Even my family vacations in India nowadays include elements of hiking and the outdoors, and not too long ago, I even took my first ever solo vacation through the Himalayas in India.
All of these experiences have helped shape who I am today and what I enjoy, which is spending time in nature and the great outdoors. I am grateful for the opportunities that I’ve had to explore and travel, and I thank my friends and family in supporting me in my adventures. More importantly, these experiences have brought me closer to myself, becoming more reflective in my approach to life, which I absolutely cherish. Spending time in nature and the outdoors are an integral part of my life, and vacationing outdoors is my way of doing it. I am in such love with the outdoors that even for a recent conference in Pasadena, California, I decided to make the most of it by staying in a modified trailer accommodation (Airbnb) instead of a hotel room, and I absolutely loved it. I couldn’t believe I was in a city; the open space and views were simply magnificent!
My own experiences and that of others plays a crucial role in the inspiration behind Pathloom, and the need for a better way to discover unique destinations and plan for outdoors vacations.
Every outdoors person has their own unique connection to the outdoors and nature, what’s yours?
Ankit is the Founder of Pathloom, a Bay Area-based technology startup on a mission to get more people outdoors, more often by reimagining the way people discover the outdoors.