Deciding to do a thru-hike is easy. But telling loved ones about such a trip? That can be a challenge.
After about a week of being denied a permit for the John Muir Trail, I was elated when the email came through granting me access to this incredible hike. As excited as I was, an uneasy feeling rooted itself in my gut: fear. Not of bears or getting lost or sleeping alone outside, but the looming anxiety of telling my parents.
As daunting as this task felt, the words had to be forced from my mouth at some point. If you’re feeling a similar anxiety, I have a few tips for you on how to tell loved ones you’re doing a thru-hike.
1. Don’t ask, tell
Be sure of your decision and start the planning process before sharing the news. Having dates and permits in place will help you tell your family rather than throwing it out as a consideration. The more confident and invested you are in your decision, the easier it will be to discuss it with others.
2. Do your research
You’ve likely already done a good amount of research in the process of preparing for your trip. Be ready to share things that excite you about the trail when you discuss it with your family. It’s especially important to be prepared to explain trip details if your loved ones are unfamiliar with backpacking. They will express worries. And you’ll need to combat these worries with knowledge and positive vibes.
3. Don’t wait too long
While it’s smart to wait until your backpacking trip is a sure-thing, don’t put off telling your family for too long. I had so much anxiety about telling my parents that I started considering not going over facing the discomfort of a potentially difficult conversation. I went through scenarios in my mind, having arguments over how I was nearly 30 and shouldn’t feel the need to be granted permission to take risks in my life. I was developing teenage angst in my late 20s over fake conversations. Don’t give your anxiety time to take over; just have the actual conversation.
4. Be prepared for any response
When I finally told my mom, she quietly asked a few questions about the trip before launching into a story about a movie in which a couple gets lost on a backpacking trip before one of them ultimately loses his life to a bear. I calmly explained where the couple went wrong and said I’d be much better prepared. The conversation ended with the sense that it was a topic to be pushed off until my start date was closer.
5. Be prepared to tell them again
My backpacking trip became “that which shall not be named.” I wondered if I had dreamed the initial discussion, since it was a topic that did not come up organically in conversation for a few weeks after it was mentioned. This gave me even more anxiety. Was there a bigger conversation coming? Was my announcement not taken seriously? After what felt to me like a stand-off of who would mention it again first, I finally brought it up for a second time. My parents had heard me and respected my decision but preferred not to dwell on it for too long before my actual start date.
6. Share resources about the hike and area you’ll be traveling
Once your family is ready, share the resources you’ve been using to prepare for your hike. Giving them access to trip reports and gear reviews will help bring them into your world and normalize the thru-hike. The more knowledgeable they are, the easier it will be for them to understand the actual risks and rewards of an extended backpacking trip.
7. Share your trip itinerary
When you have a good idea of where you’ll be camping each night and where you plan to stop for resupply, share this information with your family. Give them a map with sections marked of where you plan to be each day, but make sure they understand these plans can change. Share phone numbers of local ranger stations and come up with an emergency plan. You can also invest in a GPS tracking device such as SPOT or install a phone app to help family keep track of where you are.
Your family loves you, which means they will express concern. But their love for you should ultimately result in understanding and support. Good luck!