Culture Awareness

Adventure activities like Trekking by nature visit places that have cultures different from our own. In visiting these places, we will be exposed to different customs, values and ways of life which may be very different to the norms we are used to, and it can be very easy to upset the local people by infringing in some of their cultures which they hold dear.

Fitting in with the local cultures will not only avoid confrontation, but it will help ensure sustainability and future access to the area.

Some General Pointers

There are simply too many different cultures worldwide to try to be specific about the do’s and don’ts of every variable, but there are some common universal pointers which should at least keep you out of trouble.

  • Do not take photos of people unless having permission to do so. In most cases we are not talking about people in the far distance. We are referring to close ups or where the subject of the picture is a specific person or group of persons.
  • When visiting religious sites, preserve what you’ve come to see and never touch and remove religious objects. Respect the beliefs and traditions of others even if you do not agree with them.
  • Dress modestly – No flimsy clothes and sleeveless shirts, shorts should come down to your knees for men and women should have longs or a skirt on.
  • Always respect local people and their ways. Allow them to change you, but don’t try to change them!
  • Always ask before taking close-up photographs of religious places / shrines.
  • Don’t give money to children, beggars. There’re better ways to help them – make donations to local projects/organizations.
  • Particularly in rural areas, do not dish out sweets to children. They may not have access to dental care and you are simply ruining their health. Rather give fruit if you want to give something.
  • Abstain from showing affection out in the open. It may be okay in your culture, but it is not in many, and you could even end up in jail.

  • Not all cultures are happy with physical contact, even a handshake can be an insult, so be led by the people you are meeting. If they extend their hand to shake it, then fine, but rather wait for them to make the first move.
  • Watch carefully what is going on around you with others and follow their example.
  • Eye contact can be a good sign but also a sign of aggression. Looking away when talking to someone may be a sign of respect, so try to gauge what the locals are doing and follow suit.
  • In some cultures, men should not sit with women. Again, follow the lead of the locals and observe what they do.

Nutritional Needs and ‘Energy Kilometers’

How much Energy do we need on a walking trip? A sensible and healthy diet is vital when physically active. Over and above any normal expenditure of energy under stress, you must also anticipate extra energy requirements caused by certain typical situations such as cold (even when you are resting), altitude, and a drop in atmospheric humidity.

To trek/hike successfully, the body must produce the right kind of energy to fuel the muscles. Without that fuel, the body will slow down, falter and refuse to walk.

Energy is obtained from the foods that we eat. Carbohydrates, fats and proteins which are modified by enzymes in our bodies to produce a form of energy the muscles can use.

Our Three Main Energy Needs:


This is for a short period of time, e.g. dodging a falling rock, regaining balance after a stumble.

Short Term

Energy used for short bursts of intense exercise lasting less than 30 seconds usually, like running away from a fire. This uses stored glucose and glycogen but has lactic acid as a by-product. e.g. the muscles feel like lead.

Long Term

Here the addition of oxygen from breathing promotes efficiency and strength in the cardiovascular system and burns the stores of fat for energy. Fat is very efficient at producing energy and the colder it gets, the more fat is the best choice of energy. In Polar Regions, pure fat is often eaten to produce energy.

Good nutrition is the key to energy. Individual nutritional needs vary, but all of us have a continual need for the essential nutrients supplied by food – for energy, growth, maintenance and the renewal of the body tissue, and for the regulation of vital functions in the body.


Some pointers:

  • Without water we cannot process food. Regardless of altitude we need to take in a minimum of 30 ml or water per Kg of body weight per day to process the food you take in or the energy stored in that food is wasted.
  • At 2000 to 3000 meters (top of the Drakensberg) you must drink at least 3 litres of water a day to make up for losses just due to the altitude. Even when resting you will be consuming about 6000 kilojoules in twenty-four hours.
  • Under stress when trekking, with an oxygen consumption rate that can reach 3 to 4 times the normal rate, consumption can reach as high as 15 000 to 20 000 kilojoules a day.
  • The optimum food ration, however, is only 50% of the Kilojoule requirement; it is advisable to divide it into small, repeated snacks of 1000 – 2000 Kilojoules each, so as not to overload the digestive system. The Kilojoule deficit indicated above is not significant for short periods of up to 4 days as your body has enough reserve to cope with this.
  • The ideal diet contains one gram of protein for every kilo of body weight per day, dividing the rest between 70% Carbohydrates and 30% Fats. However, do not get all your kilojoules from simple carbohydrates such as sweets. Rather get them from complex carbohydrates such as full grain products. (Whole wheat Pasta, Brown rice etc.)
  • The glucose required by the body’s cells is stored by the liver in the form of glycogen, extracted from carbohydrates, fats and proteins (Food). The body normally converts the glycogen to glucose with enzymes and oxygen before using it in the muscles.
  • With exertion, the consumption of oxygen in the tissues increases, but if this is not sufficient, there is a shortage of oxygen and the body starts drawing directly from the glycogen reserves, with the resultant production of lactic acid.
    • This ‘oxygen-less’ reaction releases 16 times fewer kilojoules than those produced in normal aerobic metabolism. In this state the muscles become intoxicated and there is a typical sensation of fatigue. (The heavy burning sensation in the muscles)
  • Lactic acid can only be digested when resting, with an inflow of oxygen through breathing, which turns it into carbon dioxide and water.

Time and Energy is often more important than Distance

You are out on a trek. It’s 9:30 am. The sign at the trail start says there is a great lake just 1.5 kilometres from the camp you are staying at. Easy enough for you and children in the group to do with you and be back at camp for lunch. No need to take food with. Right? It’s only 3 kilometres return. Even at a child’s pace that’s only 2 hours.


What the sign does not tell you is the lake is 300 meters higher than where you are now, and gaining altitude takes energy.

As you gain altitude each 100 meters of ascent uses the same energy as walking between 1.5 to 2 kilometers depending on your walking speed. So that 300 meters ascent will equate to 4.5 to 6 kilometers extra “Energy kilometers”.

Assuming the distance to the lake is 1.5 km each way, that makes it 3 km total, but now we add the energy kilometres needed for the altitude gain which is an additional 4.5 to 6 kilometres. (We only count the up hills)

So now the trip to the lake is going to be a total of between 6 to 9 “Energy Kilometers”. Can you and the children do that before lunch without having substantial drinks and snacks along the way?

A child walking at 1.5 kilometres an hour is now going to take between 4.5 and 6 hours. An adult will take 1.5 to 2.5 hours.

Energy Kilometers Calculator

Energy Kilometers Calculator

In Kilometers
In Meters
Average in Kilometers per Hour
Hours (Excluding Stops)

I have found this method to be a bit more reliable than Naismiths Rule, but like any method you need to personalise or adapt it to your own hiking style.

Your Turn

Give a few examples of trips you know that take longer than anticipated. Do the math. How about Table Mountain in Cape Town? Work out the Energy Kilometers of the popular routes up and add your suggestions to the comments below…

Guide Better by Travelling More

You are passionate about your activities you offer, spending an inordinate amount of time out there doing it. It consumes all your free time in addition to the time you spend guiding others. But does this make you an experienced guide?

No matter how much time we spend honing our technical skills, we will always be able to learn something new, or better equip ourselves to provide what our clients need. Often what they want and need are very different to what we offer.

Take for example simple things like greetings. Many cultures will shake hands as a form of greeting, but there are others that do not. Could you inadvertently upset your client by offering your hand when meeting for the first time? What about foods, dress codes, sacred days etc. There are many different ways we can be ignorant about what our clients expect or are used to.

A Guide purchasing supplies including live chickens slaughtered in the shop for her clients at a vendor on Morocco.

Yes, they are on a trip away from home in another culture, and we do not want to try to make our country just another version of their own, but understanding their background and framework of understanding will go a long way to help us accommodate their culture, needs and expectations in a way that is positive.

Over the many years we have been training Adventure Guides, one of the biggest failings we see is that guides fail to travel enough themselves outside of what they do daily.

Ask yourself:

  • When last did you take part in an activity that is not one of your guiding scope?
  • When last did you travel to someplace you have never been, (local or international), simply to see what is there?
  • When last did you book on a guided trip with someone you do not already work with?
  • What research have you done on the culture and backgrounds of the clients you regularly work with?

In my own experience a ‘wake up’ came when I had a client book for five days climbing. On the first day of the trip we discovered that his interpretation of ‘climbing’ and mine were very different. To him he wanted to ‘climb some mountains‘, to him that meant ‘walk up them‘. To me it meant harnesses, ropes, carabiners etc and vertical rock faces. It took some very fast negotiation to quickly set up a new itinerary that would serve his needs.

Having traveled a lot world wide, I have a far better understanding of what is considered the norm in many other countries. ‘Wild Camping‘ and ‘Wild Swimming‘ are regarded as the extreme end of the activity to many, whilst it is the norm in South Africa. (TIP: Maybe this is a niche market you could tap intoWild camping/swimming tours)

Think of the horror on your multi day trek when the clients expecting a heated refuge or at least a ‘Bothy‘ are presented with a tent and sleeping bag, or even worse a rock shelter.

Wild Camping – image Pixabay

Imagine your predicament when your group of clients strips off for a bit of nude sunbathing on Clifton beach. Quite normal in many places around the world on public beaches, but did you inform them about our local rules, and can you explain why it is still okay to sit watching a local tribal dance group when often the ladies will be topless, but they cannot get a tan themselves?

Local culture can cause confusion…

Even understanding the cost difference of items between your clients home country and your own can be used to your advantage. That easy cappuccino at R27.90 in South Africa, (M&B) is a steal compared to a similar coffee converted to +-R52.00 in the UK (Costa). You can use this information to your advantage.

Getting to the mountains takes serious wheels in Iceland

Travel tends to broaden the scope of reference we all have and allow a Guide to better meet the expectations placed on them by their clients. Not only is it a great way to experience unknown places, cultures and activities, it allows you to observe other guides working and learn from their mistakes and best practice.

Learning about pastries from a local guide in Venice

Travel is fun and all Guides should make an effort to travel as much as they can outside of their own guiding operations. It does not have to be international if money does not allow it, even just going to explore the next town from where you live, taking part in a new activity, or, hiking an area you do not know will assist you to become a better guide.

Image: Steve Jurvetson

Can you think of other reasons to travel more as a Guide? How will it improve your own guiding? Tell us in the comments section below…


Life is for the living

How many times have you waited for someone to organise an adventure?

That was me for many years. It slowly dawned on me that I could create my own adventures and invite others to share them. The helping hand was miraculously at the end of my arm!

I spent too long watching “Days of Other peoples’ lives”, instead of living my own life.

Once the penny dropped I was away. I have no idea how many weekends, day trips, climbs and longer events I have planned (many hundreds). What is wonderful is that so many people benefit from you simply being able / prepared to get an idea and then act on it. BUT FIRST you have to realise that you can do it – you ARE allowed to dream and plan.

I was once told about folks who needed help in building a business in Walvis Bay. So I phone a friend who I knew was able to help. He explained that he was going to help people in Tanzania, oh dear!!!

I then panicked a bit and phoned another friend who is also capable of assisting them – Guess what, he was literally off to Ghana to help folks there. So no one could help these people.

Then it dawned on me – Keith, why don’t you go and help them??? WOW, I had never thought of that before – you know I can do it!!! So I started planning it – and lo and behold, I went and it all went well. That was a HUGE eye opener to me – I don’t have to wait around for other to do everything – I can do it!!!

So, with that in mind, I thought that I would share my strategy with you:

I always use the following strategy when planning adventures: (Notice this is almost exactly like the Adventure Trip Plan done on the GASG Course. Editor)

BRAIN STORM – think of amazing adventures that you would like to be on as well as share with others. What about taking a group down the Fish River Canyon? (I’m taking a group down in September this year – I decided to!!), What about organising a group to do the Klipspringer trail at Augrabies Falls!! What about booking 10 on the “Whale Trail”? Or simply doing a day hike up Devil’s Peak or Dark Gorge”. The adventures are infinite.

E.g. As I write this article I am busy chatting to an MCSA buddy (Graham D.) about a wonderful weekend (last weekend) we had with 10 other friends in Steenboksberg, Bainskloof. While we were sitting around having supper, Roy M, told us of a camp up on the left hand ridge that he had visited about 40 years previously – it had water and we could camp there prior to launching a hike to Bailey’s Peak (1500m). So we did a little recce on Sunday morning but didn’t see anything promising. On the recce I used my Garmin Extrex 30 GPS to track the hike. At home I loaded this onto google Earth as a .kmz file and saw that we had stopped about 300m short of a heavily wooded and green area wher water may very well be found – we had not gone far enough. So, I am whatsapping Graham to suggest that sometime in March we invite everyone back to Steenboksberg and we do another recce up the ridge to check our ideas. This gives everyone another amazing weekend and a chance to have fun swimming and exploring the area. We can also update the hiking maps in the area. So, GET THE IDEA and ACT ON IT. MAKE IT HAPPEN

GATHER BETA (as much info as you can) on the event / venue / area. (GASG: Task 02 Educational)

PLAN in DETAIL (GASG: Task 03 Adventure Trip Plan)

  • Booking of venue, trail, camp – find out what you need to know.
  • Permits required (private land, mountain club land, National Parks land, etc..).
  • What transport is needed.
  • Meals (ideas, formats, spreadsheets) I always whatsapp a suggested meal format
    (i.e. food ideas for Day 1, 2, 3 etc.., morning, afternoon and evening)
  • Clothing (winter, summer) checklist – Never underestimate – always build in redundancy. Over prepare.
  • Equipment – checklist
  • Safety (Once again – redundancy – check, check check).
REMEMBER: There is No democracy around safety. NO EXCEPTIONS.
  • Collect info on your hiking members (i.e. what special talents can they bring to the group in case of emergency and just generally – maybe a nurse, a doctor, a mechanic, a guide, and so on).
  • Brain storm a lot of “What if’s”) – e.g. “What if a sudden snow storm occurs”, What if someone breaks a limb”, “What if there is no mobile coverage and we have an emergency”, and so on.

ADVERTISE (newsletter, word of mouth, web) – If it simply taking a non-paying group of friends you have advantage of knowing their capabilities and choosing folks you generally get along with. If you are advertising to take a paying group of customers, the selection process is much more complex – you don’t know them or their capabilities.

FILL PLACES – Firstly decide on a MAXIMUM number. As folks indicate they want in, keep an excel spreadsheet of their info: Names, Mobile no’s, Wild Card No’s, Payments, Can they provide transport, Ailments, etc..

STABILITY CHECKS VITAL: is the person capable of completing the hike / event – If they are not known to you, you have to ask them to fill in some sort of questionnaire – e.g. Have they ever hiked before, when last did they hike, can they easily climb Lion’s Head, Would they make it up and down Platteklip Gorge relatively comfortably, what allergies, other ailments do they have. Then be brutally honest – e.g. “You will not make it on this hike.”

COLLECT MONEY – if a paying adventure.

REGULAR NEWSLETTERS giving info and keeping interest up..

CREATE A WHATSAPP GROUP (eg. “Sprinboksberg Weekend 10-12March” and enter all participants names therein. Everyone is in touch with everyone.

DO ALL YOUR DEEP THINKING and then EXECUTE the actual event – DO IT!!!

FEEDBACK – When the event is over ask for feedback – for paying customers this is more important than it is for old friends.

THEN, VERY IMPORTANT: Immediately start to plan next adventure.

REMEMBER: – If it is to be, it is up to me. It is no good sitting around waiting for someone else to create adventures. This way you get to do the adventures you want to do. You can have as many adventures as you want. Above all you ENRICH other peoples’ lives.


Tour Planning for Adventure Guides – Explore your area…

Explore your area… What do I mean?

By now you should be confident with the trips you are running for your clients, so it is time for you to grow your knowledge some more. Take a couple of days and head out into the area you operate in visiting some of the accommodation establishments and other operators. Introduce yourself and what you offer and find out more in person about what they offer.

Most hotels or accommodation will take you around and show you some of their rooms and facilities as everyone likes a bit of free publicity – just don’t plan on visiting if you know there is a big conference or wedding on as my experience is then staff are really busy – but if you are looking at a big hotel, there is still normally someone around to show you. But make sure you have some questions to ask so you can file the answers in your memory for future.

Visiting other operators can be a little more tricky, especially in the paranoid environment of South Africa where most Adventure Operators think you are out to try and steal their ideas or clients, when in reality it would be so much better for the industry as a whole if everyone worked together.  So do not be affronted if you are made not welcome when visiting. The more of us who strive to be welcoming and willing to assist will slowly develop an industry that respects other operators and promotes a sharing of ideas which will grow the industry and so help everyone. You will however get to meet some operators who like you, are striving to be the best, and they will be open and willing to share ideas – these are the ones you will want to develop good relationships with.

From personal experience getting to know the hotels and other accommodation in the Drakensberg and what they can offer, allowed me to recommend a particular establishment to a group of Israeli ladies for their holiday in the Drakensberg as this establishment was able to cater to their specific dietary needs, which a lot of the big hotels were not able to do. So although not the actual adventure activities, without the accommodation, the tour would never have happened.

Next time…. Networking.

Michelle owns Globetrotting My Way and has 22 years experience planning trips.

Tour Planning for Adventure Guides – The next level…

Following on from: Tour Planning for Adventure Guides…

For me the next level in Trip Planning, means getting to know the areas you run your trips in – not the geography of the area but the history and other operators working in the same area.

A good guide will know their activity really well and will run a safe trip for their clients. A great guide however will add to the experience with information – you become an ambassador for your country. So get to know the history of the area you operate in so you can inform your clients about this history and what makes the area so special.

By getting to know what the other operators do in the area you operate in, you will be able to suggest other points of interest to your clients as most of us are with clients for a couple of hours at least, so you will be getting to know all about their interests and it makes you come across as informed and knowledgeable which is great customer service.

Over the years I have had the opportunity to be guided by different people in all sorts of activities and those who had information to share that was historical or funny or helpful has meant that I remember those guides far better than those who were technically competent in the activity they were running but whose “people skills” and customer service was very lacking or non-existent.

Top Tip: When talking to a group, make sure they are looking at the view so what you are saying becomes relevant to what they are seeing. See picture at the top.

Strive to be the great guide!

Next time… Explore your area.

Michelle owns Globetrotting My Way and has 22 years experience planning trips.

Tour Planning for Adventure Guides

Most Adventure guides I know think of tour planning as that annoying and sometimes frustrating part of being able to get out and do the activities they love, so I thought I would share my thoughts on the benefits of good tour planning.

For the newly qualified adventure guide you will have worked on a trip plan or two as part of your assessment process and so will understand that taking clients out to do those adrenalin activities you love has a lot more involved, especially if you want to bring back your clients safely and ensure your business continues to grow.

As a professional you will have decided on an activity to offer to paying clients and initially this may be one activity or in one area, so you start with your first trip plan. In addition to the activity itself though there is much to take in to consideration.

  • Access permits to the areas you will be travelling through;
  • Equipment required for the activity;
  • Transport – do you need to pick up your clients (if so do you have the required licences for yourself and your vehicle);
  • Food – will you be supplying lunch and snacks for your clients or all meals; Staff – do you require assistants to help with your group or is it just yourself running a trip from point A to B with clients, do you have a backup guide available to call on should you fall ill the day before the trip starts;
  • Accommodation – does your activity require overnight accommodation;
  • Emergency contacts – it is good practice to know the closest hospitals and doctors to where your trip will be run and contact telephone numbers.

I won’t go into detail on each of the above points as I am sure you are all aware of these and will have looked at each point in developing your own trip plans. It is important to note however that it is these additional aspects that added to an activity make the trip plan and once you have each item listed it is easy to look at the relevant costs associated and so work out the cost of your trip for each client.

Once you have your first trip plan done you are now in a position to work on your second one, whether it be a different activity or the same activity in a different area. I would recommend revisiting your trip plans twice a year to re-evaluate if it is still working or after significant cost changes – fuel price rises or changes to access permits costs etc.

So this is how we have all started as professionals in the Adventure guiding business and next time I will look at what can be done next to take your business to the next level…

Michelle owns Globetrotting My Way and has 22 years experience planning trips.

Featured image credit: Willemien Du Plessis