You’ve always wanted to climb Pikes Peak, but are you ready for a 14,000-foot adventure? You’d like to tour Africa, but should you consider a luxury safari, an overland safari or a guided bush tour? You ride a stationary bike daily, but should you sign up for a bike trail adventure on a 200-foot cliff above the Colorado River?

Harding Bush, associate manager of operations at Global Rescue, offers some advice about traveler responsibility. To make sure you are ready for the trip, here are the five habits of smart travelers.

Knowing your limits

At Global Rescue, the world’s leading membership organization providing medical and security evacuation, travel risk and crisis management services, Bush is at the ready to help members who might be in a sticky situation. But he emphasizes that it is far better to plan ahead and not get into that situation in the first place.

Smart travelers know their own limits. They also know that their capabilities, or lack thereof, will affect others.

“If you’re traveling in a group, are you going to be the weakest link?” Bush asked. “Do the guides have to take care of you instead of doing their job? If you can’t make the climb, everyone else gets jammed. You have to think about what you’re capable of doing and what the consequence would be if you were to fail.”

Responsible guides and tour operators will point you in the right direction. A walking safari, for example, might vary the distance and terrain based on the fitness ability and interest of the group. There are also online resources to give you some guidance, like the Mont Blanc Guides Fitness Checker.

“It asks things like: how tall are you, how old are you, how long does it take you to walk a mile, how long does it take you to run two miles, can you do 50 push ups? Then it gives you a score based on your answers,” said Bush, a 20-year special operations forces veteran with an additional nine years of experience in international travel security.

Willingness to adjust

Because you’ll be on your feet for several hours every day on uneven terrain in the heat, you didn’t meet the minimum fitness level for the African walking tour. Or maybe the Mont Blanc Guides fitness checker suggested you work out for a year, then take the test again to see if you are ready for the climb. Smart travelers can accept information that might not be favorable and make adjustments accordingly.

“If you can’t climb Mont Blanc, maybe you can go backcountry skiing. Or you might have a better experience climbing a 4,000-foot mountain rather than a 13,000-foot mountain,” Bush said. “Ensure the requirements of the trip and your capabilities are consistent — and be open to alternatives that you would enjoy more.”

Committed to collecting information from multiples sources

It doesn’t matter whether you’re going to climb a nearby mountain or if you’re going to climb Mount Everest. Bush notes preparation is always necessary for traveling smart.

“You have to know how to get there, how to look at a trail map and how to access the trailhead,” he said. “The same thing with a big trip like Mount Everest. What do I need? Am I going to use a guide service, am I going to need any permits, what kind of air travel and how is this all going to work out?”

He suggests that part of your traveler responsibility is talking to people who have taken the trip you are planning, whether it is climbing in high elevations or walking the African wilderness.

“I always like to ask: what are the three things that went really well, what are the three things that didn’t go so well and why?” he said. “It makes them think about it and clean up the information they give you.”

Add your own internet research to the personal stories you’ve gathered. Look at TripAdvisor, Yelp, the American Alpine Club, trade publications and other independent entities and organizations to see what kind of recommendations and reviews are available for the trip you’re planning.

Remember that destination country information is just as important. “The key is to evaluate different sources of information. When I travel, I talk to people that have been there. I talk to people who have done what I plan to do. I look at U.S. news reports, foreign news reports and local news reports,” Bush said. “I get a balance.”

Careful guide selection

You know your limits, you’ve done your research, so what’s next? Finding a guide that matches your needs and abilities.

“Figure out what a guide can do for you,” Bush said. He suggests asking these questions to start:

  • What is included? Do they provide gear, or do you bring your own?
  • Do they handle the logistics of travel, such as permits and visas?
  • Where does the tour pick up and drop off? Are they going to meet you at the airport?
  • Do they bring you back to the airport after the trip?
  • What happens if someone is ill or injured?
  • Is the tour tailored to beginners or experts?

“Most guides won’t take you down a Class 5 rapid if you can’t canoe down a Class 5 rapid. But then there are some that won’t ask you anything,” Bush said. “Match your abilities with the requirements of the trip and choose your guide wisely.”

There are some places where you might not legally need a guide but having one can make the trip easier and more enjoyable.

“There’s less worry when you have a guide,” Bush said. “It depends on where you are going, your experience, your comfort level and things like that. If other people have done the trip without a guide, talk to them to see how it went.”

Practice nonstop awareness — and have backup

If you want to be a smart traveler, Bush suggests thought, preparation and planning before you go.

“Remember, you don’t want to get into trouble or have issues. Awareness gives you the confidence to do that. If you’re prepared, you can concentrate on the trip and have a good time,” Bush said.

When it comes to traveling smart, awareness allows avoidance.

“The way you manage a threat, an avalanche for example, is avoidance,” Bush said. “Some travelers have the avalanche life jacket that inflates, or other gadgets and they think that allows them to go into more high-risk avalanche areas. That’s irresponsible. The best way to avoid an avalanche is to have training and awareness.”

Even if you have back up, like a professional guide or a Global Rescue membership, it should never be a reason to put yourself in danger.

“Say you get 2/3 of the way up a mountain and you can see weather coming in and it’s getting dark,” Bush said. “Do you walk back down the mountain and call it a nice hike, or do you keep going? It’s definitely responsible to have a Global Rescue membership, but it doesn’t make you any more capable. Global Rescue doesn’t make you a better skier, it doesn’t make you a better climber and it doesn’t make you any more fit, so don’t take on extra risk.”

Whether you’re planning small trip or a big adventure, Global Rescue memberships include evacuation, field rescue and advisory services suitable for the smart traveler. Click here to learn more.