The number one question asked to me upon finding out that I enjoy long-distance hiking is "how can you afford to do that?!" Similarly, "you must be independently wealthy!" is a common followup. The truth of the matter is if you find your passion, most of the time there is so much behind-the-scenes hard work involved in making your dream a reality that many people often don't see your struggle to reach your goal. This post is brought to you by hard work, folks!
When I had decided I wanted to attempt a thru hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2012 it was July 2011. I had a vague notion I'd want to thru hike one day, but I made a firm decision in July and immediately began planning. When you plan for a long-distance hike there is a lot of research involved and the thing I noticed in many failed thru hike attempts was running out of money. This was back in the days before everyone and their brother ran a GoFundMe. I knew immediately that if I wanted to up my chances of finishing a 2200-mile hike I would need to prepare financially.
Saving money has never been hard for me. I grew up in a family where if we wanted something, we saved up for it. I bought my own cell phone and plan in the early 2000s from part job after school jobs. I bought my first laptop computer when I was 17 through the same hard work. Keep in mind these were the days when laptops were $1500 and cell phone plans were only 200 minutes a month with no text messaging options! I've always been a saver, so this task wasn't hard for me at all. Although, as an adult with a home mortgage and a fairly brand new car recently purchased, saving money wasn't as easy as it was in my teenage years! The first thing I would need to do is supplement my income with a second job.
In 2011 I took a job with a temp agency. The agency I was with specialized only in medical offices, my area of training. I worked part time at night from home as my regular job, so that left me free for day shift jobs. In the medical field I quickly found fairly regular work as a temp from 7:30-5 p.m. and still had time for my regular job. Some weeks found me working as many as 65 hours, but I was okay with this as all that money from temp work was going into my savings and my trail fund. By the time I left in 2012 I had expanded my network in the healthcare field and saved some money to thru hike.
The same methodology applied to my summer 2015 thru hikes. Although the medical field in Syracuse was much smaller, I had to get more creative. I worked an early morning shift at FedEx and then worked a normal 8-5 job like any other person. While doing these shifts I often found myself working 70-hour weeks in the Christmas season, but the result was still the same - I was able to funnel the extra cash into my savings for thru hiking. For months I was often tired and I wasn't the most social person, but the end result allowed me to take off an entire summer to live my dreams. I am personally not a fan of the GoFundMe campaigns for people to take the time to do a thru hike. If you want to take the time off from life to do a hike, you should be willing to work just as hard for it as you would any other dream! Kickstarters, however, are different. If you're a filmmaker or a writer I find this a viable option for production costs. I have nothing against people who do use GoFundMe for trips, I have just found it's not something I could see myself doing for a trip I've chosen to do.
Once again I've found myself back in the real world dreaming of my next adventure. While my new job as a backpacking guide will help me live out my passion on a smaller scale for the next several months, I know that if I want to get back out and take a season away from my adulting hard work and little free time will be the key. How did you save for your adventuring? I'd love to hear some of the methods you use! Please leave me a comment or connect with me on Facebook!