For me, paddling white water overseas is the ultimate experience. What could be better than doing the sport you love and discovering a new country at the same time? The good news is, it’s easily done, but just requires a little planning….
Where to go?
Nepal, Uganda, the Alps… there’s so many fantastic paddling locations, but which one to pick? A lot will depends on what type of paddling you enjoy doing, your abilities and ultimately, your budget. Luckily, there is plenty of information available online, to the point where you can virtually “scout” rivers on Youtube and hunt for new ones on Google Maps. Written guidebooks and online river notes will give you an idea of what to expect in terms of the grade and character of rivers and also the necessary logistics. If you’re not sure if a country has any white water, start by Googling rafting companies in the area and go from there.
You don’t have to go far from home to have adventures though. For a country so close to the UK, it has always surprised me that more paddlers don’t visit Ireland to tackle it’s excellent white water and world class surf.
It makes sense to drive to many of the European paddling locations, as you won’t be restricted by baggage allowances. You can also take your own boat and will have the added benefit of already having a shuttle vehicle when you get there. However, you will need to factor in the cost of petrol, toll roads (the French love them!) and how many days of your trip you will lose to driving time. If possible, try to get you boats inside your vehicle for ferry crossings that are charged by vehicle height.
You will have to fly to most overseas paddling destinations. This can seem a little daunting at first, but most potential issues can be overcome with careful planning.
First of all , will you take your own boat? Taking your own kayak gives you the confidence of using something that you are familiar with. In some cases, it will also allow you a little extra weight allowance, if you put some of your gear inside. Don’t be tempted, however, to fill your boat with too many heavy items. It’s possible that it may be refused if it’s over the weight limits for safe manual handling. It’s worth noting that not all airlines will take kayaks though and that rules are very different between companies. Time spent at the planning stage will pay off later. So far, Icelandair have impressed me the most for hassle-free flying with a boat.
The other option of course is to rent a boat at your destination. This enables you to travel lighter, without the hassle of lugging a kayak around. I did this in Nepal and rented a BlissStick Mystic off a good friend at Nepal Kayak Club. If I am renting a boat, I still prefer to take my own paddle. It’s a personal thing, but I feel much more comfortable using my own paddle. Split paddles will easily fit in hold luggage, or normal paddles can be checked in as sports equipment. It is also worth bringing some foam to help outfit your boat – hip pad sized pieces of minicell and some adhesive backed foam sheets. Renting a boat will of course add to the cost of the trip, but this is offset by the price of paying for extra sports luggage.
What to take…
Packing light is best, but is easier said than done!
Things that you need to consider – What is the average temperature? How cold is the water? Will you be sleeping out on multi-day trips? Is replacement kit readily available? All these things will affect what you end up taking with you. The picture above shows a two month supply of anti-Malarial tablets (which turned out to be unnecessary…) and also a supply of antibiotics, for example. A simple repair kit of flashband, duct tape, cable ties, waxed thread and Aquasure will help solve most of your kit problems.
Moving around in-country is one of the challenges you may face, depending on where you go to. At times it can be a pain, but is part of the travel experience, after all.
Other things to consider:
– Vaccinations. Do you need them and how far in advance do you need to get them done?
– Visas. Do you need to buy online, or at the aiport? Again, another cost to factor in.
– Travel insurance. This is the biggy. If you get injured, or fall sick, will your travel insurance pay for everything? Is white water kayaking specifically covered on your policy? Also, are you covered for the costs of any rescue services needed? A simple injury can some become a costly recovery, if you are not covered, especially in the Alps. I can recommend Dog Tag, who I have used several times in the past.
There’s many rivers out there…. go explore!