Fitness Ireland

I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of hiking long distances. Stories of people who have trekked the Pan-American Highway or the Appalachian Trail pique my interest and make me wonder what it would take to do that. A trip to Ireland and Scotland last fall made me realize that a day full of walking, even in a city, takes some planning.

In December 2015, our two sons gifted my husband and me round-trip tickets to Dublin, along with tour books for Ireland and Scotland. Guess they were tired of hearing us say, “Someday…” and figured if they didn’t send us there, we’d never go. We would go in October, coinciding with my 60th birthday.

So we made our plans – where to go, where to stay, what to see. We opted to travel on our own most of the time, and sign on with tours to the Giant’s Causeway near Belfast and Newgrange, a Neolithic mound outside of Dublin. We also planned to explore the ruins of Castle Millar in Edinburgh.

With the possibility of daily spot showers, seasonal cool temps and many miles to cover, we polled friends for tips on what to pack. The most important piece of advice they gave was to invest in a good pair of walking shoes. I couldn’t agree more. There are few things more miserable than wearing uncomfortable shoes all day.

We headed over to REI where we picked up waterproof hiking shoes. It didn’t rain until our last day in Ireland, but the shoe was a perfect choice and came in handy when we had snow last winter. One thing to consider when you’re picking out footwear is terrain: Will you be walking flat paths or hills? For example, in Belfast, we followed a path to the Causeway, where we left the path to climb the rocks. On the other hand, our tour of Newgrange and nearby Tara was mostly flat with some gently rolling hills.

The other good piece of advice to heed if you’re planning a day hike — city or country — is to carry a small pack. A fanny pack might work, but I carried a small day pack. In it, I had our bottled water, a few snacks (because you don’t want to be ‘hangry’ when you’re a guest in a foreign country, even a friendly one) and a couple rain ponchos.

Dressing in layers is also key, and you should base some decisions on whether you want to carry extra layers in your pack or tie them around your waist. I don’t like the cold, and it never warmed up enough for me to peel off layers. We bought shirts from Fabletics that were lightweight and made of moisture-wicking material — very important to keep from getting chilled. Worn under another shirt and topped with a fleece jacket, we were comfortable, except when on the coast where it was windy. Fortunately, my sister had bought me an oversized scarf and I used that to cover my head and neck.

Whether you’re hiking through your local park or touring a strange city, a little planning goes a long way in making your trip comfortable and memorable for all the right reasons.