The most common questions & mistakes people make when trekking in Nepal

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ November 23rd, 2017. Published in: Travel blog » Nepal.
Prayer flag and mountain in Nepal

Nepal and mountains are some of the best travel experiences you can get … but heed the mistakes of others before going

From no money to no time, many trekkers are sacrificing their lives & holidays when they shouldn’t be

Over the past 10 years I’ve received countless emails with questions about trekking in Nepal. Of the majority the following two questions are the most common:

  1. I don’t have enough money, can I go without a guide?
  2. I don’t have time, can I do the “trek” faster?

Other common questions include:

  1. I’m fit and I’ve trekked “___” in the “___” so can I do the Annapurna Circuit alone?
  2. I can read a map really well, is the trek well marked so I can do it alone?
  3. I only have 7 days, I’ve been told I can fly up to base camp to shorten the trek?

I would love more questions about trekking gear, what shoes to wear, when to go, which trek or even what type of hat to wear. But no, the majority are all about doing it alone or on the cheap.

This makes me so mad and sad. Why? Because people keep making the same mistakes. These mistakes either but their lives in danger or can often ruin their holiday. I write back with blunt replies and ask them to read through my about trekking in Nepal section which answers their questions in full. But so many people claim they also don’t have the “time” to read these days.

Long ago I took the time to individually answer these questions. But there’s little motivation to continue as I find myself repeating answers over and over again to little avail. Hence this page.

It’s frustrating because some of these questions seem like common sense.

Here are real life examples of people who ask these questions, but don’t heed the answers. Some of the results are death, bad treks and having to turn back early.

Three trekkers on a trail in Nepal

Trekking alone for the first time in Nepal is possible, but might not be the best option – consider a guide or porter-guide for your first trek, then if you come back you’ll have the experience to go alone

I don’t have money, can I go trekking in Nepal without a guide?

Yes you can go trekking in Nepal without a guide. It’s not a legal requirement to have a guide in Nepal. But if you don’t have money, then why are you in Nepal?

Nepal used to have the reputation for being a budget destination. It still is compared to say London or New York. India is cheaper for accommodation and food. Thailand is better value for money and food. However none of those destinations can match Nepal’s mountains, temples or jungles.

The result is people come to Nepal hoping for a cheap trek. You can still have a cheap trek, but it really depends on your definition of cheap. As an example do read more about how much does a trek in Nepal cost?

Aside from special permit treks, Everest Base Camp is the most popular and therefore one of the more costly treks in Nepal. After calculating return flights to Lukla, accommodation, food etc plus insurance the costs mount up.Then when adding on a guide’s fees many people try to cut back – and so the problems begin. I’d link my page on costs of EBC here, but many would simply jump to it and ignore the reality. Here are some real life examples:

  • Jill wanted me to suggest a porter to guide her – sorry Jill, but porters are not guides, they are porters.
  • An Australian in his 20s took a porter as a guide when I was trekking. His porter did not speak English and enjoyed drinking every night. As you might guess the Australian was struggling badly with a lot of issues beyond his years instead of enjoying his trek.
  • A group of Russians didn’t want to spend any money so they just followed another group. The other groups guide was not happy and so an all out argument broke out. Not the nicest of things to happen in the mountains.
  • Just last month some volunteers in Nepal came back from a trek in bad shape. They had taken one of their host families friends, an unqualified guide, on the cheap. Problem was, as nice as he was, the “guide” was not qualified, got lost more than once and ended up bring shunned by more than one local on the route.

All real world examples.

Dyzo on the trails in Nepal

Do you know what to do when this beast walks along side you? Do you know what it is? It’s not a yak nor a buffalo … It’s a Dzo, they tend to knock people out of the way.

Why is a guide so important when trekking?

A guide is really good if you’ve never been trekking before in Nepal. They will help arrange everything for you from permits to flights. They will explain the landscape, mountains, food, environment and help with accommodation. They will also show you the right route along the way. Most importantly if something like altitude Sickness hits you, or if you have an accident they are their to help.

Personally speaking, with over 10 years of experience, I advise people who are on a budget to get the best trek possible for their budget. If the EBC trek or Annapurna Circuit trek is out of that price range, then go on a shorter trek and really get a better experience.

If you’ve never been trekking before in Nepal, then a guide will really help. If you have been trekking in Nepal before and want to go again independently then you’ll be much better prepared.

On the way to Everest Base Camp

Even at Everest Base camp there is only one sign pointing you in the right direction … otherwise, you’re on your own

I don’t have time, can I do the “Everest Base Camp” trek faster?

No. Everest Base Camp is a minimum 12 day trek. Cutting it short will mean taking out an acclimatisation day. This means you have a higher risk of altitude sickness and quite frankly dying. Your alternative is to spend USD $1800 on a chartered helicopter back to Lukla to save three days.

There are some unscrupulous trekking companies out there who say you can do it in 10 days – do read my post on avoiding scams in Nepal. I would avoid them like the plague. Others again promise that you could trek in and fly back by helicopter. True, but there’s still a risk and it’s very expensive to do this.

Cutting days short from a recommended amount is a bad idea on all high altitude treks. Period. It’s not worth your life.

Real world examples of shortening a trek in Nepal:

  • A couple from  Singapore had to turn back when the husband got sick before reaching Gorak Shep on the EBC trek because they tried to do the whole trek in 9 days. Now multiply this true story by at least 3 for every EBC trek I’ve done and have met people having to turn back.
  • A Singaporean couple could have done the Annapurna Base Camp trek and had a great time with 8 days or Mardi Himal trek with 6 days. Instead they rushed EBC like so many and ended up seeing little and getting dangerously sick.
  • A couple from Texas, USA rushed up the Everest Trek before the wife got altitude sickness. Believe it or not the husband even considered going on without her. They didn’t have a guide either. The trekking lodge owner and my guide had to persuade them to return. She lived. I’m not sure about the marriage.

Hindsight is great. But foresight can help you have a better trek.

I’m fit and I’ve trekked in other countries so can I do the Annapurna Circuit alone?

Nepal is not like other countries. Do you know what Dal Bhat is? Do you know if the water is good to drink? Do you know what the actual trails are like in Nepal to walk on? Just like travel insurance, each country will have it’s own conditions.

I don’t care if you’ve climbed Mount Kilimanjaro backwards with a unicorn on your back while wearing a rainbow colored blindfold. You’ve not trekked before in Nepal so you don’t know the place. Period.

Yes trekking experience is great. Maybe you could get away with hiring just a porter-guide. But again, for first time trekkers in Nepal I always suggest they hire a guide. After that on another trek, sure, head off and do your own thing.

Real examples of trekkers from other countries who want to go it alone in Nepal:

  • Stefan from Switzerland left my guesthouse for the Annapurna Circuit Trek in 2017 fully determined to do it himself as he was an “experienced” European trekker. He never even made it to Thorong La. In fact he took a wrong turn and twisted his ankle in the rain. Luckily some villagers found him. He still had to be rescued though.

This tale is true like many others. Unfortunately many of these types of trekkers end up dying too. Vitaly Bazlov died when heading off on a side trek by himself in 2016Christiaan Wilson was another trekker who went out by himself and didn’t come back.

These stories are true and happen far too frequently.

Trekking in the Snow in Nepal

I map is fine when trekking, but what happens if it snows and the trail disappears and you are alone? Can you manage? A good guide will know the route well enough to take your though it.

I can read a map really well, is the trek well marked so I can do it alone?

Don’t listen to the old “experienced” trekkers on forums who say such and such trek is well marked out. In Nepal no trek is well marked out. That’s the honest truth. If you have a lot of experience in trekking in Nepal then certainly things are easier to notice.

Every monsoon season signs and marker poles are washed away. The trails also change due to rain and landslides. Yes, treks like EBC are marked out. But not as well as European trekking routes or a many North American routes. Do not expect the same level of professionally marked out treks that you might get elsewhere.

Likewise maps are only so good. Trails can change every season and Nepal is not known for great signage even in villages. Power cuts are frequent and GPS devices do not always work well in the mountain passes.

Real world example of a happy trek gone wrong:

  • I met one man from Austria who just couldn’t get his GPS to work properly and he was very angry that his map was not accurate – at least according to him. He ended up hiring a guide from a village enroute who was also not qualified and only made the situation worse as he too couldn’t read a map. This wonderful trek now seemed like the “worst trek in the world” according to him.
  • Allan thought his quote of USD $50 per day was too much for a guide. So he opted for a just a porter. Not only is this illigal (a porter cannot be used as a guide) but he ended up with a porter who drank every night. If Allen had taken more time to look for a guide, he may have found a cheaper one. Or, if he had paid $50 he may have had a brilliant guide that helped him discover Nepal better than many others.
  • Just last week someone contacted me through Missingtrekker.com about their husband who went alone to Langtang (a trek I have been saying to avoid as solo trekkers since 2015). He went missing for five days. His wife was distraught back home. Turns out he twisted his ankle and as the area is still recovering from the earthquake internet / telecommunications where so bad he couldn’t contact her. He hobbled back, made the call and everything was fine.

Side note: – Langtang, in my opinion, has not been a safe trek for first time trekkers or solo trekkers since the 2015 earthquake. If you are experienced, that’s a different story. Give it another 4-5 years at best if you are thinking of doing it independently. 2 people have died there this year alone and many more have been injured, mugged, had things stolen, got lost or had to be rescued. Trekking companies and ill researched guidebooks keep pushing it as it was once popular and still reams in the cash for them. Personally, I just can’t support independent treks to Langtang with so much going on there. I don’t run treks, nor make a profit from sending people on them. I write about my experiences, opinions and write guidebooks about them. This is my opinion on Langtang. First time trekkers should 100% go with a qualified guide if you must visit Langtang. Experienced trekkers, make your own mind up, but do take extra precautions.

A trek should be enjoyed and be a wonderful experience. It’s not a race nor a feat of endurance. People did all that decades ago. Enjoy your trek don’t turn it into a miserable experience trying to be an expert.

Nepali mountains with trekkers

The mountains of Nepal are big and the people trekking them are very small and hard to spot if something goes wrong …

I only have 7 days, I’ve been told I can fly up to Everest base camp and shorten the trek?

Do you have $USD 2,000 with additional cash for special permits? Do you realize you’ll get altitude sickness unless you rush down quickly?

It’s a crazy idea being pushed by some super-rich people at the moment. It’s also a very stupid idea as you run the risk of actually dieing pretty quickly up there unless you plan to fly out again. If Everest Summiteers make the trek to acclimatise, what makes you think you can just fly in.

In truth some of the super rich do fly in. Visit EBC. Then fly out again. If that’s your thing … but it’s certainly not trekking.

These days people are also taking up the offer of shortening a trek by trekking in and flying out. Again, if you have a spare USD$1,800 then off you go. It’s safer than the first method. But, you didn’t really trek the whole trek did you?

A Nepali porter

A porter is not a guide … it is illegal to use a porter as a guide. And yes, people are watching.

Do a different trek if you can’t afford or don’t have the time

Trekking in Nepal is meant to be about having a great experience. The two treks most people want to either cheapen, or shorten are Everest Base Camp and the Annapurna Circuit. The latter can certainly be shortened. By nature of the road the days of the 21 day APC are gone. Most complete it in 16 days with ease.

The point I’m making is that you’ll need 12 days minimum for either one of these treks. If you don’t have that time, then pick a shorter trek and have a better time on a different trek!

Likewise if you’ve never been trekking in Nepal before. Hire a good trekking guide and make your trip of a lifetime the best one ever. Opting for a cheap guide or no guide can mean a ruined holiday. It’s just not worth it.

If you’ve been trekking in Nepal before you will know the way of the country a little better and can make a more accurate personal decision about taking a guide or not.

If it’s your first time, then a guide really is a better option. If you need a guide recommendation, then you can contact me. However, I’d prefer it if you just buy my Guidebook to Nepal because A) it lists all local guides and B) it keeps this site running.

Night Glacier in Nepal

Night can fall quickly in the mountains … think about it. That’s why many guides start early and finish early … you do not want to be trekking when it gets dark without a guide

Trek with a social conscious!

Finally, there are people out there who want to end solo trekking in Nepal. They use the arguments of missing trekkers, injured trekkers and culturally unaware trekkers to do this. You can read more about TAANs attempts to stop solo trekking in Nepal here.

Here’s the thing. If you’ve never been trekking in Nepal before, hire a local guide. By doing so you are being safe, supporting the local economy and getting experience.

Then, when you come back to Nepal you might just have enough experience to trek independently! Get it? I hope so.

Large group trekking in Nepal

Not all groups tours are like this … avoid the big companies and go with a local qualified guide the first time to avoid the “cattle” feeling

Have a great trek!

All in all, most people have a better experience when they take a guide for their first trek. Do read how to choose and hire a guide for trekking in Nepal for more information.

Likewise not cutting back on days by either making the time or choosing a shorter trek will result in you having a much better trek!

Trekking in Nepal can be great experience so long as you don’t skimp on days or a guide. Just some advice based on the people I’ve met over the years and my own personal experience in Nepal.

Two trekkers looking at mountains in Nepal

Trekking in Nepal is fantastic either alone, with a guide or letting the guide hang back so you can do your own thing – the one key thing is not to make the mistakes others have before you – read back on this article and I hope it will help you have an even better trek of a lifetime!

One last thing. Preparation is king. I’ve dedicated many pages in my books and this website on where to trek, how to trek, equipment you need and yes I’ve also detailed all the treks listed with daily photos and the best trekking maps. Want to be prepared ahead of time? Get my first time trekking in Nepal guidebook. or better yet my complete Nepal Guidebook.


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18 Great responses to The most common questions & mistakes people make when trekking in Nepal

  1. Audrey Miller says:

    I don’t know why anyone would put their life on the line just to go fast on a trek. Life and death. That simple.

  2. John Diwari says:

    The point about people looking to get cheaper guides at a lower price is very valid. But are prices regulated in Nepal?

  3. Alice Clarke says:

    Highly informative read. Answered many questions about trekking – including how to get a better guide. Thank you.

  4. Penny Herbert says:

    Questions and answers. Should we book a guide in advance or waiting until we get there?

  5. Nicolas says:

    A lot of this makes perfect sense. It makes me wonder how and why people keep making these mistakes?

    • Money, ego and not thinking things through. Not doing enough research is also a huge factor. It’s one of the reasons this website is here. Independent travel advice for people not sure about things. But at the end of the day, it’s up to them to go looking for the information!

  6. Mark Booker says:

    Nice post and very helpful for first timers to Nepal.

  7. Sandi Bergen says:

    Just a the best website to Nepal we’ve come across. Tips and questions like these have make planning our trip so much easier. We’ve spent hours on here!

  8. Thanks for the highly detailed and informative article. All questions answered, for any new trekkers planning for a Nepal trek. Some questions were pointless and could be answered by basic common sense as Dave mentioned above. Great article with good informative photos. Keep posting.

  9. Judy says:

    Dave I feel your pain. When I started trekking it was all about the experience, hanging out in tea shops having tea with the owner and chatting about the goats and the children. Now everybody is rushing about like their arse is on fire. I work with an Indian adventure company and spend 1/3rd of my day telling people no sorry I will not sell you an 11 day EBC trek Delhi – Delhi. Makes my blood boil. Or suggesting that if they are going just so they can be Superman to their friends family, that maybe they should try something else. Altitude doesn’t discriminate and you can’t pay your way out of it. keep up the fab work :)

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