How to make the most of your first outdoor meet-up

A relaxing moment during a Shoestring Adventures meet up. Photo: Cameron Gardner
A relaxing moment during a Shoestring Adventures meet-up. Photo: Courtesy of Cameron Gardner
When Alyx Schwarz was 24 years old, she herniated a disc in her spine while training for a marathon. Almost overnight, she went from being an avid runner to someone who couldn’t sit through a dinner party or laugh at a joke without wincing from the chronic pain.

“After surgery, my doctor told me to find a new hobby,” she says. So, she started hiking. “[It] helped me rebuild my body and spirit by teaching me to slow down.”

Enamored with the outdoors and hiking, she soon after began organizing free group hikes through Meetup, encouraging others to get together for weekend trips everywhere from Joshua Tree to the Grand Canyon.

Eventually, she co-guided her own weekend trip to Ojai, California, with Outdoor Discovery School.

Alyx Schwarz preps a meal during one of her meet ups. Photo: Cameron Gardner
Alyx Schwarz preps a meal during one of her meet-ups. Photo: Cameron Gardner
“The trip was not perfect,” remembers Schwarz, now 30. “Campfires were prohibited, s’mores were eaten cold and we got lost with no cell-phone reception. Despite everything, people were just happy to be outdoors. That was enough motivation for me to plan the next trip.”

She’s since started her own business based out of Los Angeles, hosting weekends in the wild that get campers out of their comfort zone and help them meet new people in some of the best locations the state has to offer.

It’s the ultimate “antidote to #FOMO” (that’s “fear of missing out”), where digital friends can finally connect in real life. She’s hosted trips in California to Anza Borrego, Kings Canyon, Mammoth Lakes and beyond.

Meet up groups can teach you new skills, like night photography. Photo: Cameron Gardner
Meet-up groups can teach you new skills, like night photography. Photo: Courtesy of Cameron Gardner
Schwarz says organized camping trips offer a built-in community for people who want to make new friends, or those who aren’t part of an outdoorsy group but want to learn new skills like camp cooking or photography. (Shoestring Adventures often hosts workshops and partners with outdoor brands like Fireside Provisions and GetOutfitted.)

“We welcome adventure seekers of all levels, so I design the itinerary with built-in flexibility, usually a series of short hikes visiting highlights in a park,” she explains. “The trips are less about hitting every tourist destination and more about enjoying the time we have together.”

If you’re ready for your first outdoor meet-up, here are five tips from Schwarz for feeling at ease.

Be prepared

Find a meet-up that offers hikes and activities that meet your skill level. Photo: Alyx Schwartz
Find a meet-up that offers hikes and activities that meet your skill level. Photo: Courtesy of Alyx Schwarz
If you’re going on a group hike, check the weather conditions. Do you need sun protection or rain gear? Carrying the 10 Essentials is a good habit. Always bring extra water and snacks to stay fueled.

Tell someone where you’ll be

Before you go, share all relevant details with a friend or family member. In case you lose cellphone reception, make sure to provide a location and estimated time of return. Trust your gut, and use common sense when meeting people for the first time.

Be open and flexible

Shoestring Adventures' Alyx Swartz hosts meet-ups all over California. Photo: Robbie Sell
Shoestring Adventures’ Alyx Swartz hosts meet-ups all over California. Photo: Courtesy of Robbie Sell
The anxious feeling I get when I step outside my comfort zone is usually accompanied by a tiny voice that says, “Do it.” People always ask me if it would be “weird” if they registered for a trip without knowing anyone. Absolutely not!

Sometimes I think I’m more outgoing when I don’t know anyone.

Start by breaking the ice

Everyone in the group has at least one thing in common: The interest that brought you together. Whether it’s hiking, foraging or photography, sharing your passion is always a good place to start. What’s your favorite hike? What kind of camera do you have? What’s your perfect s’more recipe?

Be persistent

As in dating, every meet-up has a different personality. If the first one is not a match, don’t give up! Somewhere out there is a community of people just for you.

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