It is easy to make excuses and think that having a full-time job stops you from living a life of adventure. Since 2010 I have had a full-time job as an Army Officer. I am really lucky that this job gives me the opportunity to travel and go on adventures. But you don’t have to join the Army to go on an adventure. Anybody with drive and motivation to get outside can do something challenging.
I find that the planning can often be one of the most fun parts of an adventure. As humans, we naturally look to the future and often forget to live in the moment.
These 6 steps will give you, the budding adventurer, an idea of what is required before heading out on your first adventure.
1. Finding the space and time
According to the gov.uk website, almost all British workers are legally entitled to 5.6 weeks paid holiday per year. This is ample time to plan a challenging and exciting adventure. I am not suggesting that you spend all of your holiday time on an adventure (although if you could that would be amazing). You can easily have a physically challenging and enriching adventure in 5 days. When I was living in Egypt, I flew out to Ethiopia and spent only 4 days trekking in the Simien mountains. This was a physically challenging, short adventure at altitude (4,000m). However, you don't have to fly to Ethiopia for an adventure. You can have one by just leaving your own home.
Once you have secured the space and time, protect it like it is the most important possession you own. Time is, after all, our most precious commodity.
2. The Idea
One of the best parts of planning an adventure. You may have an adventure in your mind that you already know you are going to do. That’s great. But many of us (myself included) struggle to come up with an idea for an adventure. Alistair Humphreys' book Microadventures is a great place to start if you are looking for inspiration. You can take one of the micro-adventures from his book and copy it exactly or even change the details to suit your needs and time.
The key ingredient for an adventure, in my opinion, is that it involves travelling from one place to another, from A-B. If you set a clear start and finish point it will help to focus on the end goal. Rather than aimlessly cycling around Northern Ireland with a ukulele (an adventure I did with no real finishing line. A mistake I won’t make again.)
This is the part when you get to decide how you are going to move from A-B. Most physically challenging adventures are powered through a human form of transport (walking, running, cycling, skiing, kayaking etc).
However, the definition of what makes an adventure is loose at best. Probably best to save that for another post.
You could use mechanical forms of transport such as a car or motorbike. You could even use a horse if you are so inclined. Personally, I would want to feel the sense of achievement of physically pushing myself and using my own human power to move from A-B rather than relying on a diesel engine to do the work.
If you want to go on an adventure on a horse, I would highly recommend it. I spent a week trekking in the Rocky Mountains on a horse, having never ridden before. You learn quick, that is for sure.
3. Pay for the single most expensive part of the adventure.
Once you have committed to the adventure finically, you are much less likely to back out. This could mean paying for a flight, a bike or a visa. Whatever the single most expensive part of the adventure is, save and pay for it as soon as possible. Usually, this is the flight.
If your adventure is super cheap that is even better. If that is the case, add some self-inflicted peer pressure. Set up your camera (this can be your camera phone) and record a video where you describe your adventure plan. Now release this to your most active social media site. I did this before the busking to Northern Ireland adventure and it definitely stopped me from quitting before I even started. Here is the video I posted on facebook.
Another good idea is to set up a just giving page and fundraise for your adventure. This also worked for me when I walked 220 miles before Christmas for the charity Walking with the Wounded. Once you have announced that you intend to go on an epic adventure and have taken money from your friends and family for a charity, you are certainly not going to quit. That is unless you don’t mind looking like a wally.
I prefer an adventure to be cheap. You can have the most amazing adventure by just walking from your own home to point B. The super expensive, usually corporate sponsored expeditions to the South Pole and Mt Everest are certainly physically demanding, dangerous and highly regarded. But most of us don’t have a spare £30,000 lying around to climb Everest. Find something unique, something only you will have done. Everest has been conquered, time to move on and think of something original.
4. Setting the ground rules
Before setting off it is vital that you set your own self-governed ‘rules’. Now, this part is very individual and there is no right or wrong answer.
Here are some examples of rules from my most recent adventure, the Walking Home for Christmas challenge:
- I set the rule that I would walk the entire distance from my home in Wiltshire to my parent's house in Yorkshire.
- That I would carry all of my own equipment and be self-sufficient.
- I wouldn’t stay in hotels. Just free accommodation if I could find it or a bush on the side of the road.
These rules really don’t mean anything other than setting a challenge to yourself. If you break the rules, it is only yourself that you will have to look at in the mirror.
To be self-sufficient or be supported is often a rule that divides opinion. It's fairly clear that self-sufficient journeys are the more challenging and often more extreme adventures. The chances of failure are much higher.
There is certainly a place for supported adventures. Accepting help and support from strangers is often one of the most rewarding elements of an adventure. Levison Wood uses animals to carry his equipment on his long walking expeditions. If it's good enough for him, it's probably good enough for you. That's unless you want to be hardcore and be the first to walk the Nile fully unsupported.
My advice is to start with some simple rules at first. If this is your first adventure, set one or two rules and go from there. The easiest one is to pick a form of transport and rigidly stick to it. If you are walking the coast to coast in England, don’t cheat and get a taxi. It's only you that will regret it.
5. To film or not to film.
That is the question.
I love to document my adventures through photography and video but it's not for everyone. There are downsides to this, particularly if you are filming video. Filming video can be hard work. Setting up the camera for a transition shot is nearly always a pain. As is carrying extra batteries, cables and chargers. If this is your first adventure, I would recommend that you take a simple camera or a camera phone.
Modern smartphone cameras are unbelievable. I plan on filming and editing my next adventure completely on my Samsung Galaxy. It will certainly be nice to travel light with one camera which is also my phone.
If you decide not to film or take pictures, that is fantastic. Well done to you, genuinely. In modern society, we find it impossible to put our phones down. Having some time away from the emails and phone calls completely, I imagine, is good for the mind. I am slightly disappointed with myself that I have never fully disconnected from my phone during an adventure. Disconnecting completely is the pure way to enjoy adventures with no distractions from the outside world. I will put that on my list of things to do.
If this is your first adventure, do not blog or worry about putting your story onto the internet. There is plenty of time for that. My advice would be to turn your phone off and use it only in emergencies. If you want to take pictures, take a small point and shoot. Enjoy the first adventure for what it is. Freedom and disconnected bliss.
6. Do not over plan
As an Army Officer, this advice goes against everything I have ever been taught. In the past, I have spent upto 5 days planning just one mission in such detail that every possible eventuality is covered. The military wholeheartedly believes that planning leads to a better execution and for food reason.
It is important when people's lives are at risk. I am imagining that with this adventure you are not planning an expedition through Helmand Province in Afghanistan. If you are, I would recommend you have a re-think. Especially if this is your first adventure. If you are determined to do something which is possibly life threatening, I would advise you to plan in as much detail as physically possible and reduce the risk to an acceptable amount.
When cycling or walking from A-B, your planning should be sensible but not overly detailed. If you are cycling I would recommend that you plan to wild camp. Take a look at the map and have a think about where might be good to put your camp for the night but remember to be flexible.
Flexibility is the key for most adventures.
Without flexibility, you won’t be in a position to accept the kindness of strangers when they offer you a room in their house. Instead, you will be stuck to a “plan" that is detaching from the fun of an adventure.
Get lost occasionally and don't worry about things going wrong. You will likely have a more interesting time than if you stick to your route like glue.
Now pack your bags and don’t look back. It's that simple. Some of the best adventures are planned on the back of a fag packet (cigarette packet for any Americans that are reading this).
I will leave you with this quote from Iron Mike. It couldn't be truer when you apply this to planning for adventures.