If you attend an adventure film festival, or read a few travel books, or follow any Instagram feeds with inspiring photos overlaid with pithy quotes, then you will have heard people pontificating about the definition of adventure and what the word means to them.
Beyond the clichés, however, I find that it can be quite a tricky question to answer succinctly.
If you are looking to plan a journey of your own it is definitely worth asking yourself the question. The answer you settle on can help illuminate the direction that your plans should go.
So, what is adventure?
Most people would agree that cycling across one of the world’s great mountain ranges is an adventure. So too is waking in a tent buried in snow, paddling whitewater rapids, or rowing through a tropical storm, hurtling down steep waves lit by a silver moon.
But adventure need not be any of those things. I think the core of adventure is actually deeper than this, though it is undoubtedly expressed though travel, expeditions, or extreme sports.
It is interesting to think, briefly, about what adventure is not. Adventures may involve some of these things, but the heart of adventure is not about world records, beating others, making a story, a film, a pile of cash, getting famous online, generating ‘content’, or repeating what you’ve already done, but faster.
In my opinion adventure is mainly in the mind. Adventure is an attitude. Adventure is doing something that is new. Something difficult. Exciting. Daunting. Something with a significant chance of failure and an enticing sense of satisfaction upon completion. (The failure ought to have sufficiently high consequences to inspire a determination to avoid it. The reward of completion ought not be the only reward.) Adventure involves unpredictability and uncertainty.
Adventure should be pursued with determination, significant effort, curiosity and (when possible) a sense of humour.
What does all this mean?
After many years of testings in the wilderness, I know that I can cycle a long way. I know that I can endure. I know that I can row an ocean or paddle a river. I know that I can plan how to cross a desert. And this is why many expeditions don’t really excite me so much these days.
When I try to dream up my next adventure I ask myself questions such as these (as well as these expedition rules),
- Is the idea new, fresh and difficult for me?
- Does it both scare me and excite me?
- Would I want to do this even if nobody ever found out?
- Is there a significant chance of failure?
- Is it there a decent dollop of uncertainty?
It means that, if I want an adventure, these feelings and states of mind are what I should be looking for.
In other words, rather than cycling another continent or crossing another ocean, I’d be better off learning the violin and scaring the crap out of myself by having to perform it in public in order to earn a few pennies for my next meal…