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Nobody Should Blog on Their First Expedition

[Health Warning: this post is laced with hypocrisy, exaggeration and over-simplification.]

I said “no” recently when asked to join an expedition. The trip sounded epic: a heady cocktail of trying something new and pushing my limits in the wilderness with a double measure of danger and misery mixed in.

The thought processes that led me to say “no” were long and winding and of no relevance here except for one question I asked myself.

“Would I do this trip,” I pondered, “if nobody ever knew that I had done it?”

My answer was no. And so my answer was “no”.

This is a question I ask myself before beginning any project (along with “what the hell is adventure, anyway?”). I do so in an attempt to keep myself genuine, to keep focusing on things I really want to do rather than things that will bring fame, fortune or praise (from people who don’t know me well enough to know that my motives were all wrong). Nobody likes what is sometimes called a “Willy Waver“, a show-off, a poser, a charlatan. It is easy though to hide your showing off and get away with it. Get away with it with everyone except yourself though, hence the need for occasional honest self-questioning. There are certainly plenty of Willy Wavers in the expedition world.

So asking yourself “Would I do this thing if nobody every found out?” is a helpful check. (The opposite question of “Would I do this thing if everyone on Earth found out about it?” also has its uses!)

This leads onto the premise of this article: nobody should blog on their first expedition. I receive quite a few emails from people along these lines:

“I’mm about to head off on my first ever expedition. I’mve got a website and a PR agency and a social media strategy and I want to be on the telly and I want to be a paperback writer and I’mm going to blog every day…”

And there is so little enthusiasm about the expedition itself. About the remote places, the silences, the hunger, the discomfort, the cauterizing, character-building struggle, the anticipation of sublime highs or concerns about being able to cope with the lows, the tears and the laughter. All that has been forgotten in the strategising.

So what is the slightly curmudgeonly conclusion of this mis-shapen, drifting entry? It is this. Worry ye not about blogs and social media profiles and all the clutter that clings from expeditions like barnacles on the bottom of a beautiful sailing boat. Worry ye not. Just go. Go do the expedition for the right reasons. Do it for yourself. Do the hardest thing you can dream of and do it to the last ounce of your resolve and strength and imagination. Just go.

And when you come home, if you come home, decide then whether you want more. Whether you’re desperate for more of the fix that expeditions both cure and fuel. And if you are then perhaps you’re willing to trade a shard of your soul with a wider audience for the opportunity to go on the next expedition. Perhaps too, if you’re fortunate or smart or creative you will have found that the sharing of your expedition can add value to it as well as blurring and distracting. You may travel with all senses tingling -eyes wider open, nostrils fully flared, ears pricked- for how best to communicate your precious experience with a wider audience. In which case your expedition will be enhanced.

But please, at least for your first one, just go do it. Don’t do it to get famous or get on the telly or get a squillion Twitter followers. Do it because it matters to you. Do it for the doing of it. Do it because it’s there. Do it for the hell of it. Do it for these reasons, or these, these or these. Just do it.

None of this advice makes very sound commercial sense: I set off to ride round the world with a vague and meandering route plan and no publicity at all. I arrived home eventually and set about the boring necessity of making some cash. I cadged a stall at a travel show, blu-tacked photos to the wall, and set about trying to find someone who would pay me to tell my story. I had forgotten about that travel show and the frustrating months and years that followed until I received this email last week,

“My girlfriend and I recently hear you speak, and I have to say that we were both thoroughly enjoyed it. We were also thrilled with your success; we met and spoke with you for a while 5 years ago at the Travel Show in London when you had just finished your round-the-world biking and were looking to ‘set up business’ so to speak. So it was brilliant to see that you are now doing what you love for a living. A lesson to all of us riding a desk!”

This email reminded me that, although I’mm now in the really fortunate position of earning my living from my hobbies, it was not ever thus. It took years of hard work. Some people will do it much faster than me and some will do it much more successfully than me, either by being better or by being luckier (a bit of both is probably the elixir). But for me it was / is a long and difficult road. And, in the long run, that’s probably the way I like it.

What do you think? Have you had very different experiences? Am I talking tosh? Let me have it with both barrels in the comments section or on Twitter

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  1. Wot-giv me a break mate! Ur sayin dont blog on trips and then ur bloggin that urself? Dont be so arrogant just becaus you get paid to do ur trips- some of us is not so lucky as you and hav to blog to get money

    • Hello – as I said in the first line “this post is laced with hypocrisy, exaggeration and over-simplification”. I know that in reality people are going to want to blog from their trips. I just want people to remember what is the really important aspect of travelling. And I’m pretty sure that it’s not updating Facebook Status’ via satphone…

    • @ToonBoy Would love to know how to make money from expedition blogging. I have blogged for educational reasons and to keep some sponsors happy. It’s a bit of a Faustian pact to make this digital/social media business. There’s a time to be an ‘explorer’ and a time to be a storyteller. I think the point that Al was trying to make is that we may better at expeditions if we focus on them wholeheartedly and better and telling stories to pay our way, if we then think about this afterwards.

    • Well I think an explorer is bound to have a variety of objectives and mindsets, depending on who wants to listen. I think the vast majority of people (myself included) watch adventurous people on the television and read about their ventures in the papers, magazines and on blogs and are grateful such information is shared. It’s a mistake to believe that adventurers are going to be shrinking violets or shy; thank goodness they’re not. Not frankly, for the most of, life is a series of challenges without a decent view! We sponsor and partner with adventurers and funding is part of the programme.

    • Consider he might get paid to do his trips because he is an adventurer first and blogger second.

  2. Brilliant post Al! A good reminder for me. Thanks! (I am lost for words on that first comment! A special one for sure! Surely it is Mr. Saunders messing with your head though. Ha!).

  3. I agree with you when you say to do the adventure just for the sake of it (but anyway, is there really someone who does it for something else?). But blogging, or sharing in a wider sense, is part of the trip itself and it’s so damn easy with today’s technology. In my first expedition the best moments of the day were always two: 1) when I saw/did something beautiful and 2) when I could share it with people right away. And the feedback were so encouraging! Plus if adventure takes experience, so does writing. Not doing so during an adventure would be a waste of material and opportunity to try your writing/photographing personal style.

  4. great article! I think people can get caught up in attempting to publicize their adventures rather than to enjoy the highs and lows of the adventure itself, as you say. I remember my first 1000miles cycle where quite literally no-one, including my family, knew where I was, or what I was doing until I reached the end. It was liberating to enjoy each day for what it was than attempting to update people to my location and my ‘latest blog’

  5. Well said Al. (Original text and reply) I sometimes ask myself, when I’m miles from anywhere, freezing my wotsits off, “why am I doing this?” Simple answer is because I can and I want to. If I can share some of my mini-adventures with others in the vain hope I may inspire someone else to ‘just do it’ then all well and good. If they’re not interested, switch off. That’s what I say to people who write to Points of View on the telly. If you don’t like it, turn over, watch something else. Don’t moan about it! (better still, get rid of the telly, if it upsets you that much) Don’t suffer something that doesn’t float your boat but get off your backside and do something different. Should you write about it? If you want to, and if you don’t want to, don’t. I’m starting to waffle now so I’m off. Keep writing Mr H.

  6. Al, I like the point you’ve highlighted here. A blog is effectively a personal diary that we share with the World in real time. But let’s look at the past adventurers who kept a diary using real ink and real paper. Men such as Scott and Guevara both wrote diaries but did they write these for an audience? Or were they writing for themselves? Were they even aware that eventually their diaries would be read by thousands of people? My view is that as well using a diary to record the day-to-day happenings it was also a therapeutic way of dealing with the highs and lows of an expedition.

    Often the best stories are told after the event – when someone chances upon a diary which has never been seen or read before…

  7. Sambhram Patel Posted

    What about stuff like ….it falls between blogs and diaries no?

    Also,nowadays(E-Age and all that),the blog seems to have replaced the paper personal diary,so guess there is nothing wrong in maintaining a personal travel blog.

    Actually, i feel its the x-factorization (as you have called it in a post) that influences people to look at expeditions,adventure,travel etc as only a means to a goal and not the goal itself.


  8. nothing more to add than this post.
    do it for yourself first, do it good, do what you love !!! and very agree with jamie.

  9. I was talking to someone recently about an expedition idea I have. They were very keen until they found out it had already been done and someone had written a book about it (40 years ago). He then said he wouldn’t be interested as he’d wanted to write a book on the trip himself… I guess I’ll have all the fun on my own then

  10. Brendon K Posted

    Love the article, and I think this can apply not just to expeditions but also to mini-adventures. We are all so caught up with SocialMedia and that its the thing of the future. Rubbish! We have managed without it for centuries and will still manage without it. The ones that will succeed will be the ones that can think and communicate without the need to use SocialMedia.

    If we have a look at the origins of the work Expedition: “an excursion, journey, or voyage made for some specific purpose, as of war or exploration.”

    It doesn’t say “To tweet from the top of a mountain or the bottom of a gorge”

    Do it yourself. As simple as that.
    On the other hand, I think Al is just trying to protect his domain 🙂

  11. Jackie Queen Posted

    Alastair, perhaps it is the onset of Alzheimer’s, but I became lost at the 3rd/4th paragraph. When you ask yourself if you would do an expedition if ‘nobody’ ever knew you had done it, do you mean no person, not anyone? So, if you want to do adventures that you really want to do for your own self, then why did you turn down the trip? Why did it matter who would hear about it? Is that where the hypocrisy comes in, you really need to know that what you are doing is of interest to ‘somebody’. But, I would think that by now, you have a big enough following who would learn about any trip you were going on. I am confused! I will follow any adventure you’re doing.

    • I turned it down because too many of my motives were based on being able to show-off about the trip, rather than actually wanting to do it just for the fun of it.

      • Jackie Queen Posted

        Right, get you now. So although the trip would have been exciting and dangerous, it is not something you would really have chosen to do, other than for the publicity.

  12. Julian C Posted

    Great post Al. I think it depends on what you want to achieve and how you want to achieve it. Most of the time I have no wish to twitter, facebook or update a blog. I have had to in the past due to sponsors and it looks like I will have to do it again in the future. However if I feel it is going to impact on my journey then I won’t do it no matter how tempting it is. The trip/challenge is all that matters to me. Recently I swam the Rive Wye I was asked to do a travel piece but I turned it down as it would change the whole dynamic of what I wanted to get out of the trip. Believe it or not but some of us don’t want to share with the rest of the world.

  13. There are two different discussions here, 1. doing an expedition for the glory, 2. just going out as a redarse and blogging, tweeting etc about your expedition. I will add my bit about point 2.

    A few years ago, about 12, before everyone had a mobile phone and the internet was the source of all information, people completed a Journey, decided if it was a good story and then they would tell people. People served their apprenticeship by trying a few different journeys, this way they discovered how they fit in, where they fit in and how to tell their story. It didn’t matter if the story was old, new or a repeat, it was just a damn good story.

    This has been lost by many newcomers, rather than developing a story, people are too insistent on updating what is happening there in the present. We are not on the expedition, the nature, emotions, what you are feeling, seeing, hearing tasting etc etc needs developing through the story and the sub story. All this takes time, practice and quite frankly, not everyone does it that well.

    You are right, nobody should blog on their first expedition.

    Alastair, keep doing what you do, you do it well!

  14. I start my first big expedition next week and will be writing a blog and updating facebook/twitter.

    I think the best point made in your post is asking yourself that question:
    “Would I do this thing if nobody every found out?”

    For me I would still be doing what I plan to do if nobody found out. If somebody thinks to themselves “no, actually I wouldn’t go ahead if nobody knew what I was doing”…..then that person should still go ahead and do it if they lack the inspiration/direction to do something else that they would want to do if nobody found out about it. We’re all young, stupid and lost in this crazy world. Some lucky few find something they want to do and put their heart and soul into it and do it purely for themselves and the experience. Those who haven’t found that should give something else a go, even if it is for the wrong reasons. Something like cycling the world or going on an outdoor expedition should be encouraged to all – even if they’re doing it for the wrong reasons. The experience will hopefully lead them to something they can do for the “right reasons”.

    As for blogging…..

    I think everybody should blog about their trip as this allows you to infer who are the genuine ones doing it for themselves and who are the ones doing it for the fame etc. I’d rather have as much information as possible to judge for myself. Unfortunately not everyone is that discerning and will spend money on books because that person has been on tv, adverts and broke a world record…….when there are far more interesting accounts by people who don’t get this exposure (nudge nudge).

    Don’t blame the blogs; give us a voice in a world dominated by television and the press which dictate to us what we should buy, watch and listen to. The blogs are found by those who seek, those who think about their passions and have an interest in a catalogue of things unique to themselves. This is the kind of consumerism that should be encouraged rather than the current model which is dictated to the masses by the media.

    Maybe first expeditions should not be made into tv programmes?

  15. Nice bit of cage rattling!

    I assume that the underlying point here is not necessarily blogging but the prevalence of themed expeditions where the theme seems to have been selected first for novelty and marketing value. I completely agree that this can be nonsense, unless it’s simply the only way that you can get something close to an ideal expedition off the ground.

    On the more general question on whether to blog. It comes down to whether you have existing writing and blogging skills and are ultimately confident that you will succeed. There are many blogs with some god-awful writing for at least a few months until the person has developed their ‘voice’. I also came across one particular example of someone who left the UK on a bike for Cape Town in a blaze of assumed glory and sponsorship and then quit somewhere in Spain. I’m not sneering at this, this person had the balls and energy to put together a plan and get out the door, but did end up looking a little daft given the visibility and commitments made.

    A good example in the bike blog world would be Peter Gostelow. Left on his first trip seemingly for the hell of it. Used a web journal (crazyguyonabike), developed his writing and photography skills, and now has a proper blog for his current Africa trip with the blogging skills and ‘getting-to-the-end’ confidence in place. Given time and the potential for multiple expeditions, that’s the way to do it.

  16. I would just be repeating several comments from above and probably below this post.

    I didn’t blog or send daily updates on my first expedition or second come to that because I didn’t start to dabble in the delights of the internet until 2001. Yep, a late starter. However, I did keep a written journal, which I don’t want to write up because it’s full of illustrations, doodles and scribbles that add character that would be lost by blogging. It was simple and wonderful to sit in the evenings and write up my thoughts and not worry about power.
    I must admit, I do still write a journal – pan and paper – as I love the simplicity of it and the memories a smudge or stain or ripped dog eared corner can bring.

    Blogging skills…I don’t care for writing “right” with full stops and stuff in the right places and maybe the odd typographical error. I think, believe, hope that the reader will over look the finer points and daydream of the actual event.

    Great post as always. When is Al going to serve us drinks for dropping by Al’s Blog Café?

  17. I’d love to take the credit for that first comment but, alas, it weren’t me, guv.

    I’m still working on my next blog post. I think the last was in September 2009. Talk is cheap, after all 🙂

    • In that case I know who my prime suspect is…

      I hope you’re going to be blogging from up north – they are always top quality. Plus you love willy waving!

      And finally, from your defunct blog:

      I turned in about 1am. What a ridiculous thing it must seem to other people to read a diary where such a statement as ‘I turned in at 1am’ appears as if they were interested in the time another fellow mortal at the other end of the world went to bed… Those sort of items are the penalties that one’s friends must pay when struggling to gain a little real information in these reams of paper.
      – E.H. Shackleton, diary, 14 July 1902

  18. I think another reason to skip blogging is to give yourself the chance to really disconnect and immerse yourself in the experience. While I enjoy reading the blogs of some of adventurers out on the road right now (Rob in South America and the Cycling Silk girls in Asia for example), they should enjoy the adventure and not feel compelled to update those of us stuck at our computers.

    I haven’t been on a big adventure but I do cherish 10 days I spent on a ship a few days ago with absolutely no contact with the outside world. No news, no phone calls or email home. Bliss. Holidays since then have internet access too readily available. (Must work on my self-discipline…)

  19. Great piece, a very interesting thought.

    It is almost a shame that we are forced to essentially over publicise ourselves to get expeditions off the ground but this is the nature of the beast and something that people planning expeditions must grow used to. The blog is essentially the modern diary and is a great way to put down thoughts and to share these with others!

    Would be interested to know what you would consider as a expedition, I have found the idea of your microadventures interesting, which led me to think is anyone really ever taking on their first expedition? Adventure can be found everywhere.

    I like Hamish’s thoughts on blocking out the outside world through not blogging, perhaps a oneway monologue blog is the best way!

  20. Fergie Meek Posted

    I cycled my first solo trip last year and made a conscious decision not to blog (I did write it up and post it to my blog afterwards though). As my family and friends did want to know how I was doing I did open a Twitter account and posted to that each day so that they knew I was OK.
    I am going to be going on two trips this year (Scotland and the USA) and I plan to use the same strategy. Then again, I am only doing this for myself and my friends/family and have no real interest in anyone else reading about my cycle trips! 🙂

  21. I think there’s rather too much navel-gazing going on in the modern expedition world (myself being as guilty as anyone). I can’t imagine those decades ago going through such endless spirals and circles of self-loathing and then immediate self-congratulation, attention-seeking and concurrent desire to be alone and away from the beastly blogging world.

    They just got out there and did it, wrote books and did lectures to make a living – some got famous and others grew equally impressive beards.

  22. I’m due to begin my first expedition in May — crossing the Gobi Desert as part of a team led by Ripley Davenport. I’ll also be keeping a blog.

    Personally, I don’t see any problem in so doing. One of the purposes of our expedition is to interact with school pupils around the world to teach them about many aspects of Mongolia. Clearly, keeping blogs and posting photos and videos will help us to give them as close an experience of Mongolia as possible.

    If my first expedition weren’t one with such a specific purpose, I’m not sure whether I’d post a blow-by-blow account of it online. I’d certainly write about it in some form, be it online or on paper, as it happened or after the event. I feel it’d be a shame not to document it at all. The nature of a blog is such that not only can the author look back on his experiences but so too can others. Sadly, a handwritten journal, unless eventually published, can’t achieve the same effect.
    So I can see the attraction of blogging during an expedition — whether it’s one’s first or fiftieth and regardless of its purpose.

    Don’t get me wrong, I fully understand that cracking out a laptop and satellite phone constantly is likely to detract from one’s experience of an expedition and distinctly unromantic. But it’s all a matter of degree. Arguably, pulling out a camera all the time may take something away from the experience too. Where does one draw the line? Surely, it’s down to the choice of the individual. Some may go to one extreme and some may take a balanced approach. Personally, I intend to blog every now and then in the Gobi Desert and stick to using a pen and paper for the most part — but I won’t completely neglect my blog.

    Of those adventure types I know, many blog during their expeditions. So they must concede that blogs can be of some benefit to an expedition. It follows, therefore, that not to blog during an expedition, be it one’s first or not, one misses out on that benefit. The question seems to be: are you willing to miss out on that benefit for what some would say is a heightened experience? I suppose there’s only one way to find out: ditch the blog, see if you feel it enhanced your experience and decide whether it was worth it. I’m sure I’ll ditch the blog during an expedition in future — but who says it has to be the first?

    One could even argue that it’s selfish to pursue the most personally fulfilling experience possible as opposed to documenting your journey for the benefit of others.

    But I wouldn’t go that far. I read intently many adventure blogs and articles and, every now and then, people complain about how things should or shouldn’t be done. I say why not let people do what they want? Don’t people who climb mountains, row oceans and cycle around the world often do so to escape the prescriptivism of everyday life? Why, then, would those same people want to prescribe how someone else should live their adventure?

  23. I didn’t go through all these comments, but it looks like mainly the younger generation is represented.
    I did my first expedition 24 years ago, who would ever, had thought about something like a blog? Not even phone calls from Africa where possible.
    Later I worked in the Internet/Intranet business and didn’t want to share my privacy in the net. Also I never talked about what I was doing. Especially not before, because everybody thought I am crazy, taking a bike and cycle in the strangest countries in the world, as a woman alone.
    For me it was and still is great to do it. But I thought nobody is interested in it besides some friends and for them I didn’t need a blog.
    Only by chance I learned, also other women are not only interested in what I am doing, but also I can help to motivate them to dare a little bit more in their life. In former years women did great things and not talking about.
    If a man was cycling from A to B it was great, fantastic and the whole world had to know it. But there were also women who did exciting things. As far as I know at first a woman was cycling around the world (Annie Londonderry) before a man. (She also had no blog :-)).
    Before I started my round the world trip, I always was asked if I write a blog. So there was almost no way around anymore.
    Time changed now, also women are talking and writing more about great things they are doing and I also want to encourage all the others to do so.

  24. Blogging can be a huge distraction that ultimately detracts from the adventure.

    About six months ago, I began spending more time on my website and decided to start a second website.

    My main reason for doing this was to have a better balance in my life. If you’re “adventuring” for years on end, ultimately your life gets out of balance. I think blogging is a good outlet for creativity and a meets a basic need to produce something in one’s life. It doesn’t have to be all about fame and adulation.

    While I like the idea of being more “productive,” I don’t like the feeling of having to create new content to keep blog readers satisfied. As with many things in life, it all depends on prioritizing. Do I really want to miss a sunset stroll through Santiago to send tweets?

  25. Alison Jean Baker Posted

    Dear Alastair

    A great point made with your tongue firmly in a cheek.

    There is a breed of explorer who certainly is a ‘willy-waver’ – keen to do firsts and get the glory that comes after; but explorers are remarkable and extreme characters and very driven (I guess explorers need to be – as Benedict Allen said ‘we’re a needy bunch’) but sometimes there can be doubts as to whether the motives are fully what they’d have us believe or whether the peoples encountered benefit from the kudos they give? But it is good to document the journey and tell others about it – that’s what being an explorer is – to report back; finding books from another era, telling us of their experiences are great discoveries in themselves and it’s an added bonus if it can be done eloquently and with humour. Freya Stark is a case in point as we marvel at her courage, humanity and poetry more than any of her achievements alone. And she lived to be 100. But I do think there are a lot of bad bloggers out there, beyond punctuation, that write for the wrong reasons – because it’s printed doesn’t mean it is worthy of reading. I guess the cream rises where it should. But in this age there are temptations to report back ‘first’, so people feel pressured to harness the internet which allows this. And there’s tough competition. The various methods can help one feel connected when doubting their decisions to drop everything and go. It’s no bad thing. But I definitely believe that some forget it’s about the journey and not the destination and prizes, and are missing the wood in the trees. Blogging won’t salvage that. And it’s a shame if some feel they need it to define what they do. I guess it’s about getting the balance right. But the if money is needed to do the thing you love, sacrifices to the corporate devil need to be made. And without these devices there will remain sections of society that will be denied the chance meeting of reading something said somewhere online that will encourage them to change their life. And remind them that there is a life to be had out there beyond the internet. If it gets one more person away from the ‘wii’ and actually onto a playing field to play football then that’s a start.

    So with this I have to write to you to say thank-you. Because you’ve reminded of what it is to say ‘yes’. If I hadn’t have discovered your enthusiasm online I wouldn’t be doing what I’m about to do. You said recently ‘set yourself a big scary goal and go do it; or waste your life’. Your humility and drive reminded me of a trait I once thought I’d lost. Don’t talk it, walk it. A friend started me off when he decided to say yes to everything and ended up in Holland 3 days later. It struck a cord that stuck. More recently this mantra has gotten lost under a fog of hard times and frequent bouts of being without a permanent address – a reluctant nomad (being an out-of-work writer and actress doesn’t always fulfill romantic notions of the struggling artist). I decided I can’t have this as the sole experience that defines me.

    SO, after 4 years of pondering I’ve decided to drive to Mongolia – and I can’t drive. Friends think I’m daft and over ambitious; they also laugh at the idea and think it’s great. It’ll be difficult; the event is hugely over-subscribed, costly and manic. But I shall do it. Because I have to. My co-driver reluctantly pulled out, and I would have done it alone if a team hadn’t invited me to join them – thereby saving me from a likely suicide mission of the inexperienced. And I found them through Twitter. I’m terrified. I can’t wait. I may not come back.

    Twitter, website, blog to follow – because we need all the help we an get…plus petrol money. If I return, my next journey will definitely be by bike.
    Thanks again, Al

    Mongolian Ali.

  26. Alison Jean Baker Posted

    I also know that typos are awful when they’re gone public…….

  27. Hi Al, goodness all this blogging malarkey – I dunno :o)

    I find it nice to blog not on a daily or even weekly basis but more like a summary once a month if I can get access to internet of course. I mean come on, are all adventures full on all day, every day? I know mine aren’t, but once a month is a nice way to bring those who are interested up to speed.

    OK I have to get a blog out :o)

  28. As always when reading Al’s blog I look myself over at all parts except for my navel, which is blushing in the corner somewhere.

    I am totally and utterly guilty of blogging the bejesus out of my first expedition, yet at the same time if I’m totally honest, yes I would have done it without communicating. I can’t quite work out whether it was the nature of the journey that changed my life (and it did) or the fact that so many people heard about it, and because of that I wrote a book and began a whole new career.

    Even in 2006 I didn’t have the intention of making a living from adventure, I was just excited about travelling with a goal and wanted to share the feeling. Thank God Twitter and Facebook weren’t around then, otherwise my right arm would have been just as wide as my right leg.

    Anyhoo, I’ve now become a little scared about how I come across, mainly because when clicking on ‘Willy Waver’ in the article the Urban Dictionary definition actually uses the following example:

    Willy Waver
    n. An unbearable male show-off. British slang.
    “Dave is such a bloody willy waver.”

    Al, did you write that?!

    • that is GENIUS!

    • Dave, I always use you as an example of how an expedition can be integrated completely with the telling of the story. With your projects there is no one thing that comes first – the expedition and the sharing of the expedition are like the old chicken/egg scenario. They are equal and integral. And I think that’s great the way you do it.

  29. Brian Hamby Posted

    I posted this on Bicycle Touring Pro’s Facebook page about your article:

    Even if it is illusory, their is something about blogging and facebook that helps keep me accountable to my goals. I have a journal started at crazyguyonabike for my 1st long distance ride in Sept. It is not yet published, but as with all my writing, it serves me 1st, so if all it does is organize my thoughts, so be it. I like reading about other’s experiences, it teaches and inspires me, regardless if it is their 1st time or last time.

    Additional thoughts:

    I don’t see too many people becoming famous from doing cycling tours. If you go out to crazyguyonabike there are tons of people who have done it and who are doing it. Even if someone is a good writer like “The Metal Cowboy”, these books still appeal to a small segment of readership. My motivation is personal accomplishment, and the joy that I feel from doing such a thing.

    David Byrne’s bike is easy to find at B&N, but his fame is associated with music, not cycling. He might have to worry about his intentions, but hey, cycling gets more mainstream anytime we get an affirmation by a celebrity.

    Talking to my friends and family about the minutae that gives me so much joy about cycling doesn’t ring that bell for me. I was so excited when I got the freewheel hub off my bike by myself and changed a spoke. Everybody I told this to just kind of went on ‘glaze mode’. But I can go to a website like crazyguy and other cyclists are there and they ‘get it’.

    I have a blog at that wrote on various topics for a few years. I wrote on music, UFOs, relationships, etc. Even though I have attracted attention from some important people in those various fields, according to my sitemeter, I have only ever had an average of about 5 people a day come to my site.

    My sister on the other hand is a stay at home mom and freelance writer that has written a blog for years and has a huge following. All she does is just writes humorously about her life, which is nothing all that spectacular, but other moms relate to her experiences.

  30. VERY interesting post. If you engage with the instrumentation of western capitalism it will try to turn your shit into divisible saleable products.

    Things are changing. In my opinion these days it’s more about making a subsistence out of contributing to a collective.

    Strip back all the waste consumption in your life and be willing to sleep rough at first! It’s going to take a while for people to get their heads around this- but it’s happening.

    If your blogging and tweeting is about projecting an invented ego into the blogosphere for the sake of making a living then you are gonna have to live with a dual identity. One side of that identity composed of ideology which only serves to mystify the real nature of your adventures.

    The expedition community is made of a group of incredible people having complex personal experience but there is a side of it which panders to the ‘spectacular’ adventure experience tourist industry. Soon there will be guided tours to see starving children and kayaking trips during flood catastrophes (that sort of thing) – not necessarily a bad thing! at least it’s realistic. Just like it’s realistic to start loving waste and building things out of trash becasue we are building mountains of the stuff (e.g. boats / skis / etc etc out of plastic bottles) expeditions utilising this stuff would be fantastic.

    Anyway, my point is separate what is your personal journey from what is projected into the realm of this spectacular experience. Networks lend themselves better to constructive collective learning than they do to constructing ideology. People want truth not more false dreams.

  31. the expedition community is brilliant. People who blog do it because it suits them. If you’re a willy wanger everyone knows it. Who cares anyway. “becoming authentic doens’t necessarily stop you from doing inethical things” – zizek(2010). The most important thing is the energy and dynamism amongst people in the adventure community. Only great things can come if adventurers can meet up in person and do more great things ‘together’. and of course enthuse others with this dynamism and energy – the human race depends on it.

    Willy wanger

  32. Hi Al,

    that’s indeed an interesting post. It’s already been said before in other comments, but it’s a very good question to ask yourself “Do I really want to do that if nobody will ever know” ? It’s a good way to persuade yourself that you indeed want to do it.

    I find it with no or few interest too to go for it just for the fame of it. But if we look at it closer, if you Al and others wouldn’t have blogged about your journeys, many would have lacked inspiration (myself included :)) to pursue their own journey, blogging themselves about it, and then continuing the process. Inspirated people become the inspirators for new expeditions, sometimes more original or at least different.

    The advantage of the information era is that we can do that almost live in blogs more than in books to come in years. And as travellers or adventurers, we sure do want to inspire people think different than the ‘classical’ or stereotyped life promised be our society. Social Media comes as great tool to communicate about our trips and communicate about why we wanted to do it in the first place, how we deal with it once on the road and why it’s great that more people should do it too.

    Probably it is also a selfish way to reassure ourselves that in the far end of the desert we have much people thinking about us waiting for the next article coming, but after all it does not prevent us to live the experience on our owns. For sure one that would look only for success in setting up a blog will realize real travelling is definitely not about fame once on the road and just for this bit of enlightment this will be worth it invading the already full of great stories world wide web.

    So finally if communicating about our trips can bring more people discover our great planet for the first time, then I encourage people to blog about it !

  33. A good post, as evidenced by the 55 comments… clearly we need more thought-provokers like this!

    I am reminded of a quotation I read on your blog a long time ago. But I can’t find it now. The essence was that you probably shouldn’t be bothering to write about your passion (expeditions/adventures) unless it’s literally pouring out of you.

    Something that hasn’t really been mentioned here is just that: the passion of writing. Some people just love to write and to mould words into imagination-stimulation. That’s a huge motivation for my current daily blog about cycling through the Scandinavian winter (yes, that was a shameless plug), at least. It’s a creative endeavour that fulfils me in and of itself. (There are other reasons too, of course, of minor significance.)

    On a solo trip I find that I need an outlet like this. Whether anyone reads it is fairly irrelevant, though it’s nice when people do and take the time to let me know!

    But I do agree with your main point: on your first forays into adventuring, simplicity is the biggest asset of all. You’ll have enough of a mental process to go through without having to fanny around with Facebook in your tent/bivi-bag/hammock/snow-hole/igloo/treehouse…

    With warm regards from Vilhelmina!

  34. Quite surprised no one has thrown charity into the mix.

    One of the reasons i’m doing my trip is so I can raise money for charity. To raise the amount i have chosen (£10,000) i’ll need to go outside my zone of family and friends and seek the generosity of strangers. For this i’ll need to create some form of awareness about what i’m doing. What better than twitter/facebook?

    I have also teamed up with my charity Action Aid to write guest posts for them and about my trip in the hope that it will inspire other people involved in the charity to go out and maybe try something new and thus raise money as well. A domino effect if you will.

    I guess it boils down to your personal reason on why. I don’t seek fame or fortune. I’ll blog so I can make a small difference in this crazy world.

  35. Like your article very much, has a lot going for it.

    It can become a problem, to be always thinking about how you’re going to write this or describe that….what it will look like to other people…

    Since i started using a computer, i can’t help thinking, “would this look any good on my desktop” when i frame up to photograph some beautiful place just rolled up to.

    Past trips have suffered from being too little journalled about, and i want to fix that should the Lord allow me another go, but I dont want to begin thinking about the whole journey in the same sort of way… takes something away.

    There is a balance here, as you said Alastair – use the plan to write as a push to notice more, think more about what you are seeing, who you meeting….use it all as a way to make every moment that much more vibrant and alive.

    as indeed they all are!

  36. Wonderfully searching question.

    I started blogging for the same reason as Im sure that many others did too – simply that it became too tedious to relate my stories and show my photos to every single friend and relative – I was becoming a cyclo-bore (still am). Also because I tended to forget just what I did, where and when

    Sometimes the stories end up a little elaborate as the jeopardy element keeps an interesting read, but then again Ive read plenty of blogs by people who sounded like they were experiencing a living hell – is that willy waving?

  37. Great post.

    By accident, I dropped my camera out of my kayak in the middle of a trip on the coast of France and have never taken a camera on another trip. I find myself doing things because I want to, not because I would get a great picture to show my friends and family when I return.

    • By not taking a camera on any future trips may only upset you later in life when your old and standing at that bus stop in the rain trying to remember the good old days.
      It’s not about great pictures or showing family and friends, it’s about memories.

      • Alison Jean Baker Posted

        This is an interesting point – whether to take a camera. When I first went to Russia I didn’t have a camera. I couldn’t afford one, and believed I could buy one whilst out there considering the exchange rate; 3 days later the ruble went through the roof as the USSR became a Republic and severe inflation hit…
        SO I consigned everything to memory, recorded conversations and imprinted others to memory. I feel my experience is the better for it. And I can still remember the trip in detail.

        And sometimes people (OK, tourists) take pictures in-place of actually experiencing the thing they are looking at. Once, when In Amsterdam at the Rijks Museum, I was pushed out of the way by one such tourist who wanted to look at a Vermeer; he proceeded to take a picture of the painting (with a flash!) and then walked away, without stopping to take in what he was photographing. The picture was to become an example of boasting – ‘look where I’ve been’ and not what we all hope for from our travels, ‘look how I’ve been changed by my adventure’.

        I’m not anti-photographers, photography or blogging (see above) but a pen and paper, drawing and just stopping to look can only make your re-telling later of the adventure better.


  38. Alastair Humphreys Posted

    A nice way of putting all this: Do Not Speak Unless You Can Improve The Silence.

  39. Paul Campy Posted

    Al, a little late to your blog but think this is a great post – ignore the first comment which missed the point and rather on the nasty side.

    If you’re thinking about the publicity and how something will look, and it has to be forced, it will come across as such. Keep enjoying what you do, and as long as you do, keep writing about it.

  40. Mark Austen Posted

    It’s a balance, isn’t it, between sharing your expedition and keeping it to yourself that has to be evaluated for each trip. You have to ask yourself, why am I telling people about this? If you’re spending a week in the wilds of Scotland I wouldn’t want to blog – it’s something you’re doing purely because it inspires you to be there. That’s the essence of adventuring, I think. But equally, some trips we may want to share for various reasons – for example, cycling in the West; it’s not like blogging etc is going to spoil the solitude. If people are genuinely interested in what you’re doing, and you’re telling them about it for the right reasons, I don’t see a problem in sharing your trip with them.

  41. I agree with Al. Just Go. Nothing wrong with blogging for a first trip, but seriously if I could do without…man I would. Just saving time and enjoying nature & avoid all the electronics.Currently I do expeditions that do not allow the time to blog much (I just call with my SatPhone to a friend who blogs for me, does that count 🙂
    Anyway, I know a guy, I think he’s a plumber and he has done a few trips that are just bold, great and wonderful. He just goes each time he has built enough cash to go. He has no website, he has a blog with nothing on it. He just goes.

  42. Hi Al, I’m presently enjoying reading your first book Moods of Future Joys. This post was interesting to me because I just happened to arrive at page 221 where you talk about how the internet was an invaluable tool on your journey to keep your family and friends updated and how useful your website was to promote your chosen charity and “for telling a wider audience about my journey which brought me assistance from strangers in many parts of the world” So I was a bit confused by your post advising other people not to bother but I guess therein lies the contradiction that you warned readers about. I do enjoy reading about other peoples adventures whether it be their first, second or gazillionth. It’s all personal choice in the end. Thank goodness.

  43. Hi Alistair, very interesting topics – thanks for sharing.

    It has some pro and cons. When I started to my do my first adventure (Mission Spain, cycling around Spain) I started a blog to commit myself to actually doing it as I was just in the process of escaping a boring office-environment. Later on it was good to look back and actually write a book about it.

    At the same time though it is a challenge to be relaxed about the blogging process to most of all enjoy the great outdoors instead of wondering where the next interconnection will be or your external Dongle will give in. It takes away the flow and freedom of simply being, soaking in what is happening around you.

    Its trial and error – I would keep easy on the first one and have fun with it. Slowly adjust yourself and find a good rhythm that works for you.

    I am still challenged to find the write blogging rhythm. On my recent 1140km triathlon which included a 200km swim there was not much time on the outside plus for some reason my external internet stuff did not work – at the same time it helped me to get sponsors on board to do the great thing.

  44. Nice provocative blog entry. I guess the message is to do your expedition for the right reasons, which I certainly agree with.

  45. Hi Al, great post and ‘in vogue’ as it were with lots of comments around at present about how we’re all too dependent on your smart phones etc.

    When I was cycling around the coast of Britain last year (my first big adventure) my blog definitely came second, but I’m so glad I did it. For one it allowed me to reflect on what I’d done that day, and helped guide the next days course of events, and it’s also a great record for me to look back on, hopefully helps others thinking of doing the same, and when I re-read bits makes motivates me to go back to some of the places I visited, and plan new trips to other places.

    People definitely shouldn’t depart with the intention of earning money, but it’s great with modern technology to be able to share your story.

    I do sometimes however desire a regression back to a more stone age way of adventuring – although still including my bike…and my Whisperlite…and my sleeping mat…so maybe more Victorian than Stone Age.

    Planning shorter trips this year and hopefully plenty of microadventures.

    Keep up the good work.



    • Alastair Posted

      Hi James
      I completely agree with all you say. Sharing your story and thinking how best to describe all that you are experiencing can really enhance your trip.
      The problem comes when you are so obsessed with Tweeting / Blogging / Getting famous that you forget how freaking awesome it is to be out there in the world armed only with your wits, your bike and a tent….

      • Being married to social media is an easy trap to fall into, and people like living vicariously. What they don’t realise and are sometimes scared of is how easy it is to fit in your own adventures, even if they’re only for a weekend. Must remember my own advice!

  46. i think asking yourself would you do it if you weren’t blogging is a valid point. do something because it excites you, you’ll learn something from it or maybe even a bit of ‘why not’. documenting something should always be secondary. i often get told off by friends for not taking enough photos…yeah sorry i was too busy enjoying the moment to think about capturing it 🙂

  47. The thesis of your article is “Would I do this trip, if nobody ever knew that I had done it?”

    Your reply was, “No”.

    Why not?

    Why not go on a trip anonymously and simply enjoy the experience. What does other people knowing about it have to do with anything, unless….

    The obvious conclusion is, you’d only do it *IF* people were aware of it, because others awareness is important to you, therefore, despite your article, makes you just another fame seeking Willy Waver.

    • Alastair Posted

      Hi Mugz,
      Thanks for your comment.
      I’m afraid I must not have been clear enough.
      What I meant was because I said “No” I had been clearly only interested in the trip for fame seeking. And I didn’t like to see that in myself. I didn’t want that to be the reason for my choice. Therefore I said ‘no’. Does that make sense?! Nobody like a willy waver. So I stamped on my willy before I could wave it…
      By the way, please don’t be afraid to use your real name when posting comments – I really don’t mind so you don’t need to hide.

      • David McWilliams Posted

        What on earth makes you think the other comment posters here are using their real names? Since it seems important to you, I’ve used a plausible sounding pseudonym.

        (formerly ‘Mugz’)

        • Alastair Posted

          Hi “David”,
          I don’t necessarily think (nor notice) whether everyone does, but I noticed yours wasn’t because I was curious to have a look at the website you linked to and it was not a working URL.
          Thanks for the comment, David – I genuinely enjoy hearing from all perspectives, so please do keep commenting (if you want to).
          I hope my explanation in the last comment made sense to you?

  48. This article really rings true. A couple of years ago I joined an all-female rowing crew in the world’s first Pacific Ocean rowing race – if we completed the trip, we’d be world record breakers and have all the publicity and notoriety that goes with it. My thoughts were, in this order, “Wow, that sounds like an incredible challenge!” and “I’m writing a book – this would be a great way to publicise it.” Six months after joining the team I withdrew. The initial excitement and thrill of the promise of adventure had faded, and I was left with a dull dread of the expedition I had signed up for – no part of me wanted to go. It was the publicity that had really motivated me. I am so glad I did not take part in the end, and even more glad that those four incredible girls did – and reached Hawaii and secured their place in the record books.

  49. Totally agreed with you!
    This blog really is helpful for all the new bloggers!
    I am an adventure lover, you can check my Blog of detailed expedition on Shisha Pangma, 14th highest peak of the world!



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