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And Now What? Dealing with Finishing a big Expedition


You’ve done it!

The finish line! The end of your journey! The moment you have dreamed of for so long, the moment that kept you going when times were hard, the times you doubted that you’d ever reach this moment. This moment that felt so precious and so important that you have poured phenomenal amounts of time, effort, money, suffering and sacrifice into attaining…

Well done!

And now what?

I hate the fact that whatever thing you may have achieved, one of the questions that you always face is “what next?” Ed Stafford explained this perfectly:

“When I got back from the Amazon, everyone was saying ‘œwhat is your next big expedition? What are you going to do next?’ I still find it extraordinary that you can do something that no human has ever done before, and people just consume that bit of information and then move on to what you’re going to do next. Who said I’mm going to do anything next? I might just go home and have a cup of tea. If I haven’t proved what I wanted to prove to myself by walking two and a half years through the Amazon then I’mm probably going to be forever chasing it if I don’t look for a slightly different option.”

So it’s not in this context that I am asking what comes next!

I’mm asking the question because people (me included) spend so much time dreaming of adventures, planning them, doing them, but don’t really think about what happens afterwards.

There is a chance, of course, that you live a nice, stable, settled life, with everything sorted and enough cash in the bank. It may be that you want to do your big adventure for a specific reason (fun, curiosity, charity, whatever). You go and do it. You succeed. You feel happy and proud and fulfilled. And then you return to your previous idyllic life and just carry on as you were before.

But for most people, things are going to be more complicated.

I would hazard a guess that most people who return from big journeys wrestle with their new identity, question what the point of ‘normal’ life is after all the excitement, worry that their life has peaked, discover that the adventure did not solve whatever problems had driven them to go in the first place. Be warned, and prepare in advance, for the discovery that adventure is not a panacea.

Several adventurers have written candidly about their struggles before or after expeditions:

Here then are a few observations and questions that might be worth pondering before you commit to a big, life-changing adventure:

  • Why do you want to do this big adventure?
  • How do you hope it might change your life?
  • How will those changes happen?
  • Are you doing this trip because you want to change your current life situation? For example: if you’re currently frustrated by your life, how will you feel once your trip is over and you return home?
  • Is the ultimate success or failure of your trip pivotal to how you will feel about the whole experience? For example: if you try to climb Annapurna but have to turn around a few metres from the summit, how will you feel?
  • What feelings do you anticipate having when you reach the finish line of your trip?
  • What feelings do you anticipate the trip will provoke in you in the years to come?
  • How will you cope with “real life” after your trip? “Post expedition blues” are extremely common for adventurers. Several people have written of their bouts with depression after a big trip, too.
  • This may not apply to some people, and I hope that you are one of them, but I have never felt a long-term satisfaction from completing a journey. The ending is exquisite, certainly: the long-dreamed-of holy trinity of hot shower, cold beer, soft bed never ceases to feel absurdly wonderful! Coming home is nice. I feel proud of what I’mve done, and savour the memories and experiences and lessons learned. But they don’t make me happier than I was before, nor do they fix real life’s problems. In many cases they make them worse.
  • Going on an adventure is, for many, like opening Pandora’s Box. A whole new world of possibilities bursts forth and for the rest of your life you will have new benchmarks for things such as “fun”, “excitement”, “simplicity”, “purpose”. This can all be great, of course. There is a wonderful world out there. But it can make things tricky, too! Living adventurously is addictive. And, like a true addict, the feeling that “one more trip and it will be out of my system” is as deluded as ever!
  • When your trip is over, where are you going to live?
  • How are you going to earn money?
  • Will your life be different to how it was before? In a good way or a bad way? How?
  • If you want to earn money from your adventure, how will you do this? And how will you earn money until you get to the point of earning money from your adventure (for that earning will not come immediately. If it comes at all it will start very small!)?

And, of course, you will forever have to deal with the question of “What Next?”

What have I missed? Please have your say in the comments below…

The ocean and the end

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  1. You’ve nailed it again Alastair. When we planned our cycle tour round Britain we talked and wrote a lot about how we hoped it might be life changing. What we never considered, naively, was that it might be life changing in a bad way. Well, maybe not bad, but unsettling certainly. Now we find ourselves, six months after we got back completely as sea as to what to do next. Neither of us can face doing a conventional job and we can’t even agree on where we want to live. It’s a really difficult time. We have no regrets about going on the trip and will always have remarkable memories of it but boy it’s hard to come to terms with ‘real life’ afterwards. Asking yourself those questions you have posed before you go is very sage advice. I would encourage everybody to go ahead with whatever you dream of but be ready for some real challenges after the trip as well as during it.

  2. Wow, great post. I experienced those post-trip blues after my 6 week France ride last year. I think that led me and my wife to ponder many of the same questions as I began planning my coast to coast US trip. I also think it’s why I’ve decided to ride for a non-profit this time around (Phoenix Bikes of Arlington, VA). I have only about two weeks before I start, so will probably go over these questions you’ve posted more thoroughly in the coming days, just to be sure I haven’t overlooked something. Who knows, maybe I’ll come up with some even better ideas! Happy adventuring.

  3. That is some great advice there Al.
    We get so caught up with the trip preparations especially the closer we get to D-Day that we really don’t want or have time to think about the end result. I will definitely write down my answers to those questions and dig them up for when I return from my next big adventure – I wonder if the end result will match my intentions…
    Thanks a million mate. Great work.

  4. One of the biggest challenges so far is not necessarily what to do but not to gradually forget the invaluable lessons so painstakingly learnt on the road.

  5. It is a philosophical question that was explored in a film I never saw called Ida. It won best foreign film Oscar and is about a girl in a convent who asks the question…and then? Ending up that she stays in the convent because even a perfect life always has “and then what” question. You can read about that, and Galaxy Quest which is clearly more fun, in a Guardian article on films that can be used for philosophical questions:

  6. Great site and information. I find that whilst pushing oneself to explore new and challenging horizons, the ones closer to home that are perhaps not so testing seem almost mundane. The trick is perhaps then, to seek something dynamic from every situation, wherever one happens to be. I’d like to be able to master that.
    Thank you for your inspiring stories and photographs and all the best on your next adventure.
    Tor Alexander Bruce – recently returned from John Muir Trail experience.

  7. My wife and I rode our bikes around the world for 4 years. Fantastic. We knew there may be a problem returning – even stopped away one last day with just 6 miles to home. What we had not thought about was the loss of almost every friend we had. They had all moved on, children, high earning jobs and so on. No one had any time to come on day trips, rides out all the good stuff. After 2 years we could count the visitors on on hand. Away for a weekend with the bikes, we began a plan to move home, out of the city to the SW of Scotland. New start, set up a bike holiday company. More frightening than any world bike trip, but every bit as wonderful so far.



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