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Ingredients for Planning a Great Adventure

 

The best journeys are simple. Not easy, but simple. A simple journey will take you from A to B. But to make the journey special you’™ll need to throw in a few extra ingredients. These might include:

  • A journey with a purpose. 
  • A goal that excites you.
  • A story that resonates with the people you share it with.
  • Spectacular environments.
  • Something challenging, whether physical, mental or creative.
  • Going somewhere you have never been.

I am addicted to the next horizon. All of the adventures I have done entail travelling from A to B. I’m™ve crossed Iceland by foot and packraft, beginning at the north coast and heading south with a month of food and a packraft until I reached the south coast. I came up with the idea during one of my regular daydreaming sessions staring at a map of the world on my wall. It was an isolated, wild, painful, hard but very simple journey through one of my favourite countries.

I’m™ve walked to the sea in India as well, following the course of a holy river across three States. Any river on Earth will take you on a journey if you follow it all the way to the sea. My Indian walk was crowded, noisy, claustrophobic, fascinating, heart-warming and simple.

Stare at a map, follow a river, or read a book. These are all great ways for hatching a plan. I first read Wilfred Thesiger’™s famous account of crossing the Empty Quarter desert when I was a student. It took years for the idea to germinate into action, but it was that book alone which propelled me to build a basic cart, fill it with 300kg of food and water, and haul it from southern Oman to the United Arab Emirates. 

Arabian Sands inspired me into eventual action. So too did The Worst Journey of the World, the book that made me dream of a long, cold, remote overland journey. I have not made it to the South Pole (yet), but some of my happiest memories come from hauling a sledge up onto the Greenland ice cap. That trip was short, just three weeks, but with the horizon unchanging and endless for thousands of kilometres ahead of me, I longed to just keep on going. The clarity of the air, the silence when you pause in your ski tracks, the satisfaction of pitching camp and making a tiny sanctuary of safety in an environment that does not suffer fools. 

The urge to keep going on and over that horizon has helped me cross the Atlantic Ocean twice (by sail and by oar), but the greatest opportunity I had to chase the horizon down was when I pedalled away from my front door and just kept on riding until I arrived back home once more, 46,000 miles and four years later. 

Cycling round the world was the greatest adventure of my life, and I strongly believe that the bicycle is the best way to have an adventure and see the world. But I want to offer some suggestions for helping you plan whatever expedition you are dreaming of, whether that is by bike or on ski, across a desert or through the seething crowds of India. For one of the most interesting lessons I have learned is that the similarities between overland journeys far outweigh the initial obvious differences. 

I have done journeys by myself and with other people. There are pros and cons of both, but my general feeling is that if you are nervous or disorganised then plan with a friend. If you are definitely committed to the trip, then go alone. It’™s harder but more rewarding.

I also alternate my journeys through remote places (deserts, Greenland) with places where the human stories are the best bits (cycling through China, walking India). There’™s no right or wrong here: you’™ll know what appeals to you. 

I’m™ve done trips far from home where everything is foreign and surprising and different. And I’m™ve closed my front door at home and pedalled off to see what I would find. I’m™ve travelled thousands of miles for hundreds of pounds. And I’m™ve travelled hundreds of miles at a cost of many thousands of pounds. Again, there is no right or wrong and I personally like the wide variety of the types of trips I have done.

EQUIPMENT

I’m™ll begin with equipment even though it is not important at all. But we all love kit and people get very hung up about it. I receive so many questions about kit and my answer is always the same:

With the exception of environments that will kill you if you are poorly equipped (the Arctic, for example), you really don’™t need to worry much about kit. You could cycle round the world with the bike in your shed, the sleeping bag in your attic, and a few bits and bobs from eBay. A long walk requires even less kit. Nice gear helps, of course. But before you spend £400 on a raincoat then lament that you’™ve run out of cash, try to equate everything you spend to how many days on the road it compares to. In much of the world you can walk / cycle / live happily for £5 a day (wild camping along the way). Do you really need a raincoat equivalent to 80 days of memories and experiences? Buy the best kit you can afford, but not at the expense of making the trip actually happen.

BUDGET

You will never have as much money as you need. Accept that right now. And now begin saving. Today. Stop wasting money. If you want to do a polar journey you will need to find sponsors. That is a whole minefield of a separate topic. But walking across a desert or cycling across a continent is attainable for many people. I suggest starting a new bank account today, an Adventure Fund. Pay into it by standing order every week. If you put aside £20 a week then in a year you will have saved £1000. You can have a grand adventure for £1000.

TRAINING

If you have no time limit to your journey, then the journey can be the training. When I cycled round the world I did no training. I got fit on the way. At first my legs hurt, my bum hurt, but within weeks I was fitter than I had ever been.

If there is a time limit to your journey then you need to hit the ground running, and that means getting fit. As well as making yourself indestructable, training is also helpful for giving you some mental markers to fall back on when time gets tough. Put in the miles, get strong in the gym, stretch to increase your flexibility. If you are going to haul a heavy cart across a desert then it is going to hurt. You will be grateful then for those deadlifts and long training runs in the rain.

VISAS and LOGISTICS

I hate visas and bureaucracy. They are boring and expensive. But without the right bit of paper your dream journey can fail before it has begun. Don’™t procrastinate doing the boring leg work. Time spent on Google will teach you all you need to know about the bureaucracy for your journey. If you have no time / patience at all, then you can pay a company like thevisamachine.com to do it all for you.

Don’™t neglect the logistics for your journey. Shipping bikes around the world can be complicated. Sending replacement parts to foreign countries will be much easier if you’™ve found a local contact whose address you can use. Couchsurfing is great for this, as well as for providing a friendly base when you first arrive in a new country which can feel daunting and difficult until you are used to it. On all my journeys I really appreciate having someone I can stay with before the trip begins. Even after many years I still get very stressed and nervous before trips begin.

You can reduce this by being organised. Write a To Do list. Tackle the jobs that require the longest time to get done (such as visas). Do boring jobs (vaccinations) first, not the fun stuff like designing a logo for your new Twitter account!

It is important to remember this: no expedition in history has ever arrived at the start line with enough money, with enough time, having trained perfectly and with all items on the To Do list neatly ticked off. That never ever happens! It won’™t happen to you. So just do your best, and make sure you begin. That is the hardest and most important step to take. 

EXPERT TIPS FROM PEOPLE WHO’™VE BEEN THERE AND DONE IT.

I asked each expert the same six questions:

  1. What prodded you into doing your first big trip? 
  2. What’s a useful tip for making your big, complicated daunting trip actually happen?  
  3. What was the hardest part of your trip?
  4. What do you know now that you wish you’d known before your first big trip? 
  5. What would be a brilliant but achievable adventure idea for someone’s first big trip?
  6. What’™s your favourite bit of kit? 

Lev Wood, Walked the Nile

  1. I took a gap year when I was 18. I knew I needed to see the world before I studied it.
  2. Don’t think about the what if’s or what could go wrong. Just concentrate on the opportunities and cross bridges when you come to them.
  3. Raising the funding, bringing it together and convincing others to believe in it enough to back it.
  4. That everyone is in the same boat, I’md have been more confident.
  5. There’™s something about crossing an entire country, even its a small one, under your own steam- whether it’™s on foot, bike or paddle. Go cycle the width of Ireland, walk across Italy, Madagascar, Spain, wherever. 
  6. Canada Goose micro down jacket, from Country Attire

Tim Moss – cycled and climbed and crossed deserts all over the world

  1. I saw a poster at my university offering grants for expeditions. I’md never done one before but it piqued my interest and the rest is history.
  2. Trying to plan a big trip is daunting but ordering a guidebook from Amazon isn’t. Nor is telling your mates your big idea, booking a flight online, posting a question on a forum or emailing someone more experienced for help. Don’t worry about the big picture, just take a few pigeon steps.
  3. Mentally justifying continuing. Why put myself through more discomfort / bother chasing pointless goals / waste more of my life cycling uphill?
  4. I now know that no one else knows all there is to know so my message would be: Relax. You’ll work it out.
  5. Cycling or walking across country would be a fantastic achievement and absolute attainable without any experience, money or prior fitness. (FOR MORE IDEAS, SEE TIM’S  EXCELLENT RANGE OF EBOOKS).
  6. Helly Hansen top. They stink but you can’t beat them on performance and you’ll look like the real deal. 

Louis-Philippe Loncke. Desert Adventurer

  1. I did it because I knew I’md see fantastic landscapes. I had no much clue about the pain I would have but it’s sometimes good not to know as some fears would prevent doing it. Being fresh might mean “no fear”. After you continue because you have confidence and have experience you can potentially do it.
  2. Besides money, the thing that is hard is to keep distractions away to focus on the must be done tasks. But distractions give sometimes new ideas, so I never get rid of all of it.
  3. (related to my first exped) : It was to be in a hurry because of a lack of water, I had to increase and force my walking pace, bigger steps, increase of the pace which in the end used a lot of energy, stress and got me nearly overheated.
  4. Decision on the way or path to take when I had several options. Right or Left ? I would remove the fun of getting lost sometimes but it’s nice to be able to know you’re on the best possible path… but of course you never really know until wrong.
  5. The are still hundreds of world first adventures out there. Most are not interesting but a meaningful is a summit to sea (or bottom) journey of a country on human power. And how many countries do we have? For instance, start from the summit of Germany, walk to the nearest biggest river having its source in Germany, follow it and kayak it to the sea. Or a journey on human power between the 4 cardinals extreme. E.g. in the UK, Start extreme N lattitude, go to extreme E long, then extreme S lat, to extreme long W and back to the start.
  6. The only item I had on every expedition is a tiny Victorinox knife I bought when I was 10.

Ripley Davenport – Desert Adventurer 

  1. The prod came from feeling my life draining away and knowing you are heading nowhere. For me a few mistakes and bad choices made the hot poker uninviting. 
  2.  Don’t plan every nook and cranny. Cover your backside in any emergency then the rest is easy. Get out there and do it.
  3. The first few days before you adapt to the routine and the last few days when you know you’re almost done.
  4. Don’t pack junk you’re not going to use. Make every item count/multi-task. If you must question it, bin it. Simple.
  5. I’mve hitch-hiked around Europe with nothing but a backpack. There’s a lot of lovely people out there. With limited funds you can really explore a country. Hitching-hiking will connect you with amazing people offering a ride, a bed, food, warmth, even work. Pack a backpack with essentials and wonder. Pick a country and go from A to B. Trust people, be sensible, and be flexible. Hitch-hiking is a wonderful way to see and explore a country, its people and culture.
  6. For me it would be an added luxury. Make it small, light but rewarding after a set goal. It’s your journey. Boost yourself with something you deserve. For me I always carry 3 vodka miniatures. 1 start, one halfway and one finish. Good quality wet-wipes and toilet paper should be an essential item.

Emily Chappell – Long Distance Cyclist 

  1. I was working as a cycle courier in London, at the height of my youth and beauty, gloriously happy, but starting to get itchy feet. I’md always secretly wanted to go on some big ambitious adventure, but it was only after I’md been a courier for a couple of years that I realized I actually did have the strength and resourcefulness to do it.
  2. That Goethe quote about ‘œbeginning’! Set a date. Make a list. Start a blog. Tell everyone. And then remind yourself constantly that the hardest and most stressful part is always the period leading up to departure. The trip will be your wonderful reward for surviving this
  3. See above.
  4. That it is nowhere near as daunting as it seems beforehand, once you’re on the road, and that things will always be OK. You will find help when you need it, and you will rise to the challenge when you don’t.
  5. Ride, eat, sleep, repeat. For whatever length of time is comfortable, from home to somewhere you want to go, and/or back again.
  6. Swrve Milwaukee hoodie, though am currently also loving Hilleberg Soulo tent and Alpkit Gamma headtorch. I tend to be a person of multiple favourites, so it’s hard to single out just one or two!

Will Copestake – spent a year kayaking, cycling and climbing a lap of Scotland 

  1. My first big trip was to try and tackle the great walks of New Zealand. If I am honest I went to NZ just to go out and see somewhere other than my home town, I had little idea I was going to do the walks but then got unwittingly dragged  into utterly loving it by fellow hikers from the hostels I stayed in (staying somewhere with likeminded people I guess).
  2. The most useful tip is a bit of a cliche i’m afraid, just set a bloody date! If you don’t have something to work for then you probably wont. In terms of practical stuff I would say to join a club based around whatever you are doing be it kayaking, mountaineering or the good old RGS.
  3. Dealing with monotony. Adventure is often romanticised yet a lot of it can be a little tedious at times; ‘type two fun’ however is the most enjoyable in the long run.
  4. I wish I had known how to deal with the wet a little better…I kept all my kit without drybags when even a bin bag would have sufficed. Lots of cold wet nights followed….which probably explains something about why I keep looking for cold wet places.
  5. A brilliant trip would be to bicycle around Iceland. The roads are tough, lonely and wonderfully scenic yet have the safe back-up and re-assurance of a hitch hike should you decide its a little too much. Plus Iceland is pretty darn epic.
  6. My favourite piece of gear both for adventure and photography is my beloved Rab Jacket. It has done over 300 mountains, gone around a country in a boat and without it I would be far more miserable in the tent. Second place has to go to my Backcountry boiler; a wonderful piece of kit that allows me to boil water with twigs for free and with a satisfying smokey flavour.

Tom Allen – long distance cyclist

  1. Lack of options in a stale, opportunity-starved environment, and the resulting need to throw a giant spanner in the works and shake things up big time
  2. Problem-solving 101: when faced with a big, complicated, daunting thing, break it down into lots of small, easy, achievable things, then tackle them one by one.
  3. Abandoning control of my own fate, letting go of preconceived plans formed from the comfort of home and allowing the winds of travel to take over.
  4. That you don’t have to be anywhere near as ‘ready’ as you think you do, because you can work most things out when you’re on the road, at which point you’ll have more time to do so anyway.
  5. Cycle from your home to the border of a country you’re supposed to think is scary, and then, if you feel like it, keep on going.
  6. Beer can stove!

Leon McCarron – walked from Mongolia to China

  1. I didn’™t want to get sucked into a job and career that I didn’™t care about. SE England seemed like a very small place to live the rest of my life.
  2. Book flights, tell friends. Quit job. These are the three things I did.
  3. Leaving New York – I loved it and made a new comfortable life (not unlike the one I’m™d left in England.) There are always temptations to postpone/not start after all…
  4. The first couple of weeks would be terrible. It would all be okay.
  5. Cycle the length of your country (or walk if it’™s tiny.)
  6. My rucksack – I always use Osprey packs for reliability and ruggedness’¦.

Alex Hibbert – Polar Explorer

  1.  My first journey was a result more of a long saga of learning the hard way and repeatedly resuscitating a difficult project. I don’t think there was ever a prod, apart from the desire to do something different. Thereafter, it was self-perpetuating.
  2. Have the hard skills sorted, work out ways to reduce costs by reigning in egos, and don’t be afraid of forcing some sticky areas through when it seems like bureaucrats or numpties are in the way.
  3. The unrelenting nature of travelling every day and the dawning realisation that the end is not nigh….
  4. Use good socks – Bridgedales. My other ones holed immediately. It’s worth having two or even three of the ‘mission critical’ gear. Weather forecasts are wrong – don’t get angry with them.
  5. Hop settlement to settlement in a sparsely populated place. Maximising wilderness and gives you a way out if you’re novice and make a big error.
  6. Tentipi tents, Bridgedale socks, BLOC Eyewear and Alpkit gear….. For tech, GTC Comms and YB Tracking will get you all you need.

This post originally appeared on Adventure.com

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Comments

  1. Leisa Gaskell Posted

    Hi,
    We’re (4 adults and 5 children -aged 12-18) are planning to do the Trans-Mongolian railway in 2017. Do you have any advice, is it something you’ve experienced?

    Reply
  2. Helen Moat Posted

    Alistair – can you remove my comments – I’d somehow missed Emily’s when I was reading through!

    Reply

 
 

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