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Some Thoughts on Planning a Big Adventure

The simple fact that you are reading this blog means you love the idea of travel and adventure. But what is adventure? Is it climbing mountains, crossing deserts, skiing through the Arctic? Yes, it is. But adventure is also much more than that.

Adventure is doing something new, new to you. It’s a very personal thing. If an idea feels challenging, a bit daunting, and very exciting, then that is an adventure. It could be cycling over a mountain range. It could be catching a train from your hometown bound for Beijing. It could be moving to a cottage in the Hebrides or trekking through the alpine meadows of Kyrgyzstan. The choice is yours.

Your adventure does not have to remain as a dream. Adventures are more accessible and more achievable than you might realise. I realised a while ago that people often think that Adventurers are somehow different from normal people. I can assure you that is not the case! So I set about trying to break down the mystique of adventure and its barriers to entry by trying to guide people through the perceived complications.

The most common obstacle people mention is money. Some adventures are very expensive, that is for sure. But they do not have to be expensive. Consider this: if you save up £20 a week (or whatever you can afford) by cutting down on non-essential luxuries (beer, coffee, magazine subscriptions) for a year, then within a year you will have saved £1000. £1000 is more than enough to enjoy an adventure you will cherish for years to come.

To make your money go further, consider an adventure that doesn’t require an expensive plane ticket (or use a site like www.kayak.co.uk/explore to get ideas of places you could fly to using a chunk of your £1000).

Heading away from your hometown, by bicycle, on foot, or on a train is a fun, low-hassle and cheap way to begin an adventure.  You could have a wonderful time exploring the UK and Europe for £1000. Travelling by bicycle is fabulous whatever your age (remember that Anne Mustoe did not set off to cycle round the world until she had retired) and, in my opinion, the best adventure value for money you can have. If you travel by bicycle you don’t have to pay for transport. If you sleep in a tent then your accommodation is taken care of. Your money goes further when most of it is just spent in cafes fuelling your legs with cakes!

For some people, the biggest obstacle to adventure is not money, but time. Many people have a set number of holidays per year. You could have a discussion with your employer about buying some extra days holiday or taking a sabbatical.  If you are passionate about your adventure idea then you may find your boss gets swept up in the enthusiasm too. Certainly, there is no harm in having the conversation.

But, even if your adventure is limited to two or three weeks, don’t despair! You can do something very memorable in that period of time. I recommend not travelling too far, as that uses up time both in transit and recovery. If you’re after landscapes and wilderness, Iceland rivals almost anywhere on Earth. If you’re curious about new cultures, grab a map of Europe, close your eyes and point at random – go explore somewhere you have never visited. The element of surprise and newness is a strong aspect of fine adventures.

We all have a tangled mesh of commitments and relationships in our lives. You may wish to travel solo, but do spare a thought for those who may be worried about you. Don’t let your mum learn about the foreign lands you’re drawn to from reading the Daily Mail. Everywhere can be made to sound terrifying! Buy your loved ones travel books from authors who have had positive travel experiences, chat to them about the difference between the real risks which you will manage (with vaccinations etc) and the unlikely scare-mongering that usually comes from people who have not travelled much. If you show empathy and understanding of those who are worried about you they are far more likely to give you their blessing to go have the adventure you are dreaming of.

Often, the yearning for adventure comes before having any idea of what it is you are going to do. Until you know something about travel and adventure it can be hard to work out what you want from your trip, what ingredients are needed to cook up a decent journey. This was certainly true for me when I started out. I knew nothing about the practicalities of making an adventure happen. I didn’t really know the ways in which my adventure would differ by heading to different parts of the world. I didn’t know very much at all!

I knew only that I wanted to head far away from everything that was familiar. I wanted to do something physically difficult. I had no specific skills I could draw on. Wild places appealed to me, rather than cities. And it needed to be cheap. I didn’t really care what I did: I just wanted to do something!

How then do you begin to narrow down your choices when the whole world is beckoning?

I said that originally I had no idea what I wanted to do, but in fact, if you look again, I actually had quite a few parameters in place already without realising. And though the world is huge, it’s pretty easy to narrow down down your options:

  • I wanted to head far away from everything that was familiar: this ruled out exploring the UK or Europe.
  • I had no specific skills. No climbing technical mountains then.
  • I wanted to do something physically difficult. So no vehicles or hitch-hiking.
  • Wild places appealed to me, rather than cities.
  • And it needed to be cheap: That eliminated ocean and polar journeys. It also made sense not to do the trip in developed countries.

I could, therefore, write down my thoughts more clearly than I realised:

  • I wanted to do something difficult, but non-technical, in Africa, Asia or South America. It probably would be on foot or by bicycle.

I’d already been to Africa. Asia has better food than South America. Cycling sounded preferable to walking. And so, without much difficulty at all, I’d narrowed down my plan to cycling in a remote part of Asia.

This might seem like a hasty way of making a plan, but it was a series of decisions based upon both pragmatism and aspiration that led to one of the best rides I have ever done. Don’t worry about the ones that got away – that’s a mug’s game. I think often, and very fondly, of cycling over the 4600-metre Khunjerab pass border crossing between Pakistan and China. I could have done a hundred different rides instead of that one. Who cares?! What matters is that I did something that I will always remember.

When it comes to deciding whether to travel solo or with other people, there is no right and wrong answer. Having done both things numerous times, my simple summary of the decision is that going with a friend is easier and more fun, but going by yourself is more challenging and rewarding. There is a time and a place for both, of course. By myself, I like being able to make my own decisions, rest when I want, eat where I want, and generally be a bit selfish! With others, I enjoy laughing, letting them take responsibility for choices sometimes, and having someone to look back nostalgically with in years to come.

If this is your first big adventure I would say go solo if you’re brave enough. If you are not, or if you are too disorganised to make plans happen by yourself, then go with a friend. It doesn’t really matter – just go!

If I was told to pack, with 10 minutes’ notice, for a mystery adventure somewhere in the world, these would be the essentials I would fling into my pack every time.

If you do not already own these items, I’d urge you to buy quality used items on eBay rather than cheaper, new but less-good brand-new versions. These items need to be good, not shiny. But be aware that it is possible to spend vast amounts of money on kit, and you really do not need to. See kit as something to be bought with the spare money you have once you have budgeted for everything else in your adventure, rather than what most people do, which is buy a £400 raincoat and then lament that they now don’t have the money necessary to cycle across Europe (which you could certainly do for £350 in a £50 raincoat).

  • A backpack.
  • Stout shoes.
  • Merino base layer.
  • Zip-off trousers.
  • A buff.
  • Sleeping bag.
  • Silk sleeping bag liner.
  • Thermarest.
  • A raincoat.
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste.
  • Suncream; any medicines you require.
  • Sun hat and sunglasses.
  • Swiss Army knife.
  • Passport and appropriate visas.
  • Credit cards and cash
  • Flip flops (not necessary for polar Polar journeys).
  • A headtorch.
  • A journal and pen.
  • A camera, though do not feel compelled to photograph everything and experience nothing.
  • A down jacket.
  • An open mind, some patience, and a healthy sense of the ridiculous.

Other things to consider, depending on where in the world you are going:

  • Vaccinations.
  • Malaria pills.
  • Mosquito net.
  • Water purification.
  • Insurance
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