Alastair Humphreys: The Microadventurer

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MICROADVENTURER

As well as expeditions such as cycling round the world, walking across India and rowing the Atlantic, Alastair Humpreys is a vocal advocate for the concept of the microadventure. We ask Alastair how he defines 'adventure' and how he's still managing to find it during lockdown

Named as a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year for his pioneering work on the concept of microadventures, Alastair Humphreys thinks we should all have a little bit of adventure in our lives. So, what’s a microadventure? In Alastair’s own words: ‘A microadventure is an adventure that is short, simple, local, cheap – yet still fun, exciting, challenging, refreshing and rewarding… [they] offer a realistic escape to wilderness, simplicity and the great outdoors, without the need to ski to the South Pole or go live in a cabin in Patagonia. The appeal of microadventures is that they make adventure accessible to people who may have very little outdoor experience.’

We ask Alastair how he managed to turn adventure into a career, why it’s so important that adventure experiences be accessible to everyone, and how he’s still managing to find adventure during lockdown.

'Adventure is simply doing something that’s new and different and difficult for you.'

What does ‘adventure’ mean to you?

For me, adventure is simply doing something that’s new and different and difficult for you. I don't see it as a comparative exercise, or at least I don't feel that that's helpful. If something feels like an adventure to you, then it is. Depending on the individual, that might be climbing Mount Everest, without oxygen from the north side in the middle of winter in your underpants. Or it might be exploring the nearest woodlands to your house. 

In this pandemic lockdown, my adventures have changed from trying to be as big and epic as possible, to trying to find adventure close to home. Right now, for example, I’m trying to run every street where I live, beginning from my front door wiggling around the villages and towns and country lanes.

What's interesting is when I go out thinking in my head, ‘Today, I'm looking for adventure.’ Then I find it. Every day, even from my home, I can go places I've never ever been before, and at its core exploration – no matter where – is what adventure is all about. 

'If you really want to become an adventurer I think you should... do something massive and difficult knowing that you would do it even if nobody ever would find out.'

How did you manage to turn a passion for adventure into a dream career?

Lots of people dream of getting paid to have adventures. Fewer people dream of the stress of being self employed, the worry about where you will get your next paycheque from, the boredom of having to fill in tax forms and trying to explain to your accountant that yes, buying a shiny new camera is actually work! 

What I’m trying to say is that like any career, it comes with its downsides. Not many people I want to hang out with dream of shouting about themselves and relentlessly self-promoting on the internet. 

I would also say that the best way to get to go on lots of cool trips is to become a banker, earn a million pounds a year and insist in your contract that you get six months free time a year to go climb mountains and cross deserts. The second best way to have lots of adventures is to become a teacher because you’ll get paid moderately well, and have a decent amount of holiday.

Choosing to actually make your career from adventure depends upon you enjoying the things that you have to do to actually earn money, which in my case is writing, photography, making films, recording podcasts and answering interview questions.

All of those practicalities and realities aside, if you really want to become an adventurer I think you should start by doing a huge adventure because you want to do it. Do something massive and difficult knowing that you would do it even if nobody ever would find out. I wrote a blog post, once called nobody should blog on their first expedition. It was slightly tongue in cheek. But the main point of it was, you should be doing these adventures because they matter to you. Not in order to show off on the internet. 

The strange thing about that is that if you do a journey that really, really, really matters to you and you don't care what anyone else thinks, then it is likely to be a brilliant journey a brilliant story, and in a weird roundabout way be exactly the sort of thing you need to do in order to start building a career.

© Alastair Humphreys
'You can't be a wild crazy adventure guy if you’re massively concerned about dying because you have a family left at home!'

How do you juggle being a father and adventurer? 

That has been the hardest challenge of the last decade. And many times I feel I've done both aspects badly. In simple terms, you can't be a wild crazy adventure guy if you’re massively concerned about dying because you have a family left at home! Likewise, you cannot be a good, present father if you're going off travelling on adventures for weeks and months at a time. There has to be a compromise.

My difficulty was that for quite a few years I tried to do both of those things perfectly. And that was impossible. So I compromised and cut back on my adventures by shifting from big journeys on far off continents, to short local microadventures, trying to find the excitement and wilderness and simplicity and freedom of adventures really close to home, and doing things so short that I could be back home again in time to take my kids to nursery or school, and then to pick them up again after school.

© Alastair Humphreys
'Perhaps standing in a sunny plaza in a beautiful village in Spain might have been my toughest adventure.'

Tell us about your toughest adventure...

That depends on how you define toughest. My toughest adventure might have been spending four years cycling around the world, not seeing my friends and family for four years, where literally every single day was working towards one objective. On the other hand, those were also the simplest, happiest and freest days of my life.

My toughest adventure might have been rowing across the Atlantic because I was very unsuited to that trip. I was seasick for much of the journey, relatively bored, and terrified at times. So that was tough. But on the other hand, it was only 45 days, and when you've been on an expedition for four years, you know you can get through 45 days. 

Another candidate for my toughest adventure might have been the month I spent walking through Spain. Now that might sound more like a retired person’s vacation than a difficult expedition, but the twist for me was that I did that journey without any money at all, and only my violin. if I wanted to eat that day, I had to play my violin and earn a coin. The additional twist here was that I am terrible at playing the violin, really terrible. I'm also very shy and standing up in public and performing music absolutely terrified me. 

So, if you're talking about an adventure being tough because of fear, then perhaps standing in a sunny plaza in a beautiful village in Spain might have been my toughest adventure. 

'I'm really inspired by people who do one thing really well.'

Who inspires you and why? 

I'm really inspired by people who do one thing really well. They focus on one thing and they pursue it with great curiosity and dedication and they don't spend their days on Twitter and Instagram. They're out there doing the one thing that they love. The reason that inspires me is because I would like to be like that, but I try to be a jack of all trades, I try to do everything, and therefore I often spread myself too thin. 

© Alastair Humphreys
'I run out into the darkness to be – just for one or two hours a night – an explorer and an adventurer.'

How have you been coping with the yo-yoing lockdown restrictions? 

Like much of the world, I’ve just kind of stopped. And it feels very strange. I don't like it. In fact, I hate it. However, I know that 99% of the world are in a harder position than I am right now. So, every day now I get up, my heart sinks, and I say to myself, ‘I’m luckier than 99% of people in the world’. And then I step into the shower, put it on freezing and blast freezing cold water onto my head. Because if you can cope with that first thing in the morning, the rest of the day will be better. 

Then I brush my teeth and get on with lockdown, which means six days of looking after my kids. And one day of answering emails, trying to run a business and failing dismally in one day a week. And then at night when my kids are in bed, I strap on my head torch and I run out into the darkness to be – just for one or two hours a night – an explorer and an adventurer.

Alastair has written ten books about his adventures. He is highly regarded as a motivational keynote speaker for corporate events around the world. Visit his website to find out more, or you can even get in touch with Alastair here.

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