So you want to go on a Big Adventure? You have a burning urge to go somewhere and explore something. To take on an adventure that’s tough enough to challenge you and change you. But you’re not quite sure what it is you actually want to do.
Rest assured, you’re not alone. Sure, some people have an idea that’s been burning a hole in the sensible part of their brain for years. A dream journey that they’re longing to go on. If that’s you, pat yourself on the back and go get a cup of tea.
But perhaps you just have this feeling that you want to go on an adventure, but you haven’t got a burning desire to do one particular thing. You’re waiting for that lightbulb moment, but inspiration hasn’t struck yet.
Or maybe you have so many ideas that you’re swamped with them. You can’t decide between hiking across Europe, cycling the Mongolian dessert or canoeing down the Zambezi. (This is me by the way - indecision is my middle name.)
If you’re either of these people, then the first step to going on your Big Adventure is figuring out what it’s actually going to be.
Planner vs Improviser
Are you a person who loves lists, or is ‘spontaneity’ your middle name? There’s no right or wrong answer to this; adventurers fall into both these camps. You may even want to use your Big Adventure to force yourself to be a better planner or to become more spontaneous.
Whether you’re a natural Planner or Improviser will affect how you plan and prepare for your Big Adventure. But if you’re still working out what that adventure’s going to be, the following steps may help you decide.
Step 1: Ask yourself why you’re doing it
This may sound a bit ‘deep’, but it’s actually really important in helping you come up with an adventure that satisfies you. So be honest with yourself about your reasons (you don’t have to tell anyone else).
Let’s look at two women in very different situations as an example:
Rachel is a 45-year old working mum, with two children and an elderly grandmother she visits several times a week. She feels like her life has become a routine of juggling work and family commitments. Rachel longs to go on a big adventure – she wants to push herself, to find her own mental and physical limits and connect with nature – but she doesn’t see how it’s possible based on her family commitments.
Holly is a 24-year old marketing officer who dreams of becoming a full-time adventurer. She travelled through Asia and South America in her gap year but wants to try something new and explore countries she hasn’t been to before. Holly wants to share her experience with others to inspire them to undertake their own challenges.
It’s clear that what Rachel and Holly want to get out of their adventures is quite different. That’s not to say the adventure itself needs to be different, but the reason for doing it, and their criteria for success will be.
And when it comes to success, there’s no black-and-white failure/success line. Success doesn’t have to be making it to an imaginary finish line or beating a record. It could be the experiences you have along the way, or simply overcoming the obstacles and starting the adventure in the first place.
Step 2: Decide what boundaries you want to work within
Ok, so if you’re an Improviser you may be thinking; “hang on – this all sounds a bit too much like planning”. Well, yes and no. But I can guarantee at some point, you’ll think about your particular life situation, what boundaries you’re comfortable working within (or which you want to push) and what you’re willing to sacrifice. You don’t have to write them down or make a list, but doing so may help shape the scope of your adventure.
Boundaries may include:
Time – part of your adventure may be quitting your job and heading off indefinitely, but this doesn’t have to be the case. You may want to fit your adventure into an extended holiday from work in which case you’ll have a fixed time period. Also, think about much time you have to prepare – do you want to go on an adventure in one month or one year?
Pre-existing commitments – are you willing to miss your best friend’s wedding or your child’s performance in the school play, or do you want to work your adventure around them? Is there a particular time of year when it’ll be easier to take time off work?
Responsibilities – I know; no-one likes to talk about responsibilities in the context of adventure. But for many of us they’re real boundaries that need to be considered:
Family: If you have a partner and/or kids, these people are going to be a huge factor in what adventure you choose. It’s not just about whether you can leave them for long periods, it’s about whether you want to.
Caring responsibilities: If you care for a family member or close friend, this may affect how long you’re happy being away from them.
House and dependents: Essentially, things you are responsible for paying or people who are financially dependent on you. (Or what could land you in a lot of trouble if you decide to bum off round the world for a year without paying any of your bills.)
Personal boundaries – these are boundaries that are personal to you that may help narrow down your choice of adventure. For example, you may not be comfortably travelling outside English-speaking countries, or you may not want to be out of contact with your family for long periods of time. Of course, these may be some of the boundaries you want to push as part of your adventure – if it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you!
These boundaries don’t have to be barriers to your adventure. Barriers can be overcome, boundaries are what your choose to work within.
Let’s go back to Rachel and Holly and look at what boundaries they may set themselves.
Rachel’s children are young and, as much as she longs for adventure, she knows she would miss her family too much if she was away for a long period. She also recognises the sacrifices her family are going to have to make for her to go on this adventure. Rachel agrees with her husband that she’ll have two weeks for her adventure and she’ll keep in regular contact with her family. She also speaks to her sister who agrees to visit their grandmother more regularly while Rachel is away. Based on these boundaries, Rachel decides her adventure will be fairly close to home to maximise her two-week window.
Holly is currently single and has no mortgage or caring responsibilities. However, her sister is getting married next year so she wants to be home a couple of months before that to help with the preparations. Holly wants to be able to regularly upload her vlog and blog posts, and share her adventures on social media to start building a following. Based on these boundaries, Holly decides to go on an adventure of up to twelve months in countries where she’s likely to be able to get internet access via her phone on at least a weekly basis.
See how you can start narrowing down your options?
Whether you’re a Planner or an Improviser, you can still work within these boundaries. If Rachel’s an improviser, she may just book the two weeks off work and decide to put on a pair of running shoes on Day 1 and see where her feet take her. Anything is possible.
Step 3: Figure out what type of adventure you want
Are you a mountain bike fiend who dreams of tackling new trails in remote places? Or you like nothing more than lacing up your hiking shoes and getting out for a good long walk?
You may already know what type of adventure you want to do. Or you may want to try something completely new, like these adventurers:
Elise Downing wanted a good excuse to eat cake and decided that running 5,000 miles around the coast of Britain would justify her cake obsession.
None of the four Yorkshire mums who rowed across the Atlantic had rowed before they decided to sign up for the challenge.
Juliana Buhring had never really ridden a bike before she decided to cycle around the world. After eight months of training, she set off and became the fastest woman to pedal solo around the world.
At this stage, nothing is impossible. So, grab a piece of paper and a pen and start scribbling down ideas. Or draw ideas. Or print off photos of cool-looking activities and places and make a collage.
Then start narrowing down the options. If you just feel ‘meh’ about something, cross it off the list. If something’s pulling at you, but you’re not quite sure why then stick that at the very top.
Listen to your heart, not your head. You can think about practicalities after you’ve decided what you want to do. After all, that’s what Big Adventures are all about right? Doing things that other people (or even ourselves) think crazy, stupid, uncomfortable or downright dangerous. Taking on a challenge you’re not sure you can do.
Got a shortlist? Great. Worked out a final idea? Even better. If not, don’t despair.
Step 4: Pick where you want to go
This is where things get really fun. You may already have some idea on location based on the boundaries you’ve put in place. This isn’t about choosing a precise route or even a specific list of countries – it’s about setting a basis for your adventure.
Your decision at this stage could be as simple as, ‘I want to start in London and finish in Singapore’. What level of detail you want to go into between these points will likely depend on whether you’re a Planner or an Improviser!
Here are some tips on choosing destinations, start and end points or places you may want to visit as part of your adventure:
Buy or print a map of the world: draw a boundary representing the maximum distance (flight or travel time from home) you want to go. Close your eyes and stick a flag in one or more places in that area.
Get on Google: start typing in random searches and look for something that inspires you. For example, ‘biggest lake in Europe’ (if you fancy an epic swim), ‘most remote parts of the World’ (if you want to really get away from it all) or ‘most beautiful forests’. Don’t forget to look at the images!
Seek out ideas and inspiration: Go to an Adventure Expo event, or check out some online Facebook groups for like-minded people. Listen to the entire backlist of the Tough Girl podcast for ideas of what other people have done.
Make a list: Off the top of your head write down a bucket list of destinations. Places you really, really want to go to someday. Then see how one or more of them could fit in with the type of adventure you want to do.
Step 5: Put it all together
Let’s go back to Rachel and Holly, and see what they’ve decided on for their Big Adventure.
Rachel’s criteria: Rachel’s recently started running and likes the idea of pushing herself with a running challenge. She wants to carry out her adventure in Britain or Western Europe, so she doesn’t have to travel too far or deal with jet lag.
Rachel’s adventure: Rachel decides to do a solo run across the Scottish Highlands from east to west. She decides to bivvy or stay in bothies where possible, but isn’t ruling out the odd B&B as long as she can get there on her own two feet! Rachel agrees with her husband that he’ll bring the children up for the second week to support her at resupply points so her family can feel involved in her challenge.
Holly’s criteria: Holly wants to try something new. She’s pretty fit and does a lot of hiking, running and cycling. On her list she put down ‘roller skating’ and the idea’s stuck with her. She wants to explore lots of countries and be able to vlog and blog about her experiences along the way.
Holly’s adventure: Holly decides to roller skate across Europe. She’s never roller skated and has no idea if it’s been done by a solo woman, but that’s all part of the adventure!
Both of these are Big Adventures for the women involved, and both are something that the average person in the street would look at you slightly oddly for doing. Most importantly, your Big Adventure should be something that you feel passionate about doing. An idea that you can’t let go of, however crazy it may seem.
A note on other types of adventure
This article assumes your adventure involves travel, and for most people it will. But it doesn’t have to. It also doesn’t have to be something you do on your own. Take Sim and Jen Benson, who camped for a year around the UK (yes, even in winter) with their very young children. I suspect anyone who has babies or toddlers would class that as a pretty big adventure, right?
Just remember – it’s your adventure. It’s for you to decide.
Alison Ingleby is a freelance writer, aspiring novelist and outdoor addict. She blogs about outdoor adventure, climbing, running and anything else that takes her fancy at Windswept Writing, and is still figuring out what her next big adventure will be.