Adventurer Alastair Humphreys

The man helping to democratise adventure

Let’s face it, adventure travel can sometimes seem a little unattainable.

Months of logistical planning, eye-wateringly expensive kit and bureaucratic hurdles that would make Otto von Bismarck weep. 

I mean, who has the time, patience or bank balance for all that?

Well, that’s where Alastair Humphreys comes in. 

This 42-year-old Brit – and former National Geographic Adventurer of the Year – has certainly had his fair share of daring exploits, from cycling 46,000 miles around the world to racing a yacht across the Atlantic.

But since 2014, he has made it his mission to democratise adventure travel – taking it out of the hands of a jet-setting elite and encouraging everyday people to strap on their backpacks and hit the road (or, indeed, the nearest hill).

Microadventures‘ consist of small-scale, often-localised challenges which demand the same self-reliance and fortitude as epic journeys but can be accomplished with a fraction of the resources.

He spoke to face blog about some of his biggest achievements and how adventuring can be incorporated into even the busiest lives.

What do you personally get out of adventure travel?

I was fortunate growing up in that my life was very easy and happy. That is a blessing, of course, but adventure then served as the artificial grit in my oyster. It helped toughen me up, taught me to appreciate things that I habitually took for granted, and gave me some momentum in life to get on and try to do something interesting with my life.

Walking a long way over a big hill teaches you at least as much about yourself and life as a dollop of classroom education does. Every night spent running over the moors, every freezing river swim, every long distance bike ride: this is classic, old-fashioned ‘character building.’

 

After the masochistic personal challenges came the curiosity phase. I wonder if it’s possible to hitch a lift on a yacht across the Atlantic? What is running an ultramarathon in the Sahara like? Can I go have a look at life in a random part of India, far from the nearest tourist hotspot? Could you combine a folding bicycle and a blow up boat into an interesting idea for a journey?

The answer, time after time, was ‘yes’.

You’ve undertaken some pretty large adventures. What’s been your biggest achievement?

Probably, cycling around the world. But I am also really proud of my much shorter walk through Spain – 500 miles with no money and only my very crap violin busking skills to earn the money I needed. I found it a massive exercise in vulnerability, uncertainty and scaring myself. And I’m really proud of the fact that I cajoled myself to see it through.

How did the idea of microadventures come about?

I am an adventurer. But I am also a normal person. The only difference is that I’ve managed to cobble together the time, the money, the kit and the fitness necessary to tackle big expeditions. And so I realised that what I wanted to do was to break down these barriers to adventure. 

Most people like adventure and would love to have more of it in their lives. But most people don’t have the time to cycle round the world. Microadventures are deliberately small adventures. They are short, cheap and simple. They are often local. But they also fulfil the criteria of larger expeditions: to test yourself mentally and physically, to discover new places, to escape the routines of normal life and immerse yourself in wilderness landscapes, if only for a short while.

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What kind of response have you had from the public?

This has been the biggest surprise of the whole thing – and the most rewarding. 

Big adventures are fun, but they are also pretty selfish and pointless so it has been brilliant to hear stories of dads-and-lads making time together to camp in the garden, for office colleagues to take time out one summer evening to escape the city to go sleep on a hill, and loads of stories of people who are over-worked, dissatisfied, short of time, frazzled, unfit or depressed finding solace and encouragement from carving out some time to get into nature. It’s been brilliant.

Alastair Humphrey’s latest book My Midsummer Morning: Rediscovering How to Live Adventurously will be released on May 30th.

All images ©Alistair Humphreys