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Between Trips? Take a Microadventure!

Years ago when I was still working on an academic schedule, the day after the term ended a friend and I got the idea to take a cross-country trip with a couple of sculling boats, stopping to row every day along the way at different race courses, rowing hubs and random bodies of water.

The next morning we bought a van for $1,000 from a friend of a guy who knew a guy, put some homemade racks on top, put two singles on top of the racks, had the dog hop in the back and left. Nine weeks and 15,000 miles later, we returned home, having roamed and rowed in at least 25 states. I took the racks off the van and sold it within a week for $1,000.

This wasn’t even the most spontaneous trip of my early travel days, but one thing is for sure — those days are gone. Today I am a parent and write articles like Want the Lowest Fare? Here’s When to Book because, well, that is how far ahead of time I have to plan a trip.

As wages have stagnated, vacation days have dwindled and the cost of traveling has gone up, many of us similarly find ourselves yearning to travel more than we are able. As we all know, the only antidote to a great trip is another trip, but as “regular” life intrudes — mortgages, pets to walk, parenthood, new jobs, house projects, etc. — we don’t always have the time, funds, energy or freedom to conceive of a new adventure and make it happen right away.

In response, many dedicated travelers fill the gaps between their more serious trips with smaller excursions near home, or by settling for super-local outings in their own home town.

Thus were born the terms “staycation” and “nearcation” — but to me these terms somehow suck the air out of the whole endeavor before you even get started. A staycation? It sounds like a euphemism for a stint in the hospital, yeesh. I’m not against finding small adventures near home and digging into them wholeheartedly — but I think we need a new name for them.

So did Alastair Humphreys, a British adventurer and filmmaker who found himself with kids at home and facing the brutal irony of a writing and speaking career based entirely on taking adventures that made it harder for him to, you know, take adventures.

So he started doing small but bold trips near his home, and in the offing came up with a much more enticing name: “microadventures.”

An Adventure Is an Adventure, Whether Near or Far

As Humphreys notes on his website, “You do not need to fly to the other side of the planet to undertake an expedition. You do not need to be an elite athlete, expertly trained or rich to have an adventure. Adventure is only a state of mind. I believe that adventure is about stretching yourself: mentally, physically or culturally. It is about doing what you do not normally do, pushing yourself hard and doing it to the best of your ability. If that is true then adventure is all around us, at all times. Adventure is accessible to normal people, in normal places, in short segments of time and without having to spend much money.”

For readers, the notion of a local microadventure likely needs no further embellishment. Our readers don’t take off their adventurer hats just because they are at their home address for a while, and could likely come up with a half-dozen potential nearby adventures worthy of the name — if they haven’t done them already. There is an organic give and take between their “traveling life” and their day-to-day life; there isn’t really a point where the office worker/parent/retiree stops and the traveler starts.

Done with the right mindset, half-hour walks in the nearby woods can be as satisfying as a half-summer trip across Europe. Well, okay, not really — but you get the idea. For someone like Jack London, working his ranch in California didn’t feel that different from surfing in Hawaii, for example.

I was interested in Alastair’s thoughts on how his “regular,” more ambitious travels advised his microadventures, and vice versa. Here is what he had to say. Have there been elements of your microadventures that you found later informed or enhanced your more traditional trips?

Alastair Humphreys: It’s the other way round really — the big stuff I did formed the foundation for the little stuff. Because I have experiences of big adventure I have been able to measure the microadventures and decide in my mind whether they actually act as an adventure or if they are just a poor imitation of the real thing. Thankfully I genuinely enjoy them!

IT: Have you had experiences on microadventures that you feel you would have missed out on if you had taken a “bigger” or longer trip?

AH: I have certainly found beautiful places in my own country that are new to me, and precious because they are local. Bothies in Scotland, remote pubs in the Lake District, beautiful swimming spots in the south of England…

IT: Is it possible that the smaller scale of a microadventure can enhance your daily life at your home in a way that “escaping” on a bigger trip might not?

AH: I suppose that microadventures are good because your real life can still run along as normal. There is not the drastic upheaval of a big trip. I think a microadventure can help with the stress and busy-ness of normal life too, so in that sense it can help enhance everyday life.

IT: Even on a good microadventure, do you ever still feel that your microadventure is a “better than nothing” adventure — a stopgap/substitute/placeholder for the real thing? Or is it a thing unto itself?

AH: It’s both. I would rather spend a month camping in Patagonia than a night on a hill in Kent. No doubt. But pragmatism has its place! And a night out under the stars is still an adventure.

IT: Do you feel that the microadventure mindset is the same as the compulsion to travel?

AH: A little bit, yes. Particularly from the aspects of escapism, unplugging, slowing down, simplifying, if not from the elements of ambition and physical endeavor that were my motives for my bigger trips.

IT: Finally, have any of your near-home experiences rivaled those from your more wide-ranging days?

AH: Absolutely! Diving for spider crabs in Wales, sleeping in a clifftop bothy, bivvying with friends on a warm summer evening: these are memories I will enjoy for life.

Microadventure Ideas

Like any good trip, Humphreys’ microadventures site is meandering and rife with side trips; it is well worth a look around. If you are thinking of starting in on your own microadventure series — or even just looking for something to tide you over until your next serious trip — Humphreys offers numerous ideas for escapes such as:

– A Journey Around Your Home, in which you set a course within a certain distance from your home and explore everything you can

– Commuter Microadventure, in which you walk, bicycle, camp along or just visit things you have seen during your daily commute

– Winter Solstice Microadventure Challenge, in which you spend the longest night of the year sleeping outdoors (camping, sightseeing, walking)

– Plus dozens more

Some of his tips don’t even require much, if any, travel — he includes tips on doing a 365 Day Photo Project, which I did myself a few years ago and found to be both challenging and fun.

It’s not the miles that matter, but rather it is the mindset and spirit of travel that make a trip worth doing — whether it be massive or micro, across the planet or just out in the backyard.

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