This is a guest post by adventurer, author and motivational speaker Alastair Humphreys. Find out more about Alastair here. Alastair’s latest book ‘Grand Adventures’ is available for pre-order on Amazon here.
I received a really interesting email this week titled “Dreams vs Reality”. It’s an important counter-point to the usual online messages of “Follow your dreams! Quit your boring job! Head for the sunshine! Choose adventure!”
I’m guilty of those rather polarised, binary messages myself at times, so I asked Paul, the guy who emailed me, whether he would allow me to share it. He kindly agreed, and I really hope you take a moment to read it if you are dreaming of adventure but unsure whether or not to take the plunge.
It was your first two books detailing your adventures cycling around the world that sparked my own dreams. I thought you may be interested in my own experience when things just don’t work out that way. I found my road in the end though.
I spent about three years planning a cycle touring trip around the world, I bought the kit (Thorn Nomad, Hilleberg tent etc.), handed in my notice, sold my possessions, gave the house to my ex-wife, car to my son etc. and away I flew to Delhi where I’d begin by cycling up to Leh. It wasn’t strictly ‘around-the-world’ but about 2-3 years worth of linked expeditions in many parts – Alaska was a particular destination. This wasn’t an idle day-dream, but a thoroughly researched and invested plan.
However, after six weeks cycling up through the Himalayan foothills past Recong Peo, there was something not right. I was finding it hard going, feeling unbelievably lonely and isolated and wondering ‘what the hell am I doing here’. There was a nagging worry I couldn’t shake and the feeling didn’t go away, even after 6 weeks. I began to realise that London was an okay place, with its parks, people, coffee shops, museums and all capped by a comfy bed at night, hot showers and money in my pocket the next day.
Somehow the adventure, the sights, the sounds, the struggles and the “seeing the world” bit just wasn’t overcoming my homesickness and I began to resent it. Every day I longed to go home and so eventually I did. I quit. Booked a taxi back to Delhi and flew home.
For nine months, I loved being home. I found a new relationship, a new flat and lots of freelance work. An enjoyable single, well-paid life. But then, I went and did it again – now, instead of being homesick, I was obsessed by wanderlust, more intense than before – a deep-rooted need to travel across hills, rivers, valleys and oceans. It was an irrepressible urge once it had set in and I just kept thinking ‘why not?’
So again, I planned the escape, closing my attachments and plans in London. I’m a keen scuba diver and went to Mexico for a two-month diving trip, followed by a flight to New Zealand for a volunteer berth aboard a pacific environmental research yacht touring the islands.
Again, however, I got the yips, the uncertainty, the lack of security or whatever you might call it. Again I found myself back at Heathrow two months after leaving, relieved and happy to be home once more.
I knew then, that it wasn’t for me. My dreams of travel and expedition on an epic scale just couldn’t work for me in reality. The worry and unpredictability was overcoming my ambition. I could see that, like many things in life, the anticipation and planning can be of greater enjoyment than the reality. When I returned home the second time, I had a massive depressive episode which took me six months to get over.
Eventually, I came to realise that I love adventure, travelling and some degree of wildness, but just not on a long-term basis. Today, I love to take time out to go cycling/camping. A couple of weeks ago I jumped on the sleeper train to Penzance and cycled home through the January wind and rain (enjoyable but really not, sort of). Next month I fly to the Philippines for a month’s diving around four of the Visaya Islands (hotels and showers included).
I accepted a permanent job in London, but with two months leave each year so I can get away for extended trips when I get the urge – but I think I’m happier with a return ticket in my pocket and keeping the lease option on my flat open. It’s my middle-way.
I was impressed by your championing of microadventures, and it’s a way of life I very much recommend to all who, like me, can’t manage round-the-world, sell-your-home adventures but who aren’t couch potatoes either and randomly day-dream about waking up in the middle of nowhere and firing up a camping stove.
Many might be jealous of your lifestyle, and aspire to it, but my lesson is that reality, for some folk, can bite – and a relatively mundane love of sitting outside a coffee shop with a good book on a sunny afternoon can can wreck the sturdiest and wildest resolve. So go with what you enjoy and have no regrets about what you can’t do. I can still dream about cycling around the world and smile, but it’s a thought that usually gets me planning another little excursion and then coming home – and that’s really okay. Adventurers like you show that anyone who really wants to, can – just as far as they want and no further. As Bob Dylan said: “And but for the sky there are no fences facing.”
What does adventure mean to you? We’d love to hear your thoughts.