By Alastair Humphreys
William Collins. 256 pp. $22
A four-year round-the-world bicycle trip after college kicked off a series of adventures for Alastair Humphreys. From there, the British author, blogger and motivational speaker explored southern India, rowed across the Atlantic Ocean and trekked 1,000 miles through the Arabian Peninsula’s Empty Quarter.
More recently, mini-expeditions in his homeland led him to write “ Microadventures: Local Discoveries for Great Escapes.” While Humphreys, 39, continues to preach the gospel of short, perspective-shifting bursts of travel closer to home, his newest book, “Grand Adventures: Dream Big, Plan Quick, Go Explore,” shows ordinary people how to carry out extraordinary trips. Following are edited excerpts from a conversation with Humphreys.
Q: Over the past two years, you promoted short, simple overnight trips, urging people to get outside and explore their own regions. Why the desire to go bigger?
A: The message with “Microadventures” was that so-called normal people who don’t have as much time or money or expertise to do big trips can find adventure closer to home. This book is for people who start to yearn for more, and maybe gain momentum, doing things they didn’t think they could. It’s also to show people they don’t need to be rich or an athlete. It started as a blog project, which included a challenge to people to put aside 20 pounds — or euros or dollars — a week to end up with 1,000 by the end of the year, which is a great start.
Q: “Grand Adventures” includes advice and inspiration from dozens of fellow travelers from several countries. How did you find them, and was there a unifying theme among them?
A: Some people in it are established adventurers, but most are just regular people, men and women, young and older. Essentially, it started with my friends and then friends of friends and then people I found online. What made the editing of this book really difficult is that essentially everyone I interviewed says the same thing in different ways — which also makes the message very powerful and authentic. Generally, it’s that these people are normal people, not super brave or athletic or rich, but they made a choice to somehow make their dream, their adventure, happen. They said that the hardest part was getting to the start line, making the decision to go. That’s exactly how I always felt, too.
Q: What’s holding people back?
A: The biggest blocks are always money or time, depending on the stage you’re at in life. I completely understand that. But most people who are interested enough in the topic to think about it have a choice, especially when it comes to dealing with possessions.
Q: What are some examples of regular folks embarking on grand adventures?
A: Andrew Forsthoefel is a perfect example of what I’m writing about. He’s someone who intended to have a normal post-college life working, and he’d wanted to travel, but he ended up [losing his job]. So he set out his front door to walk and ended up walking 4,000 miles across America wearing a sign that said “Walking to Listen.” He was worried about the dangers but met a lot of kind people, like so many people do. He did a great public radio show about it and has a book coming out next year. Another person is Candace Rose Rardon. Like a lot of young people, she likes backpacking around, and she’s also very good at drawing and painting. She managed to gradually turn that into her life as well by getting art commissions while traveling.
Q: So your version of grand adventure isn’t necessarily athletic?
A: Correct. It doesn’t have to be a physical pursuit. I could have written the same kind of book for musicians and artists, but that’s not my life. It doesn’t need to be the tough guy, middle class, young, white.
Q: The book discusses commitments and relationships. That’s got to be a big stumbling block for would-be travelers, right?
A: Definitely, but, again, I talked to many people with families and commitments who made the choice for an adventure. One woman, Satu Vanska-Westgarth, left her two young kids behind with their father and did a five-week cycling adventure in Ireland. She came up against a lot of people asking, “How can you leave your kids?” and her response was that she wanted her kids to see “the best example of the true me.” Plus, they Skyped at breakfast most mornings. I also included Sean and Ingrid Tomlinson, who cycled the length of the Americas with their 8-year-old daughter. Another example is Ant [Anthony] Goddard. He had a computer job, and he and his pregnant wife and little kid packed up their car and decided to drive around America for a few months. Like he said, there’s never a “right time.” He was able to work from the road, so that obviously helps.
Q: Several travelers you highlight work from the road, sometimes in tech jobs, other times as bloggers and in jobs related to their travels. Doesn’t this take away from the grand adventure?
A: Turning your hobby into your job — you’ve essentially asked me about my life. When people email me and ask, “How can I make my career as an adventurer,” I suggest they become a teacher, because you get six weeks off. Most professional adventurers are always chasing money, chasing sponsorships. Personally, I really enjoy the work side of it, blogging and filming and writing books. If you enjoy it, it can add to the experience. The downside is you are permanently thinking about how your trip can help for work. On the plus side, what you do and see, you do and see it more deeply. But an adventure definitely doesn’t have to be a work thing.
Q: You include several pages of tips about planning, such as narrowing down types of adventures and choosing destinations, yet several travelers you profile seem to have just started out without much forethought. How important do you think advance planning is and why?
A: Obviously, if you’re rowing an ocean or heading into the Arctic wilderness, you need to plan carefully. But from my personal experience, planning is basically important to give you the guts to begin. I spent about nine months properly planning my first big trip, but once I pedaled off down the road, I realized that actually going on a bike ride is ridiculously simple. For me, the planning was to make me feel confident and competent.
Q: And what about you? Any adventures on the horizon?
A: I am planning something for this summer. My favorite book is “As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning,” by Laurie Lee. It inspired my writing and the way I live. He walked out of his little English village, walked through Spain and got by with playing violin. I’m always doing these talks about challenging yourself and doing something where you risk failure, so I figure I should be doing that, too. So I started violin lessons, and this summer I’m going to walk through Spain for a month and be entirely dependent on my violin playing — which is unbelievably bad. The idea of it all scares me, which is a good thing.
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