Adventure: noun – an unusual and exciting experience; a daring enterprise; a hazardous activity.
That’s what the dictionary says. But what does it mean to you? To some, it might involve pushing yourself to the physical limits: summiting a great peak – Kilimanjaro, perhaps – or tackling extreme sports. To others, it’s a destination beyond your imagination – venturing to the extremes of the Earth, enduring sub-zero climes in Antarctica or traversing the sands of Arabia’s Empty Quarter. It could see you wandering among huge predators on land or under the sea, roaming tiger territory in India or swimming with sharks in the Galápagos. You might immerse yourself in unfamiliar cultures, meeting eagle-hunting nomads in Central Asia or Indigenous Australians in the remote Outback.
“You’re always off adventuring, when are you going to settle down?” It was a question my parents used to ask a lot, and one I never really had an answer to.
It turns out that those of us that choose to go off gallivanting, whether as part of our jobs, or simply for the occasional adventure, have a decent excuse, though. There’s actually a gene mutation in our DNA that causes roughly 20 per cent of the population to exhibit certain characteristics. “DRD4-7R”, also colloquially referred to as the “explorers’ gene” causes its owners to be “more prone to taking risks, seeking new experiences, and desiring change, movement and surprises”.
Scientific research has shown that historically it has been highly prevalent among nomadic populations, and in the modern world may be a contributing factor in why certain people are attracted to certain career paths. The gene mutation is often found in people whose lifestyles require constant risk and adaptability; astronauts, artists, soldiers and that most vague of breeds: travellers.
So, there you go – the perfect defence of adventure. If it was necessary for the development of early humans in their exploration of the planet, then it’s reason enough now to spend a couple of weeks trekking in the Andes without too much fuss from your other half.
I’ve been compelled to justify it enough times to myself and others to realise that actually, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to go off and seek enjoyment in adventure. I’d argue that it’s in all of our blood deep down, and in an increasingly sanitised world it’s an essential part of keeping our spirit alive. We all like a holiday once in a while, and there’s nothing wrong with sitting on the beach with a margarita, but increasingly travellers want more to their annual leave than just a sun tan. For the past 15 years or so, I’ve dedicated my life to travel. I’ve found that the process of taking a journey, whether it’s a year-long sabbatical or just a few days in the hills, can be very valuable time spent.
Adventure doesn’t need to mean hacking through mosquito-ridden swamps and dodging spear-wielding locals; it’s more the sense of accepting the unknown and embracing uncertainty. That’s the difference between a holiday and an adventure, and it can simply mean not booking your accommodation before you arrive. It’s possible to just hop on a last-minute flight to anywhere in the world and find somewhere to stay, even if it means knocking on a local’s door. I’ve found that most people in most places will go out of their way to look after a foreigner.
I’d also highly recommend the concept of a linear journey. Pick two spots on a map; pay the extra on flights so that you can fly home out of a different city and then just figure out the in-between bits on the ground. I once led a team of people with almost no experience in expeditions to walk across Madagascar from coast to coast. All of them said it was one of the toughest, yet most rewarding, experiences of their life.
There are plenty of slightly less malarial options out there, too. One January I was presented with an unexpected 10 days’ leave, so without further ado I dusted off my old bicycle, which I’d not ridden since I was a teenager, packed it on to a one-way plane to Madrid and attempted to cycle to Gibraltar. What I hadn’t accounted for were the 100 mile-per-hour winds and lashing storms, which resulted in me packing it in half way and hitchhiking to Morocco instead, which was far more pleasant. It was a memorable adventure that ended up with me in an unexpected country on the wrong continent. If I’d booked my accommodation in advance I’d probably have been far more reluctant to give it up and change my plans.
That said, there are some fantastic operators out there that lay on more organised adventures, but the very best of them will be upfront and let you know that things may well change on the ground. A few years ago I led a group expedition to explore the source of the Oxus river (Amu Darya) in Afghanistan. Mention that country and most people will think you’re bonkers for going, but actually the Wakhan Corridor is very safe and populated by friendly nomadic tribes. Ten of us rode on horseback for 200 miles (322km), staying in shepherds’ huts, yurts and camping along the way. It was an adventure none of us will ever forget. Adventures come in all shapes and sizes. Whether you’re a family and want to bond over a campfire in the deserts of Asia, or a group of friends keen to do your first motorcycle trip on the fringes of Europe, I’d heartily recommend taking the plunge. I’ve made adventure my life for the past decade, and I’ve explored every kind of landscape on five continents, but if I were to choose one trip above all that I’d do again, it would probably be a journey I made at the age of 22. Having written my university dissertation on the history of overland travel I was keen to do my own epic trip. I’d long been interested in the ancient silk road and fancied myself as a bit of hippy so I set out to journey from England to India overland via Russia, the Caucasus, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan… all on a budget of £750, including the flight home! It was life-affirming travel at its best and despite traversing a lot of places that most people wouldn’t consider visiting, I was looked after and shown enormous hospitality everywhere I went and it set the tone for all my subsequent adventures. Whether you think you have the explorers’ gene or not, adventure is about trying something new, taking the plunge to get outside your comfort zone and embracing the unknown.
The joy of travel today is that whatever your interests, fitness levels, risk (or credit) limit, there’s an adventure for you – whether you dream of playing cowboy in Idaho or hurling yourself off a cliff in the Azores. Like that dictionary definition, our selection of 50 adventures for 2018 isn’t a restrictive prescription but, rather, a sketch map outlining a handful of the possibilities.
So get out there. Test yourself. Find your own adventure.
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