British adventurer Alastair Humphreys first made a name for himself with big trips: polar expeditions, bicycling around the world, backpacking, and packrafting across Iceland, walking 1,000 miles across the Empty Quarter Desert while pulling a cart full of supplies. But lately smaller ideas have commanded his attention.
In 2011, he decided he wouldn’t leave Great Britain, and so he spent the entire year planning what he calls “microadventures,” embracing the “5-to-9” lifestyle to see what how much he could fit into a more normal schedule. He created the hashtag #microadventure, and his idea caught on: He was named one of National Geographic Adventure’s Adventurers of the Year in 2012, and this year, his book Microadventures hit shelves and, by the looks of the reviews, has inspired a ton of folks to have fun in their own backyards.
We caught up with Humphreys for a quick interview on one of the nights he wasn’t out microadventuring, or, like his “out-of-office” email reply frequently says, “Sorry – the sun is shining so I’ve gone to sleep on a hill.”
1. How do you think our idea of adventure has evolved in the past 200 years?
200 years ago adventure was either for business (expanding into new territories, importing spices, gold) or politics (claiming new territory). It moved on towards science and national prestige (“discovering” the South Pole, climbing Everest). Today adventure is an individual activity done for sport, fun, and personal motives such as challenge, escape, ego, and so on.
2. How has it evolved for you personally in, say, the past 10 years?
It has changed massively. Ten years ago I was ambitious to do the biggest, hardest most epic adventures I could. I spent four years cycling 46,000 miles round the world. I spent five years chasing £1,000,000 for an enormous South Pole expedition. Today I get my kicks by sleeping on a local hill and encouraging others to do the same.
3. Why should everyone read your new book?
Because everyone enjoys adventure (if only vicariously), but not everyone has the time, money, inclination, or skills needed to climb big mountains or walk across deserts. This book removes the barriers that stop “normal people” having more adventure in their life and offers ways that you can make the most of the limited free time you have for adventure.
4. You coined the term “microadventure” in 2011 and then it became a hashtag. What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned about other people since it started taking off on social media?
People like having someone guide them, even when they know where they want to go. I began by saying “go have an adventure” on my blog. But it only became effective when I started saying, “Go have an adventure. Begin here. Then do this. Then do this. This is what you will need.” Inertia is phenomenally hard to overcome. But once you have overcome it then momentum is exciting – I love seeing people who have started doing something small and now are doing loads of adventures.
5. Is there a country or region where the idea of microadventures have been embraced more than others?
I’d say it is much bigger in Britain than elsewhere. I think that is simply because I am in Britain and that’s where most of my focus has been. I would love, love, love to put some time and effort into expanding the idea in the U.S. because I think it could work brilliantly there. This video is a small example.
6. You’ve biked across the world, walked across India, backpacked and packrafted across Iceland, among other adventures. What’s one very tough or uncomfortable moment from those adventures that stands out?
Rowing across the Atlantic was difficult for me. I was very seasick for 10 days. We were all sleep-deprived. And there was absolutely no possibility of escape. I felt out of my depth (literally and metaphorically!), and completely trapped.
7. You’ve written several books, and have a new one out now. Do you feel you’ve got to keep finding new adventures in order to have more material to write about?
Adventure is my hobby, my passion, and my life. But it is now also my job. Therefore I am conscious that I keep needing to do more stuff, bigger stuff, different stuff. When I was in the Empty Quarter desert (a trip I adored), I spent a big chunk of my time fretting because nothing was really happening, nothing very drastic was happening. And yet somehow I had to turn this adventure into something that would pay my bills and taxes. That does shift my perspective on “adventure” a bit.
8. What’s one piece of gear you can’t live without?
A Thermarest, camera, and beer can stove.
9. What’s your all-time favorite campsite, anywhere in the world?
Ha! What a question! I’ll plump for an igloo on the frozen Arctic Ocean north of Canada.
10. What are your big plans for the next year?
I have absolutely no idea. I would love to do something in the U.S., though.
Photos by Alastair Humphreys