The Case for Microadventures

I feel like one of the most vivid scenes from The Hobbit is as Bilbo is running out of the Shire and when asked where he’s off to, he responds, “I’m going on an adventure!” But can you imagine how The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings would’ve been different if Bilbo instead would have responded, “I’m going on a microadventure?”

I wonder if with the rise of this social generation if we haven’t reached a crossroads with travel, and especially adventure travel, where no single adventure is ever enough. It’s not enough to skydive from a few thousand feet up, we have to skydive from space. It’s not enough to simply travel, but we have to travel to every country.

I know what some of you may be thinking: “Spencer, if that’s not calling the kettle black.” Yes, I’ve had, and have my own lists of adventures, such as my 30 at 30 list and current on-going life list. But while my own lists have been a challenge and a way to push the envelope, these types of things can easily become the end, rather than a means to the end.

And it’s hard not to wonder if this is the current state of travel when I receive emails like the one I got this week that said, “One of the newest travel trends is a “braggy” – a picture taken and uploaded to social media to brag about an epic vacation to the user’s followers.” First, I didn’t know that bragging on social media was a new trend. And second, if that is the reason we travel and share on social media, then the travels of Lewis and Clark and a host of other pioneers were for naught.

This week I read an interview in the New York Times with Alastair Humphreys, 2012 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year and author of Microadventures: Local Discoveries for Great Escapes. In the article, Humphreys discusses his shift from global adventures to local adventures. This came about from talks he would give in which there was a disconnect between the audience, who referred to themselves as “normal people,” and to him as “the adventurer.” “Sleeping on a hill won’t change your life,” Humphreys says, “but it can be a tiny step toward making the changes.” The shift then was to inspire “normal people” to be their own adventurers, thinking beyond the modern-day definitions of travel and adventure.

A lot of people use working from 9 to 5 as an obstacle. But instead, look at the opportunity. After 5 p.m., you have 16 hours that are all yours. So you can ride your bike or take the train out of town, sleep outside somewhere and come back to work maybe a bit rumpled but feeling great.

This is everything. It’s why I day-trip. It’s why I have a “list.” It’s why I live in Los Angeles. It’s why I started Whiskey Tango Globetrot. You do not have to get on a plane to travel. You do not have to circumvent the globe for an adventure. You do not have to go to every continent (or country). You simple have to go.

The key question to keep asking is, Are you spending your time on the right things? Because time is all you have. ― Randy Pausch

In the last five months I’ve taken two trips by plane and only crossed one time zone. However, in those five months I’ve done at least ten new things that I’ve never done. The end hasn’t been to travel, but simply to go, whatever that may be. According to Robert Louis Stevenson, the great affair is to move. Will I go to every country in my lifetime? Probably not, in part because there are a hell of a lot of countries that I have no interest in going to. Will I bungee jump, BASE jump, or climb Mount Everest? Absolutely not. Doing those things would be for an end, rather than a means to an end. But that doesn't mean that you shouldn't if you feel drawn to those things.

If you get nothing else that I ever say, I hope that it’s this: You don’t have to go around the world, you just have to go. Maybe it’s joining a local hiking meet-up group. Maybe it’s going on a blind date. Maybe it’s going to your local mountain to take a snowboard lesson. Maybe it’s taking a cooking class. Maybe it’s trying to make your first cocktail. There are a lot of WTF moments in our day-to-day lives, but I hope that amidst those moments you can see that you can eat, drink, travel, and live well without traveling the world. So that when you do travel the world, you’ll have a greater appreciation both for the world, and the place you come back home to.

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms. -Henry David Thoreau

What microadventures can you do locally that you've never done?