We all crave the relaxation and elation travel achieves, but we don’t all have use of the private jet every weekend. So what’s an adventurer to do?
Miles away from the city, there’s no light save the soft glow of moon and stars. Even the fire coals have smouldered to lifelessness, leaving behind only the warmth in your cheeks and the faint smell of woodsmoke and campsite dinner. In the relative darkness, the wild world around you has come to life. Crickets and frogs compete to fill the woods with their chorus, owls hoot overhead – but in this forest fever pitch there’s infinitely more calm than in the world you’ve left behind. Swallowed by this rustic rhapsody, amongst the smell of mossy earth and heady pines, you drift off to sleep, away from from the real world, tucked into the realer one.
These experiences help us recharge and escape the everyday, but often, we see vacation as big, extravagant trips we take only once or twice a year. This is where the microadventure comes in.
What’s a microadventure?
“I regretted that weekend away,” said noone ever. We all crave the freedom, relaxation and elation travel achieves, but we don’t all have use of the private jet every weekend. So what’s an adventurer to do?
Professional adventurer and snappily named Alastair Humphreys has an answer for you: microadventures. Although Humphreys has been on some seriously daring macro-adventures, cycling around the world, running 150 miles through the Sahara desert (on a broken foot), and navigating an inflatable boat across Iceland, he says you don’t have to be quite as crazy to get your thrills.
Wherever you are, a microadventure is within quick and easy reach. Humphreys defines a microadventure as an overnight outdoor trip that is “small and achievable, for normal people with real lives“. “If you can’t climb a mountain,” he explains, “climb a hill.”
Good advice for anyone looking to inject more clarity, simplicity and fun into their lives. And it’s easy to do, too. Take a short trip somewhere close to home – whether it be a local peak or reservation, or simply grab a chance to stargaze by bringing some sleeping bags outside and kindling a campfire in the backyard.
Why you should microadventure
Scottish-American naturalist and philosopher John Muir achieved some big feats in his day. He maintained a prodigious beard, lead President Theodore Roosevelt through Yosemite’s wilderness, advocated for a national park system and wrote prolifically on man’s relationship with the natural world. “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread,” he asserted, “places…where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.”
Humphreys would agree. The most important part of the microadventure is to get outside, to find “pockets of beauty wherever you are.” If you “jump in a river before breakfast,” he advises, you don’t just wash yourself – as Muir put it, you let nature “wash your spirit clean”.
If the philosophers can’t convince you, there’s also scientific evidence to support the benefits of microadventures. Have you noticed how quickly time slips away in everyday life? Weeks fly by, seasons come and go, and before you know it, you’ve lost years to ordinariness. But when you ditch the routine and interrupt monotony, when you take a page from Thoreau and live life more deliberately, your brain takes notice.
In a 2011 interview with The New Yorker, neuroscientist David Eagleman explains that “time and memory are…tightly intertwined.” His research has indicated that our brains skate over the humdrum. Unusual or extraordinary activity, however, revives our capacities for attention. So, when you escape the unusual – even for as little as a weekend trip into the local countryside – each moment can seem more vivid, more lived-in and more cherished in memory.
How to microadventure
Driving down I-95 or Route 66, it is easy to overlook the pure beauty we see every day. Just a few miles up river from New York City, famed artist Thomas Cole discovered the sights that went on to inspire the Hudson River School art movement. He said, “I tell you that neither the Alps nor the Appenines, no, nor even Aetna itself, have dimmed, in my eyes, the beauty of our own Catskills. It seems to me that I look on American scenery, if it were possible, with increased pleasure.” Take a note from Cole. Don’t forget to appreciate the natural beauty in your backyard just because it’s in your backyard.
What adventures can you discover in your own neck of the woods? And what could a microadventure inspire you to? If you’re not sure where to start, consult Humphreys’ guide to microadventures to chart a course. It isn’t difficult, and you’ll feel the benefits of your weekend excursion come Monday morning’s improved mental state.
Travel is not the number of theme fridge magnets you take home, not the number of stars in your hotel, or even the number of stamps in a passport, but the experiences that change us. Travel is about the sense of peace we feel returning to our desks. Instead of big, infrequent escapes, microadventures allow us to achieve these moments more often and closer to home. Added up, these small moments enrich our lives – no, make them – and slowly but surely open our scope. Microadventures pull back the veil of life’s stressors and drudgeries and reveal that which is really important underneath – the world waiting for us just beyond our backyards.