Alastair Humphreys: Choose a Life Less Ordinary

Alastair Humphreys is a British Adventurer, Author and Blogger. He’s been on expeditions all around the world, travelling through over 80 countries by bicycle, boat and on foot.

We caught up with the man himself to find out a little bit more about what it means to choose a life less ordinary.

Iceland Campsite

Once upon a time, I used to dream of adventure. I sat at home, reading books, flicking through magazines, scrolling through blogs, and drooling over places like this:

Sand Dunes
Greenland Expedition
Atlantic Row

and even this:

Piles clinic
Chinese Food

Trouble is, they’re the sort of places that other people go to. They’re places for adventurers and travellers and lottery winners, or at least for just that once­-in-­a-­lifetime trip. Not for me, in other words. I was just a normal person. I’d just get on with my perfectly nice, but normal life.

But somehow, little by little, something changed. The realisation that my days were ticking away, that my life was nice but not truthfully what I yearned for, and a growing determination that if adventure was what excited me, then I should go and look for it.

I might fail (I was not very heroic, tough, talented, well­ connected or rich: prerequisites for all the adventurers I had ever heard of). And failure, I realised in a painful bout of honesty, was what frightened me the most. That was what was stopping me. I wasn’t afraid of mountains or deserts. I was afraid of failing and looking a bit silly.

And that was ridiculous.

A ridiculous hurdle to be keeping me from living the life of my choosing. The people who really mattered to me would respect me for trying, even if I failed. So I didn’t really have anything to lose. I was free to begin. I smiled, climbed onto my bicycle, and pedalled off down the road in search of adventure.

There is no road map for a journey like this. I was leaving behind the ordinary path of life employment, promotion, pensions, evenings in the pub, Bank Holiday escapes from the city. One of the most difficult things I have faced since heading off on my own has been having nobody to show me what comes next. But that has been exciting and empowering too.

I cycled down my street and off around the world. Look at your own street – that’s the road to Africa! Or to China! Or to wherever in the world you want to go. It’s right there waiting for you. You just have to go…

Danger - wild animals next 50km. Mikumi national park, Tanzania
tropic of cancer
Tequila Mexico

That was the only hard part, really. Just going. Committing. Making it happen.

Since then I’ve cycled round the world, written a bunch of books, done some other big adventures (I took all of the ‘proper adventure’ photos at the top of this blog post), and carved out a life that feels exciting, worthwhile and satisfying to me. I’m my own boss. I’m free and happy.

Here’s a few things I have learned:

  • Adventurers are not special people. They are just ordinary people who have chosen to do extraordinary things.
  • Deciding to change the direction of your life is daunting, difficult, and quite a lot of hassle.
  • You don’t need to cycle round the world for four years to have an adventure. Sleeping on a hill one night after work with your friends is a genuine burst of adventure, a microadventure. Small but effective.
  • ‘Small but effective’ is the most important way to make changes in your life. If you dream of, say, cycling round the world, you may never even begin because it’s daunting, difficult, and quite a lot of hassle. So go sleep on a hill instead. Start small.
  • Doing something tiny is the best way to get yourself in motion, to build momentum, and to realise that you would like to do more things like this in your life. Building momentum gradually is far more effective than planning a giant leap that is so terrifying and momentous that you’ll never actually jump.
  • Sleeping on a hill and swimming in a river are good for the soul, whoever you are and whatever your dreams.

Dream Big.
Then think small.
Start small.
But do start.

running jump

Alastair Humphreys is an author and blogger. He was named a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year for his microadventures campaign.
Buy Microadventures here.
Say hi on Twitter at @al_humphreys


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