The rise of the big, unnecessary, crazy, travel adventure
Bragging of your travels has become difficult.
Spending three months in an Indian ashram no longer qualifies for several years’ worth of conversation.
The girl who has been to so many countries she could probably write a guidebook -- no wait, she has -- can be found hanging around every other budget hostel.
With international travel being cheap, easy and fairly common, a new and more epic trend is emerging: the big, unnecessary, crazy, travel adventure.
Almost every week we’re bombarded with requests to blog/donate/tweet/share/like/show some form of generic support for an outrageous trip.
It’s no longer enough to see the world; you have to do it on a unicycle.
You’re running a marathon? Lame. You can’t call yourself an athlete until you’ve run six. Back to back. In the desert. Naked.
Briton Dan Parr has done all that, albeit with his clothes on.
Full-time director of an international sports marketing company and part-time ultramarthon runner, Parr has raced 250 kilometers over seven days in both the Sahara and Gobi deserts -- and won.
On these trips he had to carry his own food, water and equipment.
“I loved the feeling of isolation, being completely out in the desert, completely dependent on yourself,” says Parr.
“I have a wife and three kids, I run an office. There are a lot of things weighing on our minds in day-to-day life. Things become simple in the desert: you need to get from A to B in as quick a time as possible, in the best shape.
“That self-dependence is incredibly liberating. You don’t get that feeling very often in today’s world.”
The university of life
If you don’t get robbed, break a leg, or get completely lost, pushing yourself to the limit might even result in book deals, TV shows and the honor of being one of the most interesting people at that next dinner party.
Rob Lilwall is a Hong Kong-based TV adventurer, author and motivational speaker.
After working as a geography teacher for two years, Lilwall spent three years cycling from Siberia to the UK.
He spent $1 to $5 a day sleeping in a tent and eating instant noodles.
Despite being robbed at gunpoint and contracting malaria, Lilwall described the trip as a “university of life experience” and cheaper than studying.
National Geographic used Lilwall’s footage from the journey and turned it into a TV series.
Lilwall also walked from Mongolia to Hong Kong in 2011-12 and is currently writing a book about the experience.
But he didn’t set out with any professional aspirations.
“Cycle through Tibet because that’s what you want to do,” says Lilwall. “I do feel a bit sad when I get emails from people saying, ‘How do I turn this into a TV show?’ I feel like saying, ‘Go and have a trip, film it a bit and afterward worry about whether you’ll do something semi-professional with it.’
“It’s easy to look at it and think that would be so amazing, but day in and day out you face a lot of boredom as you’re just cycling down long empty roads.
“It’s tough and sometimes you think this is just a waste of my life, or you get ill, you get robbed or are knocked over by a car.
“But I think it was partly because I was learning so much about the world that it was worth continuing, and I had a really clear ultimate goal -- I was trying to cycle home. I also met my wife along the way so that was a great achievement!”
For love or money
Michael Lee Johnson is a Web application developer from Manchester, UK.
At the end of July he'll fly 13 hours to Beijing then spend the next three-and-a-half years walking back.
He's dreamed of doing a big trip since he could first read maps.
Johnson hopes the walk will help create a name for himself in the Internet industry.
He wants to develop cross-platform Web applications that engage nations.
Johnson will be producing a TV show on YouTube and holding Google Plus Hangouts as he travels. He admits that the original goal of the trip was commercial.
“Initially, I was going to do the walk as ‘Michael Lee Johnson: a walking advertisement’ and I was going to be a walking billboard from one side of the world to the other. Now it’s changed for more humanitarian reasons.”
UNICEF has since been in touch with Johnson about raising money for charity.
Johnson says that even planning the trip and reaching out to people for support has already changed his outlook on the world.
“I’ve always been behind a computer, I’ve not really lived, I’ve not really seen the world," he says. "I’ve always had a bad view of people and life because I was bullied.
“But as I have met more people over the last few years, months, days, they’re changing my life on a day-to-day basis and I’ve not even left the country yet. It’s crazy.”
Crazy is just one of a few adjectives that could be used to describe these sorts of extended adventures.
Psychologist, mountain climber and author of “Adventure in Everything: How the Five Elements of Adventure Create a Life of Authenticity, Purpose and Inspiration,” Tucson, Arizona-based Matthew Walker believes our desire for adventure comes from a need for uncertainty -- something rare in today’s world.
“There is a drive and a desire to feel on the edge, to feel that sense of vitality and aliveness," he says. "When people are put out in situations where there is minimal comfort they reach a place where they can evaluate their choices with more clarity.
“Sleeping in a tent, eating basic meals, getting down to the simple elements of living gives them an opportunity to reframe what is really important."
English adventurer Alastair Humphreys was recognized by National Geographic as an Adventurer of the Year in 2012 for his work engaging people with adventure.
He may have cycled the world, rowed the Atlantic and walked across India, but recently Humphreys has been going small -- working on the concept of “microadventures.”
“There are definitely adventures to be had everywhere,” says Humphreys.
“I try and choose things that will be challenging to me personally. That’s the real essence of the microadventures -- for people who just want some excitement.
“Don’t be put off because everyone has already climbed Mount Everest, but climb the hill three miles away from your house that you’ve never been up.”
Humphreys warns the desire for adventure is insatiable.
“It’s a Pandora’s box. Every trip I’ve done I’ve thought, ‘Right, once I’ve done this trip I’ll be a happy man and I’ll be able to get a job running the local sweet shop.’
“That’s not the way it works. Once you’ve got the wanderlust, you’re affected for life.”
Perhaps now I should reveal that I’m infected. I want to become part of this big, crazy, unnecessary, travel adventure club.
My boyfriend and I are plotting to cycle from Malaysia back to my home in the UK.
I’m not doing it on a tandem, blindfolded or with my arms tied behind my back.
I’m not going to break any records.
I’m doing it for the thrill of being on the open road, the wind in my hair, the rain dribbling down my neck.
Well that's not entirely true. A bit of cash wouldn't go amiss. (What self-respecting journalist wouldn't try and flog something off the back of such a trip?)
The bragging rights would be epic too; three months in an ashram is so last year.
Avoid me at dinner parties.
Have you been on or are you planning a big crazy travel adventure? Let us know about it in the comment section.