Former National Geographic Adventurer of the Year, Alastair Humphreys is the pioneer of the microadventure. Greg Dickinson caught up with him to discuss walking around London’s M25, cycling around the planet and the joys of sleeping in a bivvy bag.
I started as a normal person who wanted to have a big adventure. When I was 24 I set off to cycle around the world. I had just finished university and I realised it was a perfect chance to go before real life got in the way.
When I got back I wanted to write a book about it, so to fund my life I started doing talks at schools and got paid a bit. Then I started to think… hey, maybe I can make adventure my life.
Just an adventure, but one that is compatible with busy real life.
I started to realise that more people love the idea of adventures than those who actually go out and do the adventuring themselves. It’s partly down to laziness, but it’s also down to real life things getting in the way: like a lack of time, lack of money, lack of experience.
I wanted to show that you could still have adventures around those constraints. If you’re unable to spend four years cycling around the world, it’s better to go cycling for the weekend than to do absolutely nothing at all.
If you try to think of a trip that’s too big and too complicated it often just doesn’t happen. So I came up with the idea of leaving work at 5, having a microadventure and then going back to the office the next day.
If you go and do that once, you then realise it’s much easier to go and have a weekend trip. Then you start to get a bit of momentum, and before you know it you’re speaking to your boss requesting an extended chunk of annual leave.
The thing that changed everything for me was when I walked a lap of the M25. I did it with a friend in January when it was snowy and cold. We would hop over the fence beyond the hard shoulder and walk in the fields, woods, towns and villages adjacent to the motorway.
I was really surprised by quite how much I enjoyed it, and how many similarities the trip had with something like cycling around the world; going to new places, meeting new people, doing something challenging, finding beautiful places to sleep. It was a really stupid thing to do, but I was trying to show that you can find adventure and wilderness anywhere, even in the most unlikely of spots.
One of my favourite microadventures was last summer. Trying to find time to see your friends becomes quite difficult; even when they live on the other side of London it’s a struggle. So quite a few of us who now live in different places – London, Kent, Bristol, Cheltenham – all agreed to meet on a hill in the middle of the Cotswolds one summer’s evening for sunset.
People finished work, we climbed the hill, rendezvoused for sunset, had food and a couple of drinks, slept on the hill in a bivvy bag and disappeared the next morning back to work.
Sleeping in a tent out in the wild is quite fun, but once you’ve tried a bivvy bag you realise that a tent is just a really crap version of being indoors. If you want to be properly outside then a bivvy bag does the job; when you wake in the night you see the stars overhead. It’s cheap, simple, light to carry, it’s not a hassle, it’s easy to pack away when you get home and it’s a bit silly. Unless it rains, in which case they’re miserable. Or if there are midges…
The kit is so simple. Sleeping bag, warm clothes, rain clothes, bivvy bag, camping mat, torch, food and water – and any luxury items you feel will make things more enjoyable.
I’ve learnt so much about the UK. Before I started going on microadventures I was excited about travelling the world. I loved far-off wild places and thought Britain was a bit boring and small. But I’ve discovered that the variety of landscapes in the UK is truly amazing.
The mountains are really big, wild and beautiful but they’re also so tiny that anybody can go up them. From thinking of the UK as being a rubbish place for an adventurous person to live, I now absolutely love it. That’s been a real revelation for me.
The first step is putting a date in the diary. If you’re the sort of person who’s a bit lazy and wimps out of stuff, then recruit a friend so you can chivvy each other on. Next, find a plan that is really unambitious so you’ll actually do it.
If you find it difficult to motivate yourself for an adventure then I’d advocate just sleeping in your garden for one night, just to remind yourself what it’s like to see the stars and hear the birdsong.
Got the microadventure bug? For more ideas, listen to Episode 6 of The Rough Guide to Everywhere podcast. We talk to Alastair about his latest microadventures and our very own editor and Rough Guide to Everywhere host, Greg Dickinson, tries it out for himself.
Alastair blogs about his adventures and microadventures on www.alastairhumphreys.com. His highly acclaimed book, Microadventures, can be ordered through his website (UK) or on Amazon.
Photos by Alastair Humphreys