How to plan the adventure of your lifetime

Alastair Humphreys – a man who has traversed the Empty Quarter, rowed the Atlantic and cycled around the world – shares his tips for carrying out that big adventure you’ve always wanted to do (but have never quite got around to)

So you’ve decided you want to do a big journey. You’ve begun saving. You’ve allocated time in your calendar for the trip. Your family and boss know that you’re doing it. Nothing is standing in your way. You have permission to smile smugly at this point. What happens next? Well, you need to work out what you’re going to do and go. It’s time to make a plan!

If there's one thing Al Humphreys knows, it's how to put together an adventure!

If there’s one thing Al Humphreys knows, it’s how to put together an adventure!

For many, the yearning for adventure comes before having any idea of what you want to do. Until you know something about travel and adventure it can be hard to work out what you want from your trip, or what ingredients are needed to cook up a decent journey. This was certainly true for me when I started out.

I knew nothing about the practicalities of making an adventure happen. I didn’t really know the ways in which my adventure would differ by heading to different parts of the world. I didn’t know very much at all. I knew only that I wanted to head far away from everything that was familiar. I wanted to do something physically difficult. I had no specific skills I could draw on. Wild places appealed to me, rather than cities. And it needed to be cheap.

I didn’t really care what I did: I just wanted to do something! How then do you begin to narrow down your choices when the whole world is beckoning? I said that I had no idea what I wanted to do, but actually I had quite a few parameters in place without realising.

Though the world is huge, it’s pretty easy to cut down your options. To help narrow down the sort of adventure that might best suit you, consider the aspects I’ve listed opposite.

1. Inspiration

Alastair Humphreys Greenland Sled

Which adventures that you have read about excite you the most? What idea can you not get out of your head? What will make your friends back home most jealous?

This is what I do when plotting my next adventure: Sit and daydream. Think of all the places I have not been. Pore over an atlas as I pour the coffee. Browse my bookshelves for inspiration. Drool over Google Images, Pinterest, Instagram, Flickr and Sidetracked.

2. Money

Alastair Humphreys Microadventure

How much money are you willing to live on each day? An honest assessment of the standard of living you are willing to endure is vital for working out how far you can go on the money you have available. Do you need a hotel and a pizza once a week? If so, you will probably be cleaner and plumper than someone willing to endure instant noodles in a ditch every night, but your trip will also be shorter.

If you want more funds you can start on the gruelling, lengthy battle of seeking sponsorship to supplement your funds. But if not, you’ll need to wave sayonara (for now) to oceans, Everest and Antarctica. That is, unless you are considerably richer to start off with than most of the adventurers you’ll meet on your travels…

3. Location


Start by asking yourself which parts of the world appeal to you and which don’t. Likewise with climates and environments. The time of year will also add some direction, depending on what kind of weather you’re looking for. The type of vehicle you want to use will dictate where you end up going as well (you can’t very well go on a kayaking trip through the Sahara, after all).

4. Type of adventure


First up, work out if you want a motorised adventure (cars and motorbikes), a travelling experience (trains and hitch-hiking) or something human-powered.

Do you want to have fun (don’t cycle through Siberia in the winter; do cycle through Sicily in the springtime), or do you want to punish yourself for some unknown sin in a former life and have a masochistic misery-fest in the speculative hope that at some point in an unknowable future this will make you happy?

If you want to enter the media spotlight than you have to think about what will appeal to them, rather than to you; something difficult, groundbreaking or a world-first, for example.

5. Skills

Alastair Humphreys Greenland Sled

Are you a novice or a veteran adventurer? Ask yourself this question only so that you can remind yourself it really doesn’t matter. Of course, if you want to climb a difficult mountain and not merely be hauled up it by a guide, you’ve got a lot to learn.

But whatever trip you do there will be lots to learn, so don’t let that put you off. Some trips require more expertise and experience than others, but that does not necessarily make them ‘better’. I have greater admiration for a young person who walks alone from Land’s End to John O’Groats than one whose parents pay for them to do a guided last degree North Pole trip for a few days.

6. Time


First up, block off the biggest chunk of time possible. Guard this jealously: time is so precious and demands on it so numerous. I can always earn more money but can never reclaim lost time.

Once you know how much time you have, you can narrow down you adventures, but it’s also worth thinking about whether you want to travel quickly or if you would prefer to have a more relaxed schedule with spare time factored in. Do you see this trip as a lifestyle choice (cancel your rent, quit your job, cycle into the sunset), or as a burst of madness away from the humdrum real world we spend most of our lives in, in which case something shorter and more dramatic is probably a good choice.

7. Commitment


Once you’ve settled on a plan you’ll need to commit. I send out an email/meet up with somebody/do something that tips me over from daydreaming about how fun this would all be to actually making it happen. The tipping point is often small but significant: walking across India was solidified merely by having dinner with a friend’s parents, for example.

Then it’s time to buy a plane ticket or whatever is the single most expensive, painful, committing action to take. This is without doubt the most significant and difficult stage of the entire process (hint: it’s far harder than the scary expedition you are worrying about). This single act of commitment is what differentiates dreamers from doers.

At this point I usually run around like an idiot realising that I have grossly underestimated the time and expense involved in making the trip happen. (NB: I have never looked back at a trip and regretted how much it cost. I have often looked back and regretted not taking a trip. If you want to do something and it feels important, find a way to pay for it. Make it happen. Or do it cheap and embrace the ensuing hassle and suffering.) Because I am committed to the trip, I know that it will happen. It might not be 100 per cent perfectly planned for, but that doesn’t matter too much: I have momentum.

Taken from Alastair’s latest book Grand Adventures (published by William Collins), which is packed with stories and practical tips to help you quit your 9-5 and head off on an adventure.