| June 25, 2015

Last updated: December 7, 2017

Podcast, Travel, Travel & Leisure

Podcast #120: Microadventures With Alastair Humphreys

Earlier this week we published a post about my 8-week microadventure challenge. The book that inspired that challenge was Microadventures by professional adventurer Alastair Humphreys. In today’s podcast I have the pleasure of talking to Alastair about what inspired the idea for microadventures and why every man should start scheduling them into their life on a regular basis.

Show Highlights

  • How Alastair got his start as an adventurer
  • How Alastair defines “adventure”
  • What a microadventure is
  • The excuses people usually give to not go on microadventures and Alastair’s response to those excuses
  • Examples of Alastair’s favorite microadventures
  • What Alastair learned about himself and his country by going on microadventures
  • His suggested kit to have at the ready so you’re always prepared for a microadventure
  • The wonders of a bivvy bag
  • And much more!

microadventure book cover alastair humphreys

If you’re looking for a little more adventure in your life, I highly recommend implementing regular microadventures into your schedule. It’s an easy, cheap way to have some fun and make memories with your friends and loved ones. For more ideas on creating your own microadventures, be sure to pick up a copy of Alastair’s book on Amazon. And visit his site alastairhumphreys.com.

Finally, I’d love to see your microadventures. Snap a pic and share it with me on Instagram by tagging @artofmanliness and #microadventures.

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Special thanks to Keelan O’Hara for editing the podcast!

Read the Transcript

Brett McKay: Brett McKay here, welcome to another addition of The Art of Manliness podcast. Do you feel like your life needs a little more excitement? A little more adventure? There’s a lot of guys who say that. They want to go on adventures but they always give excuses like ‘I don’t have the money, I don’t have the time.’ Because you need a lot of money and time if you want to do some great adventure in the Grand Tetons or Yosemite or go float a river in South America.

Well our guest today says that you don’t need a lot of money, you don’t need a lot of time, you don’t even have to travel very far to go on an adventure. In fact you can find adventure in your own backyard. His name is Alastair Humphreys. He was named National Geographic’s Adventurer of the Year. So he’s done some really big adventures but awhile back ago he set out to go what he calls “microadventures”, things you can do in a day, on a weekend, or even right after work and before you go to work the next morning. You can find adventure in your own backyard. And he cataloged all of his microadventures in a book called, “Microadventures” of all things.

I’ve got him on the podcast today because his book inspired my family to take on microadventures and find things. For the past two months each week we’ve been doing some sort of microadventure and it’s been things like sleeping out in our own backyard underneath the stars. We bought a raft on Amazon, it was like not that expensive, and we floated a river here in Oklahoma. And I wanted to share this with you all because I think it’s something that can benefit a lot of people because it’s really changed our life. So without further ado we have Alastair Humphreys talking about microadventures.

Alastair Humphreys welcome to the show.

Alastair: Thank you for having me.

Brett McKay: All right so National Geographic named you one of the Adventurers of the Year. You are a adventurer by trade, which is pretty cool. And your first big adventure was in 2001 and you spent 4 years biking around the world. So tell us a little about that journey. How old were you? How do you get the idea? And what was that like?

Alastair: I was 24 years old when I set off. And I set off straight after graduating from University, from school. And I got the idea because I spent most of my university years not studying but reading books about great adventurers, people climbing big mountains and crossing deserts and the Artic. And I just loved it. And gradually managing somehow in my head to switch from just enjoying those stories to wanting to live some sort of similar story myself. And I figured that now is as good time as ever to go do it. So I had been saving up for a few years and as soon as I finished I jumped on my bike and set off to see if I could cycle all the way around the world. I didn’t actually think that I would be able to but I was interested to see how far I could get.

Brett McKay: And did you make it?

Alastair: I did make it, yeah! I was away for over 4 years and I rode 46,000 miles through 60 countries, across 5 continents and much to my surprise I made it home again. And I did it, yup.

Brett McKay: How did you get across from like Asia to North America? Through the Bering Strait?

Alastair: The first big ocean was the Atlantic from Africa to South America. I crossed that on a sailing boat. And getting across the Pacific I managed to hitch a ride on a cargo boat hanging out in Alaska over the Pacific. And then there were a couple other little sailing boats and ferries in between around the world. But I did the whole globe without leaving the surface of the planet.

Brett McKay: We had someone write a post about sailing across the sea on cargo ships. Where you can just get on and be sort of like a member of the crew. And you got pretty cheap passage and you just hung out with the crew. It was kind of bizarre.

Alastair: Yeah, I was on a cargo ship with a boatload of Bangladeshis. They’re all Muslims, they don’t drink. So Saturday night, party night for them was just to drink as many soft drinks as they could until they get a bit high off of that. And then dance with each other in the cabins. It’s surreal.

Brett McKay: Since your bike journey you’ve done many other big adventures. You’ve walked across India, you rode across the Atlantic Ocean. What drives you to undertake these big expeditions?

Alastair: I think the big trips come from a few factors. Wanting to see the wild places in the world like a lot of people want to travel and see the world. Also, there’s quite a lot of masochism in me. I want to try and push myself as hard as I could and see what I’m capable of physically and mentally. And then the bike trip, the curse of the bike trip is once you do a big journey like that, it sort of opens pandora’s box and I came home from that bike trip thinking, ‘Wow I’ve cycled around the world what else can I do?’ So there’s an element to it of just seeing what I’m capable of doing. Seeing at what point I break.

Brett McKay: How do you define adventure? What makes adventure adventuring? Why do you think it’s so important in a person’s life? Because you’re sort of an advocate that everyone should be an adventurer.

Alastair: I am. And I deliberately think that adventure is not specifically about cycling around the world or walking across the desert. I think it’s more about the attitude of the way you approach your life. So trying to do things that are new, trying to do things that difficult … that scare you a little bit. Do things with enthusiasm, excitement, curiosity. I think that all of those things are attitudes of adventure. And I think that those things are important and perhaps you can put those into your life by trying to row across an ocean or you can put it into your life in many other ways. But trying to have that adventure spirit is really important in my life.

Brett McKay: So I imagine a lot of people have come up to you and said, “Look, I’m really envious of your life but look it’s easy for you to go on all these adventures, it’s what you do for a living. But I can do that I work a 9-5, I’ve got kids, I’ve got responsibilities. I’ve got to coach baseball.” Is this what spurred you to start thinking about the idea of microadventures? And for those who aren’t familiar with it can you explain what a microadventure is?

Alastair: Sure. All those things you mentioned except for the coaching baseball part was something I was hearing increasingly regularly. It struck me as very strange that people had begun to perceive me as an Adventurer with a capital “A” rather than a normal guy, like everyone else who has just chosen to do these sort of things. I realized that there’s this perception that adventure requires you to be tough or rich or live in the Yukon or all these sort of things. Whereas I thought adventure was more about making the choice to get out into the wilderness.

I decided to try to start doing adventures that broke down these barriers that stop people from having adventures in their own life. Mostly things like lack of time, lack of money, lack of expertise. Not living in a cabin in the middle of the Yukon. Rather then letting any of those things stop you from doing anything adventurous, I tried to find ways to work around that and have small adventures that are compatible with real life.

So in the last couple of years the big adventures have been on pause and I’ve been doing these small, deliberately little microadventures, much closer to home, exploring my own country.

Brett McKay: And these microadventures they’re supposed to last maybe a few hours that you could fit in after work. It could be a weekend. It could be a few more days if you want to take some vacation time. Can you give us some examples of what microadventures you highlight in the book and what you’ve done yourself?

Alastair: I think it’s important to try to clarify that a microadventure is no different than an adventure really. It’s just trying to make people do adventures that fit in with the frameworks of their lives. So that might be just over night or that might be a weekend or it could be a few days. All of those things you might do adventures in that time so going on a bike trip, cycling from your home to the coast. Unless you live right in the middle of the US but in the UK no one lives more than 70 miles from the ocean. So for example I try to encourage people to just jump on their bike Saturday morning, cycle to the coast, anyone moderately fit can get to the coast that night. Sleep on the beach for the night, wake up Sunday morning, pedal back home Sunday night ready for work Monday morning. So when your boss says, “Did you do anything interesting this weekend?” For once you don’t have to lie you can say, “Yes, I did an adventure.”

So small little things like that. Officer workers who are very much bogged down by their 9-5 routine I try and encourage them to flip it around and instead of being constrained by their 9-5, they need to look at the opportunities that might be in the 5-9, those 16 hours of theoretical “freedom” that we have each day when we finish work. And that’s plenty of time to head out of town, go sleep on a hill, cap under the stars by yourself or with a few friends, watch the sunset, watch the sunrise the next morning. Run back down the hill, swim in a river, jump on a bus and get back to your desk at 9 o’clock the next morning. I think that is genuinely an adventurous thing to do but one that is compatible to do with real life.

Brett McKay: Yeah, I love that. You did that. You had an office job, as soon as you got off you went out, slept on a hill, came back. Is that like a common barrier? People just don’t think they can use their free time like that? Because for me I’m like well you know, I’ve got the job and I’ve got to wake up early and there’s things I’ve got to do around the house. But when you explain it, it’s like wow, that’s actually do-able. Is that a common barrier? People just don’t look at their free time as free?

Alastair: When I started doing these microadventures and I was blogging about them and making films about them at first what I was trying to do was to make stuff as big and epic and exciting as I could within the frame work of say a few days. But I was coming up against resistance. People would say, ‘Oh, well it’s all right for you … I’ve got this canoe, but it’s okay for you to disappear for a few days. So I had to keep simplifying, simplifying the idea. And the shortest adventure idea I came up with overnight one was this idea of 5-9. Because the biggest thing that gets in people’s way is not money or not owning a canoe, it’s lack of time. We’re all so insanely busy. And people are so proud of how incredibly busy they are. And I think the fact that we’re really busy is a reason why we need to leave the office maybe just once, one sunny evening, turn off your phone and just sleep under the stars for the night.

The reason that trip idea, the 5-9 is quite popular I think because it shows people that you can make time for adventure is you choose to do so. I think a lot of times when people say they can’t do something there’s quite a good idea in your head just to switch the word can’t to I choose not to. So I choose not to have the time for this or I choose not to spend my money on this. And that helps you realize exactly where you prioritizes lie.

Brett McKay: Well I think I found … a lot of people are like ‘I’m super busy, I’m super busy” … but when I actually sit down and analyze my time a lot of it I’m just like dickering around on the internet, surfing reddit, watching TV and I’m not as busy as I think I am. And whenever I look at my time logs I’m like man I could’ve done some other stuff besides …

Alastair: And I’m as bad as everyone else in our generation about sort of frittering away stuff. I think trying to use up those little 5 minutes in the day is an entire issue really. The thing that we’re talking about here is committing to spend a whole night. And that might involve finding someone to look after your kitten for the night or taking a clean pair of pants to work so you’ve got them for the next morning. A little bit of planning and effort, not a huge amount but a few basic bits of kit. And this is partly what stops people from doing it is anything that involves a little bit of hassle you can’t be bothered to get up and run it. And the microadventures really emphasize a minimal amount of kit. Most people with own most of the stuff you need to go sleep on a hill already. It’s cheap and it’s simple. And the more simple you can keep things the more likely people are to actually do them.

Brett McKay Let’s talk about the kit. You have a suggestion about a kit that you have at the ready so you can be ready for a microadventure whenever. What are the very basics someone needs to be able to do a microadventure at the drop of a hat?

Alastair: I think theoretically a really nice thing to do would be to have a little ruck sack packed by your door or under your desk at work so if suddenly the sun was shining and you have an evening free you can just grab that and go. Because one of the big problems in life is trying to work out where your tent is and all those sort of boring things.

So all you really need is enough clothes to be warm wherever you happen to live. You need some food and some water. You need a camping mat, one of those padded things that you sleep on when you’re sleeping. A sleeping bag. In the UK where it rains a lot you need a bivvy bag, which is probably the only thing I mention that people probably don’t already own who like the outdoors. A bivvy bag is essentially a waterproof jacket, it’s that sort of gortexy type material that just slips over your sleeping bag and it means you can sleep on top of a hill without needing a tent. So it’s cheaper, it’s minimal, it’s a bit silly … it’s all the sort of things that I like in life.

Brett McKay: Yeah, I love that. You’re a big advocate of just sleeping under the stars and not having to haul a big tent out in order to sleep.

Alastair: I think tents, in my mind, epitomize one of the real hassles of having adventure. You know, you have to go up to the attic and try to find it and then you can’t find the pegs and then you can’t remember how to put it up. And then when you come home it’s wet and you have to hang it up until it’s dry. And it’s all just a … things that become a hassle you don’t bother with. When you keep things so simple you actually do it and that’s the key.

Brett McKay: I’m sure a lot of people are pretty apprehensive about just sleeping right out in the open. Right? I mean the tent makes you feel a little more secure even those it’s just a thin piece of plastic. What are your suggestions for people getting over their apprehensions of sleeping just out in the open?

Alastair: Well you’re absolutely right that a tent psychologically feels like you’re inside when you’re in it. And even really veteran campers the first time they sleep without a tent or in a bivvy bag you feel very vulnerable and exposed and you can get a little nervous. So I suggest if you’re worried about it go with a group of friends first and a bit of peer pressure and comedy will soon overcome those nerves. And bear in mind if you’re in the countryside somewhere tucked away on a hill, no one knows you’re there, you’re not doing anything wrong, no one will see you, no one will find you, you’re going to get up early in the morning and take all your rubbish and trash with you. No one is going to mind. So we have a lot of these things that we have worry about in our heads yet we’re all quite happy to drive 50 mph in a town which is infinitely more dangerous then and a bad thing to do it.

But if you’re really worried about it then I suggest to people to sleep in their garden. Lots of us remember how fun that was as kid’s to camp out in the backyard. You see the stars and have a midnight feast and then you get scared and come in and go to bed. But a lot of people remember that really fondly. You can take a duvet and pillow outside, maybe a glass of wine, and it’s so nice to hear the trees, hear the birds, see the stars. You get a lot of the escapist side of adventure just from being out in your garden.

Brett McKay: Yeah, I plan on doing that with my 4 year old son, Gus, next week. He’s really excited about it.

Alastair: Brilliant. And if it ends up pouring down with rain you just get up and come back inside. So there is nothing to lose really. And I think that you will probably enjoy it as well. I hope you do.

Brett McKay: Yeah, I will. I’m really excited about it.

Is there a microadventure that was your favorite that you featured in the book? I know it’s like picking children …

Alastair: There’s a couple that I enjoyed and they both enjoyed rivers. One was that I swam down a river for two days. I really enjoyed that because it made me travel so slowly. And being at eye level with the water gave such different perspective on the world. And I think both of those things are really important, to slow down and to get a different perspective on familiar places. And I did that by myself.

The other one I loved was getting some inner tubes from tractors. We bought 4 tractor inner tubes, they cost 50 pounds so $70-$80 for 4. And you’ve got four blokes drifting down the river on an inner tube that is good for the soul. Really good fun. And when you finish for the evening you pull them out, set up camp, have a campfire and you can sit on your inner tube. Your inner tube become a luxury armchair. So that was just pure simple enjoyable fun with some friends.

Brett McKay: That’s fantastic. What did you learn about yourself through all of your microadventuring? And not just about yourself but maybe about other people or about your country, your place. Did you grow an attachment to your homeland by being out there more often?

Alastair: I began my big adventures cycling around the world and things because I was, probably like a lot of young people, I was bored with where I lived. I thought it was boring and the rest of the world was far more exciting. So microadventures have really helped me discover my own country and to really love and appreciate the wilderness and beauty that Britain has. That aspect has been really good for me.

The second aspect of what I learned about other people is something we’ve touched on already is people’s almost limitless capacity to come up with excuses rather than to actually get on and do something. Which is why I’ve had to boil the microadventures smaller, smaller, smaller and smaller right to the idea of doing something between 5-9.

And the third aspect what I’ve learned about myself is that I like so many other people around today I’m just totally addicted to being busy, checking my emails, being on the phone and I often don’t even realize how stressed and frantic that makes me until I leave it all behind one evening after being at the computer all day, go sit on a hill, watch the sunset, open a beer and don’t turn on my phone until the next morning. And that is … I wouldn’t go quite as far to say therapy but it has been very helpful for me in this mad, busy world we live in.

Brett McKay: I agree. My wife and I just got back from camping, just two days out in the national forest here in Oklahoma and we didn’t have internet, no phone, no connections, no wireless available and the feeling that I got was just like that all that stuff that goes on back at home with the email and the internet … like it wasn’t real. It was sort of surreal being out in nature and not having that stuff there. It just seemed like I was in a completely different world. And I kind of dreaded going back.

Alastair: At first though did you feel some sort of withdraw and anxiety?

Brett McKay: Oh yeah, I wanted to like go to my phone.

Alastair: Yes.

Brett McKay: And start pushing things but there was nothing there for me to push. So yeah, I find it’s good for the soul and it refreshes and I feel better whenever I take a break from that stuff and just get outside.

So if there’s someone who is listening to this podcast right now. They finished it, they’re done, they’re probably listening to this on their commute from work. What is something they can do today to take that first step towards getting started with microadventuring.

Alastair: Well commuting to work is a brilliant time actually to look out at the window of your car or train and notice between the town that you live and the town that you work once you start to observe you’ll see little pockets of wilderness. You’ll see little woods, maybe a stream that goes under the road and you’ll start to see these lovely little places that you’ll become curious to explore. So you’ve immediately found yourself a destination that you can make the focus of your mission. The next thing to do is to commit to a date. So if you think you need a couple of friends to make you actually do it then get a few friends and put a date in the diary that you’re actually going to commit to doing this. Pack your bag with a few little things that you need.

And then contrary to what I just said about the internet if you go online and look at the microadventure hashtag you’ll see loads of other people, normal people, doing stuff like this. And I think that’s really encouraging for normal people to see that other normal people are doing this sort of stuff and it’s not just me. Some weirdo professional adventurer with too much time on my hands. I think that social media side of things has been really helpful to give people the confidence to begin.

Brett McKay: Speaking of which, where can people learn more about microadventures and more of your own work?

Alastair: My website Alastairhumphreys.com has got loads of videos of all of these trips we’ve been talking about today and all of the usual social media stuff. My blog has also got lots of practical advice on what kit you need, how to find a hill to sleep on, the safety and legality of it. So I think my website is probably a good starting point.

Brett McKay: And your book as well.

Alastair: My book Microadventures is available on Amazon and all those sorts of places as well and the Ipad.

Brett McKay: Fantastic. And for those that are listening I highly recommend that you go and get it. The book, it looks great, the writing is fantastic, it’s very evocative and it inspires. And I’m gung-ho my wife and I we’re going to do an 8-week microadventure challenge.

Alastair: Wow. Looking forward to seeing that!

Brett McKay: Yeah. Once a week we’re going to do a microadventure.

Alastair: That’s a great idea.

Brett McKay: So thank you for the inspiration.

Alastair: Oh you’re welcome. Thank you for having me on. It’s been great.

Brett McKay: Alastair Humphrey’s thank you so much for your time it’s been a pleasure.

Alastair: Thank you.

Brett McKay: Our guest today was Alastair Humphrey’s he’s a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year. He’s also the author of the book Microadventures. You can find that on Amazon.com. Go out and get it. It’s a fun little book. And make sure to check out his website for more great free content about going on adventures, microadventures, it’s at Alastairhumphreys.com.

And also, please, please, please share your microadventures with me on instagram. Take a picture of you doing whatever you’re going to be doing. If you’re going to go float a river or go sleep underneath the stars. If you’re going to go fishing, I don’t know, whatever it is share it with me on instagram at @artofmanliness and make sure to hashtag microadventure. You can also browse the hashtag microaventure for more ideas to inspire your own. So get out there and do it. I’d love to see them.

Until next time this is Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.

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