How to have an Adventure

Everyone may say they’re on an adventure when travelling but what really defines an adventure and is it something we can really find? I try to find an answer.

I am obsessed with the idea of Adventure. It’s the main reason I travel, it’s caused me to do things others would deem utterly insane and it’s one of my favourite things to write about. It is the most seductive of all abstract nouns and has shaped my life more than any other.

One of things I’m particularly interested in about Adventure is the question of whether it really exists in the real world or whether it’s purely something from the realm of stories. I think it does so I’ve drawn up my definition of what I think Adventure is and a few personal guidelines for seeking out Adventure in the real world.

I think that there’s three requirements that every Adventure needs.

1. A Journey.
2. An element of the unusual, unknown or unexpected.
3. An element of risk, danger or the possibility of failure.

Without any one of these I don’t think you can really call something an Adventure. You can have a dangerous journey through the mundane and familiar, an unexpected risk whilst sat at your desk or an unusual journey with no risk or nothing at stake. Each of these might be interesting events in their own right, worth experiencing or writing about, but they’re not Adventures. I don’t think “Adventure sports” qualify on their own either (although they can definitely be a part of a larger adventure) as they’re usually heavily supervised and don’t have a significant level of risk. Although often travelling and backpacking can be an adventure it depends on what you get up to or if you’re trying to achieve something from it. Staying put by the hostel bar or pool doesn’t cut it and neither does sticking in the insulated safe bubble of a tour group.

So how do I recommend one should go about seeking adventure? Well, first of all, go somewhere. The first requirement is probably the easiest to meet, take a journey of some kind. It doesn’t have to be far although the further you go the easier can be to meet the second two points. An extreme example of an adventure with only a short journey is Voyage Around my Room by Xavier de Maistre. This 18th Century satirical travelogue is set (as you’d guess from the title) entirely in the author’s room whilst he was under house arrest for six weeks. I think this succeeds as a work of adventure because although he only travels between points in the same room he makes an effort to see each object in the room as if seeing it for the first time and (I admit I may be stretching a bit on this part) runs the risk of doubting the reality of his journey and returning to the boredom of being stuck in his room.

Next, make sure that wherever you go you’re likely to encounter new things, seek out the unusual and allow time for the unexpected. To come back to the example of Xavier de Maistre, if there’s nothing new you come across on your journey try to see the old things in a new light, perceive them in a fresh way or from an altered state of consciousness.

Finally, you need to create an amount of risk. To look at the earliest roots and usages of the word (from the Old French Aventure) you’ll see that Adventure commonly means to take a chance or risk to lose something or an event that occurs by luck

I’m not suggesting everyone should start putting themselves in massive amounts of personal danger but there does need to be something at stake. I think of Indiana Jones as one of the perfect archetypes of an adventurer but he does tend to get shot at more than I like to on my adventures. For a slightly safer and more enjoyable form of adventure I’d say set yourself some sort of goal which it’s possible to fail on your journey. Reach a certain place by a certain date or using only a particular type of transport, make a bet with a friend or challenge yourself to discover something about the place you’re heading to. As long as the stakes matter to you and there’s a real chance you might not succeed. Of course if you are the type of head-case who likes hanging out in warzones then by all means do, conventional danger also counts.

I know that trying to define abstract concepts in rigid terms is a genuinely absurd endeavour however as already mentioned, I think about Adventure pretty damn often. This is really just my personal interpretation of what Adventure means and I’m not here to tell anyone they’ve not had an Adventure if it doesn’t quite fit my own version of one, in fact if anyone has any different opinions I’d love to hear them. Hopefully my rules can be a guide for anyone else looking to go out into the world and test whether they really can find Adventure.


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