slow down. turn off the damn phone. climb a hill and howl at the moon.
...These are the words of advice from National Geographic’s Adventurer of the Year, Alastair Humphreys.
Whilst Humphreys has canoed the Yukon, cycled around the world and rowed the Atlantic, his National Geographic title was awarded for an expedition that lay a little closer to home.
Pioneering the concept of 'microadventure', Humphreys has somewhat downsized his global expeditions and taken on a series of condensed trips. A tonic for the hectic and busy lives of the 21st Century, the microadventure breaks down the elitism and constraints posed by larger scale adventures.
Inspiring thousands to abandon the sofa, pack a sleeping bag and explore, Al has developed a movement that poses a ‘no excuses’ attitude to adventure.
“You do not need to fly to the other side of the planet to undertake an expedition. You do not need to be an elite athlete, expertly trained or rich to have an adventure.”
The microadventure brings with it a whole new mindset of thinking that we’ve found ourselves inspired by: “we are defined by our ‘9 to 5’. But what about the ‘5 to 9’?”... The concept of ‘5 to 9 living’ challenges the idea that working from 9 to 5 should be an obstacle. Instead, it views those 16 hours after 5pm as an opportunity.
Since 2011, Alastair has actively promoted the award-winning concept of the microadventure. This has included undertaking a lap of the 118 mile M25, walking the commute from London to St. Albans, and simply sleeping on local hills. Each of these microadventures has uncovered unique pockets of the city and suburbs, and most importantly injected a touch of the adventure into the everyday.
Taking time out from his expeditions, Al chats to us about his microadventures and how he chooses to unwind.
Before we begin, describe what you do in one sentence:
I’m an adventurer.
photo: 1000 miles into the empty quarter
Tell us a bit about your path from worldwide expeditions to producing a manifesto for microadventure:
I knew that lots of people wanted to have adventures like I did, but that the constraints of real life were stopping them. I set about trying to break down some of those perceived barriers.
You’ve described the microadventure as a ‘refresh button for busy lives’. Why do you think it is important to have this outlet?
We are all so insanely busy, permanently connected digitally, and mostly sitting down indoors.
Every so often we need to slow down, turn off the damn phone, climb a hill and howl at the moon
We love the idea that a microadventure can mean so many different things to different people. One of our favourites was your unconventional commute from London Bridge to St Albans. Tell us a bit more about why you chose to take on this adventure and what the experience was like...
St Albans to London is the UK’s most expensive commute. It is the sort of journey that epitomises the busy commuter life. And it is also difficult for people in a city to imagine that within a couple of hours from where they are they could find wilderness. So I decided to do that textbook commute in a different way — cycling, sleeping on a hill and swimming in a river.
photos: shaking up the commute
You’ve said before that there were parallels between your first microadventure (walking around the M25) and cycling around the world, what similarities did you encounter?
They were both physically tough. They took me to places I had never been. They proved pre-conceptions wrong. I met good, kind, interesting people. And I had fun.
photos: walking the m25, junctions 1 to 31
How much of a distinction do you have between your ‘work time’ and ‘me time’, I imagine there must be a pretty big overlap when your job is your hobby?
There is no distinction in my life. That’s not really a good thing. But my work [the stuff that pays the bills] is my life [meaning the stuff that I do every day, for that is what life is, after all.]
Name one place you would never tire of returning to and explain why?
Greenland. It is so still and empty that it feels like a tonic to the racing busy world I live in. Plus there is no WiFi reception.
photo: alastair's greenland expedition
What was the last book you read cover to cover?
The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz
What would you say has been your most valuable lesson from the road?
That the world is better and kinder than the media portrays. And that I am capable of more than I realised.
How do choose to unwind, and how would you describe your ultimate downtime?
It would need to be somewhere with no 3G reception as I’m hopelessly addicted to my phone. It would probably involve a hill to run up, a river to swim in, some sport on TV, and a pub with beer and steak…
You’ve brought us the idea of 5 to 9 thinking, but if you had a 25th hour in the day, how would you choose to spend it?
I would spend it exercising. Exercise is crucial for our health — physical and also mental. It reduces stress, illness and pain, and it would save the NHS a bazillion pounds a year (fact) if we all exercised more. Run up a hill. Lift some weights. Stretch.
If you enjoyed this post, give it a share with this ready-to-go tweet, or find out more about Al's adventures here. You can also check out how thousands of others have taken on the #microadventure on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.