In praise of small adventures
I loved by the Women’s Adventure Expo this weekend. This life-affirming event is packed with amazing female explorers and intrepid travellers who are out conquering new summits, setting records, achieving world firsts. These women are endlessly inspiring – I loved hearing the stories of Anna McNuff’s girl power cycle through South America, of Mollie Hughes standing not once but twice on the summit of Everest and of Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent motorbiking her way through Himalayan passes.
These women are some serious girl heroes, and if you want to follow in their footsteps and take on a big, life-changing challenge, that is ace. But it’s important not to forget that just getting outdoors – enjoying wild places by sleeping in a tent, or hiking a new hill on the weekend, or having a go at surfing, or anything that allows you to breath fresh air and stretch your limbs – can be and is enough.
There’s this idea that to achieve your dreams you need to quit your job and dedicate your life to extreme adventure. But it’s also ok (more than ok) to work 9-5 and have a busy life and a dog to walk and Friday evenings in the pub and to simply make time when you can for the outdoors, for nature and for travel. This much I know – filling your life with plenty of small, happy adventures in wild places is a sure route to happiness.
Modern women are under so much bloody pressure. You can point fingers at our society, at messages in the media, at a knackering schedule of busy jobs, family and social life. There’s also the (often enormous) pressure we put on ourselves to do our best in all spheres of our lives, to keep all those balls in the air. Don’t add the fact that you haven’t cycled round the world or climbed Kilimanjaro on a pogo stick to your list of reasons not to feel proud of yourself.
My favourite message from the Women’s Adventure Expo was that we all have our own personal Everest. I often get asked about the biggest challenge I’ve faced in my years as a travel writer. It wasn’t the physical challenge of climbing Mount Kenya in the grips of altitude sickness. And it wasn’t the mental challenge of moving to Bolivia after university to run a team of volunteers who were working with children in really tough conditions, although both of those experiences did change me immensely. It was trying caving in the Forest of Dean. With a nice instructor. In total safety. Because the dark cramped world of caving is my personal scary summit, a million times harder for my own irrational brain to face up to than standing on a tall mountain peak.
Your Everest might be caving. It might travelling alone, or a cross-country bikepacking trip. It might be fundraising for a cause you feel strongly about. It might be Everest! But all Everests are meaningful, all are valuable.
What I feel is this: Making time for lots of small, cheerful adventures is just as sure a route to happiness as quit-your-job life-changing expeditions. Both are bloody brilliant. Just do what makes you happy, dudes.