Alastair Humphreys is a British adventurer, author and motivational speaker. He also writes a great blog, and makes mini-documentaries about his adventures. His career as an adventurer started with a four-year trip around the world by bicycle. He has also walked across India, and rowed across the Atlantic in a four-man crew. His current passion is #microadventures, adventures that can be undertaken with a minimum of time and money, requiring little more than an adventurous spirit. National Geographic named him Adventurer of the Year in 2012.

Much more about Alastair in his website bio.


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Show Notes

2:40 Where does Alastair’s taste for adventure come from?

4:30 Adventure writing without the stiff upper lip

5:50 On acquiring new skills – photography, filming etc

6:35 Vulnerability and masochism, finding motivation in tough times

8:55 Microadventures – why you don’t need lots of time and money to be an adventurer. Alastair mentioned our mutual friend Tom Allen, who had got himself a touring bicycle for around the same price as a round of drinks.

12:25 Rowing the Atlantic with 3 other men, teamwork, the importance of humour

15:00 Egos and teams, does adventure give a sense of what’s important in life?

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Al is self-reflective

17:30 Roz reads an excerpt from Alastair’s book, There Are Other Rivers

18:30 Top bits of kit for a microadventure – a bin bag, a bivvy bag, Thermarest “because any idiot can be uncomfortable”

20:40 On taking good travel photographs

22:30 What next for Alastair? The book of microadventures

23:10 Publishers and self-publishing. Alastair mentions CreateSpace for self-publishing.

25:30 A culinary microadventure – The A to Z of London Eating


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How important is it to enjoy the journey?


“Serial adventurers are willing to live on the basis of retrospective pleasures, which is having a truly miserable time in the hope that at some point in the indeterminate future you will be happy about the whole thing.” (Alastair Humphreys)

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Al Humphreys suffering self-doubt?

There are few adventurers that I have encountered who describe the hardship, self-doubt, frustration, and occasional self-recrimination of adventure as articulately as Alastair Humphreys does. The quote above, taken from our podcast conversation, sums up exactly how I felt about ocean rowing on an almost daily basis.

I kept trying to enjoy the journey, but eventually had to admit to myself that some things are inherently just not enjoyable. But that does not mean that they should not be attempted. This meshes with the concept of the “Retrospective Perspective” that I mentioned in last week’s reflections on the Jason McKinlay podcast. What seems most challenging at the time will pay the biggest dividends.

The Atlantic row – my first voyage – was and remains the hardest thing I have ever done. But the feeling of euphoria on arriving in Antigua after 103 hellacious days at sea remains unparalleled in my experience. If you’ve heard me speak you may have heard me describe it as being like finishing a marathon, winning an Oscar, and getting out of jail, all rolled into one (although admittedly I have direct experience of only one of those things – I will leave it to you to guess which one). I have no doubt that the overwhelming sense of accomplishment – and relief – was in direct proportion to the hardship of the crossing.

In a slight leap of logic – but bear with me here – it also makes me think of the famous Stanford marshmallow experiment, in which young children were offered one marshmallow now, or two marshmallows if they could wait until the researcher returned in 15 minutes. Follow-up surveys showed a clear correlation between the ability to defer gratification and subsequent success in life, as measured by academic scores, BMI, and other life measures.

This got me wondering….

–       Do adventurers have a predisposition to defer gratification, and this is what enables them to endure hardships in pursuit of a greater goal?

–       Or do they learn to defer gratification by having set their sights on a goal, and when they unavoidably encounter hardships en route, they just have to learn to deal with them in order to attain the goal?

And a corollary to this…..

–       Are adventurers more likely to be successful in other ventures than non-adventurers because of what they have learned on expedition?

–       Or is it because they already have a solid set of life skills that they are able to conceive and execute the expedition in the first place?

What do you think? Comments, please!

Speaking personally, I think I had something of a predisposition to defer gratification, certainly when I was a quiet and studious child, and although I’d lost it somewhere in my hedonistic twenties I was able to rediscover it on the Atlantic. On the second point, I’d started to develop a few useful life skills before I set out across oceans, but oh boy, crossing the Atlantic was definitely a crash course in developing a whole load more!

So my belief is that you don’t have to be “that kind of person” to have an adventure. You just have to decide that having an adventure is something you really, really want to do, and that you won’t let anything stand in your way – least of all some temporary discomfort or misery.

And by the time you finish your first adventure – voila! You will be an adventurer! Just remember though, as Captain Webb’s epitaph said, nothing great is easy….






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