Adventure Lifestyle Guides

How To Free Your Inner Adventurer

There are, broadly speaking, two categories of Big Adventure.

Category One is the “blank slate” journey. It begins with a wholesome hatred of present circumstances; an acknowledgement of the stagantion of the protagonist’s life. This loathing catalyses a full-bodied response: burn each and every bridge, dispose of all tangible reminders thereof, and bugger off into the sunset. The desire never to be seen or heard of again is strong, and few concessions will have been made. And there is absolutely, definitely, no plan whatsoever to return. This is a fresh start. A blank slate.

Category Two is the “life on hold” journey. It is more likely to stem from an shortfall of adventure and risk and variety; a growing itch that cannot be conventionally scratched. A great deal of thought and planning is involved, because there are many things at stake here which will not go meekly to sacrifice. Primary amongst the budding adventurer’s concerns is the idea of the future; that the many things they do value will remain in place during and after the much-dreamed-of journey of a lifetime. Thus, the build up to eventual departure — to putting life on hold — is long and fraught.

Three observations:

  1. Once begun, all these trips will have far more in common than not. That’s regardless of motivation for leaving, and is true simply because life on the road has far more to do with the nature of the world than of the incidentals of the person subjected to its whim. Advice on the nuts and bolts of travel is broadly the same for all.
  2. The chances of Category One journeys reaching the starting line are far higher those of Category Two. This is because people of the former ilk have nothing to lose, and so there is no “should I”, just an absolute imperative to leave as soon as possible. Those of the latter, however, face a stressful and complicated series of obstacles to overcome.
  3. There are far more people in Category Two than Category One. Most of us are more likely to feel a nagging sense of missing out than a raging anxiety of discontent, because most of us don’t hate our lives entirely, rather just irritated by certain elements and disappointed by the absence of others.

It follows that there are a lot more people tied up in the seeming impossibility of launching their dream trip than people who’ve cut ruthlessly loose from it all and are living theirs already.

This has direct implications for me. I have been working diligently over the years to transform this blog from a more or less self-indulgent narrative about myself to a thing (I hope) of value to budding and experienced adventure travellers, particularly two-wheeled ones.

But the majority of advice I’ve penned is genuinely useful only for the small number of readers in Category One, or for those in Category Two who have already taken the difficult step of rearranging their life circumstances appropriately and are preparing to leave. It talks about bikes and tents and wild-camping and filmmaking, not about the savings and confidence-building and motivation and planning that must be laid down in foundation.

So I had a bit of a realisation last month when I sent a survey to members of my mailing list. The survey asked respondents to choose from a selection of new project ideas. Among them was one I’d hastily (and temporarily) titled How To Free Your Inner Adventurer.

It was described like this:

“A practical guide to rearranging your current life circumstances to accommodate a long-dreamed-of Big Adventure. This would tackle both abstract barriers (such as fear, indecision, career) and concrete ones (such as finance, mortgage, family).

“Importantly, it’d be built from real-life case studies of people who’ve already done this, and successfully so, from a broad spread of starting points. The resulting Big Adventure might involve a bicycle, but need not necessarily do so.”

Against other project ideas (including guides to the nuts and bolts of bike trip planning, travel blogging, and adventure filmmaking), this idea won by a huge margin.

It seems that a great number of you have one or more of big obstacles to tackle before you can hit the road. Your real concerns — even if you brush them under the carpet by reading about tents and touring bikes (go on, admit it!) — are to do with the implications of an enormous, multi-year, transcontinental, life-changing adventure. I know these implications well. I’ve been there myself. They are big and they are scary.

The potential impact upon your career, home, posessions, bank balance, mortgage, relationships, or all of the above, is far more frightening than the idea of simply getting on a bike and riding it, which is all that is really involved. You may also be held back by a perceived inability to fix a breakage, or find a place to sleep, or by other fears of what may go wrong, rendering moot the question of which touring bike or tent to buy.

Now, here’s a slice of irony for you.

Despite this being by far the most fresh and interesting project I could choose to work on; despite it being the big, glaring omission from all of the very good trip planning resources that already exist on the internet; despite it being the one idea that would be of the most help to the most people; and despite it being the idea that I most believed in and which fitted most closely with my mission to get more people travelling by bicycle…

It was also the idea that most terrified me. The idea that would require the most time, effort and sacrifice. The idea that involved by far the greatest unknowns.

Do these obstacles sound familiar…?

They are the same obstacles — fear, sacrifice, unknowns — that commonly prevent us from taking time out for a once-in-a-lifetime journey.

But I’m going to make this thing. This blog post, in fact, represents my ‘going public’ with a big, audacious and scary personal goal.

Going public, by the way, is one of the most powerful motivators there is. Motivation, in fact, is such a crucially important topic to understand when it comes to achieving significant change that there are likely to be whole chapters dedicated to the practical ways in which it can be employed.

Once motivation kicks in, it is all about momentum. And so I would like to end with a direct question to you; one which will do much to inform the focus of this project:

What’s the single biggest obstacle standing between you and beginning your Epic Bike Trip? How can I help you tackle it?

Answers in the comments.

P.S. It’s a little way off, but you can join my mailing list to be kept in the loop later on.

Films Other People's Adventures

The Cycle Traveller Who’s Going Nowhere (Plus, Upcoming Screening Events)

You know what I love most about this fantastic little film? (Do watch it.)

It’s the fact that what our protagonist has unwittingly done is exactly the same as embarking upon a really long bike trip.

The only difference is that he never leaves his home city.

(But then if life on the road is less about leaving home and more about feeling at home anywhere — is there really any difference at all?)

* * *

Speaking of films, we’re about to kick off a new round of Janapar events in the UK (and a few elsewhere too). If you’re in or near any of the following, please drop by and say hello:

Bristol, Thursday October 31st
We’ll be holding two consecutive screenings at Roll for the Soul cycle cafe this coming Thursday; one at 6pm and one at 7:45pm. There are a handful of tickets left for each — click here to reserve yours. I’ll be doing a Q&A and book signing after each one. (The leading lady will be making a rare appearance too.)

Lyon, France, Saturday 9th November
It’s fantastic to have been recognised by adventurers and filmmakers outside of the UK. One of France’s premier adventure film festivals, Quais du Départ, will be screening Janapar, and I’ll be there for a Q&A afterwards. More information here.

Toronto, Canada, Sunday 10th November
The city playing host to a large Armenian diasporan community, it’s really nice to have been programmed as part of the Armenian-themed annual Pomegranate Film Festival in Toronto. There’ll be a live Q&A after the screening via Skype. Information and tickets here.

Graz, Austria, Thursday 14th November
Austria’s biggest mountain and adventure film festival will be screening Janapar at 18:14 precisely. They’ve also seen fit to shortlist the film for a prize, which is quite nice of them. Very sadly I won’t be able to make this one myself. More information here.

Kendal, Thursday 14th to Sunday 17th November
Kendal Mountain Festival, the UK’s biggest celebration of adventure film, have also shortlisted us for a prize this year and will be holding several screenings over the 4 days. I’ll be at RGS Explore that weekend, talking all things bike-tripping & filmmaking.

Oldham, Greater Manchester, Monday 18th November
This fundraising event is hosted by Saddleworth Discovery Walks as part of their Evening Of Adventure series. I’ll be there to present the film and holding a Q&A and book signing afterwards. Click here for tickets.

Wirksworth, Derbyshire, Sunday 1st December
I’ll be coming up to the Peak District for Wirksworth Adventure Film Festival at the Northern Lights Cinema. There are two screenings lined up and I’ll be doing a Q&A and book signing after the evening showing. Further info will become available here.

Chichester, West Sussex, Friday 6th December
As part of the Chichester International Film Festival 2013 there will be a screening and Q&A on the evening of Friday 6th December. There’s a second screening on Wednesday 4th, without the Q&A part. Tickets will be available at the cinema’s website.

London, Wednesday 18th December
Last but certainly not least, the final date this year will be on The Strand in London, where the popular Tales Of Adventure series will be hosting a double-bill screening and Q&A with myself and Leon McCarron. Information will be made available on the TOA website nearer the time.

If you’re unable to make any of these events but would still like to see the film, it’s always available to download at

And if you’d like to help throw a screening in your local area this December or January, read how you can do so here.



Microadventure: Past Journeys, Lost Memories & Future Projects (Part 4)

This is the final part of an account of touring the Netherlands and the UK by recumbent bike. Start at the beginning.

Polo field campsite

Two things surprised me when I woke up in a damp polo field in Cambridgeshire.

The first was that even though a damp polo field in Cambridgeshire would sound neither exotic nor adventurous when I mentioned it, all of the elements of a typical, successful overnight camp on a bike trip had been present, and I felt as satisfied and energised afterwards as I ever had in all manner of exotic and adventurous places.

The second thing that surprised me was to see that I’d ridden 80 miles the previous day, more than halfway home. I hadn’t been pushing hard, as I was still not fully comfortable on the recumbent. But it’s hours in the saddle, not speed, that produce big-mileage days. Perhaps I was surprised, then, because the previous time I’d ridden this route it had taken the best part of five days to cover.

I rode through Cambridge, fuelled up with coffee, and was out the other side, pedalling alongside the guided bus route towards St. Ives. (Think double-decker buses blasting along a purpose-built asphalt runway, with not a car or any other vehicle to be seen.)

On the way through Huntingdon I was tempted to swing past Hinchingbrook Country Park. It was in that park that I had pulled off my first ever successful stealth camp. That had been six years ago. It had been a milestone moment; a momentous occasion.

Camping in Huntingdon Country Park

But I could not remember how to get there. And so Hinchingbrook Country Park passed me by.

I pressed on.


Oundle arrived after lunch, a historic and charming little place where my dad used to teach. It is beyond the skill of this writer to describe the ride there, on the country lanes of the East Midlands, in remotely exciting terms. The most interesting thing that happened was encountering a farm vehicle so enormous that I could have ridden right between its wheels and beneath its chassis on my little low-slung machine, without losing much more than the top of my flag in the process.

Free grub

But in any case my mind was elsewhere. How would it feel, I’d been wondering, to retrace the route of a fateful journey past, to pedal in reverse along the tracks I’d made at the very beginning of my new life as a bicycle traveller all those years ago? Would it dredge up thoughts — regrets — that were best left buried; reawaken dreams, ideas and perhaps a few broken promises that had long ago been put to bed?

I had my answer now. It was something odder still. Of the hundred miles I’d revisited, I’d recognised a mere handful of spots with any clarity. A bike path through a riverside park in east Cambridge. A roundabout on an industrial estate outside Bury St. Edmunds. A stretch of narrow road over rolling hills in which I’d snagged my quick-release lever on Andy’s trailer and come crashing to the ground. A U.S. Air Force fighter jet on the roadside outside RAF Alconbury.


And even these memories were dim and deja-vu-like in their quality, as if they’d happened to someone else.

Where was the village in which we’d been handed punnets of strawberries by a kindly gardener? Or the Suffolk hamlet in which we’d pitched our tents in an animal sanctuary? The church we’d stopped at to find the warden and ask about camping in the graveyard, and who let us sleep in her back garden instead, bringing us bacon sandwiches in the rain first thing in the morning? Had these events happened to someone else too?

These anecdotes, and the journey from which they’re drawn, no longer exist anywhere but in a murky world of subjective memories. On that first foray into the unknown, every inch of road had pushed my limits in some way. Everything was new. The ride I was on now, though enjoyable in its own way, was no more challenging or adventurous than walking downstairs for breakfast. And as a result, the same road looked and felt nothing like it had when I’d set off in trepidation, 23 years old and with no previous experience, from my Northamptonshire village in the direction of Harwich, intent upon cycling round the world.

Deenethorpe village green

And how I laughed when I saw Deenethorpe village green! A worse place to conceal oneself overnight I could not possibly have imagined. Yet this exposed patch of grass was the one I’d once selected above from every other available option as the ideal place to spend my first night in a tent!


The memories were strong as I dismounted to snap a couple of photos. But I did not knock on the door of the house whose inhabitants had found us nervously putting up our tents, taken pity on us, and invited us in for some cheese and biscuits and strawberry pavlova. I felt that the gesture would be awkward and the reunion forced and absurd.

I rode on. And in less than an hour I was home, pedalling up a village street so familiar that it was if I’d been born in knowledge of it. And to think that it had taken an entire afternoon to ride those seven miles from my front door to that patch of grass in Deenethorpe!

Laid-back bicycle touring

As it turns out, retracing the first days of my first big bike trip has changed nothing about my memories of that time. It has not sullied the happy narrative of being young and wet behind the ears and experiencing the world for the first time. It has not even unearthed any particular nostalgia, nor a wistful and foolish longing to go back and do it again.

What it has done is remind me just how inconceivably far that original journey — the physical and the emotional — has taken me from its origins on these roads. I firmly believe in, and will continue to evangelise, the notion that a long, personal, adventurous journey should be a central component of our formative years; that everyone who is able should be encouraged to undertake such a journey before the tentacles of adulthood responsibilities have taken too firm a hold.

To do this is, in various ways, part of a broad range of cultural traditions, from the Native American ‘vision quest’ to the Australian Aboriginal ‘walkabout’ — and, in case that sounds a bit far-out, the German ‘Walz’, which is still alive and kicking. I met several such journeymen (and women) on the road myself. The closest equivalent we have today, it seems, is an extended piss-up on a beach in Thailand.

This short trip has also demonstrated unequivocally just how much of these thousands of miles of journeymaking has been irrecoverably lost. Time has passed; details have faded and eventually have vanished beyond the reaches of recollection. All that is left, now, is a memory of the fact that these things and many more did happen.

Of course I have a handful of photos and video clips. And undoubtedly there will be relics in the form of slight shapings of personality and perspective. But these can never again be distilled from the whole. And as for the videos and photos; the day has already passed when I’ve singled one out and realised that I have no recollection of the place in which it was shot, nor of what happened there beyond the moments captured.

Low perspective

Just how much of these adventures are lost in this way? How many memorable experiences will never again be remembered? Should we feel melancholy over their loss?

The point, I suppose, is that while memories of the past might well inform the present, that past can never truly be revisited. And so perhaps if you spend too much time reliving days of glory through rose-tinted spectacles, it may suggest that there’s an ongoing journey in need of more attention.

Here’s to all of our present and future journeys!

Audio & Podcasts

Talking bicycle travel (and more) on Roz Savage’s Adventure Podcast


Last week I was honoured to be invited as a guest on a new adventure podcast series hosted by Roz Savage, ocean rower extraordinaire and all-round legend, cunningly entitled Roz Savage’s Adventure Podcast. (iTunes link / RSS link.)

My incomprehensible burblings comprised the series’ 7th episode, which has so far featured the likes of Al Humphreys, Dave Cornthwaite, Ray Zahab, and other figures more articulate, handsome and adventurous than I.

Roz is very good at probing the psychological and philosophical side of adventure. Here are a few of the things we chatted about:

02:45: How I went from bog-standard university graduate to penniless bicycle-flaneur in the first place.
04:00: The spirit of adventure, how these journeys will ruin your ego, and finding your place in the world.
06:45: How to begin a bicycle journey with 24 hours notice (or, ignoring the ‘what-ifs’).
08:45: Don’t fall at the first hurdle (i.e. don’t forget these 2 things).
11:00: One non-negotiable element of every satisfying story, and how to capture it on film.
13:45: Losing perspective (and how it helped), and the importance of creative outlets.
16:00: On the mindset required to shoot a film without it ruining your adventure (hint: it involves hats).
18:10: Dealing with introversion and the crucial role of honesty while laying your thoughts bare on camera.
20:20: Why casting yourself as a hero is a really bad way to earn the respect of an audience.
24:10: My next big adventure, explained in a woefully mysterious manner.
25:20: Lifestyle design, earning a living on the road, and the never-ending quest to strike the right balance.
28:30: The one piece of advice I’d give for getting started on your own dream adventure.

Check out the episode over on Roz’s blog, or listen now using the embedded player below.

If you liked what you heard, do consider subscribing via iTunes or the show’s RSS feed. The show is brand new, and your feedback, comments and ratings will all be hugely appreciated by Roz and the team behind it.


Microadventure: Naivety, Uphill Battles & Small Victories in Adventure Travel (Part 3)

This is Part Three of an account of touring the Netherlands and the UK by recumbent bike. Start at the beginning.

Inside the Hennessy Hammock

In pitch darkness I pedalled away from the port, waving goodbye to the three Londoners I’d met on the ferry.

Decked out in woefully inappropriate attire — tweed, a trilby, a tie-dyed T‑shirt — they had been cycling around the Netherlands on clapped-out old bikes piled high with cheap supermarket-bought camping equipment. Not a Brooks or Ortlieb logo could be seen among them as they wobbled off, and I felt suddenly jealous of them for reasons that I could not identify until later, riding alone through the dark and misty streets of Harwich.