American author Clara Bensen is no stranger to adventure - a trip to eight countries with a man she met online just a few weeks earlier prompted her to write her book No Baggage: A Minimalist Tale of Love and Wandering. And she's since made four more spontaneous trips with her partner Jeff to South America, the Caucuses, Scandinavia, and Japan.
Here she tells Stylist.co.uk why you shouldn't put off adventure travel when it calls to you, and gives her top tips for avoiding the common pitfalls that come with planning a major trip and exploring the unknown.
“There are moments that put a knot in the pit of your stomach—a twinge of doubt accompanied by the urge to leap.”
That’s a quote that jumped out at me from the pages of Bruce Poon Tip’s beautifully illustrated new handbook Do Big Small Things: A Guided Journey toward Freedom, Happiness, and Adventure. As a fellow writer and adventurer (Bruce is the founder of small group adventure operator G Adventures), I thumbed through the pages of his interactive field journal recognising the power that comes from venturing outside comfort zones, connecting with strangers, making mistakes, and heeding the call of the unknown.
Inspired by Poon Tip’s handbook, I put together my own list of tips for anyone who is feeling the call of adventure, but scared to make the leap.
1. The Unfamiliar
For many people the thought of trading in the comfort of home for totally unfamiliar territory is intimidating. Why would you put yourself in a situation where you can’t understand anyone, and you have no idea what’s in the dish you just ordered, and you just got on a bus going the wrong way? It’s true, disorientation can be overwhelming, but it’s also a critical part of any true adventure. When you venture into the unfamiliar, you’re rewarded with inner growth, broadened perspectives, and the sorts of surreal experiences that can’t be found in a guidebook.
If you just go by what you see in the news, the world beyond your door can seem like a big, scary place. While there are some regions of the world that aren’t safe to visit, the risk is often exaggerated or limited to very specific locales. What you’re more likely to encounter from strangers is friendliness and curiosity—especially if that’s the vibe you’re putting out yourself. When adventuring, follow the basic rules of caution you’d follow anywhere (including your own city): be aware of your surroundings and trust your gut intuition.
3. Tourist Bubble
One of the biggest barriers to a genuine adventure is the tourist bubble. If you travel halfway across the world and end up somewhere with Starbucks lattes and expensive menus in English, you’re probably in the tourist bubble. It’s possible to take a trip without ever encountering the real local culture, but if you’re looking for an adventure, you’re going to have venture past the souvenir shops and cruise docks and out into the places where people actually live, work and eat. That’s where you’ll find the most memorable experiences and connections.
4. Rigid Plans
Some travellers arrange every last detail of their trips (down to the outfits they wear each day). Maybe you’re a natural planner who gets a buzz off of making a reservation months in advance or maybe you just feel more secure with all your ducks in a row—either way, consider leaving some space for spontaneity. A certain degree of planning can enhance an adventure, but if you stick too rigidly to those plans you won’t be flexible enough to say 'yes' when unexpected opportunities pop up (and they always do). Wild, magical moments rarely conform to schedule — get comfortable with ditching yours on occasion.
5. Limited Finances
Travel can be expensive. There’s no question it’s a privilege to be able to afford transportation and time off. That being said, there are all sorts of ways to set out on an affordable adventure — especially if you’re willing to be flexible. You can travel off-season or to destinations that don’t have sky-high costs of living. You can book cheap, last-minute flights. Hostels, Couchsurfing, HelpX and other hospitality exchange platforms offer free to low-budget accommodations (plus, staying with locals also give you the advantage of experiencing a culture firsthand). Do your homework, budget wisely and you’ll be surprised what you can pull off.
6. But You Should Be Doing “X”
There will always be naysayers who find it frivolous or impractical to spend time and money wandering the four corners of the earth (especially when you could be pursuing your career). But wandering is an investment—it’s just happens to be a non-traditional one. Intentionally removing yourself from "normal” and “familiar” has a way of clarifying priorities, challenging your understanding of the world, and injecting your life with new ideas and relationships. It’s a different sort of education.
Maybe you have a family to care for or a business to run. Or maybe it’s just not feasible to drop everything and take off. Luckily, adventuring isn’t limited to getting on a plane to some postcard destination. When you boil it down, adventure is a state of mind rooted in curiosity, openness, and exploration. Those elements can be cultivated anywhere—even at home or within your responsibilities. Look for opportunities to invite the unfamiliar into your daily life, whether that’s walking home a different way, ordering something other than “the regular,” or saying hello to a stranger.
8. Lack of Experience
Setting out on an adventure can be frightening for those who have never navigated a world city or woken up alone in an unfamiliar place. Still, a lack of experience shouldn’t stop you. You can start small with road trips, weekend jaunts, and visits to locations where you can get by with your native language. Once you build confidence and street smarts, you can attempt more challenging journeys. The idea is to always be pushing yourself a little beyond what you know until you become comfortable navigating on your feet.
Stereotypes of the rude, oblivious traveller abound and the multi-billion pound tourist industry often puts local communities at risk. To be a respectful adventurer, it’s important to educate yourself about the context of your environment. That means considering history, human rights, vulnerable communities, and responsible use of resources. “Finding yourself” shouldn’t come at the expense of someone else.
It’s common to pack everything but the kitchen sink, only to regret it when your shoulders are aching and you’re struggling to navigate a metro transfer with a four-piece luggage set in tow. There are real advantages to trading in the suitcase for something lighter: ease of movement, less to keep an eye on, and happier shoulders. Invest in good gear and some multi-purpose concentrate soap and you’re all set. When you’re adventuring, no-one knows (or cares) if you wore the same thing yesterday.