Self Improvement

How to Turn Your Next Vacation into an Adventure

Rob Nightingale 06-07-2015

A great mind once spoke, “Without adventure, travel is just tourism“. It’s hard to disagree with that sentiment.


There’s a world between a vacation broiling on the beach and soaking in the attractions, and one which involves a hearty dose of adrenaline, adventure, unpredictability, serendipity, and exploration. Perhaps even a snippet of danger.

For most of us, the adventurous side of the tourism industry is fraught with expensive trips, unobtainable insurance, and obnoxious gap-year backpackers hellbent on finding their true life-purpose at the bottom of a bungee jump plummet.

Yet finding yourself caught up in the adventurous side of travel need not be as challenging as we think.

Adventure is a State of Mind

The word adventurer conjures up images of bearded, weathered men battling heinous adversities that nature sadistically hurls at them, one after the other. Robert Falcon Scott perishing on the Antarctic ice in 1912. Ed Stafford walking the entire length of the Amazon River over 860 days.

But adventure need not place our limbs at risk or our entire lives on a precipice. Adventure is a state of mind. To quote a video I recently watched,


“Adventure is about stepping outside of your comfort zone and ensuring every new day is as unpredictable as the last”.

It’s about choosing to look at the world differently. To get a new perspective on the ordinary, and to develop new liking for things that would either have been left unknown or unnoticed to you.

One of my favorite quotes on this topic is by Tim Cope in the video above, in which he defines adventure as “setting out with a question, and coming back with even more questions”.

Whatever the definition, it’s clear that it’s relative to the individual. For some, it may involve skiing little explored areas of Austria. For others it may be walking around your childhood town noticing the unnoticed.


The term microadventure was popularized by the English adventurer Alastair Humphreys, which he defines as “simple expeditions and challenges which are close to home, affordable, and easy to organize”. We’ve explored 10 microadventure ideas Disconnect This Holiday With 10 Inspiring Microadventures These are adventures that we can enjoy over a week, a weekend, or even just a few hours. Here are ten microadventure videos to inspire a few steps outside the comfort zone, Read More in a previous article, but there are thousands more.


Humphreys has previously walked the entire length of the M25, crossed Scotland by foot and packraft, and self-conducted an A-Z food tour of London. I’ve completed my fair share of microadventures too, from hitchhiking from the UK to Morocco, to hiking 55 miles over two days across the English Lake District. I can attest to the convenience and ease with which these adventures can be organized.

If you have a short vacation (or a long weekend) coming up, consider the kinds of microadventures you could set out on. Spend a night wild camping, cycling up a mountain, or spending an entire weekend on a photography “expedition” in a nearby city. The world — including your own back yard — is your oyster. For further ideas check out the Your Year of Microadventure poster.

Become a Flâneur


It’s time to do away with the idea that adventure is only for the remote corners of the world. In this wonderful exploration of flânerie in The Paris Review, Walter Benjamin is quoted:


“[the flâneur] was a figure of the modern artist-poet, a figure keenly aware of the bustle of modern life, an amateur detective and investigator of the city, but also a sign of the alienation of the city and of capitalism”.

The the flâneur is someone who takes it upon themselves to explore the urban environment around them. To see their village, town or city through an entirely fresh perspective. It’s about getting lost and about wandering with no destination, and simply seeing what happens.

To help with this quest, the The Flâneur Society was set up to help people “explore the hidden crevices of a city and/or those who have a curiosity to do so…what makes cities interesting places to be is the unexpected”.

They even have a short, free ebook for your perusal, including a couple of step-by-step guides to help you get to grips with flânerie —  the art of aimlessly wandering, all the while being open to the unexpected sights, events, tastes, sounds, and smells that come your way.

Note: This is also a perfect way to turn a short overseas break into more of an adventure. Simply book the flights, and arrive at your destination with no plans whatsoever. Forget travel research Stress Free Travel: How to Prevent Mistakes and Minimize Anxiety Wouldn't it be nice if traveling could be a blissful affair? With a healthy dose of technology and a few tweaks to your traveling mindset you can banish all anxiety. Read More . Simply turn up, and go with the flow.


Join an Expedition


If you’re after something a lot more intense, and have the fitness levels and experience to back you up, perhaps it’s time to consider joining an actual expedition team. Although I’ve never gone this far myself, I do occasionally enjoy browsing ExplorersConnect (free sign-up needed) and the ‘Available Vacancies’ PDF, linked to on this Royal Geographic Society page [No Longer Available].

You will have to go through application and vetting procedures, along with health and reference checks. This is only for the seriously fit, and the seriously determined, and generally for those who can afford to fund their portion of the expedition themselves.

A few examples of expeditions that are looking for team members:

  • Kayak Film Making Trip in Uganda (2016)
  • The Iron Curtain Expedition
  • 11 Days on the Patagonian Ice Fields
  • Doctors, nurses, engineers & biologists needed to support an expedition in the Sierra Nevada
  • The Ice Race 2016

On similar lines, joining an extreme endurance adventure race can give you something to train for over several months (if not years), such as the Trans Pyr in Spain in which “riders must cross the length of the Pyrenees, traveling 509 miles with 66,601 feet of accumulated climbing” (Fitbie).

Off-Roading or Road Tripping


Enjoy a vehicular adventure? Heading out into the back-country with the aide of a hefty engine could be your idea of adventure heaven. And with apps like Travel Math to help work out the overall expenses, there’s no excuse to put it off any longer.

If off-roading tickles your fancy, you’ll have to call a couple of rental and insurance companies to ensure you’re covered for ditching the tarmac, and heading for the sand dunes, but no doubt it’ll be worth it. If you’re near Death Valley, Farabee Jeep Rentals will have you off roading in no time.

If you’re an Android user, consider purchasing the BackCountry app which offers offline, off-road TOPO maps (also great for hiking). For the iPhone/iPad, GPS Kit is a worthy alternative.

For a less demanding road trip, RoadTrippers offers some fantastic suggestions on places to visit, along with trip planning features that’re pretty fun to use. Furkot is another great trip planning site, while Road Trip is a nifty way of keeping track of your car’s fuel economy, maintenance etc.

Learn Something New


Learning a new skill or craft while on vacation is a tremendous way of shifting gears and getting something entirely fresh from your time away. There’s a whole host of websites (Shaw Guides and Transitions Abroad, for instance) and courses that you can start researching now. We’ve covered a few of these in a recent article on learning vacations How to Take a Break with a Learning Vacation This Year We work so hard. We owe it to ourselves to make sure those vacations are spent extremely well. Learning vacations are an excellent way of doing just that. Read More  which lists examples of courses you could take part in, including;

Travel With a Mission


Rather than simply traveling to relax and recharge, why not travel with a purpose? This ties in nicely with a few of the ideas mentioned above. Imagine arriving at your vacation destination knowing you have a mission to complete. This can be anything; as silly as you like. In fact, the sillier, the better.

If you’re a vegan, try every vegan restaurant in the city. If you’re near a lake, circumnavigate it. Volunteer for a charity. Try every locally brewed beer New to Craft Beer? Start with the Best Beer Websites & Communities Beer is an acquired taste. Once acquired, beer offers a certain world of taste that no other beverage can. Experience the wonders of craft beer, with these websites and communities. Read More . Upload videos of every busker you see in the city. Take a selfie with 50 locals over a weekend.

This mission strategy is something I’ve done a few times, including learning as much as I could about Japanese design in 7 days while in Osaka. While in Chiang Mai, I also decided to infiltrate the digital nomad scene Life on the Road: The History of Digital Nomadism Read More to see what it was all about.

Whatever mission you assign yourself, make sure it’s fun, and preferably outside your comfort zone and into your personal zone of adventure.

Stay With a Local


With sites like Homestay, CouchSurfing, AirBnB and RentaSofa, it’s easier than ever to find locals to stay with while on vacation.

Having done this a few times myself, the benefits are amazing. From being shown how to cook local dishes, experience local culture, a native way of life, be introduced to your host’s friends, and shown the lesser-known places to hang out, you’d be hard pressed to find a better way to travel and meet fascinating people 10 Effortless Ways To Meet Interesting People While Traveling When traveling, it can often be difficult to meet like-minded, interesting people to spend your days and evenings with. With the right tools and some enthusiasm, it can be an effortless exercise. Read More .

Be sure to leave your preconceptions at home, while packing plenty of politeness and openness.

Help Out With a Local Project


Did you know, people are willing to cover your living expenses in return for some of your time being spent on an exciting local project? Sites like HelpX and Workaway list a good number of these opportunities, from working on a Bavarian horse farm to helping out at an art gallery lodge in New Mexico.

Some of these opportunities are similar to WOOFing. Help out on organic farms, or house sit (looking after a house while the owners away). Most of these are generally medium to long-term, though you can sift through and find less lengthy opportunities — some as short as one or two weeks.

Adventure Activities


Of course, there’s still the age old adventure activities that you can hurl yourself into. Perfect for when you want your vacation to be a compromise between new excitements and familiar relaxation, here’s a far-from-exhaustive list of adventure activities to get your heart racing:

Wherever you go, apps such as TripAdvisor and FourSquare will help you to find exciting things to do.

What Will Your Adventure Be?

As we said at the start of this article, adventure is a state of mind. For each person, this “adventure” will look different. For some, it will be a mountaineering expedition in the Andes, for others it will be finding the perfect Bagel in New York. The possibilities are excitingly endless and as personal to you as your like.

Do you like to add a dash of adventure to your vacations? Tell us about your wild experiences. Where will your next adventure take you?

Image Credits: Lieutenant A. E. Sable ~ Pillar of Darkness Expedition by davidd (Flickr), Walking Fingers by Enric Fradera (Flickr), North Walling by Vern (Flickr), Land Rover Off Roading by Mark Doliner (Flickr), Climbing Lesson by GtoG (Flickr), Yoshi Plans our Trip by Greg Younger (Flickr), Volunteering by Daniel Thornton (Flickr), Thai Express Family Dinner June 25, 20112 by Steven Depolo (Flickr), Sky Dive by Alwaysmnky (Flickr)

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  1. Anonymous
    July 6, 2015 at 7:16 pm

    Exactly what i wanted , I did that setting off for a completely new and stranger city all of the sudden without any plans or thoughts and it turned out to be the most amazing trip i have taken to date, and will be looking forward to do it once more.

    • Rob Nightingale
      July 7, 2015 at 8:01 pm

      Sounds like a great adventure! So pleased you found the article useful, and hope it inspires you for future adventures :)