It’s hard to be adventurous on a daily basis.
Our attempts to fulfill the outdoor pull—without actually going outdoors—leave us unsatisfied: We stockpile images from hikes that are farther away than we can manage. We endlessly scroll through Instagram coveting the outings others post. We set a goal to finally take that backcountry ski tip in Chile or climbing trip in Spain—then set the goal again next year. Extensive time off of work to go backpacking is unrealistic.
We feel stifled in the ruts of routine.
It’s time to re-discover the beauty of short and spontaneous adventure, or in other words:
First coined by Alastair Humphreys, an English author and explorer, microadventures are outings that are “short, simple, local, and cheap” but just as exciting, challenging, and refreshing as a longer, more far-flung expedition.
It’s less about the specifics of the adventure and more about the posture: seeing adventure as an integrated piece of work-life balance for people who don’t do these things for a living or have their explorations sponsored by industry bigwigs. Humphreys encourages minimal gear and provisions for cost effectiveness, like a simple bivy or a night under the stars.
You choose the location, duration, and scope of the adventure. Here are a few suggestions to get you rolling.
While this is dependent on where you live, the work night campout can be a quick break in the routine. When working in Boulder, Colorado, I had a secret selection of dispersed, primitive campgrounds in Indian Peaks Wilderness, 10 miles from the city. I chose this spot because my commute to work was quicker than where I was living at the time. I’d organize the backseat and trunk space of my Subaru into a makeshift bed, pack a gallon of water, grab some firewood after work and head up the gravel switchbacks.
I’d build a fire around 7 p.m., either solo or with friends, string up a hammock, eat a dinner that usually consisted of snacks, and crawl into my sleeping bag around two hours later—after properly extinguishing the fire, of course. Come morning, I’d roll out of the back of my car and blink the sleep from my eyes with the sunrise spilling over my wilderness setting. I’d take a minute to appreciate the view before driving down to a coffee shop to jumpstart my work day. My hair would smell like campfire, and I secretly cherished the reminder it gave me.
Even if there aren’t any campgrounds nearby, a backyard can suffice. Set up a tent and use a firepit to simulate a campfire. Tell ghost stories. It might feel like you’re ten years old, but, then again, isn’t that kind of the point?
Admittedly, I had to get used to the 5 a.m. wake-up call that pre-work trail runs required. Everything in me tried to justify another two hours of sleep. Instead, I’d drag myself out of bed, drive 20 minutes from my door to a nearby wilderness area, and work in a few miles before my responsibilities kicked in for the day.
Eventually, I acclimated to—even craved—these morning trail adventures, and pushed my bedtime up earlier to prepare for them. The cold, crisp air before dawn, lacing up my shoes in solitude, and beginning the run with only the sounds of my breath and the birds rustling above made the early rise worthwhile. These trips were quick, local, and made me feel as though I had accomplished something bigger than checking off my to-do list that day.
In places that experience snowier winters, you can still participate year round with an investment in extra layers and either trail shoes made for snow or gaiters and microspikes.
It can be any trail—just get off the asphalt and into open space. Anything works if it helps you forget that you have a job in a city and gives you a chance to disconnect.
Sometimes, I'll use my weekends to drive an hour or two to an area that piques my interest. I never have much of an agenda, only to roam and discover whatever I might find.
Once, for example, I drove to the trailhead of a very popular 14er and resolutely hiked in the opposite direction of the trail that led up to the peak, unsure of where it led but knowing there was a defined path. I descended into a valley for several miles before climbing to two alpine lakes spaced apart by small peaks and ridge formations. It was mostly vacant, and I made a mental note for my next short-approach overnighter. Drive to any nearby public lands area and take advantage of exploring the open spaces that you own.
Another time, I made my way to a small mining town and explored streets lined with pastel colored buildings, picking through antique shops filled with lavender colored glassware and old trail signs. I bought handmade fleece sweatshirts, picked up some local pastries and headed out on a few area trails that locals suggested.
These are the adventures that I cherish—choosing a location and letting the adventure plan itself from there. Pick a place that's held your interest for the past few weeks and let yourself roam with no real plans or time limits. It's amazing how freeing those few hours can feel in a week that's planned to the minute.
Landlocked? Surrounded by skyscrapers? You can still have fulfilling microadventures in concrete jungles.
When residing in Amsterdam, my favorite adventures were biking to unknown neighborhoods and letting myself slowly weave in and out of alleyways filled with flower carts, unique shops, and street food. Each time I gave myself the freedom to slow down and explore, I discovered new features.
Take advantage of city parks. Microadventures in urban parks can range from casual enjoyment to more intense. Try introducing yourself to fellow runners that run at a similar pace, or getting together with a local cycling club for post-work rides on city trails. Grab a partner and two mats and do a yoga session, then observe nature during the relaxation period at the end of your session. Find a park with an accessible lake to explore on your stand-up paddleboard.
Being adventurous isn't about having the time or ability; it’s about imagining what’s possible and incorporating bursts of play to balance the otherwise steady slog of deadlines and errands. Microadventures do just that: They break up routine and make room for time outdoors.
Adventure is what you make it, and being adventurous simply means leaving space for the unexpected explorations—the side alleys and rabbit holes—we find in the midst of our busy lives.