We are paralyzed by our everyday lives, bored by our routine, and lulled to sleep in our comfort zone. Microadventures, as popularized by the adventurer Alastair Humphreys, offer us a simple way to break out of this cycle and enjoy the benefits of a short escape. Here, we explain what it is all about and provide an overview of a rapidly growing trend.
It is 7 AM, and the alarm clock rings. What follows is coffee, breakfast, and then work. Some TV in the evening. And sports twice a week. Perhaps the occasional get-together with some friends. That, or something similar, pretty much describes the everyday life of many people – pure routine. There is nothing wrong with routine, per se. On the contrary, it creates valuable boundaries, such as, for example, the end of the working day. It offers consistency, provides our lives with structure, rhythm, and security. Yet, time seems to fly by when every day is the same. “From a psychological perspective, our sense of time only moves quickly when we don’t experience anything new. At some point, routine sets in and crystalizes as boredom and stagnation,” explained Saddia-Kiran Malik, a business IT specialist and management consultant, in an interview with the Zukunftsinstitut, a German trend and futurology research organization. “Too often, we end up running on autopilot, which not only paralyzes our creativity but also deceives our perceptions – and the clock seems to tick faster.”
We try to compensate for what we have missed or not experienced by spending time in front of a monitor or TV screen. That only succeeds to a limited extent, only allowing us to “tune out.” More often than not, it leads to frustration. On this point, specialists tend to agree. Digital adventures – those we have not experienced ourselves – do not lure us out of our comfort zone because they are not real. We need new stimuli and challenges that we have lived through ourselves to foster personal development. We cannot achieve that by merely traversing familiar territory. But not everyone has the opportunity, time, and money to drop everything and go on an adventure trip. Is there another way, perhaps?
For several years now, Alastair Humphreys, a British adventurer, and writer, has dedicated himself to just this question. Humphreys had already been pretty well everywhere around the world. He has traveled to more than 60 countries, often underway by bike or boat, has traversed arctic icescapes and deserts, and is always searching for the next thrill. As his fan base on social media grew, he was asked time and again if those who didn’t have the time, effort, money, or expertise could also enjoy similar experiences. Humphreys decided to follow up on this question and spent the night in the open adjacent to a nearby motorway near his home in London. He wanted to find out if it was possible to experience an adventure right on your doorstep. And it is!
To his amazement, he discovered that you don’t have to go far for new experiences or to discover great places – you just have to leave the confines of your own home. When you limit an adventure to just a night or a weekend, it is crucial to preserve the essence or character of an adventure. Humphreys wasn’t looking for a light adventure but rather one in a concentrated form. It had to require a minimum of preparation and planning and be so simple that also children could participate.
In his 2014 book “Microadventures,” Humphreys illustrates how simple it is to break out of your everyday routine. “In particular, I was thinking of the vast numbers of urban dwellers with office jobs,” he explains on his website. After all, life isn’t something that happens in the far-off future. It takes place right now – at this very moment. Time and again, Humphreys would encounter people who wanted to set out on an adventure but just couldn’t overcome their inhibition to begin. “But what if one day you realize that your life is over and you haven’t experienced anything?” This question led him to conclude, “Adventure is more of an attitude than an experience.” And if that is true, then, theoretically, one can find adventure just about anywhere.
How does a microaventure work?
In his book, Humphreys defines the concept of a microadventure as an outdoor adventure that anyone can integrate into their everyday lives and surroundings. And it literally takes place right on your own doorstep. It is a short, local, and inexpensive escape from your comfort zone. To counterbalance the “nine-to-five” routine Humphreys’ adventures begin at 5 PM and end at 9 AM the next day, when you’re usually back at your workplace, and the daily grind begins.
Whether camping at the edge of the forest, experiencing the city by moonlight, or camping in the backyard with the whole family, many devotees of this hobby, Christo Foerster among them, adhere to a few more game rules. Foerster, an author and outdoors expert, is an enthusiastic microadventurer and writes guidebooks on the topic. He regards a real microadventure as lasting between eight and 72 hours. It is best not to travel by car or plane or leave behind any garbage. And, if possible, you should stay outside overnight without a tent. “This way, the adventure takes on the character of an expedition,” says Foerster. Humphreys also maintains that part of a microadventure is spending the night outside instead of just taking an outdoor day trip. In some places like Germany camping outside a designated camping site is fillegal, it is best to keep in mind the difference between wild camping and bivouacking. You may spend the night in the open countryside without a tent if you avoid the protected areas.
Regardless of how you define or fashion such an adventure, the idea of taking a mini-break from everyday life continues to find enthusiastic adherents. When Humphreys’ book was published, it climbed to the top ten of bestseller lists within just a few hours. And, of course, other authors also took up the theme. As a result, recent years have seen an incredible hype surrounding this new kind of leisure activity. Books with titles such as “Raus und machen” (Get out and do it!), “Be Wild” and “Everyday Adventurer” have suddenly popped up, Facebook groups organize after-work adventures, mindfulness blogs provide tips for everyday escape through adventure, and researchers investigate the additional benefit of these small breaks. “Many people yearn for the type of real experiences that they were previously unable to integrate into their everyday lives,” says Foerster in his book “Raus und machen.” One reason for this is the digitalization of our everyday lives. “Nowadays, when we get up in the morning, we already know that it will rain in the evening. There is an app for everything. The unforeseen is no longer a part of our lives.” For Foerster, however, the essence of a real adventure is the idea of growing from an experience. And this can only occur by taking a leap into the deep end and being open to the possibility of chance and surprise – to accept the unforeseen.
Regularly breaking out of one’s routine and experiencing things for the first time or in a new way leads to a more intense perception of one’s surroundings and even oneself. You become more attentive, learn to trust your intuition again, and think out of the box, asserts Malik. “Microadventures catapult us into the present, allow us to focus on positive things, boost our concentration, make us more productive, and protect us from burning out.”
The mere idea of leaving one’s comfort zone for the night – both physically, in terms of forsaking one’s bed, and psychologically, in terms of setting aside feelings of habit, familiarity, and security – triggers the synapses and creates excitement. “I would even say that the greater the stress of everyday life, the more essential are microadventures to one’s well-being,” claims Humphreys.
Whether coincidentally or not, the lust for regional adventures is consistent with other trends, such as sustainability, climate protection, environmental protection, and mindfulness. On the one hand, it perfectly captures the spirit of the times, and, on the other, it touches a sensitive, collective nerve in our chronically overburdened modern civilization.
How can we integrate such a valuable adventure into our everyday lives?
Sleeping a night under the open sky may sound romantic at first, but, upon closer inspection, it is a completely crazy idea. Questions spring up. Where? Alone or with others? And what about pets? What kind of outdoor bedding equipment do I need? After all, it will probably be damp, cold, and uncomfortable. Could it be dangerous? “To start off, it is perhaps best to choose a destination that is close to where you live,” recommends Humphreys. “If possible, make it a group activity and begin while the temperatures are still mild.” It is not about having the right equipment. Instead, “a friend and a couple of beers help pave the way for the adventure.” What requires the most preparation is your inner attitude, the goal of your trip, and your expectations. Ensure that you don’t quit after encountering the first obstacle and make sure you can get the most out of your adventure.
First and foremost, says Humphreys, you should consider your motivation. “That’s different for everyone. Some want to relax and free their minds, while others are looking for an adrenaline rush and to be active. Find out what you want.” Humphreys’ website offers many valuable tips on microadventures, helpful equipment lists, and links to Facebook groups one can join.
We have gathered a few ideas for microadventurers:
Bivouacking: Sleeping in a tent is great but for a single (dry) night, bivouacking in the open is even better . You can stare at the stars until you fall asleep and then wake with the first rays of sunrise. Spend the night in a sleeping bag on a camping mat or, if you don’t want to lie on the ground, you can set up a hammock. In this case, a diagonal lying position is more comfortable. If the weather is unstable, make sure to bring rain protection. If you want to observe the stars, you should keep away from residential areas.
Tent camping: Unfortunately, free camping is not allowed everywhere. Check your country’s regulations first. An alternative to conventional campsites are private sites that can be rented through digital platforms such as tentrr or 1NiteTent
Survival camps and Bushcraft: Here, you can learn how to survive in the wilderness with few or no tools, set up a camp, make a fire, and find and prepare food.
Winter/rainy day swimming: An excursion outside the tourist season when the temperatures are not quite so warm means that you can often have the lake all to yourself. Swimming while it’s raining already bears the stamp of adventure, while ice bathing under winter temperatures is a trend in itself. Take along waterproof bags for clothing. A shelter and a warm drink could prove helpful here.
Follow the course of a river: A simple and effective adventure. Just follow the path of any river or stream. You usually have to overcome a few obstacles but are guaranteed to take an unfamiliar route.
Night hiking: Leave the light pollution of the city far behind you. With a star app, you can reliably match up the points in the sky, even including satellites, rockets, meteor showers, and the ISS.
Cooking outside (don’t just bring a picnic): Whether you choose to make a campfire, bring along a Bunsen or gas burner, or use a Dutch oven, there is always something to cook up – from a simple recipe to more complicated dishes. Be sure to adhere to all the rules concerning open fires and wilderness protection.
Hike to the highest point in the area: It sounds easy, but it can also be somewhat of a challenge. You determine the radius, a map quickly reveals where you find a the highest hill or mountain in your area, and off you go.
Building a teepee in the woods with children: Nothing is easier. Just collect wood from the surroundings and set it up in the form of a tent. Children quickly get a feel for construction. Decide for yourself if this is where you will snack on a sandwich or read stories in the twilight.
Geocaching: This is a kind of GPS scavenger or treasure hunt in which you find a hidden location using geographical coordinates, maps, and GPS devices. With a bit of luck, you will find the geocache, a watertight container with a logbook, and one or more small exchange items – so don’t forget to take something along to leave in return.