When Does A Holiday Become An Adventure?

By Alastair Humphreys

Like most of us these days, I feel far too busy with all the commitments of real life. So one of my greatest pleasures is to have both a chunk of empty time in my calendar and the jangle of enough coins in my pocket to go off and do something exciting.

Everyone chooses to spend their precious spare time and money differently. Do you go on holiday, or do you feel the call of adventure? Beach or desert? Ice cream or ice cap?

But what exactly is the difference between a holiday and an adventure? Intuitively they feel very different, but are they really? I turned to Twitter to gauge other people’s opinions on the subject.

Types of fun

When I began trying to answer this question I felt drawn to the old definitions of the different types of fun.

Type 1 fun is obvious fun. Eating ice cream. Jumping into a swimming pool. Dancing to music.

Type 2 fun is retrospective fun. Mud, rain, blisters, then laughing about it all later in the pub.

Type 3 fun, incidentally, are those expeditions which are not fun at the time, and not even fun to dwell upon afterwards! Close shaves, near misses, and misery-fests: these are best avoided whenever possible!

For me, a ‘holiday’ involves Type 1 fun things like nature, freedom and fresh air, whilst ‘adventure’ involves all those things PLUS a dash of Type 2 masochism, misery, asceticism, and looking forward to the end. I enjoy going on holiday, of course, but I’m generally only able to relax like a normal person once I’ve gone for a massive, exhausting run that preferably involves getting lost and having a few adventures along the way.

After that I’m as ready as anybody for the breakfast buffet and inflatable unicorns! If holidays are supposed to be relaxing, then perhaps adventures are about the challenge and the unknown. We choose them not because they are easy, but because they are hard. The perfect example for this in my own life was rowing across the Atlantic Ocean. We were at sea for 45 brutal days and nights, rowing hard for 3000 miles.

But the end of our journey was Barbados, perhaps the ultimate holiday destination? One day we were struggling, anxious and uncomfortable. And then literally the next day we were lying on sun loungers under palm trees sipping cold beer and looking out at those ocean waves in disbelief. This was a neat demonstration that adventures involve pushing yourself forward, whilst holidays very much involve lying back and relaxing.

Pragmatic recklessness

Alastair Humphreys

When I plan adventures I aim for a strategy of pragmatic recklessness. I came up with the phrase when I was cycling around the world and preparing to ride through a country that the Foreign Office strongly advised me to avoid. I worked hard to minimise my risks, but also accepted that I was choosing to take on an element of uncertainty. With all my adventures, I try to plan enough to be safe and to give me a decent chance of success. But beyond that I dare myself to leave the rest to chance or fate. I want to embrace risk, surprises, serendipity and to be able to take less travelled paths on a whim. I always assume that because holidays are easy, they don’t need planning. I always regret that decision! My holidays seem to revolve around restaurants that needed booking but weren’t, venues that require tickets I don’t have, and somewhat too much last-minute improvisation to be truly relaxing.

In my opinion, holidays and adventures overlap. This is certainly suggested by the explosion of cycling holidays, swimming holidays, and trekking holidays. If you have a limited amount of spare time then it is understandable that people try to tick both boxes at once. If Alpkit offered to send me on an all-expenses holiday in order to better research this article, then I’d certainly be looking for places I’d never been, a sense of achievement, adrenalin and aching limbs, as well as fluffy pillows, excellent food and a glass or two of fine red wine. These things need not be mutually exclusive in life!

But perhaps the final word, in this piece penned by a self-titled Adventurer and Author, should go to @LakesStiles who replied to me on Twitter that ‘Adventures are self indulgent people writing about their holidays….’

Maybe the internet has the answer

Adventures are less relaxing, but always have the best stories. @alistairmagowan

Holiday you’re running away from something. Adventure you’re running toward something. @jnicedill

An adventure is to seek challenge. A holiday is to escape from challenge. @junkcano

I think risk is an essential ingredient of adventure, but for me that risk does not have to be about pain or failure… it can be about discovery, connection, the unexpected, delight, euphoria… all of which may be unknowns but are possible without unpleasantness. @DanRavenEllison

Adventures are less relaxing, but always have the best stories. @alistairmagowan

Adventure has a goal, a plan, a pass/fail. Holiday is enjoying doing very little which is why you can spend a holiday in bed and still have achieved the goal! @JordanJaunt

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