Let’s Stop Trying to Define Adventure: It’s All Relative Emotion

I read travel journalism on an almost daily basis, and lately I can’t help but notice the influx of snobbery. While there are a whole host of ways in which this affliction rears its ugly head all too often, it’s rating the validity of adventure that I find the most tedious. Fueling the increasingly competitive nature of travel, words like ‘true’ or ‘real’ or ‘meaningful’ are applied to adventure, often referring to more physically demanding expeditions, the traversing of uncharted lands, or the never-been-done-befores. This neatly stacks travel experiences into stiff umbrella categories of ‘more’ or ‘less’ adventurous. If you’re not near the lofty heights of daring adventure, you’re swiftly discarded onto the pile of mediocre travellers, excluded from the elite super-club of nomads who are obviously doing a much better job of travelling than you are.

The word ‘adventure’ has been traditionally defined, in the literal sense of the word, as something that gives a sense of thrill, something that involves an element of risk, or an activity one feels to be exciting. With the way we’re presently talking about adventure, it’s as if these have been put on a ladder — my thrill is better than your thrill, my risk is larger (and therefore more valuable) than your risk.

Since when were these emotions measurable and ordered into better or worse, admirable or laughable?

Why have we put adventure on a scale?

My firm belief is this: adventure is a horizontal spectrum, not a vertical hierarchy. It’s doesn’t fall into a single category, or risk level, or thrill factor, and it certainly doesn’t have winners or losers. Adventure is an infinite variety of emotions and reactions, something that is sparked off in each of us in many different ways. Like the beauty in everything else that makes us unique as human beings, there is something to be celebrated in the fact that each of our senses of adventure is personal and individual.

For some, it’s the intrepid feeling of stepping into new places, the unknown and obscure. For others, it’s a change in routine, not necessarily related to moving far from home but more a sense of any activity out of the ordinary. It can be what makes you happy, or what terrifies you. And yes, some people find it in challenging their minds and bodies under the most testing conditions on Earth. Our stereotyped view of adventure is still valid, of course, but it stands shoulder to shoulder with so many more, blending in with some and opposing others.

For me, the important part is the emotion, rather than the activity. The only length I would go to in order to define it, if I had to say it was anything, would be this; adventure is something that makes you (personally you) feel adventurous.

As travel journalists speaking about adventure, it’s our responsibility to avoid exclusivity. Adventure needs to be accessible, and if we continue to pin it to levels of more or less, better or worse, we’re in grave danger of alienating the people we’re trying to reach. Our mission is to inspire, not impose — and we’re teetering dangerously on the edge of imposing a definition of the activities that are counted as adventures, thus belittling and excluding any other way of travel that sits outside of them. With our constant need to push and push at more extreme ways to travel, traditional means seem to become less valid, a fact that saddens me and could easily dishearten many future travellers.

It’s time to encourage a new way of looking at adventure, a way where legitimacy or authenticity don’t come into it. In fact, a way that has no concrete definition at all. It’s not okay to tell someone else how to enjoy the things they love in any other aspect of life, so it’s also not okay to tell someone how to adventure. It is about feeling thrilled, excited, a little scared but nevertheless exhilarated, or whatever other emotion that leads you to one thing — it is about feeling adventurous.

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