Alastair Humphreys, writer and adventurer on both macro and micro levels, just came out with a new book called Grand Adventures. Thanks to a shipping misprint, I ended up with two copies in my mailbox. So I put a post on Instagram the other night asking people to make a case for why I should send them the extra copy. I wrote: “Who out there has a big trip dreamed up but needs a kick in the ass to make it a reality?” because I think Al’s book is intended to do just that.
I didn’t intend the Instagram post to be a case study, but after reading all the messages, I realized a lot of us need a quote-unquote kick in the ass, because we have a lot of great ideas or half-formed notions of adventure, but somehow don’t make time for them. So they stay dreams.
And when we say “dreams,” there are two kinds: (1) the ones you have when you’re asleep, in which you spend four hours trying to get a malfunctioning gas pump to work at a Shell station in the desert while completely naked except for a pair of oven mitts and a Pittsburgh Steelers helmet and for some reason your old college roommate’s ex-girlfriend is there too, and (2) the kind of dreams that you think up on your own while you’re sitting in traffic or staring out the window of your office for a few minutes and think about what you might do if you were somewhere else.
I am not a behavioral psyschologist, but I think there are a number of reasons big trips/adventures don’t happen. The biggest one is that we procrastinate them, as if instead of being the coolest thing we might ever do in our lives, they are something like cleaning the gutters of our house or going to the dentist. Why do we procrastinate big trips? We’re busy.
Well, seriously, fuck busy. We’re all busy now. Here’s how it happened: a long time ago, you weren’t busy. Then you got busy with a bunch of shit, some of it that you made up, and now you’re always busy. That time long ago when you weren’t busy, that would have been the time to take that big trip to South America or Scandinavia or Alaska, wouldn’t it? You didn’t have shit to do. Except you didn’t have any money. Now maybe you have money, but you have no time.
Here’s how you plan a big trip and make it happen: Look at your calendar. Yeah, I know it’s busy—we already covered that. There is a point where you have nothing scheduled. Could be six months from now, could be eight months from now, could be a year from now. Keep the calendar open.
Now make a quick list of all the stuff you want to do in the magical time we call “someday.” Some of the stuff is big, some of the stuff is small. Focus on the big stuff. The trips you’d have to take two or three weeks off work, or a month, or hell, just quit your job to do oh but heavens no you couldn’t ever do that yes you could. Pick one of those big things and figure out how long you would have to be away to do it. Two weeks? Great. Write it on the calendar, in the appropriate season (i.e. you don’t want to try to do a weeklong backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon in July).
Now, do not break that date for anything. Find a partner for this adventure, someone who does not drift into “Flake Mode,” ever. Commit. Tell your boss about it and confirm that you will not be in the office those days. Treat this adventure plan as if it is a wedding. Weddings are bulletproof, because everyone knows how much planning goes into them. Even when shit completely melts down at the office, no one messes with the person getting married. Ever heard someone say, “Denise, I know you’re getting married on Saturday, but we really need you to come in to the office …” Hell no you don’t. This adventure is your wedding. You are getting married to not procrastinating your dreams any longer. Congratulations.
In the months between now and the time of your big adventure, you will still be busy. Guess what, busy is not going away for most of us. It’s the new reality. Again, fuck busy. Work within it. The adventure you have planned is a giant rock in the middle of a river, and the waters of Busy will flow around it. You are not going to magically find yourself not busy eight months from now. Your boss isn’t going to stop piling shit on your plate. You are not going to “get caught up” and have a big sigh of relief and look at your calendar and go, “Would you look at that, nothing going on next week. Guess I’ll just buy some tickets tonight and finally go to Bali tomorrow.”
So make a plan now. That nagging feeling you have that your life is passing you by will go away, and be replaced by a very real need to buy gear and maps and train and talk a friend into going with you, as well as a joyous feeling called anticipation, which is about a million times cooler than procrastination.
NOTE: I’m not getting paid to sell Al’s book, but if you need more advice and tips from people who have planned and executed a lot of big adventures, the book is full of them—and it’s not expensive.