Explorer, author, trail prospector & travel writer

Adventure Versus The Status Quo: Diary Of An Ongoing Conflict

I dream of another big adventure. Constantly.

This is probably not something that will ever change. I believe that I am forever destined to fantasise about the far side of the bend; the life of pure simplicity engendered by being on the road with the wind at my back and no particular reason to do anything or be anywhere or tell anyone about it.

That is not where I was this time last year.

Another big adventure was long overdue. But there were obstacles.

In particular, I was feeling increasingly trapped by circumstances.

A little over three years before, Tenny and I had made the decision to settle in the UK. This was a big decision for both of us. She grew up within the conservative Armenian community of Tehran and had already defied all of her society’s expectations by marrying me (hell, she’d defied everyone’s expectations by marrying me).

Moving to the UK would be a serious challenge. Not least for me: I had long since abolished my former life there and had no personal desire to return and be reminded of it. I’d have to face a few demons and learn to live again in a society whose ills I’d perceived so strongly that they had been my original motivation to up and leave with no intention of returning.

“It’s amazing how jading modern life can become,” a fellow cycle traveller told me recently, “and it’s only now – having stepped away from a well paying job, rented my house out and whittled down my possessions – that I’ve realised this.”

Guess what? After three and a half years in the UK, I was once again utterly jaded. And I barely realised it. I was feeling increasingly pressured by the demands of modern life – so much so that I had to take a big step back and assess what I was doing. That’s when I realised how jaded I was becoming, how – with all the freedom to do as I pleased – I’d chosen to get myself stuck in another rut, because that was what ‘modern life’ seemed to encourage.

But as for getting out of that rut? I didn’t know where to start.

Beginning my first big trip in 2007 was easy. I had nothing to lose. I’d have left much sooner, too, if I hadn’t been so determined to build a giant institution around my planned trip (which I would later expend great energies dismantling).

This time, though, there was more at stake.

Firstly, I was married. I could no longer justify spending months and months away from the girl I loved in order to attend to some unscratchable itch. So the next big adventure would be a shared one. And that would require compromises, because Tenny was not interested in living on bread and jam, sleeping behind hedges, or riding a bicycle thousands of miles.

Secondly, I had no money, nor (still) any reliable source thereof. By travelling exclusively on a shoestring and avoiding the trappings of modern life, I’d always avoided having to face up to the fact that I am financially illiterate. But over three and a half years in the UK, the trappings had crept back in, and with them the perpetual monetary woes of the modern age. The result was that our financial resources were – well, let’s call it ‘strained’, and hardly compatible with the idea of a big overseas travel binge.

The day-to-day of life on the road didn’t worry me. But there were giant obstacles in the way of this adventurer getting started on his next Big Adventure. (If nothing else, I hope that reminds a few people that they’re not alone.)

At the same time, I realised it was very much worth remembering that every such problem has already been solved by someone. Every obstacle has already been faced and overcome.

So we did our research. And we made a plan to solve these problems.

And, over the course of 2014, we put the plan into action.

Then, at the beginning of 2015, we packed up our life in the UK and departed for the southern hemisphere. I write this today from Sydney, Australia, where I’ve spent the last two months, with a visit to New Zealand thrown in as well.

I’ll be back in the UK this spring, temporarily, in order to produce not one but two new adventure documentaries: the full-length version of Karun, and the documentary about my horseback trip in Patagonia with Leon. But it definitely feels like a short stopover, with none of the previously-attached strings, and we’ll be back on the road in the early summer, and hopefully for the rest of the year.

So, over the next few weeks and months, I’ll be sharing some of what we did to extract ourselves from a settled existence with all its many trappings and liberate ourselves again.

As mentioned, this wasn’t something I had to worry about at the age of 22 when I first decided to hit the road. But now, aged 31, these obstacles of mine are the same ones a great many people are obliged to overcome.

I finally know how to feels to be trapped by them. Yet it turns out they are still escapable.

What big obstacles are standing in the way of your adventures? How do you plan to overcome them?


11 responses to “Adventure Versus The Status Quo: Diary Of An Ongoing Conflict”

  1. Great post, and I look forward to reading the following ones. Because……

    I took my last big trip four years ago, a year of travelling, over half of it cycle touring. Every day I woke up and loved my life, constantly grinning about the unexpected that lay ahead and the complete freedom we had. I can’t remember any difficulties making the decision to go – my fixed term job had come to an end, and we came back planning the next trip – a no-fly circumnavigation (bikes boats trains).

    Now I find myself in the same situation work-wise, contract coming to an end – a perfect time to go. 9-5 life has become like a rut, and I know there is more out there. But something is holding me back. And my problem is, I can’t quite figure out what it is, so can’t set about overcoming it. Fear of the unknown? Doubtful, did it before. Cash? No. Saved up. Career? Definitely not. Came back and got a job before, can do it again. Fancy a change anyway.

    I guess my point is, how do you come over the obstacles if you don’t know what the hell they are? No answers expected – just makes me very interested in what more you have to say on the topic!

  2. I too have constantly felt this tug of adventure (I have done a fair amount of travelling over the years). About 4 years ago I was totally sick of my mundane life in the UK and we (me, my wife and my daughter, who was 11) took the plunge and sold everything in Scotland and moved to the USA. It has been a great adventure so far and I am planning some interesting bike rides this year. We have settled down in many ways, I am a web developer so I have found it easy to get work, but the itch is still there and I hope it never goes away!

  3. Hey Tom,

    I stumbled across your blog a couple days ago and I’ve been working my way through your life of the last few years but this post has compelled me to comment!

    What you say here rings so true with my current state of mind. Since 2007 I’ve been only coming back to the UK to do 3-6 months of contract work before leaving on the next adventure (though using trains and buses to get around the world instead of cycling).

    Tomorrow marks 2 years back and I’m so conflicted. For the first time in my life I have stuff, more than I can fit into a 75ltr backpack. I have a flat I like and a flatmate that I would ‘screw over’ if I left, but the main thing is the serious girlfriend.

    She isn’t in the position to run away with me and if she could we would have the same issues you face – I don’t think she would happy with the dirty backpacker lifestyle which is ‘required’ for extended periods.

    I need to get out, I need to make drastic life changes but I don’t know how to approach it. This contract is coming to an end but I’ve not got the fiances to do anything crazy. Looks like I’m going to have to work some more and figure it out.

    Sigh. Life is easier in backpacker mode.

    Look forward to your following posts 🙂

  4. I too feel the trappings of marriage. That sounds terrible to write, but I am married to a wonderful wonderful woman who will live off bread and jam, but who isn’t interested in pedalling bikes thousands of kilometres or hiking through Grizzly country for weeks on end.

    I am blessed with some exciting travel with my work; however, I am secretly ashamed of all my grand adventures that have been postponed or cancelled simply because I cannot personally justify the time away from home. It’s hard to find a balance!

  5. This post rings so true for me, as it does for other readers by the sounds of it. Modern life really does feel like a trap at times. I’m in the process of de-cluttering my house/life prior to renting it out (house not life) and hitting the road fo 6 months, on your expedition bike as it happens, cycling from Norway to Spain to Istanbul. After Istanbul, who knows, might just carry on. The ‘de-cluttering my life’ process prior to starting my tour is proving very therapeutic. Just realised, ref my comment about renting out my house; it does feel a but like I’ve been renting out my life, and not living it for my benefit but becoming a slave to modern life and its pressures. Need to stop renting my life out. As Henry Rollins says – ‘no such thing spare time, no such thing as free time, no such thing as down time. All you got is life time. Go’.

  6. Tom, This is going to come as a big shock ! Some time in the future you are going to have to grow up ! 🙂

    Only joking – keep up the torment and tell us of your great adventures as they are a great inspiration for me to have little ones !

    Cheers JB

  7. Very interesting writing and it hits home for me as well. As I am writing these words; I just left a job that I felt was trapping me and made me feel under valued and un appreciate it. Yes, I know, some may feel that why do I need a job to validate me or establish my worth in this world. In truth, in today’s society: what we do and where we do it for a living says a lot about where we are in society. Interesting thing is that I no longer care what people thing about me based on what I have done to make a living. I care more about the things that I want to pursue as I am 45 years old because time runs out. I do not have an infinite list of things that I want to do but there are some that I need to do. I do have a tremendous girlfriend of 14 years that does not share the same or any of the same desires to be on the open road pedaling away to find the treasures hidden by the boring tourist traps and hotel predictable chains. I have to make decisions to see where she and I are in life and if we can find a compromise so we can meet halfway so we can both feel like we validate each other. Truth is I do love her very much so it is no longer an option for me to say the hell with it and leave. 15 years ago, yes, now it is complicate it, but staying in the same routine is suicide. Time will tell… I am just glad to know that I am not the only cycle tourist dealing with the same dilemma.

  8. I enjoy reading your blog – and thank you for sharing so many of your thoughts and experiences. I’m really looking forward to your next posts in this series. Finding a way to pursue our dreams, while at the same time reconciling them with other things in life that affect them, like relationships, or money, clearly speaks to a lot of people. I’m interested in hearing more about why you find settled existence, modern society, and in the UK in particular, so jading and trapping. Also, I’m intrigued by what seems to be an implicit connection in your words between settled=trapped and travelling=liberation. It resonates with me too, and I share some of the conflicts you describe, but I also wonder whether a settled existence cannot also be liberated and adventurous, and a life on the road trapped? To answer your question, I’d say the biggest ‘obstacle’ in the way of my adventure-dreams is my job, which is not mobile, and which I love, and through which – I try and hope at least – to do some good in this world.

  9. Imagine you live a daily life in which the cheapest bicycle available would mean you are incredibly rich compared to the status quo. If you want a real adventure try living on an income of less than a euro/dollar/pound per day. We dream of round the World adventures on bicycles that cost more than several years wages for the great majority of people. The real reason people want a two week holiday in the sun e.g. is because there is a billion dollar marketing machine telling them it is necessary. It seems to me material wealth brings unhappiness. I flew one time from Heathrow Airport in England to Nairobi in Kenya. The taxi driver that took me to my hotel told me he would not earn the cost of the flight in a lifetime. So you are on your bicycle pedalling along some bumpy gravel track somewhere and having an adventure? Have I got news for you, the local people do it everyday. What exactly constitutes an adventure these days? My late Father and Uncle, and several of my cousins were successful cycle racers and I have been cycling all my life and love it. This concept of so called adventure escapes me.

    1. Adventure is a highly personal thing. I don’t think comparing the relative material wealth of individuals is a useful way to try to understand it. (Having said that, I did very much enjoy cycling the length of England on a budget of 25p…)

      1. Adventure, as well as what we call the trappings of modern life is most definitely an intimately personal thing. 10 years ago I made a massive change in career choosing to move from being part of the corporate machine to a social service role. This change has seen my daily challenges change in unexpected and rewarding ways. I have long accepted that I will never be a financially rich man (by western standards) because of my choice however my life is richer and more exciting. By global standards however I am extremely rich as are most westerners, this does not however preclude me from chasing a sense of adventure in recreational cycle touring in a form that is the norm and part of everyday life for those in third world societies. Very much in the same manner that some of my friends still in the corporate world express how they yearn to find the same excitement and adventure lacking in their careers that I have discovered in mine. Its all relative…..

        As to how we achieve this, my wife understands me better than I do and actively encourages me to throw myself into the deep end, by my standards, and undertake the adventures. Next week I’m flying off to start a two week, low budget ride back home. Not a big deal for some as its no around the world trip however for me its the next best thing and grounds me to what is important in life. Again, its all relative. To people reading this post its probably nothing, to my friends its the adventure of a lifetime they aspire to but are not game to take on.

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