Let me tell you a little story.
A couple of years ago I was invited to give a talk in London. The details were vague, but the gist was this: a small, select group of people would really like to spend a couple of hours hearing about my adventures.
In return for my talk, they would give me an envelope containing enough cash to cover my living costs for another couple of weeks.
I needed the money.
The talk, it turned out, was not what I expected. I delivered it to precisely three people. It took place in the attic of a renovated Victorian townhouse-turned-office. One of my audience members was a lean, bearded specimen of a man, all thick-rimmed specs and impossibly tight jeans. The other two, either side of him, were dressed for casual business, collars open but brogues still finely polished.
They eyed me with a strange kind of curiosity.
Not my usual audience.
“We’re an ideas company”, said The Beard, when questioned. He introduced the other two men simply as ‘the clients’. “They’ll be listening in on our… conversation.”
For the next hour, this mystery trio listened to me ramble on about meandering on a bicycle across three continents, sleeping rough behind petrol stations, living out of a few dusty bags, and growing silly beards for a few years – the story of the never-to-be-repeated journeys that made me who I am.
For the second hour, they probed my psyche. What motivated me to embark upon this adventure? What exactly was it about the experience that I found so valuable? The questions became more specific: What aspects of my journeys did I think would be relevant to those with possibly less time to spare? And what qualities would an idea for a future adventure need to possess in order to pique my interest?
The high-concept interrogation went on, carefully avoiding any mention of precisely what ‘the clients’ were trying to discover. This was not an impassioned discussion. It was more of a dissection. But I was, after all, being paid to endure it, so I could hardly complain.
On the way home, cash in hand, I pondered. There was no doubt that ‘the clients’ would have been paying the mysterious Marylebone agency top dollar for their ‘ideas’. The agency, in turn, was handing out cash to specific individuals – I assumed that I was not alone – in exchange for access to deep insights. Insights about adventure.
And then I realised that I’d been paid not to give a talk, but to help anonymous businesspeople define the very spirit of adventure in order that they could take that priceless thing, turn it into a product, and sell it.
I felt a pang of guilt. Had I acted wrongly? Was I complicit in something that jarred deeply with my values – that violated something I might even hesitantly categorise as sacred?
Listen. I am a dreamer. I spend inordinate amounts of time imagining journeys I might take. They are idealistic dreams, always more colourful and dramatic than any adventure ever really is. It’s an unashamedly pleasurable thing. Best of all, dreaming costs nothing.
I also understand just how achievable it is for most of us to bring such dreams to reality; how the biggest barriers are in our minds, and how that puts us so firmly in control of overcoming them. I’ve spent the last eight years doing it myself, writing about it, making films about it, and helping and encouraging people like you to do likewise. Rarely a day goes by that I don’t hear from someone in the midst of planning such a journey, or who’s done what needs to be done, hit the road, and is just checking in to say hello.
I’m hardly alone in dreaming these dreams. And there are people out there taking highly calculated steps in order to profit from them. I met some of them that day. They’d offered a reward for helping haul in some fashionable new thing called adventure. They’d known that if they could capture that fleeting mythos, lash it down and wring a business out of it, they would be able to make a lot of money. I’d helped them to do it.
I still don’t know whether the part I played in this was right or wrong, whether it really had the slightest discernable effect in the grand scheme of things. What I do know is that I entered, for a brief period of time, a world that made me feel uncomfortable.
What I also know is that the word ‘adventure’ is popping up, more often than ever before, in contexts that I can’t help but see as incongruous with what the word actually means.
Most blatant, and among the most obvious candidates for misusing the word, are package tour operators. Hand over your cash and all the scary aspects of an adventure will be taken care of, leaving the fun bits for the taking.
Carefully omitted is that the very act of packaging, pricing and managing a person’s experience is a dagger in the heart of the deep, transformative process that comes with laying bare our weaknesses and testing our wits and our beliefs against the cold measure of chaotic, unpredictable reality. Dealing with all the scary aspects of an adventure is precisely what makes it an adventure. Pay money to take fears and obstacles away and you’re left with a supremely well-disguised holiday.
One recently-launched website was positioned as a free-to-read adventure storytelling platform; “a place to collect, create, curate and share meaningful stories and experiences”. Those in charge are “building a tribe for people who are defiantly curious”, according to the About page. They’ve paid adventurers I know personally to write articles about enterprising, independent, “epic” expeditions. They quote Mark Twain.
And then, carefully and methodically, they sell you package tours, because they are actually a front for a multinational adventure travel corporation with a $400 million annual turnover. On the corporate, investor-oriented website, their message is a little different. Here, they are all “about growth. We recognise that today’s traveller is […] seeking a more engaging and adventurous holiday than before.”
Is their raison d’etre building a tribe of defiantly curious people, or exploiting a market for maximum profit? Yes, I do believe that inspiring tales of adventure need to be told. But is it ethical to commandeer them to draw in consumers and sell them an experience that looks the same but is actually – at the most fundamental level – the very opposite? Am I alone in feeling that there’s something wrong with such an association?
The homegrown adventure community is not impervious to the tentacles of mass consumerism, either. Reach the level of minor adventure celebrity, with a few thousand Twitter followers and a couple of impressive-sounding adventures under your belt, and you are hot property. Your voice commands attention, and the big players want your voice to be talking about their products.
The evidence for this arrives in my inbox on a daily basis from PRs and marketing managers. The proposal suggests a mutually beneficial partnership between Brand X and Blogger Y, and, when ignored, is followed up precisely one week later, regular as clockwork.
Pitches take many forms, but the most common is to offer cash in return for publishing a ‘guest post’ which looks like a bonafide article but conveniently name-drops and hyperlinks to the client in question. Other commonly-seen suggestions include simply offering cash for inserting hyperlinks into pre-existing blog articles, or asking the blogger to contribute free content to a blog or website (created as part of the corporate social media strategy) on the promise of “great exposure for your work”.
It has taken marketers a while to understand that such agreements can undermine the very impartiality that gives the independent blogger his or her credibility, and so proposals are often very tricksy when it comes to concealing any obvious conflict of interest. The most interesting such proposal last week came from a marketing agency contracted by a phone manufacturer, offering me several hundred Euros to spend a month using their newest smartphone to document my life through photos and videos.
Making a living from adventure is not easy. Because of this, we are deplorably easy to bribe. The result is more and more self-made adventurers accepting shiny baubles from the world of big business.
The way I see it, it’s an entirely personal decision whether or not to engage with this. While I’ve been moving to disassociate myself from the mega-corporate end of things (having made mistakes in the past), others are embracing it, seeing it as a valid way to make their adventures happen and earn credibility with peers who share such values.
It’s nothing particularly new, of course. Edwardian explorers mounted expeditions on the back of private investments. And there are lots of good people making a living in the adventure space who I’d happily consider working with. But there’s a spectrum here, with passion at one end and profit at the other, and when people from either extreme are suddenly hand in hand, something doesn’t quite seem to sit right.
The real issue is one of integrity and trust. Those who’ve ditched financial security in pursuit of their passions do not take their reputations lightly. It is rather hypocritical to be talking about grassroots adventure one minute, and ensuring the logo of an undisclosed benefactor appears in an Instagram photo the next. Such slurs may (and often do) go undetected, but when brought to light, it erodes our collective credibility by association.
Why is there a noticeable lack of transparency here? Perhaps a better question is this: how many adventurers’ values are truly aligned with those of neoliberalism? Is the cycle of aggressive selling, endless resource consumption and eternal economic growth a system whose shoulder they’d put their arm around and say, “yes, I support you”? When framed in this way, would those baubles be so easy to accept?
These are deep and challenging questions that I think more self-styled adventurers should be asking themselves. In circles like these it is unfashionable to mention politics, but adventure does not exist in isolation from the remainder of human activity, though it might often be convenient to paint it as some kind of pristine, inviolable jewel. To sign on as a corporate shill without due consideration for the wider implications is to risk demonstrating the kind of hypocrisy that inspires rants like this.
I know this is not clear-cut, that big brands are also capable of a net positive effect. Indeed, some have been channelling their profits into environmental and humanitarian causes for decades. But they are an admirable minority. We must be more careful.
And at the very least, independent publishers have a moral duty not to insult their audiences by conveniently neglecting to mention who is bankrolling their words.
On another level entirely – and forgive me if this seems tangential – the word ‘adventure’ itself is being abused by greater powers sailing bigger ships. They dissected the values and associations of the word years ago on boardroom tables, and today it is being explicitly used to sell clothes, coffee, cars, cocktails, convenience food and consumer electronics.
To demonstrate this, I spent a week in London looking out for specific examples. Turns out that the biggest adventure is, in fact, the daily grind.
Let me map out today’s adventure by starting with the morning commute or school run. Modernity dictates that I need a CO2-belching SUV for this. Fear not, for Toyota, in partnership with the National Geographic Society, are using the sponsored adventures of a father-and-son team (really nice guys, I’ve heard, though I haven’t met them) to flog them to me.
Having driven the SUV to work, I can become an ‘adventurer in coffee’ simply by ordering the guest bean instead of the Starbucks house blend. Popping down the shops at lunchtime, I’ll find the key to unlocking adventure this autumn lies deep within Debenhams, in which mannequins climb plastic mountains — and while I’m at it, let’s not forget that I can better ‘share my adventures’ by upgrading to the newest Nokia smartphone.
Dinner comes courtesy of Wagamamas, who serve noodle soup ‘for the curious, for the adventurous’. And I’ll be wanting to unwind at the end of a tough day of adventure – so why not go for a drink at the Adventure Bar, where ‘every cocktail adds to the story’?
It’s pervasive. It’s hilarious! Adventure is the buzzword of the moment. Consumers, bored of safety and security in a nanny state, suddenly want excitement and adrenaline. Businesses large and small are using that desire to sell them more of the same old shite.
Par for the course, really; the marketers who keep these companies competitive are used to jumping on any up-and-coming trend and riding it until it collapses in the dust, knowing another bandwagon will have been long since tracked down by the time that happens. It’s comically tragic (or perhaps tragically comic?) that adventure has become the most recent high-street poster boy, that a concept so at odds with mass consumption is being hijacked for such ends.
When the dust settles, of course, the spirit of adventure will remain standing, because it is defined by what it inside of us, rather than going on around us. And so I am far less concerned about the temporary reappropriation of the word by outsiders as I am about the practices of the insiders we’ve previously seen.
One way or another, you and I have come to embrace adventure as an instrument for the betterment of our individual and collective lives. Whether engaging with it full-time or eking out opportunities in between other occupations, we do what we do because we love it. It’s a sacred concept, a deep point of resonance, a universally-understood story. It is a means by which we as humans have grown and learned since we climbed down from the trees, attained a sense of self and began to roam the Earth. Adventure has since taken us to every corner of the globe.
With that in mind, I would just like to make three simple suggestions to those whose paths in life stray into the territory of adventure, lest it be reduced to the mere act of opening our wallets:
1. Regardless of the way in which we define or participate in adventure, let’s remind ourselves of the essential truth that it can never be served up on a silver platter.
2. As active travellers and expeditioners and lovers of the great outdoors with our eyes open to what’s happening in the world today, let’s bear in mind all we’ve seen and learned before selling ourselves to a system based on perpetual economic growth.
3. As speakers, publishers, presenters and advocates of adventure who’ve built trust and authority, let’s act with integrity by fully disclosing our affiliations when allowing businesses large and small to capitalise upon that hard-earned trust.
One would hope these things to be a matter of common sense. But we all need a little reminder sometimes. (And I include myself in that.)
That is all.
Thank you for reading. If you feel strongly about any of the issues I’ve touched on in this piece, please share your thoughts constructively in the comments section.
71 replies on “Something’s Happening In The World Of Adventure. And I’m Not Sure I Like It”
“Adventure” means different things to different people.
We took our 10 & 12 year old children, along with 3 other families (2 of whom we didn’t know), on an Overland Truck through Kenya, Tanzania and Zanzibar. We had 2 drivers. We had an itinerary (which we modified a little, en-route). We had a hotel booked for the last few days. We had return flights booked. I doubt that *you* would describe it as “an adventure”.
We felt “adventurous”. It felt like “an adventure”. It was definitely the spark (along with Alastair Humphreys and his micro-adventures) that has lead to me seeking more adventurous ways to spend my spare time.
By calling it our “African Adventure”, we were better prepared to deal with unexpected events, than if we had called it a “holiday”.
For our adventure, we paid an overland truck company for their truck, their experience, their drivers, their local knowledge and an itinerary. The “scary aspects” were taken care of. It was still an Adventure – with a capital ‘A’.
Certainly sounds like an adventure to me! As you say, it’s a relative concept. My point is about the ethics of making deeply questionable associations for the purposes of profit or personal gain.
Tom Allen, I dredged through about half of your diatribe before giving up with a groan. Simply saying the same old thing different ways is boring in the extreme. Whoever you think you are to define what is ethical, what adventure is or should be to everyone according to Tom, in these terms, to me you are merely arrogantly opinionated and disparagingly judgmental. A big thumbs down on a waste of time.
This definitely “counts” as an adventure! Well done!
While I agree with much of what you’ve said, especially how brands we love too easily get into bed with huge corporate companies. Such as examples like Lego & Shell / WWF & Sky spring to mind. IF I was a fully pledged up adventurer I would be fully embracing the neoliberalism way of life. Its only because of it world travel is available for anyone not just the gentry as it had been historically.
Now are the markets currently fair on what it takes out of the planet compared to what we pay? No where near, and it has to change.
I completely understand your point of view, and I also completely detest the modern marketing/advertising system that has no ethics attached to it and can go to any lengths in the name of “profit”.
Adventure, in the strictest terms, would be going out alone, relatively unprepared, and do something out of your comfort zone. That’s what I’ve always done till now, but then I”m considered to be something of a freak by my family and friends.
People may feel very “adventurous” doing something that may be mundane for me and you. People hate to get into dangerous/uncomfortable situations, probably because that might tell them something about themselves that they don’t really want to know 🙂
In the end, adventure is just a word, anyone can use it for whatever purpose that serves them best. Like you said, it’s all relative anyway! But I think “real” adventurers could definitely use some attention and appreciation.
Capitalism is all about indefinitely extending the realm of goods and products to sustain a presumed infinite growth. That is how human beings started selling water and packaging it less than 100 years ago maybe. And now it has extended to even more questionable ‘properties’ that were never deemed as such before : ideas and abstractions.
Sorry that it happened to you, but you made an very interesting reflection of it as it seems…
I presume something has annoyed you.
I sort of agree and disagree with you,but certainly think you make some valid points.
I agree that a package holiday, dressed up as an adventure is still a package holiday.
I suppose an adventure is based on if you take yourself out of your comfort
If you have cycled the world on a bike and done other adventures with very little money and zero support, it gets harder and harder to take yourself out of the comfort zone.
If you have lives a sheltered life with money and creature comforts, it would be easy to get out of your comfort zone.
The big problem is that if you have a comfortable life with money, you may get sponsors or tie-ins for the glory or peer recognition.
Most people wanting to get out of their comfort zone and get a real sense of adventure, usually need money, but usually lack money.
If you have very little money, and a company wants to give you a new jacket, tent or even panniers for a mention. It’s really difficult to say no, thinking the money you save could keep you on the road for a few more days or weeks.
Tom, great job, as ever.
Firstly and happily, no pre-packaged, risk-averse version of ‘adventure’ can ever dictate the course of those who will embrace the real experience and not just the settle for whatever Madison Avenue is marketing as ‘adventure’ today.
Regarding the personal ethics of the matter. That it is indeed a ‘personal’ quandary makes the bar higher, not lower. There is a tension between capitalism as a target on the one hand, and what it takes in an industrial base to create the goods required for even the most modest of tours on the other hand. Whilst popular rants against capitalism may invoke a nice sense of moral superiority, what we say is vacant without a personal signature of every adventurer about its relation to what we do. As a result, a sponsorship that reflects integrity in one person will be taking thirteen pieces of silver for another.
Is the integrity of the adventure a seamless reflection of living or a rejection of lifestyle? Every single adventurer must grapple with this. For those who embrace the former, the high bar negotiates reconciliation of values in society with truths only learned on the road. For those who embrace the latter, the high bar has to figure out how to reject the cancers of consumptive capitalism while being grateful for the results of that system when graciously offered by a Warmshowers host.
Either way, the mantras are easy and frequent. To align competing realities is hard and rare. Yes, Tom –for each of us our first responsibility before public action is to say how the dichotomies of adventure travel are resolved in this person for this life. Without it, all of the postings of exhilaration, experience and places is no different an addictive vice than anything else.
Life itself is the ultimate scary adventure as you only have a 50/50 chance of living through the next second. Either you do or you don’t. The markets, big business, corporations have only been here for the blink of an eye in planet time and will be gone just as quickly.
Tom, I too have been keeping track of the number of brands that use the word ‘adventure’ to sell their product. Latest ones I’ve seen is M&S with ‘Adventures in Food’; the poster for the Bananaman movie says ‘Adventure never tasted so good’ and Land Rover writes posts daily with the word adventure in. Its latest marketing is around ‘Hibernot’, an awkward play of the words ‘Hibernate Not’.
Many fashion brands now stage adventurous photoshoots too; take Tommy Hilfiger, Belstaff, French Connection, Boss Orange, Ralph Lauren and lots more – but they’re all brands that love the concept and association of adventure but are so far removed from its true meaning.
Well written and well observed. How many more can we spot? Hell, we can even call this game of spotting them an adventure eh? (says sarcastically)
Bet you I’ll see a new example tomorrow
A devil may advocate that actually Land Rover are doing a good thing in trying to persuade the sort of people who like Land Rovers to go outside and have a little adventure this winter…
Absolutely true, an analogy could be just as we say take only photographs and leave only footprints, or tread lightly – we all have a responsibility to keep Adventure pure and allow the others who follow to have their day – without second mortgaging their house!
Interesting thoughts! Very thought-provoking…especially the bits about marketing and the ‘adventure’ catch-words. Laughable.
Not so sure about requiring a true adventurer’s identity to include financial insecurity:
“Those who’ve ditched financial security in pursuit of their passions do not take their reputations lightly.”
I do agree that embarking on an adventure without financial security is more adventurous than when one does have the security net of finances. But I think it is worth reiterating your main point about “integrity and trust”. Just because someone’s adventure is being bankrolled by a corporation does not automatically remove them from an imagined community of ‘real’ adventurers. Perhaps being transparent and humble about what is making one’s adventure happen is the true mark of the ideal Western adventurer’s identity.
And on a different note, let us not forget: At least for me, a white middle-to-upper class raised New Zealander, the social networks and citizenship that I belong to – by absolutely no merit of my own achievements – are what make even the most down-to-earth so-called ‘financially insecure’ ‘adventure’ positively laughable for a young woman from the Gaza strip (for example) who has yearnings to see the world.
The epitome of the white male Western ‘adventurer’ is a guy who sets off for an around-the-world adventure with a ‘mere’ $5,000 in his bank account. But when you consider his upbringing, social networks and political backing, to the young woman from the Gaza strip with yearnings to see the world, there’s not much between him and the ‘corporate sellout’ adventurer or the frazzled early-career business-person forking out a week’s wage for a taste of uncertainty. Us ultra-rich (when compared with the other 90% of the world’s population) Western low-budget adventurers…we think we know uncertainty…ha!
Just a few thoughts 🙂
I completely agree. Adventure is relative. That works both ways when it comes to white middle-class adventurers and their definitions of adventure. A couple of years ago, my Mum travelled across the UK on her OAP bus pass using local buses. Adventure? Ticks all the boxes! At around the same time my sister-in-law fled her hometown of Aleppo (in Syria) and started a new life as a refugee in several neighbouring countries. Adventure? In almost every way, yes.
The comment about financial security was less about being impoverished and more about not having a fixed monthly salary in a world that depends on consistency of cashflow, by the way. My landlord doesn’t care how many books I sell in a given month! 😉
Fleeing Aleppo…I was almost expecting you to have a close to home anecdote such as that. Dare I say that her story would indeed be a powerful punctuation to the daftness of the ‘adventure bar’, because that’s a whole different domain of adventure. I hope she and her family are safe.
Best comment of the lot. Well done.
At the end of the day you have to travel/adventure for yourself, and yourself only. If the appropriation of the term ‘adventure’ by marketers somehow devalues your own experience, you probably need to look deeper at your own motives.
Great entry. While I agree with you on a micro-level in terms of defining your own adventure and living outside of your own realm of discomfort, the majority of the population of people out there are not like the limited few who truly embrace what it is to have an adventure. Most people are stuck in the rat-race content with building wealth and spending it on frivolous things only to discover that they are not satisfied with what their hard-earned money buys. By the time they figure it out, they may not have enough time (so they feel) to experience on their own and learn by their own mistakes. So in order to buy time, they pay for these pre-packaged promises from companies offering the safety net they are looking for and chalk that up as an adventure.
Your first commenter, Rob Andrews, is spot-on referencing an adventure means something different from one person to another. What you think is an adventure is certainly not the same as what others may think. I just think there’s a place in this world for all types of adventures to exist in order to fulfill the desires of those who are ready to take it whether it’s paying for it to avoid the “scary aspects” or for the few who are willing to go on their own.
Tom, congrats for your reflexion. I could not agree more. Being a motorcycle world traveler at this time, I can hardly consider myself an adventurer. But still be the most adventurer for almost everyone I know.
I guess, like others have said in earlier comments, about how big your comfor zone is. And as you probably know, it get smaller with time and experience.
Don’t worry on how marketing gurus use the word, it’s just a word. At the end, “when the dust settles”, it will regain its original meaning.
Have you read, “One Man and His Bike” by Mike Carter and as mentioned below, “Running with the Moon”?
Personally, the best adventure I ever had on a motorbike was re-learning to ride one, aged 37, after 20 yrs of not owning one, then several models later, and having been completely bitten by the track-day bug, embarking on a season of having a race license & trying not to come last & crash too often!
Sorry,”Uneasy Rider” not “One man….” that’s his around Britain cycle adventure.
Here’s the rub: if it’s your first foray into any “adventure”, aged 22, & through your guest house you hire a driver and then add some fellow backpackers, taking 10 days to tour NW Mongolia, to some, this is an adventure. These same people then come across a lone cyclist way-out-west, pedalling his / her way east.
Similarily, a few pals or family buy a similar “package”, say into the High Atlas of five days of guided trekking, you meet a couple doing it on their todd, who also flew out from Luton and simply work it out as they walk in a circuit through the hills.
You and a pal are riding that year’s Mountain Mayhem as a Men’s Pair team, the group camped next to you are from a cycle-tour company, 30+ clients plus staff and the whole corporate hospitality camping experience, doing what you’re doing but with more beer & paying top dollar for the experience.
Look at the different stories coming back from the recent tragedy in Nepal, some were trekking the Annapurna Circuit on their own, others with friends, some having paid vast sums, others raising sums of money for worthy causes. Ditto Mt Kilimanjaro, and if you’ve ever trekked that hill, you’ll know what a bizarre experience it to be!
Who is right? Who is having more of an adventure? Who are the “mugs”? Who is gaining more from their adventure?
All of the above. There is no “right”, no “wrong”. What floats my boat, what excites and stimulates my adventure genes would horrify most others, and likewise, I don’t fancy spending years on the road with no firm project or ultimate goal in mind. If an individual can make his / her experiences pay for themselves, be it Tristram Mayhew quitting the Army and inventing Go-Ape, or Jonny Bealby, author of Running with the Moon now the Managing Director of Wild Frontiers, if you can make your travel adventures then translate into a viable, profitable business, does it not also follow that complete outsiders, business people, entrepreneurs, non-Adventure “suits” will want to know how to tap into this desire for so many to have these same, albeit more “controlled” adventures?
I see no conflicts, what works for one will not work for a.o.ther. The real secret is translating ones’ experiences into a viable business model, should you wish to earn your living from this burgeoning Adventure market; don’t knock or question it, get on your board and ride the crest of this wave you’re involved with!
Very good points.
First of all have to say I really enjoyed your article. I have conflicting views and thoughts driven by personal experience of living a reasonable life of adventure since 15 years of age and also having sold in the commercial sense “adventure” to over 100 thousand people. Personally like many I have a never ending passion for travel and adventure. Age has not dulled that but it has for sure reduced the amount of personal risk I am willing to take. However, I learned a long time ago what is an adventure for one person can be boring or terror for another person.
Adventure is personal and the level of adventure a person is willing to engage in should be a personal choice. In today’s safety driven world things are changing fast that we do not fully understand but within many their is a desire to step out of the routine of life into ” adventure” even if it is just for a few hours. I take great pride in the fact that I can make that happen for people and that enjoy seeing them develop in confidence and also have a grate time. Day to day life for many can be a adventure of another type for sure, but it is a grind, it is pretty hard to find someone today who has a passion for their work. Many are working for a future when they can travel and have adventure and we know for most that will never happen.
Many who operate at the high end of adventure are ego centric driven individuals, much like top sports people and their is nothing wrong with that. However, most in life are not like that and they should not be excluded from adventure. One of the greatest joys to me is introducing others to adventure situations that they do not have the skill or confidence to do themselves many then progress to having their own adventures at different levels.
There is a lot of discussion within the adventure industry about the size and scale of some of the adventure companies who have become Corporate beasts. There is no real money to be made running adventure companies if you compare the hours, effort and risk versus other industries for 95% of the small businesses that operate in the sector. However, if you combine many of these companies, centralise the back end functions, apply large amounts of marketing cash, leave the front end branding alone so the consumer thinks they are small businesses then their is serious money to be made and the Corporate end of the Travel Trade has woken up to that.
Tourism in general is a huge benefit to the World and developing countries, however, their are a lot of really negative effects of tourism as well. At present Adventure Travel is the jewel in the crown of tourism and many see it as the future of tourism. Hopefully that development can be done in a responsible way to all the stake holders involved and people having a ” adventure” what ever that that means to them personally is at the core.
Next up: Dark Tourism, which seems to be flourishing.
We, in the Developed World have never had so much leisure time, so much disposable income and less personal satisfaction than ever before, little wonder you can never get a space at any given triathlon, or marathon or sportive on any given weekend in the warmer months.
Excellent article, Tom! You’ve done a masterful job of describing the encroachment of marketplace values on realms where they don’t belong. And you’ve raised good points for thought.
The one thing I would add is that the one resource we have, with which to counter the “marketers of fake,” is to ignore them. Ignore the ads, the pitches, the images, the sleazy temptations. Learn not to attach ourselves to a “lifestyle” but to go our own way. We need to turn off that useless thing called the television. Refuse to buy their stuff.
In my view we need to educate every person from early childhood that our mental and physical well-being depend on refusing to take in the advertising and refusing to buy the products. We’ve got to reverse the process, working hard and tirelessly to bring human values to encroach on and eventually overtake the values of the marketplace. That’s the peoples’ response.
We need to do it individually and collectively. And we can have fun at it while we do it together. Make the advertisers and their products obsolete. Laugh at them. Ignore them. Each of us must go our own way, whether we seek “adventure” or any other aspect of life. And we can do this as families and communities. It doesn’t need to be just an individual decision.
We need to include among our principles of morality the principle of ignoring anything of an advertising nature. Ultimately, I think, that’s our only recourse, our only way to deal with the advertisers — to make them obsolete by not not paying attention, and not buying their stuff.
We need to say to ourselves and our children, in effect, “There’s right and there’s wrong. And among that which is wrong we include responding to the manipulations of advertisers, and buying stuff we don’t need. A fully integrated, active and fulfilling life can be lived without all that.” When we achieve this level of education, we will be able to turn the tables on marketplace values and put them in better perspective.
If it can be commoditized it will be commoditized.
I too am a dreamer and like you I have seen my fair share of adventure. There are good and bad things in how certain things become a commodity. I have never traveled with a Lonely Planet guidebook but I can say that sneaking a peak inside of one when visiting Phnom Penh in 2001 there were quite a few things cleared up for me over the course of 15 minutes. I knew 3-5 places where to stay, a couple restaurant recommendations, and had a good grasp on where the nightlife was. I enjoyed myself thoroughly.
Here’s the thing…outfitters like REI, MEC, etc. are outfitting more and more people to go out and enjoy the great outdoors. With that comes a certain responsibility. It’s so easy to become equipped yet the knowledge and responsibility doesn’t come with the purchase of gear. As ‘The Great Outdoors’ and ‘Adventure’ becomes a commodity more and more people will be largely unprepared and will abuse the PRIVILEDGE. Pretty soon access will become a commodity. And then it will become an expensive commodity.
Enjoy it while you can and be respectful….
adventurous is as adventurous does.
if someone thinks he’s having the adventure of his life just because he is basking in the sun at some exotic resort who am I to tell her/him otherwise.
I am a long distance, “short” budget, bike traveller, I wild camp most of the time. I don’t consider myself an adventurer, rather a mildly delusional middle-aged man. My reference model would me more Don Quixote than Marco Polo.
I love your site
The difference is that now the meaning of the word is a marketing term, rather then emotional.
In the words of Banksy ‘They are the advertisers and they are laughing at you’ they have taken the word Adventure and bastardise it beyond use – like they did with ‘epic’, with putting a hashtag in front of everything ‘#hashtag’ and good god ‘awesome’
True passion in travel and adventure is intrinsic – it can’t be taught but it can be nurtured. You keep doing what you are doing Tom – fuck adventure.
“I remember my furst adventure, it never opened my eyes to anything.” – said no one, ever.
If mass marketers are getting people out there then let them be in this instance I say…anything that sparks a love affair with nature will only lead to positive changes in people. 🙂
It hurts me to read these comments. Your article is prescient and utterly perfectly timed. It is clear that many, many people want to be allowed to say that “adventure is whatever you want it to be’. They are wrong. It is a word that has real meaning, not IMAGINED meaning. The Democratic Republic of Congo was not democratic. The Democratic Republic of Germany was not democratic. There are tens of ‘adventure’ holidays that are not adventurous. Come on folks, wake up! Let’s raise our game, not lower it…
Too right that adventure cannot be whatever one wants it to be. For, like Agamemnon’s funerary mask, any brief illumination of its meaning to oxygen crumbles before one’s eyes. But this illumination is literally different for everyone, and literally changes each time any person is exposed to real growth. Democracy for someone in Congo was fine for them until exposure to an American republican democracy, and that standard may seem most democratic until exposure to the Athenian original. Point being, ‘adventure’ will have a fixed meaning only on the day we die.
Adventure can be whatever you want it to be.
High-brow and incorrect, in my opinion.
Adventure begins with your imagination, remains there during the process of having an adventure, & is not belittled nor downgraded by bigger, more adventurous journeys thereafter – thus any adventure, no matter how small, no matter what context or field of venture is sort, adventure is aspirational and entirely available to all who aspire to embark upon their adventure.
The idea that the Congolese collectively view their version of democracy as an somehow inferior or even a less developed version of a.n.others is both myopic and inaccurate.
I my world: my adventures, yours or another’s adventures will always pale into relative insignificance when compared directly to that of the Great Adventurers such as Shackleton, Hillary and Fiennes (for example) but that direct comparison would be to miss, in its entirety, the meaning of Adventure.
I do not believe the likes of Dervla Murphy, Sara Wheeler, Michael Jacobs, Bruce Chatwin, Paul Theroux, or for that matter, the Scottish Colourists, H.C.Bresson, or even REM for that matter had any less of an adventure in what they strove to achieve in their ventures, nothing less in their aspirations than the above listed Greats, or even that of other celebrated names such as Gilgamesh, Dante or Milton.
Adventure is entirely personal. Each of us can be Gilgamesh, each of us can embark upon our own adventure, be it termed an Epic, a Classic or otherwise.
You are right that the Congolese do not find their democracy inferior, collectively or otherwise. You are right; the experiences of other adventurers have nothing to do with your own experiences.
Can’t quite see how you deduced my thoughts to say the contrary. What I did say, is that people do the best they know to do until their own awareness grows that experience into their own next level. Seems like quite the celebration of life to me.
I remember looking at the history of modern advertising and being dumbstruck how direct, obvious, and sexist/racist/demeaning a lot of the advertisements use to be 100 years ago. Slowly, we transitioned into more nuanced messages but at least these messages were clearly marked and easy to distinguish. And now – in my opinion – we are watching another transition. Advertising is morphing into indirect and hidden messaging. There is no way to DVR skip product placement and hidden advertorials. You watch and you wonder if someone behind the scenes is only reading a script for the money. Sometimes you find disclosure in the fine print somewhere, and sometimes not.
In regards to adventure, I think you might be overestimating just how many people want adventure and how many people want nothing more than the illusion of adventure. A lot more people would rather daydream and talk about travel than actually travel. In a sense, they are getting exactly what they are looking for.
Hmmm I don’t know how I feel about the post…I feel like having wagamama now 😐
I have lived in and around the Lake District for most of my life, and there is a definite change from outdoor shop to ‘life style’ shop, selling the dream and illusion with well produced advertising and imagery. One shop claiming to be an aquatic center had less than 20% of floor space dedicated to boating or water related items, the rest was essentially fashion.
Here via Outbounding. Thank you and apologies for the rambling that follows.
“Whether engaging with it full-time or eking out opportunities in between other occupations, we do what we do because we love it. It’s a sacred concept, a deep point of resonance, a universally-understood story. It is a means by which we as humans have grown and learned since we climbed down from the trees, attained a sense of self and began to roam the Earth. Adventure has since taken us to every corner of the globe.”
This is a lovely idea, and one I believe in, however, it’s faulty logic to think we’re all in adventure travel for the same reasons. I’d posit that this space is full of people who are in it for the easy money and because it’s fun.
You alluded to “neoliberalism” and I think there’s something to that — there’s an Ayn Rand-esque approach to the marketing of ourselves and our adventures that seems to suggest that if it’s good for us financially and we’re getting what I want out of it, it’s good, period. We — a sort of collective we, not you and I specifically — are loathe to discuss the ethics and implications of marketing adventure. The space doesn’t really care about the prime directive (nerdy Star Trek reference) as long as we get our awesome experience and go home and tell others about it, thus completing the marketing cycle, all’s well in the world of commerce.
As an early adopter of social media and a fading “influencer” in the world of travel, I’m keenly aware of the shift you mention; I’ve written several versions of a similar take on the crass commercialization of what makes travel exciting. The more honest I am about my experiences, the fewer opportunities I have to “partner with brands.” I think I am okay with that; I’d rather be a liability than a mouthpiece for The Man.
I wonder if this isn’t just the trajectory of all things in media, that eventually the popular thing becomes the playground of cheap marketing hacks, and those in love with the art of travel (or writing or some third thing) will seed the ground elsewhere, sort of like the gentrification cycle of hip urban centers. I don’t know.
But it is nice to see others thinking this through publicly. Solidarity.
I’m also here via Outbounding. The comments in this post are mostly nitpicking the definition of “adventure” possibly because the term has been misappropriated in order to “sex up” product advertising. Pam, your “fading influencer” reference is another example of how ” corporate newspeak” has redefined influence to mould the behaviours of people on social media. Pam, your influence continues to grow in my understanding of the term.
Tom, we are all all moved by the “invisible hand” of the corporate sponsor. Even you use and have links to the likes of Facebook and Google. Two organisations that are very much part of the problem that you voice your concerns over.
You are correct in that Google and Facebook are part of the problem. I’ve recently come across ind.ie and am enthusiastically exploring alternatives.
Tom, Excellent posting. I agree with your thoughts and definitely believe that had that happened to me, I would feel as if I had been raped. I understand “how” it happened and perhaps falsely believe that had you known beforehand, you might not have agreed to give the talk. As someone said in a previous post, “a package deal is a package deal, no matter how you package it”. “Adventure is when you do NOT know the outcome”, but do it anyway.
“I would feel as if I had been raped.”
Perhaps you should read some first hand accounts of rape from the victims of rape before commenting thus, or meet some who have been raped?
My sister works as a trustee of an organisation in the NW for the victims of rape and domestic violence, their stories of rape have no similarities WHATSOEVER with Tom’s original thoughts on his bicycle ride & his feelings of unease about potentially being questioned for a.n.other’s corporate ends.
How you can believe this simple “talk” which Tom gave is even remotely akin to rape is quite beyond comprehension.
Next time, may I suggest that you choose your words & analogies a little more carefully?
I completely understand your point, Tim, and your reasons for being upset. I am sure it was not intended to be taken literally.
In my inbox this morning. (I’ll post a few of these, identifying details removed, to give a taste of what happens when you become a relatively well-known niche blogger.)
It’s a logical progression in many business models after all.
Your site gives in-depth reviews of equipment, then provides advertising links such that we can buy online at Highfield, Evans & others. So what’s so different in this approach?
All businesses are propositioned at various junctures in their lifetime, my own Ltd company received quite number over the years, some interesting and beneficial, others less so. We went with quite a number over the years and it only even complimented the services and products we offered.
You are a businessman as far as they’re concerned, running a business, they are attempting to market and sell products, so you’d best get used to being a business first and a cyclist second, regardless how you might feel about this change in your working landscape. This is why most every business I know which has grown from a person’s passion, be they a photographer, painter, potter,(or another passion beginning with the letter “P” even), yours being no exception, which in the course of maturing said business model, has often struggled (or failed) but ultimately has had to adapt whilst developing into a viable, profitable business which can pay its way.
What you need to do as a business owner is sift the wheat from the chaff & expend your portfolio perhaps in the process, this is, after all, the second decade of the 21st century, we know how things are, we’re savvy enough to understand you need to make a living wage, so don’t dismiss such approaches out of hand as they may provide you with the funds to explore more, thus enriching our own on-line adventures in the process.
“What you need to do as a business owner is sift the wheat from the chaff…”
Touché. A sound point. Although I think Tom already made it in his post:
“To sign on as a corporate shill without due consideration for the wider implications is to risk demonstrating the kind of hypocrisy … we must be more careful.”
There is a big, bold message at the top of my contact page to PRs and marketers that I am not interested in engaging with content marketing, period. The fact that I still receive carbon-copy emails like this is indicative of the utterly careless scattergun mentality marketers have towards people like me.
I work as a freelancer in various capacities entirely unrelated to this blog, and I operate a (very) small publishing business, which together create a ‘living wage’ (at least by my own meagre definition). This blog, however, is the platform from which I want nothing more but to be able to express myself freely, without any conflict of interest from the world of business. I have no business model. I have no portfolio. So what if I get £50 a month from ineffective affiliate links? I’m frankly sick of being told (or it being assumed) that I should “get used to being a business first and a cyclist second”, or words to that effect, simply because my writing happens to attract an audience. I’m not alone on this. And it’s precisely why I wrote an article about the commercialisation of homegrown adventures.
Do you seriosly expect prospective advertisers to not contact you just because of some header? That would be to assume they know the in’s and out’s of your business life & your personal cicumstances.
Seriously, this is a global market place, and you are a viable outlet for commercial opportunities, so you’d best get used to these approaches, some might be to your advantage one day.
Businesses change, evolve, mature. Let’s draw an analogy: relationships, 46% of marriages fail, even with that statistic in mind, “the.. number of marriages in England and Wales increased by 1.7% to 247,890, from 243,808 in 2010”, ergo it doesn’t put of thousands of couples from taking the next step in their relationship. Why would it not be the same with your own business interests?
There is simply no need to expose us here in your blog to the attempts from third parties to solicit from you any attempts at (as they see it, a synergetic) possible relationships. It’s just business, so rather than be horrified at it, take it as given, the rest of the business world does, we genuinely are not that surprised, you are carving out a successful blog, take it as given that others might want to develop their own business interests in parallel to your own venture.
You are entitled to your own opinions, just as I am entitled to disagree with them. I don’t really have anything more to add here.
I think you’re missing the point, I can assure you , that’s why so many people love him.
Tom is the living proof that there is life beyond business for the sake of business, that’s why we love him.
A brave post Tom. I think you navigated what is clearly a sensitive issue (you’ve touched a nerve judging by some of the comments!) with honesty and respect for your audience.
If I may draw parallels with the expedition world… I have a very similar feeling when I see what I would term an adventure being advertised as an expedition! That’s definitely in part because it offends my ego, and also from a selfish desire to protect my ‘reputation’.
But also because I feel we need to protect the concept of an expedition from being muddied. There is an ideal, of sorts, no matter how nebulous it might be. This framing affects how others first approach the concept, and how they start to develop their own ideas. The most ambitious people will generally aspire to to, or just above, wherever the bar is set (whether that’s adventure, exploration, or company sales targets). If we allow the bar to drop, aren’t we doing others a disservice?
And despite what people have said above, and accepting that this will of course change from person to person, isn’t there, again however nebulous, a spirit of adventure? Isn’t that spirit part of the idea, the ideal? Isn’t that about spirit of the undertaking? Isn’t it tied up with ideas of freedom, of overcoming challenges and suffering, of delving a little deeper into your own soul and psyche, of discovery of some eternal truths, or just the discovery that those truths might be out there even if you didn’t quite find them this time… yes this is romantic, but isn’t the spirit of adventure a romance?
Sponsorship is a tricky issue. It’s something I’ve received a fair bit of in return for marketing materials. I’ve considered it for my next adventure (my first cycle trip, as you know), but you have given me a great idea for my next expedition.
Finally, I imagine that secretly this post was written for you peers (so tempting to name drop!), and since I’m sure that they all read your blog with some reverence and not a little jealousy at your style, you will have made a few big names think a bit harder about these questions, and their responsibility to the spirit of adventure.
I also wonder if
Potato potato – tomato tomato? Expedition vs adventure? I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this 🙂
You raise some really important points here, Tom. Thanks for putting this post out there. Totally agreed about the relativity of adventure, something I have long touted. But the point you raised about the corporate coopting of small time adventure bloggers is somewhat troubling. Absolutely massive outdoor gear companies have created small armies of very vocal advocates of a brand that they then try and portray as some poor underdog in exchange for some free gear and free trips. While some companies that make truly superior gear struggle to make ends meet or even get their name in front of people… It’s a shame.
Tee hee great post and so true. However brave you are still tiptoeing around the culprits though….because it is them who are fuelling this and ‘making it ok’. Its a war of attrition and every time one sells out it makes it easier for the next one to push it a little further.
I’m guessing Dave Cornthwaite is one of the reasons behind writing this post? Looking at his blog just now, the top 5 stories out of the top 7 are SOLELY about flogging brands, its unapologetic and cringworthy!
Then there’s Al Humphreys who has invented something called ‘camping’ aka ‘microadventures’ and has always played the ‘I’m one of the nice guys’ cards. However his tactics are incredibly corporate and not always that nice. He’s currently charging companies (maybe Lloyds, BAE Systems or maybe some cute cuddly oil companies?) £1000 to go camping with him for one night. He is also very very good at playing the PR game. This is how it goes….. make sure your name is attached to some kind of fundraising for a charity (preferably kids) but make sure you don’t actually have to spend too much time on it yourself though. Then when you are attacked publicly in anyway make sure one of your PR or corporate friends pulls out the ”he does a lot of work for charity cards”. This is the single most effective strategy and its used all the time by everyone from politicians, princes and football players when they are caught doing drugs/cheating on wife/drunken punch ups. Al and his circle are a master of it. He himself is a brand so any of his investors have to protect him/his brand. This is also why he is already ready to defend his fellow corporate ‘brands’ – he was of course the one who stuck up for Beaumont in the post you linked. Very clever but really quite disheartening to the rest of us. Why am I sure of this? Two things I read on Al’s website this year sealed it. Firstly the corporate camping nights out but then his defenders – the city financiers who run Escape The City pulled out the ‘he does a lot of work for charity’ card when he was accused of selling-out on his blog recently. It was textbook and it was done by two figures who couldn’t be more corporate – they have built a huge recruitment company based on people’s fears funded by other big city financiers and disguised as ‘a community action or project’. If this is who Al is getting into bed with, it speaks volumes.
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with getting free kit and profiling it on your expedition website or even being a brand ambassador for brands you really like. I wouldn’t think any the less of you Tom if you took some brands you truly loved onboard and were honestly reviewing the kit they give you.
What is different about Dave and Al is that they’ve flogged the ass out of it, its obviously not genuine.
I don’t believe for one minute Dave is trying to build a better world or help anyone, he’s just trying to get paid for going on adventures – nothign wrong with that but don’t pretend you’re doing it for others whilst you try to sell us stuff. No I don’t want an gaudy T-shirt.
Same with Al, he’s always selling us stuff, usually his books or DVDs now his £1000 per night camping nights, its exhausting. I met him recently and although very charming in real life (which is why I think he’s earned his reputation as a nice guy) I couldn’t help thinking that so are salesmen – they’re trained to be charming to make you BUY. I can’t see anything in Al’s newsletters or website that isn’t building him as a brand (ie charity work that he doesn’t actually do himself or bigging up his ‘circle’ that all cross promote each other) or selling me stuff (books, DVDs, his very expensive talks…) for example he wouldn’t write a blog like this because it wouldn’t sell anything.
In summary, these adventurers may tell you they are motivated by pure adventure, by education, by fundraising or by inspiring others but actions will always talk louder than words, cut through the crap and look at it objectively – are they trying to sell you crap, building their profile/raising their rate on the talking circuit or are they actually trying to reach out to you?
No, Dave Cornthwaite isn’t the reason I wrote this post. The reason I wrote this post is that nobody else seems to want to talk about the issue at hand.
For what it’s worth, I look forward to each of Al’s excellent books, I wear Dave’s T-shirts, and consider both of them more than qualified to take cash back out of the corporate world and plough it into evangelising adventure to the rest of us.
Of all the adventurers who make a living writing and talking about them you have picked the wrong guys, dude. It would be interesting to compare the hours of your time – or another member of the public – given to voluntary work, charities or mentoring others and the hours of these two guys you choose to talk about. There are different ways of living and earning a living and I would bet all my earnings this year (very little) that these guys would not consider themselves wealthy in anything but memories, experience and friends and family. You should read some of Al’s writings on his own dilemma about commercializing an aspect of his adventuring. You might just change yourview. Or maybe not. There are different ways of living and I say these two are rocking out alot of good energy for themselves and the world.
Madoc, why the personal attack while hiding behind a pseudonym? If you really mean what you write, regardless of which angle you’re coming from, your thoughts would be respected more if you weren’t anonymous.
As it is, you’re unlikely to change it now but I’d love to have a chat (my number is 07872 986084 – call anytime), I’m pretty sure we haven’t had a good conversation at any point which means your comments are accurate from where you’re sitting (which is upsetting), but not quite fair. I’m serious about giving me a call, please do!
I apologise for the Gear-related blogs not because I shouldn’t write them, but because they’re all crammed together. That’s tardy blog work, but I’m not really a very good blogger. I should say though, I’m not trying to flog a thing. I don’t earn money* from any of the sponsors who so kindly offer me gear for my adventures (they didn’t used to, but they do now because I use their gear more than most and can offer valuable feedback as a result. I also like to say thank you to them by way of blog posts. I have no affiliate cream off the top of a cake. I use the gear I need to use and because it works well, that’s it. But man, it’s a good idea, why the hell aren’t I selling this stuff?!!
You’re definitely right in that I’m trying to get paid to go on adventures, (and you’re right in saying there’s nothing wrong with that) but more often than not I get paid outside of these adventures and then pay for the trip myself, just like anyone does. I really enjoy going off on a long trek or paddle and don’t want the pressure of a big corporate backer taking away the enjoyment of what is usually a very cheap and enjoyable venture.
And Say Yes More. Some of the shirts are gaudy, I agree (Tom seems to like the gaudiest of them all) but regardless of colour 80% of the profits goes straight into an adventure grant which is about to be doled out to folks off on their first adventures, along with a bit of advice and help. I’ve never taken a penny from a Say Yes More shirt sale, and genuinely think people saying yes to new experiences is a good thing.
Finally, I think you’re missing the point in Tom’s blog. There are some aspects of Tom’s post which I disagree with – I think if someone ends up going on an adventure/ holiday/ trip that gives them a new lease of life then it’s a good thing, and I don’t really mind whether or not a company is making money from them in return for a cool experience (that’s business).
So, it does come as a little surprise that you’ve brought my ‘flogging’ into this arena, when I only work with brands that are already directly affiliated with the outdoors. Is it just that when a person ends up working hard and doing well for themselves (whatever that means) that at some point they’re going to be considered a sell out? Is this the same for someone who works their way through a company and ends up with a Manager’s job? Surely there are bigger fish to fry?
So I’ll go back to the start. My phone is by my side. Give me a call and fire the accusations and questions and doubts in person, and I’ll answer in my own voice (I only have one). Then if you’re still a hater (did I really just write that?) then come back on here, be yourself, be proud of your opinions, and write more under your own name.
* there’s one exception to this, when Aquapac asked me to be their Outdoor Champion and gave me £1000 prize
Thank you for your thoughts.
I have a few comments, if that’s OK:
– I repeatedly state that I’ve not “invented” anything with microadventures – people have been hiking and camping for many a year before I stuck a hashtag in front of it!
– My ‘tactics’ may be corporate (if, by that, you mean earning a living from them) – but this is my job. I have bills and taxes to pay. I’m sorry if you prefer adventure to be totally pure / detached from earnings. Just remember that nobody has to buy my books / talks / films. I’m not forcing this on anyone.
– I do charge companies for microadventures, yes. I also charge them for my talks. Again, I’m not forcing this on anyone. And perhaps a client may be an oil company (your example). If that’s “not a nice tactic” to you then I apologise. It’s not hugely different to putting petrol in a vehicle though in terms of actions of evil.
– I have organised 10 Nights of Adventure events for charity. The ones that I have not directly organised have not been done to promote my name. It’s worth pointing out that Dave Cornthwaite is one of those who generously gave of his time and effort to run one of the events. I certainly agree with you that I could do more to help Hope and Homes for Children. I disagree that I make myself out to be some sort of regular charity worker.
– I have no ‘investors’.
– I stuck up for Mark Beaumont in the article you mentioned because he was a young man who had cycled round the world minding his own business (sponsored by a couple of corporate companies like many an expedition over the centuries) and not causing anyone any problems. Nobody doing that deserves to be called a c**t on a public blog. To his face, or on a private phone call might be a different matter if you felt strongly, but that’s not how Julian chose to make his point.
– You disagree with my “corporate camping nights” and “exhausting flogging of books and DVDs”. That’s fine. Please feel free to suggest better ways for me to earn my living?
– Rob and Dom from Escape the City are not “city financiers”.
– What kit have I “flogged the ass out of” in a way that is not genuine? Please do let me know because I am always adamant to kit suppliers that I will never endorse free gear they give me if I do not like it.
– It amuses me that you liken me to a charming but evil salesman (“trained to be charming”) as I always think of myself as being terrible at selling things!
– My newsletters and website do “build me as a brand” – it’s my job. But I hope that the content I produce is entertaining / inspiring / helpful to people in return. If it is not then rest assured that my income would soon shrivel up.
I’d be very happy to discuss any of this with you in person, or via email. You can reach me any time at [email protected] if you have any concerns about the way I conduct myself.
I should add that as galling as this all is, it is unfortunately Life.
The world has always been run like this and those who are good Self-Publicists and are willing to ‘bend’ their morals and the truth to get ahead will continue to thrive. I have no doubt that Dave and Al will still be doing this in 10yrs time and will be very wealthy too. If you don’t believe me, look at Bear Grylls, he’s a classic example.
I’m not an adventurer, but I’ve certainly had adventures.
I really enjoyed this post, it struck oh so many chords and I’ve passed it only for others to enjoy.
I could write an essay as a comment agreeing with much of what you say, but I’ll swap that out for a thank you.
So thank you.
Good meaty reading Tom!
The line from that poem…. ‘Tread carefully for you tread on my dreams’ comes into my head, at risk of saying ‘my way’s better than yours’.
Adventure is such a personal thing – it’s perspective and ethos and about experience past and present and how we relate to that. What might feel like an adventure to me might not feel like that to you or anyone else. It might intimidate or bore another. It might not be accessible for whatever reason. It might not even figure in someone’s realm of possibility of imagination. But meanwhile they might be busy on their own adventure – whatever it is. It simply depends on how we define it. For ourselves. And so long as no one is harming anyone else then I am in full favour of people expressing, experiencing, pursuing (or not) adventure in whatever way they wish, choose or can. There are many ways to skin a cat, after all. To see the world, to feel it, to live. To Be. But that doesn’t have to involve a journey that is self-inspired/propelled/set-up etc.
I think the same applies for the take on corporate affiliation vs not.As someone who is currently doing a big trip with the support of many corporate links and equally someone who has plenty of adventures outside of that setup, my take is that they are just different in execution but the same in essence. I adventure because I love it. One is no less worthy or meaningful to me than the other. They are just different paths to the same goal, different chapters.
And so does everyone, I guess, in their own way, on their own terms, for their own reasons have their own way of finding adventure. That’s what makes it cool in my mind. And if a tour company gets people out and about and experiencing new things and having positive experiences then why not?
Keep up the stoicism with the marketing emails and think back to the days when you did purse sponsors and would follow up your unanswered emails a week later to see what was going on 😉
Hey Sarah! Thanks for your perspective on this. I couldn’t agree more with what you’ve said here. And for me the key line is “so long as no one is harming anyone else”.
You and many other expeditioners in the public eye do what you do with total transparency and for the right reasons. Your own (truly inspiring) expedition could not happen without corporate backing and, crucially, serves as a net gain to society. I fully support this.
My main reason for writing this piece was in protest at the way adventure – which I think we’re all now agreed is a relative term – is being misused in an opaque and often deceitful fashion for the purpose of commercial gain. To me, this is very much a harmful thing. It’s this issue of transparency, respect, and moral integrity about which a conversation needed to be started. An enlightening set of contributions from the point of view of those inside the travel industry is over on Outbounding.org.
Once again, thanks for dropping in from Canada (and for being one of the few ‘professional adventurers’ who’ve chosen to speak openly on this topic!).
Agreed. Definitely an interesting use of the word adventure in marketing at times. I think one of the things I dislike about the commercial side of it at times is the hype and projection that you have to be superhuman to take on a big expedition when we all know that for the most part you do not.
I think the media portrayal of that aspect is particularly fallible. I think the one example which springs to mind is Bear Grylls – hype central. Clearly pretty skilled and experienced , it would be fantastic if his tv stuff portrayed him as a bit more human, humble and accessible, doing things that people might have half a chance of doing within the realms of feasibility i.e an open door to some adventures and not trying to keep the pedestal theme going. I realise that might be a bit off topic but it is kind of connected 🙂
This reminds me of a piece I wrote about the two faces of adventure storytelling…
On a similar vein and as a champion of equality, I am frustrated that the use of the word and theme of adventure in marketing and the media is often very male-centric, as though only blokes have – or might be inspired – to have adventures! And that runs out through the media too – how many everyday females (as opposed to celebrities) do we see in adventurous happenings in the media – specifically television ? It is very, very few compared to the beards. Given that participation numbers of women and girls in sports (and I imagine therefore adventure sports) are way behind the double Y chromosomed participants I think it is an area screaming out for more role models and visibility as well as not ‘macho-ising’ the field and therefore exclusing/intidimidating otherwise interested folks.
And for now, I must swap my soap box for my bike and get on the road!
Happy November from over here dude x
This post seems to have got somewhat out of hand….I’m a Tour guide, my brief is to take American tourists around Britain and give them the “adventure of their life” I deal with their dreams of adventure and I put a 110% into every working day so as not to spoil those dreams. Admittedly its not what most people reading Toms blog would consider as adventure travel, we don’t have to sleep in crumbling barns, none to my knowledge has been thrown into a filthy British jail and denied consular assistance, or had to eat food that they had just scrapped off the road at the junction of Knightsbridge and Beauchamp place, the fact that none of them on their return to civilisation will be writing a book or giving lectures about their adventures means that they have forgotten these small details. At the end of the two week tour of Britain I know that they have had the “adventure” that they had been looking for and they go home happy.
It’s too easy for today’s travelers tourists, holiday makers to think of themselves as adventures because they might have ridden a horse across Mongolia or sailed around Cape Horn or ridden a bicycle around the world. None of us are adventures, just fortunate tourists with enough money in our pockets to go off for weeks, months sometimes even years on our quest to become better, more interesting, wiser or even slimmer people. Think of Ernest Shackleton launching lifeboats to travel 720 nautical miles across open ocean to reach Elephant island and then another 32 miles over mountains for 40 hours before reaching the whaling station at Stromness. Not one of the so called adventurers of today has done anything like, well not without a production crew anyway.
The age of true adventurers has long gone, travel is like the X factor, just because you can carry a tune it doesn’t mean that you can be a rock star and just because you like to travel it doesn’t mean your an adventurer. I’m not an adventurer, lecturer on travel, expert on bicycle maintenance, author or authority on anything really, just a guy who took a few year years off to ride a bicycle around the world and got on with it. I came home, went back to work and consider myself incredibly lucky to have had the holiday of a lifetime. Adventurous, not really…….
Thank you to all who have contributed constructively to this really interesting (and vocal) debate. The breadth of opinions and perspectives on the ethics of commercialising adventure has been enlightening to me, and I hope to all else who stumble across this piece.
One thing that I didn’t do a particularly good job of articulating in the original article, and which I’ve subsequently come under fire for, is the value of the adventure holiday. To be absolutely clear, I have nothing whatsoever against this, whether that be a weekend trip up a Himalayan peak or a guided canoeing trip down the Wye. Are these experiences adventures? Yes, of course, in that those undertaking them feel adventurous, and that’s brilliant. Have I been on things like this myself? Of course I have! Do they deliver the same experience as climbing Everest unassisted without oxygen, or canoeing the length of a river solo? No, of course they don’t.
Here’s the key point. Neither is ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than the other, and I’ve never claimed so. They are just different. My complaint is when one is misrepresented as the other in order to tart something up to make money. It’s a question of ethics, not of the definition of adventure.
It is a shame that a tiny handful of contributors have used this discussion to lash out at specific individuals. Opinions aside, there’s no place for it on this blog, and so in the interests of preserving what’s been a reasoned and intelligent debate, this’ll be the last comment on this piece.
I do hope that the conversation started here continues in the ‘real world’. And let’s hope that the result is an improvement in integrity and transparency in this field we all inhabit.
Thanks again, everyone!
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