Alastair Humphreys' guide to microadventures

June 26, 2015                 3m read time
Harry Guinness

Think you don't have time for an adventure? Alastair Humphreys insists that you do. Named one of National Geographic’s Adventurers of the Year in 2012 for his efforts, he has been breaking down barriers between people and the wild for years. Here he shares his tips on how to fit more adventure into your everyday life. (Plus, our writer puts his advice into action.)

Alastair Humphreys is a proper British adventurer. He spent four years cycling across five continents, he rowed across the Atlantic, walked across India and Iceland, and has generally done things in very hot and very cold places that no one sensible should do anywhere. But Humphreys insists he’s no superhuman.

For the last few years, the author of the book, “Microadventures: Local Discoveries for Great Escapes,” has been on a mission to prove that adventure is possible for everyone. 

“Adventure is a state of mind,” Humphreys tells me over the phone. In his view, as long as you're outdoors, enthusiastic, and curious, you're on an adventure.

Alastair Humphreys' 4 tips to sparking an adventure:

  • Think big. Imagine what is possible.
  • Think small. What is the tiniest thing that would get you towards your dream?
  • Start small.
  • Just start!

One of Humphreys' first microadventures was walking a lap of the M25, the 117-mile motorway that surrounds London. Since then he has walked, cycled, paddled, and swam his way through a series of small adventures that anyone with a couple of free days could do.

To further encourage those who “love the idea of adventure, but feel that they don't have the time, skill, or money,” Humphreys has scaled back even further. Can’t get away from your 9-5 job? Find time in the 5-9 he says. As far as he is concerned, the busier you are, the more you need a microadventure.

His typical plan is simple: Leave work an hour early and head towards nature.

“Don't make the mistake of thinking that something is too small to bother with,” Humphreys tells me. “Anything is better than nothing—an hour's walk under a full moon, a swim in a river on the way home from work, a night on a hill.” The last one catches my attention.

I live at the foot of one of the largest hills in Dublin, Ireland. Since I was a boy, I've walked through the woods up to the exposed, rocky summit, and looked down across the city. I've drank there, kissed there, cried there, but I've never slept there. On Humphreys' urging, I decide to change that. His gear list for me is short: a sleeping bag, a bivvy bag, a toothbrush, and some chocolate.

Anything is better than nothing—an hour’s walk under a full moon, a swim in a river on the way home from work, a night on a hill.
— Alastair Humphreys

One warm evening in September, as the sun starts to set over the islands off shore, I stop writing and shut down my laptop. I set out from my house on paths I've walked for years, but this time I walk with purpose. After a half hour of walking through trees and then another fifteen minutes scramble up the rocky slopes, I reach the summit as the lights are coming on in the city below. It was still early, only ten-ish, so I walk around exploring, looking for a spot to sleep. Humphreys had suggested I find somewhere out of the wind. It’s a nice night, but there is a breeze coming in from the sea, so I am inclined to agree.

Just below the summit, I find a bed of ferns in a sheltered spot. As I set up my “camp” (rolling out a bivvy bag and putting it and a sleeping bag on top of some ferns hardly counts), I see the first stars start to blink over the islands, away from the light pollution of the city below. I’m surprised by how tired I am. I normally write into the early hours of the morning. But standing out here in the quiet, looking down at the lights, I realize I'm ready for bed. I take off my shoes, climb fully clothed into my sleeping bag, eat my chocolate, and curl up into the ferns. They're surprisingly soft. All I can hear is the wind. Within moments, I'm asleep.

The dawn view from Harry's hill above Dublin, Ireland Harry Guinness The dawn view from Harry's hill above Dublin

The dawn view from Harry's hill above Dublin, Ireland

Harry Guinness

The dawn view from Harry's hill above Dublin


It would be a lie to say I slept perfectly, but not a big one. I wake the next morning as the sun clears the hills on the other side of the city. It's early, far earlier than I'm normally awake. Still, I feel refreshed. The outside of my sleeping bag is damp with the dew, but it's kept me warm all night. I pack up and begin the walk back home. There's no one else about this early.

I get home, sit back down at my desk, open my laptop, and email Humphreys to tell him how it went. An hour later my phone pings. It's Humphreys, "Well done.”

Harry Guinness

Harry Guinness (yes, that is his real last name) is a writer and photographer from Dublin, Ireland. He suffers from a terrible allergy to what someone with moral character might call “work.”

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