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Grand Adventures by Alastair Humphreys – Book Review

Grand Adventures by Alastair Humphreys
Written by Kirstie Pelling

Grand Adventures by Alastair Humphreys – Book Review

Kirstie Profile SmallAre you open to adventure or does the ‘stuff’ of life always get in the way? If money, work and other responsibilities feel like constant barriers to realising your dream then you’re not alone. But equally all is not lost. In his book, Grand Adventures, professional adventurer Alastair Humphreys helps you find a way to freeing up yourself and your adventurous thinking in order to plan and carry out a grand adventure. And he enlists a band of brave brothers and sisters from across the world to share their wisdom too. Here’s our review of this inspiring book

Jubilee Beacon Catbells

“To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme.” Herman Melville

Dream Big, Plan Quick, Go Explore

“So what is it that actually gets in the way, if not the hazards of the wild?” Alastair Humphreys asks in the introduction to his new book.

“Why do lots of people long for adventures and enjoy reading about it but not many actually get out there and do it?”

He’s pretty qualified to ask this kind of question. The British adventurer and blogger has had more grand adventures than I’ve had grande coffees in Starbucks. (And I’ve had a lot of those.) National Geographic’s Adventurer of the Year for 2012 spent four years cycling 46,000 miles through 60 countries. He walked across southern India, rowed across the Atlantic and ran six marathons through the Sahara. I will never forget how HARD it looked to persuade a stubborn camel up a sand dune in his video footage of a crossing of the Empty Quarter.

With dogged persistence, a handful of cash and a brain fuelled by big ideas Alastair has made a career out of adventuring. These don’t all involve superhuman effort and planning – sometimes his adventures are small and seemingly mundane – like walking around the M25 or spending the solstice sleeping in a bivy bag.

Terra Nova Jupiter Bivy on fell

The bivy – a classic microadventure ingredient

Barriers to the adventurous spirit

A while back on his blog Alastair asked people what stands between them and their adventures and discovered many common answers.

“And not one person mentioned the worry of falling down a crevasse or getting eaten by a tiger.”

What poured forth were those obstacles of time and money, work, family and fear that we all have. The barriers were mental and not physical; wrestling snakes came far behind wrestling time off work.

His book tackles those mental obstacles with practical advice from people who know what they are talking about. Alastair spent a year interviewing other adventurers who between them have done it all – the earth, the oceans, even space. (They’ve even done it with a family – I am one of the contributors.) And he quotes them (and me) first-hand in well organised sections.

“When I embarked on my swim I couldn’t swim. But by the end I had gills!” Dave Cornthwaite. (Check out our post on “Say Yes More” man Dave Cornthwaite.)

Dave Cornthwaite with Swim Raft 12411739063_28719d84dd_k from DC Flickr with permission

Dave Cornthwaite, one of many adventurers who share wisdom in this book

Planning a grand adventure

The first half of the book looks at the barriers that make it hard to begin and shines a spotlight on what’s getting in the way. Unsurprisingly the first obstacle discussed is money. Alastair has a practical suggestion for this.

“If you put aside £20 a week, within a year you will have saved £1000. One thousand pounds in all its glory.”

This, he says, is more than enough to fund a phenomenal trip. “Saving a little bit of money regularly and seeing how that accumulates into a large amount is a handy metaphor for everything in this book. Things that seem daunting at first are not nearly so bad once you begin chipping away.”

“Start small, but do start. Start rubbish, then get good along the way.”

There are plenty of suggestions for ideas you could have for £1000, sourced from his adventurer friends. “I would leave the front door with my camping kit and I’d just walk. It’d be really interesting to walk without a destination, away from home day after day,” says Hannah Engelkemp, who should know, as she already walked a thousand miles round Wales with a donkey.

“I’d like to walk to the midnight sun,” says Sean Conway, the first person to complete a ‘length of Britain’ Triathlon.

Swimming in Lake Windermere

Wild swimming in Lake Windermere

Choosing the right adventure

In second half of the book the advice is about choosing a suitable adventure and committing to the planning of it. Adventures by bicycle, animal, water and motor are all covered. Again with engaging insight and stories from a huge range of adventurers including world record breaking cyclist Mark Beaumont. The lessons they learnt and shared are many and varied and occasionally funny.

“There was a crude restaurant by the roadside. I pushed the bike inside so I could keep an eye on it. The owners were startled at my sudden arrival, especially since I just stepped inside with a penny farthing wearing a colonial pith helmet…..but when I came to leave and made the universal gesture of ‘how much’ they did seem a bit puzzled. It slowly started to dawn on me that this wasn’t a restaurant at all, it was in fact someone’s home! These lovely people had just fed and watered me after I had unceremoniously stepped straight into their living room with my bicycle.” says Jeff Summerfield who twice cycled around the world on a penny farthing.

Cycling towards the High Tatras in Slovakia

Cycling towards the High Tatras in Slovakia

This book is for you

In short, if you have an adventurous spirit this book is for you. If you have a dream that’s like an itch to be scratched, this book is for you. If you feel your life is lacking something, this book is for you. If you want to read about the world that is within your grasp if you just reach out and grab it, this book is for you. If you fancy having one less coffee every now and again with a long term goal of changing your life, this book is for you. If you are just curious about what it is to be alive in a different way, then this book is for you.

Life is an adventure. A grand adventure. If you’re not having yours then maybe it’s time for a rethink. Buy your copy of Grand Adventures now.

Grand Adventures Jacket by Alastair Humphreys

About the author

Kirstie Pelling

Kirstie is the Editor of The Family Adventure Project. A professional writer and poet, she's the creative and journalistic force behind many of the stories and features published here. She's a co-founder and co-director of The Family Adventure Project and also works as the #poetinmotion producing and performing poetry for print, video and live performance.


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We're Kirstie & Stuart. We share an adventurous spirit, a passion for indie travel and 3 kids. The Family Adventure Project is our long term experiment in doing active, adventurous things together. Find out more...


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