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Debunking Three Adventure Travel Myths

When I was twenty-three, I bought a poorly made Chinese bicycle, quit my job, and set off on an adventure.

It was an impulse trip, devised mostly through a series of Google searches and some light guidebook research. I had never traveled on my own, nor on a bicycle, but that winter my rickety, red-and-white Motachie carried me—along with the 20 kilos of luggage my bike rack would allow—for over five weeks, across three countries, and a thousand miles. To this day, it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.

Photo © <a href="">Mallikarjun P. Javali</a>, Licensed Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivatives.
Bicycle in Sonagiri, Ratnagiri District, Maharashtra. Photo © Mallikarjun P. Javali, Licensed Creative Commons Attribution, No Derivatives.

While the journey placed me in more than a few unusual circumstances—like the stands of a Cambodian boxing match, a bocce ball game with some Laotian paleontologists, or the several countryside weddings I attended in full Spandex—it never registered as something especially daring. Only later, when I’d tell stories of the trip, did I begin to hear people say: “I could never do that.”

This comment always irked me, mostly because it wasn’t true. By no stretch of the imagination am I the first person to get on a bicycle and travel through a foreign country by myself; it only follows that other people would be capable of doing it, too. But the more I heard this from friends and fellow travelers, the more I realized that there were some larger misconceptions around what it means to set off on an adventure. As you plan your next trip, here are a few other things people often get wrong about adventure travel.

Myth #1: Adventure travel requires a great deal of time, money and planning.

For the most part, this isn’t true; in fact, some of the best adventures a person can take are also the least expensive. Of course, if you’re planning a month-long trip to Antarctica or a trek up Everest, then you’ll want to have all three of the above in abundance, but it’s just as easy to find adventure destinations on a shoestring budget.

Though airfare is often higher, developing countries are jam-packed with plenty of adventurous things to do and places to go, usually for far less money than in your home country. These are also destinations better left unplanned, as hotel bookings, bus tickets and other logistical items are known to go awry anyway in less-organized nations.

Finally, time can be a fickle factor in planning your off-the-beaten-path adventures, but perhaps the most important take-away is that you can have an adventure in as little as a week, provided you choose to keep your plans fairly localized. Adventure travel is not about checking off boxes or seeing grand monuments but rather about the experience of being in a certain place, so don’t bother hitting all the highlights of a given destination when you can opt to spend a few days getting to better know one specific place.

Myth #2: Adventure travel has to be extreme.

There’s this notion that, unless you’ve planned a trip that would make Bear Grylls have second thoughts, you’re not allowed to call it an adventure. While some of us are more daring than others, the real point of adventure travel is that it forces you beyond your comfort zone. Whether that’s two miles or two continents away from your front door, any trip that presents you with new experiences—and challenges—counts as an adventure.

Myth #3: Adventure travel is only for confident, experienced travelers.

As I mentioned, I was only 23 during that cycling trip. It was, to be fair, a terrifying experience at first: as I rode away from my apartment in Vietnam on the very first day, I had a considerable worry that I might not come back. I had never traveled by myself, I could barely change a tire, and for weeks I’d been hearing horror stories from friends, relatives, strangers and anyone else that had chosen to weigh in on the subject of my trip. Danger, it seemed, was supposed to be lurking around every corner.

But the truth is this: no matter where you go, no matter how far you get from home, at the end of the day people are the same. We all have families and friends, jobs, homes, responsibilities and lives. Some of us are good people, some of us are not. While it’s important to be smart and stay safe, this shouldn’t prevent you from being open to the world around you. Have a little faith in people and you’ll be amazed at how they will surprise you.

As a human, it’s perfectly normal to have a fear of the unknown. This is, perhaps, the strongest deterrent for solo travelers, especially female solo travelers: the minor possibility that something bad might happen. While it’s a completely acceptable reaction to worry, too much of it can stand in the way of a good adventure. The best thing to do—not only for your adventure, but for your self-development—is to embrace that bit of worry, take it in stride, and get out in the world all the same. It will make you a stronger, happier, and more confident person in the end. Be scared, then go anyway.

There are whole adventures out there waiting for you, if you only choose to take them.