“But what is an adventure?”
“An adventure is by no means just an episode. Episodes are a succession of details which have no inner coherence and for that very reason have no permanent significance. An adventure, however, interrupts the customary course of events, but is positively and significantly related to the context which it interrupts. Thus an adventure lets life be felt as a whole, in its breadth and in its strength. Here lies the fascination of an adventure. It removes the conditions and obligations of everyday life. It ventures out into the uncertain.”Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method
I love this quote by the philosopher Gadamer, who I think nails it when he describes adventure as something clearly distinguishable from a mere episode, which he defines as a “succession of details… with no permanent significance.”
Using travel terminology, in my mind the word “episode” can be adapted to “vacation,” a word I say out of habit but actually dislike using in reference to my own travel experiences.
I’ve previously had discussions with others on this subject, and in expressing my views I don’t mean to sound harsh or judgemental towards those who prefer to lounge on a beach with a book or beer rather than cross the Antarctic or mingle with monkeys in the Amazon (or monks in the Himalayas).
What do I mean by “vacation” exactly?
Spending a week at an all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean to work on your tan by the poolside, frolicking with Mickey Mouse in Disney World, snapping photos of ancient ruins within the safe confines of an organized tour bus, or socializing and sipping cocktails on a cruise ship with fellow Westerners—these are all prime examples. I’ve referred to such scenarios before as “prescription” vacations that serve to sedate rather than to inspire and invigorate (I love unintentional rhyming).
A vacation is just a distraction, a form of entertainment. There is no deeper meaning to be found in stuffing your face or getting drunk first thing in the morning with the “I’m on vacation” justification, however “fun” it may be. The itinerary of a vacation is predictable and involves little to no contemplation beyond the mundane things you’d encounter back home, such as what dessert you’re going to order or “How to Make Your Travel Clothes Pop on Instagram” (eye roll).
Ain’t nobody got time to dress to impress on an adventure.
If this is your thing, cool—you do you —but I’m not joining you.
I have zero interest in vacations and always strive for adventures, the ultimate escape from the routine of everyday life. Adventures have an innate flow to them that you get lost in as you move forward into the unknown and away from your comfort zone. You’re stretching your imagination and pushing your boundaries when you embark on an adventure. You’re searching for something you’re never quite sure of but feel pulled towards.
Adventures leave room for spontaneity and serendipity. They require action and attention and can be challenging and uncomfortable at times (or even confronting and disturbing). They stimulate the senses, leave you vulnerable and exposed, and sometimes leave you holding your breath (and sighing in relief).
Adventures also require an element of trust and confidence in oneself—by not knowing what awaits you but knowing it’s all worth the effort.
Maybe there is a goal in mind (like climbing a mountain), but there doesn’t have to be. Wandering around aimlessly without an agenda can be equally adventurous.
You don’t necessarily have to go far from home or take a big risk to have an adventure, either. “Backyard” adventures can be invigorating in their own right. The important thing is to change up the scene and/or means of getting there.
Walking along a different route than usual, visiting a neighboring town you’ve never explored, or joining a carpool as a means of traveling instead of taking the public transportation (which allows you to meet strangers with a mutual destination) can all lead to some form of adventure. The idea here is to take advantage of the opportunities that fall within your geographical realm but outside your normal realm of attention.
On a larger geographical scale, there are multiple advantages to spending time abroad. The classic article on this topic published in The Atlantic emphasizes, among other advantages, the enhanced creativity associated with international travel.
In order to reap this cognitive benefit, however, you have to immerse yourself in a different culture rather than passively observe it. In other words, simply being physically present in a different place isn’t enough. The key is to stimulate the brain with new sights, sounds, tastes, and languages to cultivate “cognitive flexibility,” which is the mind’s ability to jump between different ideas.
A trip doesn’t have to be undertaken solo in order to qualify as an adventure, although solo trips offer great opportunities for self-discovery. The same article mentions this added benefit: “Our ability to differentiate our own beliefs and values… is tied up in the richness of the cultural experiences that we have had.”
In learning about the beliefs and values prevalent in a different culture and being questioned about your own in return (for example, religion is a subject that has come up in my travels lately), you’re prompted to reflect not only on what it is you truly believe but why it is you believe these things.
Perhaps the most interesting (and important) result of experiencing new cultures is increased faith in humanity and reduced prejudice and suspicion (also touched on in the article). I can absolutely attest to this phenomenon and feel this is the best part of traveling. Through my interactions with individuals of different cultures (some fleeting and others more in depth), I’ve learned to trust that most people are inherently and genuinely kind and generous across the board. I’ve been subjected to numerous acts of compassion from strangers as a “guest” in a foreign country, and I’m eternally grateful for these moments.
All this being said, in this post and through my blog writing in general, I do hope to encourage others to be more open to exploring foreign cultures and deviating from the comforts of familiarity when faced with the choice of what to do with vacation time. How to adapt these ideas to your own circumstances (i.e., family life, financial restrictions, limited vacation time, etc.) is ultimately up to you, but I believe that adventure is accessible to anyone if made a priority.