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Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent has explored the Ho Chi Minh Trail by motorbike and attempted to reach the Russian Arctic on an old Ural sidecar motorcycle. Who better to ask for tips on how to survive an adventure?
While it’s vital that you pack the right kit for your Big Adventure, there’s also nothing worse than lugging kilos of excess equipment across steppe, mountain and desert. Whether you’re travelling by foot, mule, bicycle or kayak, you’ll soon be wishing you hadn’t insisted on cramming in those ‘essential’ hair-straighteners and that extra pair of Jimmy Choos. Pack only what you really need, and buy the best your budget will allow. Do allow room for one little luxury though - be it a bar of dark chocolate or your favourite silky pants.
While it’s good to have plans, aims and an idea of what you hope to experience and achieve on your adventure, it’s also vital to be open to the wonders of the unknown. Adventure is all about letting go, embracing the unexpected and stepping out of the quotidian reality of our over-regulated, boringly safe everyday lives. It’s usually when things go ‘wrong’ that the adventure really begins. They’re the bits you’ll be telling your grandchildren about in years to come.
At some point on your adventure things will go wrong, and you’ll find yourself tired, cold, hungry and broken-down in the midst of some godforsaken wilderness. Rather than crying, giving up and wishing you’d never left your sofa, remember where you are, and what you are doing. Surely being slightly stranded on the edge of the Gobi Desert is preferable to another dull day at the office?
You’ll be helping yourself, and other travellers, if you make some effort to familiarise yourself with and respect local customs. Don’t sashay around in sequin hot-pants in a strictly Muslim country, avoid pointing your feet towards images of the Buddha, try not to step over a Mongolian nomad’s lasso pole. And if possible learn at least one or two words of the local language – a little really does go such a long way.
We all have different thresholds of fear, patience and comfort so be realistic about your own limits. Are you happy to travel alone? Will you really be comfortable sleeping in a hammock in the jungle for a month? If you despise the cold, why go to Siberia in January? Challenging yourself doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be miserable doing it.
Our cosy, sanitised lives have largely negated the need for this vital sixth sense. But when you stride, pedal, paddle or zoom off into the unknown instinct can be your most valuable ally. And the more you travel, the more you’ll tune into it. It warns you when something’s a bit fishy about the wild-eyed man who’s offered you a bed for the night, sets alarm bells ringing when you’ve taken a wrong turn and whispers to you to trust the stranger who’s just offered you a lift. Trust your instinct and it will rarely, if ever, let you down.