Dear adventurers, Please stop pretending everyone can do this

by Apr 12, 2020 | First published in 2017Personal journal

Dear Adventurers,

It’s strange to think that 2 years ago I didn’t even realise a world of adventure even existed. A growing community of people wanting more adventurer in their life. I probably wouldn’t have believed it if you had said there were even individuals who were earning a living from going on expeditions and sharing it with others.

And yet here I am. Doing just that.

March 2016 I went to my first adventure event, Night of Adventure. I had already decided before that point that I was going to hike the full length of Israel, but this event opened my eyes to other opportunities. I studied the speakers and their websites with fascination and admiration. I so wanted to be like them! To have a blog that I could write my ideas on and to one day entertain an audience with my own tales of adventure.

Adventure and privilege

It was not an easy transition

Before 2016 my outdoor experience was very minimal. I grew up in a family that didn’t do outdoorsy things and went to a comprehensive school that didn’t offer these sort of extra curriculum activities. It just wasn’t a ‘thing’ where I grew up. I didn’t know anyone who went on hiking trips with their parents to the Lake District, or who was in a rowing club. Or who spent the weekend camping and building fires in the woods. Recreation time was for drinking, the cinema and Nandos.

The most nature I got was when my mates chose to hang out knocking back WKD in the local park. This was just how it was in Basingstoke!

So I was an adult when I first discovered my love for camping and hiking. And I couldn’t get enough of it. Being outdoors and feeling super adventurous (although most of my outdoor pursuits were exceptionally mellow). My biggest problem right from the start was confidence and not really knowing where to start. So I decided to work on getting my Mountain Leader qualification. Quite a bold decision for a beginner (not that I knew it at the time) but I thought it would give me the skills I needed to do more.

It was not an easy journey. Sadly in my attempts to learn more about the outdoors and to go on courses I faced judgments, criticisms and turned up noses. Not to mention horrible sexism.

I also struggled to afford it financially when I started out. But the outdoors is cheap/free, I hear so often…..bull! Not if you want a waterproof that won’t leak on you in the middle of a storm. Or if you want a nice weekend hike in the Lakes and a return train from London costing £160+.

Those were the external battles but the internal ones were worse. Self-doubt, insecurities and imposter syndrome.

Enjoying the view

Look where I am now

Of all the things I am grateful for having, resilience is my biggest one. It kept me (and continues to keep me) fighting, stubborn and determined to belong in a world where I want to be, even when things don’t work out.

And in the end, I got there.

I passed my Mountain Leader Award, completed my first big expedition, my blog blossomed and I founded Love Her Wild, a community for female adventurers which has become my world. And even found a way to make money from what I am doing.

I am now one of them. An ‘adventurer’.

You might also be interested to read: How do I make a living as an adventurer.

Couldn’t quite put my finger on it

In case you are wondering, my internal battles continue. But underneath them all, I have a quiet confidence that I am doing ok, that what I am doing is right, because something is working – even if it’s different from how others have done it.

Since attending my first adventure event in early 2016, I have been to countless more. I consume adventure blogs almost on a daily basis. And for a long time, I had a niggling feeling about this scene and what was being portrayed that really bugged it.

Until, finally, I put a finger on it.

It’s called privilege.

Let’s keep things a little real

It didn’t make sense to me. I kept seeing the same theme; fit, successful young adults having a big dream….usually an expedition that would cost thousands. They would quit their job (usually as some sort of office-based designer or marketer), raise the money in sponsorship (prior to having any profile at all) and head out their door. Months/years later they would return having completed their expedition with a book deal on their doorstep.

Then I would hear how I could achieve this too…

Just quit your job and do it…

Believe in yourself…

Be bold and brave…

You can achieve anything you set your mind too…

Well……..this is wrong! Or rather, let me be specific. I really do believe that self-belief, positively, confidence, etc can take you a long way and further than our self-limiting beliefs allow us, BUT these need to belong in a little context called reality.

Walking in the desert

It’s all too white and too rich

You’ve probably noticed already that the adventure world is a very privileged one. I recently wrote down a list of 15 well-known UK adventurers that came to mind. I did some internet stalking and found 12 had gone to private school (my stalking abilities failed to suss out the other 3).

12 were male.

All of them were white and able-bodied.

I don’t mean to make assumptions but I would fathom a guess that most of them they come from a supportive family, and as well as having a fantastic education, and the invaluable network that comes with that (hello sponsors!) were probably exposed to great things when they were younger – overseas travel, ski trips, theatre outings etc.

Oh yea, I’m white and privileged too!

I think back to how hard it was for me getting into the outdoors. Starting out as an adult without any of those childhood experiences as a basis. Who was struggling financially and had other battles in my life. Although I wanted to be outdoors adventuring, I had other priorities.

But hang on a second. I am white, educated, can access free health care, I have a loving family who will no doubt (I hope?!) take me in should it all go wrong and I don’t have any dependents. My circumstances changed and I was able to build modest savings as a backup.

If it was not easy for me to become an adventurer and I have all this privilege in my favour, imagine how hard it would be if I let go of just one of those pillars holding me up right now.

This is why privilege has so much to do with the success of adventurers because they reduce the barriers that are in the way of getting there in the first place.

Let’s be openly grateful for the position we are in

There is nothing wrong with being privileged. It is a game of chance and we are all just doing our best with the lives we were given. But we should respect those who do not have these luxuries that we have by acknowledging and being grateful for what we do have.

Because adventure really is a luxury. Think about this…..we inflict hardship to gain perspective and satisfaction in our lives! It’s a bizarre concept.

So let’s stop ramming down peoples throats that they should quit their job and go after their dream and stop being so scared.

It only takes 1 sentence to acknowledge this gratitude. I think we owe that to the others less fortunate than us, don’t you think?

Thanks for reading, Bex

Follow me on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. Or you can subscribe to my YouTube channel. I give all my advice out for free on my website. If you want to say thanks, you can buy me a coffee!

*Any women reading this?* I founded a women’s adventure community called Love Her Wild. Check out our private Facebook page and see what adventures we have coming up.

52 Comments

  1. Sophie Kelly

    Bex is this a great read and a wonderful insight! A bold article highlighting the realism and struggles as well as the epic achievements. I think it takes commitment and persistence to do what you are doing so well done! I am glad you have drawn attention to adversity….and the fact that it is all too white and middle class! The start of new projects and raising awareness I wonder?!

    Reply
    • admin

      Thank you Sophie. It really is something I would like to promote in the outdoors – more diversity. I’ll have a think!! 🙂

      Reply
  2. Yvie Johnson

    A very good read, you’ve likely hit the nail on the head and it’s something that hasn’t gone unnoticed with many dipping their toes in and discovering this world for the first time. I do think the pendulum is starting to swing in an altogether ‘other’ direction, we have to help shape it, and encourage others to do so too.

    Reply
    • admin

      Thank you Yvie…definitely! I do feel a shift with the microadventure movement but so desperately want to see more diversity in terms of backgrounds, religion and race. It will get there! x

      Reply
  3. Beau

    Thanks Bex! This an important blog post and this lack of self-awareness is visible across all kinds of industries from people who have reached a level of success. It reminds of this short film about the success of Casey Neistat and other famous entrepreneurs who may over-emphasise the importance of hard work whilst underestimating the other factors (geography/class/timing) that played a part too.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zZBKVJeIPnU

    Reply
    • admin

      This is such a brilliant video, thank you Beau! I say the same often when people ask me about Love Her Wild’s success…it came at the right time. I’m sure in 5 years time the women in adventure would be in a completely different space. Thanks!! 🙂

      Reply
  4. Mountain Rat Adventures

    Interesting, but by creating specific groups for women or men or any other specific group, are we not just contributing to stifling diversity? Adventure is for everyone and it doesn’t have to be huge or extreme.

    Reply
    • admin

      I’ve thought about this a lot and came to my conclusions in this blog: https://www.theordinaryadventurer.com/inspiration/sexism-in-the-outdoors/

      In the ideal world we wouldn’t have divided groups but in a world of equality, it is needed. It is necessary to provide the support and boost to the groups who are underrepresented or disadvantaged. Beyond that, there is also part of me that thinks there is nothing wrong with groups defined by culture/sex/religion, etc because it is quite powerful being amongst individuals with shared experience. It doesn’t’ always have to be a negative thing.

      Thanks for your comment. Totally agree that adventure’s don’t have to be big!

      Reply
  5. Héliette Garcia-Fernandez

    A good read indeed. I’m French, where the colour of your skin matters much less than in other countries (it still does, though), and I’m not white. I also come from a very broken, poor background. Growing up in foster care, I had to work and pay for my studies. And I wanted adventure. And so even though I was broke, I discovered that I could work during the year, and spend a summer far, far away adventuring, and live with 2 euros a day – not because I was privileged, but because my country was. I didn’t have a proper fridge or a washing machine, and ate pasta for quite a long time when I saved for a plane ticket, and bought it months in advance. So your post rings a bell. I met a number of travelers, wanderers and adventurers on the way, who had no idea what it meant to be broke with 50 centavos in your purse in Patagonia, with a plane to catch three days later in Buenos Aires (and not a cent to pay the airport fee). For instance. But this made me much richer. There are more broke people out there than privileged ones. This is a sisterhood of sorts. I’m glad I found your blog. 🙂

    Reply
    • admin

      Thank you Heliette. I like your words. What an incredible story and you are a real inspiration. Too often (as you witnessed) privileged people don’t see their privilege. x

      Reply
  6. Suz

    This is so true. I wish I could quit everything and run away but as a single parent with 2 kids I can’t right now. I still have adventures and still do amazing things. However they are scaled back and usually involve free adventures with the kids. 7 years until my youngest goes (hopefully) and then the plans that are coming along nicely will be become reality. I think to a certain extent the definition of adventure needs adjusting. Everyone can have an adventure it just may not be what anyone else sees as an adventure.

    Reply
    • admin

      Such a great point Suz about adjusting our perception of what an adventure is. It doesn’t need to be epic to be worthy.
      It sounds like you are doing an amazing job raising an adventurous family (which is always an adventure in itself). Keep at it! 🙂

      Reply
  7. David Stanbridge

    Great read and something I agree with, I’ve discovered how fortunate I am on my current adventure! Just simply being born in the UK or Europe gives you a head start on the majority of the worlds population in terms of your freedom of movement! Thanks for writing! David (from http://www.solostan.com)

    Reply
    • admin

      Thanks, David. Having a UK passport is one of the most valuable tools you can be handed in life! Checking out your blog now 🙂

      Reply
  8. Sarah Jelbert

    Yes! I couldn’t agree with this more.

    Reply
    • admin

      Thanks Sarah! x

      Reply
  9. Paul Boggis

    I hear ya sista! I run a non profit company delivering courses and adventures in climbing and mountaineering. Following my values and refusing to compromise them for easier money, I’m earning a 12K salary, living full time in a van and working hard for the lifestyle. That’s my real deal. To be able to work so many days of the year in the mountains, it’s still worth it. 🙂

    Reply
    • admin

      Wow that’s amazing. Hats off to your Paul! It can’t be easy but it sounds like you are achieving great things and giving back to those less fortunate. Keep up the great work 🙂

      Reply
  10. Sarah

    I love this, thank you so much for writing this. I have physical limitations with one leg and come from a working class (although I am white and educated) family. It’s frustrating to be told constantly that I am just scared to quit my job as if once I do that, I will have no other hurdles to overcome!!

    Reply
    • admin

      Thanks for your comment Sarah! It certainly is frustrating to have these notions rammed down your throat without any context.

      Reply
  11. Paula Goude

    This year we facilitated bronze Duke of Edinburgh Expeditions for 70 young people. I’m really pleased to say that over 60 of them were not white, they were a 50/50 mix of male and female, most had never hiked and/or camped before and many are from disadvantaged backgrounds. I don’t think they’d even considered doing anything like it until we and our funding partners started to speak with them. The best bit was when I got a call this week to say that our April group will be receiving their awards shortly and half of them are speaking to us about running their silver Expeditions next year. They did something new and discovered they love it! What better reward?

    Reply
    • admin

      This is AMAZING Paula…so great to hear! Keep up the good work. 🙂

      Reply
  12. Lauren Wood

    Hey, this post is great. It actually matches my own story pretty much to the tee apart from when I became old enough to want to drink WkD my family had moved to Wales so I got the privilege of doing that on the beach 🙂 it took me a long time to become a mountain leader for the same reasons. Though the thing that troubled me about the outdoor industry most was the massive egos. The need to have climbed the biggest mountain, paddled the fastest rapids or nearly died trying. I felt I didn’t fit in as I just like being outside. I never thought I would make it in the outdoors. But I have 🙂 I found your blog after deciding that I wanted to do something to help people to understand and enjoy the outdoors on their own terms so I’m currently setting up a business (ahhh!!! :S scariest thing I’ve ever done). Your work is inspiring me, more so now I know we have a shared starting point, so keep it up 🙂

    Reply
  13. Lucy Ross-Millar

    Wonderful blog. It’s so true that the adventure industry should acknowledge this privilege. It’s also impossible for some people to make adventure their job and many people are happy in their routine and that is fine, but small adventures are just as important and rewarding. I certainly agree it would be very inspiring to see more diversity on the adventure scene. The more you travel the more you realise how lucky we are to have a UK passport, so many people can’t leave their country at all. I think groups for women in adventure are a great idea and help inspire confidence. Sometimes women need the warmth and empathy other women can offer to feel confident trying new things. Great read!

    Reply
  14. Sophie

    Hi Bex,

    So true! I would go even further and say it seems to be a privilege to even have a connection with nature and the outdoors at all these days.

    Funnily enough I heard you speak at Yestival recently and thought then how unusual it was that someone from Basingstoke was up on stage, haha!

    I’ve a special fondness for Basingstoke as I used to run a project there working with vulnerable young people from a diverse mix of backgrounds. The aim was to engage them with nature and the outdoors through wildlife conservation tasks, bushcraft, green woodwork, charcoal burning, that kind of thing.

    It was so incredulous and sad how little experience they had of being outdoors, especially the BME groups. It was also wonderful to witness their transformations. I hope that some of them go on to do incredible things in the great outdoors.

    Lots of luck with your adventures

    Soph x

    Reply
    • admin

      That’s so funny Soph….how I wish I’d been part of your project as a child. It sounds like you are working making a real difference. And the exposure you have given them to the outdoors really is an incredibly valuable thing.

      Thanks for your comment (and for coming to see me speak!) x

      Reply
  15. Tanya Savage

    Well said.

    Reply
  16. papytee

    Great article, and something I think a lot of people would/should acknowledge. Agree it should be talked about a lot more – there is too much “quit your job and it will all fall into place” without any mention of the safety nets that most people have with this (savings, family, education etc.).

    There’s also the other ‘not talked about’ thing of the people who actually enjoy their job/career and don’t want to be full time travel/adventure people…but that’s another subject…

    Thanks for highlighting!

    Reply
    • admin

      Yes! This is something that also bugs me…as if there is shame in enjoying your office job!

      Reply
  17. Sharon

    Hi great read! I am now nearly 60 and have enjoyed a (privileged!) life in the outdoors but it all really started with Guides and Scouts – camping, bushcraft, hiking, outdoor sports.

    Reply
  18. Al Y

    “The reality of circumstances” pretty much sums up the barriers to pursuing “adventure”. I feel that quite a few adventurers use adventure as a tool for their own self-promotion agenda and although they set themselves up as role models, they do very little practical work with those from backgrounds who would most benefit. This is as good a blog article that I’ve read in a long time. Well done for saying what I suspect some have been thinking for a while.

    Reply
    • admin

      Thank you very much. I really appreciate your comment and words of support!

      Reply
  19. Tom Shooter

    A fabulous article Bex, thank you for sharing. It’s all too easy to get swept up in the seemingly glamorous lifestyles of modern day adventurers. I understand how adventure can change people’s lives (as it has mine), but I too think there are better ways to have a positive impact and give value to others than simply getting sponsorship and free kit, then going away for months on end, on what is ostensibly a hedonistic jolly.

    Reply
  20. Helen dickens

    Check out Carrot Quinn’s blog and her writing about her background (not so privileged)

    Reply
    • admin

      There certainly are some exceptions where people have succeeded against the odds. For the most part, they are the minority though I think.

      Reply
  21. Matt

    No private school in my life, sometimes no school (my choice as a teenager…), but I did have parents that were supportive, especially my mum who worked hard to bring me up in a way that focused on experiences over things, and this in the 60’s & 70’s. My dad worked away from home and as a teenager my parents went their own ways.

    I have spent my life until recently working full-time in the Outdoor Education world and in Outdoor Recreation. I lead/Guide Canoe trips in the UK, France and Canada. Now I want to leave it all behind and focus on my photography – Why – because of the kind of world Adventure has turned into – one where privilege is taking over from grass-roots, from the working-class beginnings, from the communities that grew from the industrial areas of the UK (especially climbing and hill-walking).

    I still seek a need to participate for myself, but the commercialism that has grown in this area no longer inspires me and I find it increasingly difficult to promote the simpler experiential approach to potential clients.

    I could probably go on for a while on this subject….

    Reply
  22. Cary

    Dear Bex
    Please could you explain exactly what ‘the adventure scene is’ and what you feel you do to correct the imbalance you see within that ‘scene’.

    Reply
    • admin

      The scene I refer to are the UK adventurers who are making a living out of this profession – predominantly from speaking and writing. It’s a fairly close knit circle and you will become aware of it if you attend any of the UK adventure events.

      As for what I do to correct imbalance I see…well I’ve only been in the ‘scene’ for a year so still have a way to go with establishing myself to make a significant impact. But for now, I’ve made a pact to be honest and transparent via my blog and social media. And to openley challenge issues I see (like I did with this blog). I also work a fair bit fighting women’s inequality in the outdoors…I founded the group Love Her Wild. Via Love Her Wild I’ve started to initiate programs that assist women who are disadvantaged, like the ‘deserving women scheme’. I feel it’s easier for me to tackle this issue because I am a woman – I have experienced sexism in the outdoors and can see how I can help change it in my own way. Although I certainly do hope to fight other imbalances too although….one step at a time!! Early days still 🙂

      If you have any suggestions, please do let me know!

      Reply
  23. Jane

    Nice article, and so right about the privilege. Some comments I above I can wholy agree with.
    I’m also not a great fan of those people “fundraising for charity” who are trying to raise huge amounts of money so they can go off and do their own little pet dream expedition with a huge support team while raising probably quite small amounts for the actual charity.
    I worked last week with a school from a fairly poor area (still more privileged than many in the world of course) giving them the chance to experience their own little adventures abseiling, high ropes etc. One of the children (they were aged 11/12-13) was an Afghani boy. A refugee, father dead (possibly died in front of him- not entirely sure of the story), five siblings and mother. This young chap was the oldest. Before arriving in his new home in NZ 18 months ago he was the sole bread winner for his family and had been working as an electrician. Climbing up a ten metre pole and running around on the top was certainly not much challenge to someone who had spent several years climbing unroped onto roofs and running around fixing power cables! But at least he did appear to be having fun.
    Try telling that boy (or the millions like him in poor countries) that all they need to do is work hard and pursue their dream (as you stroll through their country in your expensive gear), they are living lives more adventurous than your every day- and risking their lives just to live in many cases.
    I’m used to working with kids from poor areas, who come to camp with one set of clothes for the week and are probably eating better on camp than they do at home but working with this kid was quite mind blowing for me, to get a glimpse of how the developing world other half live.
    The adventure does not have to be huge or showy. Lets get more kids and adults who are struggling with everyday life into the outdoors and ignore the rich show ponies and their “advice” 🙂

    Reply
    • admin

      Really great blog Cathy…touches on the same subject. I think it’s important for transparency when it comes to these privileges because, as you rightly point out, it can be very disheartening for some when comparing if they don’t understand this.

      Reply
  24. David Hall

    Hi Bex,
    Your article is a refreshing insight into moving into the outdoor industry. I have thought about it constantly for the last few years (I’m an ML and SPA trained) but my salary would more than halve, and with a mortgage and 2 boys at university, that’s impossible. You’re completely right that it is a privilege to have a comfortable existence in the industry and I wish you all the best in your pursuits. In the meantime I’ll keep up my part time adventures until the time is right when I can shift my focus to full time outdoor pursuits.

    Reply
  25. Hanna

    Great perspective – definitely not many people talk about how difficult it is to start and how lucky are we – able to go on adventures or travel long-terms. We’re travelling through Africa right now and found some blogs and met couple of bloggers/entrepreneurs of colour, which is such a positive surprise in comparison to ‘the white and rich’ situation in Europe…

    Reply
  26. Fran

    Hello Bex
    I really enjoyed reading your piece. A breath of fresh air!
    Thankyou

    Reply
  27. Richard James

    I think the question about privilege is a fantastic point, and one not raised often enough in the adventure community. I attended state school, but find that all too often the benefits conferred by a private education are not acknowledged by many adventurers. Even Bear Grylls recently said that he believed Eton “did nothing” to prepare him for his career – ignoring the confidence, social networks, independent wealth and other factors which may have contributed.

    Clearly many of these adventurers have used their privilege for some impressive physical achievements, however the sooner people acknowledge the role privilege has in achieving success, then the sooner we can begin to shape an adventure community that is more equitable, fair and representative.

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      Thank you Richard and you are so right! It comes down to making the adventure world equitable, fair and representative.
      Grylls comment was ridiculous. I have no doubt that Eton was probably responsible for most of his success – confidence and self-belief, exposure to extra-curricular activities, a valuable network, etc. Education provides so much more than just knowledge in subjects and grades.

      Reply
  28. Bob

    Well I suppose for a lot of non-white, poor people from third world countries, their “adventure” might be enlisting in a local militia to fight terrorists, getting on a leaky boat to escape to a better place, or just trying to survive day-to-day! And that’s probably far more adventurous than the instagram hikers, since it’s literally life and death (without health insurance)

    Reply
  29. Philippe Brevet

    Hi Bex
    What a great piece. I came across your site looking for tips to take the ML assessment, which I am taking in 2 weeks. Your advice on assessment is spot on and it is really great that you have the selflessness to pass your ideas on.
    Then I came across your blog. Yes, I am a white male with a good education (not private) but have always recognised that most adventurers in the public eye have come from privileged backgrounds. I have recently retired from 30 years in the fire service and want to start a new chapter. I have always walked in the hills, but have never been able to take it on seriously as I had to work in a stable job to provide for a family. It is only now,that I have the time and financial security to be able to look at this change. What I’m trying to say is that I totally agree with you about the advice that some give to just give up work and chase your dreams. For the majority of people, it just can’t happen. However, my advice to any one in that situation, would be to try and volunteer locally with schools, DofE, etc as the experience can be very rewarding and involves a lot more people less privileged. Keep up the good work Bex

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      Thanks so much for your comment Philippe and for reading! It’s great to hear that you are facing a new chapter. Volunteering is a brilliant idea if circumstances mean you don’t have the luxury of time to focus on bigger adventures.
      Good luck in your assessment!!!! 🙂

      Reply
  30. Wendy

    Wow thanks for the amazing self-awareness and sharing this with other people. While I am not a adventurer, I do get irked that other “travelers” say that everyone can do it. They cannot. It’s a luxury, a luxury that they can have of course but not everyone can do it.

    Reply
  31. Nick

    Bex, thank you. You have a wonderful blog for newcomers 🙂

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      Thank you Nick!!

      Reply

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