How to Develop a Sense of Adventure

by Rebecca A. Watson on July 28, 2015

in change, magic, social experiments, travel, Values

paragliding in gran canarias

“If you always do what you’ve always done,
you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”
~Henry Ford

There is, for some unknown reason, a great fear inside me of The Same. To me, it’s basically doing the same thing over and over until you die. No change. Death by repetition.

This is why even when it comes to small things, like biking to German class, I take different routes. I think really the fear comes from steering dangerously close to the trap of The Same many years ago.

I have found that a healthy sense of adventure does wonders to combat it. Turn off the GPS and get lost and you find a super-yummy produce cart. Stop over-planning everything and you might discover you like wandering a city where you don’t know a soul.

I’m writing this as we pack up for a trip to Finland. I don’t know much beyond what we’re doing our first few days. And part of me is pretty uncomfortable with that.


Must … maintain …

I think Sante has a similar vibe. He calls the trip “Our Big Question Mark.” But I’m proud to say both of us are staying mellow, shrugging our shoulders a lot and just going with it. “We’ll figure it out,” could be the motto of our travel itinerary.

Because it’s so important to me, I figured I’d share some of my tips for how to really welcome a sense of adventure, big and small, into your life.

Adventurous Doesn’t Equal Irresponsible

When I was younger, I missed my international flight across the Atlantic, had to stay another night in Ireland and ended up having a nice time. Of course, who wouldn’t? An extra night in Dublin means more Guinness, more random chats in weird old pubs and more opportunities to talk about Celtic magic (despite my friend’s constant scolding).

For years I thought all of this was so adventurous, and maybe in a way it was at that point. But if you look at it objectively, we didn’t experience anything we hadn’t already on that trip, aside from missing an international flight, which yes makes a good story. It wasn’t an adventure really; it was poor planning.

But damn, poor planning can be fun sometimes.

But damn, poor planning can be fun sometimes.

But a lot of people, myself included, somehow equate adventure with irresponsibility. Like, oh what an adventure to go hiking into the desert with just a bit of water and no map! No, that’s not an adventure. That’s foolishness.

So before you go any further, if you want to cultivate a sense of adventure, you must remove this correlation if you have it. Not everyone does, I realize. Sante, for instance, would never consider testing tandem base jumping lines an adventure. Not even when he was in his teens and feeling particularly invincible.

But a lot of us at one point have put these two things together, and as we’ve gotten older, our sense of adventure has been squashed by the fact that we’re now less irresponsible. In order to remove this correlation in our brains we have to change our definitions.

Know Your Definition

This is a tricky sticking point for a lot of us, I think. So many people I know desperately want to have a sense of adventure, but they have no idea what that means to them. And trust me, this is an issue of connotation, because adventure means different things to different people.

I know some people who would love to go to the airport without knowing their destination. In their mind, that sounds amazing. For others, spending a month in the wilderness with nothing but their backpacks  seems like paradise. And still others want to visit a city where they don’t speak the language and see how they do.

But not everyone has these grand notions. And that’s OK. Adventure can happen in your kitchen, in your back yard or even in your mind. Embrace what sounds like fun and seems thrilling. Your definition of adventure won’t be exactly the same as everyone else’s and that’s a good thing. It means as we grow into our definitions we can learn from others, which is inspiring and exciting.

Spend Time with Those Who Embody It

Once you have an idea of what adventure means to you, start spending time with people who are doing what you would like to do. For example, traveling is a big part of my definition of adventure. So most of my friends are also interested in and often visit other parts of the world. (One has no list of places she wants to go because she wants to see them all.)

Olympic Inspiration 2010, Whistler, BC

Olympic Inspiration 2010, Whistler, BC

If you spend time with folks who aren’t interested in your flavor of adventure, or worse still, are naysayers, it rubs off on you. You start to think your dreams aren’t realistic or even appealing anymore. I’m not saying you can’t change your mind, but it’s important to know that the reason you change your mind is because of your own feelings, not others.

Surrounding yourself with the company of others gives you hope that your adventures are possible and opens your mind to new ways you could be adventurous. Biking and ferrying across Finland was never something that occurred to me until I met Ina, the lady we’re visiting.

Examine Your “No’s”

It’s OK to say no. In fact, I think we should all practice saying it more often. But the kind of no’s I’m talking about are ones you say to protect your time, space and sanity.

The no’s I’m mean here are the ones you say out of habit or just in a knee-jerk fashion. These are the ones that require a bit more scrutiny.

Say someone asks if you’re interested in hitting up the new Ethiopian restaurant in town, and your first reaction is to say no. Stop yourself, or if you can, examine the no later when there’s less pressure. Either way you might learn something.

If you said no because you don’t like Ethiopian food or you’re trying to save cash, OK. You have a legitimate reason. If you’re saying no because you don’t want to try something new, you’re afraid you won’t like it or just aren’t feeling it, then maybe consider how often you do that.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting what you want or seeking out your comfort zone. But if you can’t remember the last time you said yes to a friend’s invitation, it’s time to reconsider your no.

Support Your Story

Now that you have an idea of what your adventures look like, it’s time to tell yourself that story. If you desperately want to travel to New Zealand, the last thing you want to say is “Someday … ” followed by a heavy sigh.

That tells you that your stories are just fiction. The real way to make your adventures reality is to change the story you tell yourself. Read up on New Zealand. Start a savings account for it. Even if you’re putting $5 a month in, you’re closer than you were a few months ago.


Look! It’s a rare Adventure Tree growing right before our eyes 😉

Start using language like “When I,” instead if “If I.” I do this all the time. I just submitted something to a pretty fancy magazine, so the other day I said, “When I’m featured in The New Yorker …”

This plays well into getting your brain primed for adventure and helps with the whole thoughts-become-things aspect. Start talking about that Thai recipe you’re planning on cooking next week. When next week arrives, you might just find yourself in the Asian grocery store for the first time in your life. The story you tell is where adventures begin.

Leave Space for Adventure

Originally I was going to have this point titled “Stop Thinking So Much,” but I don’t think that’s a fair thing to tell anyone, especially me or people I know with some anxiety issues.

I know I should probably stop thinking about the fact that we don’t have a concrete menu planned on our bike trip, but that doesn’t mean I can magically shut off my brain. All I can do is see it there, acknowledge it and let it be.

This is a big part of being adventurous. It’s not about not caring. It’s about accepting your judgements for what they are — simply thoughts. Your brain’s decree of “This will never work because we always do it this way,” is simply a judgment. Nothing more.

So when you have these types of thoughts, just accept them as thoughts. Don’t feed into them. Don’t challenge them or pretend they aren’t there. Offer them space in a corral of your brain and say, “Yes, I see you and I hear you. And you’re allowed this space here.”  

This allows you to do a few things:

  • Feel a little bit of control (albeit an illusion, but nevertheless)
  • Give space for new ideas to form
  • Allow other people’s opinions or idea room to grow on you

Final Thoughts

Remember that adventure doesn’t always mean a trip around the world or making giant change. It’s a process, this adventure thing. And the more you embrace the little adventures, stray off the beaten path and wander, the more everyday life becomes a wonder.

“Live life — you deserve to be fully alive.”
~ Lailah Gifty Akita

This is an ongoing series about values. You can read the archives here or check out my entire list of  those that are important to me.

Photo Credit: Faramarz Hashemi

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Amos July 29, 2015 at 5:17 pm

Superb sentiments! I’ll never retire early b/c I keep spending money on travel, but that’s ok–more than ok. Since downsizing my job, work and play have become more in balance. I really like a lot about my work and colleagues. And as long as I’m working, I get to go play in other interesting places and meet new people. Have fun in Finland; be sure to get to a sauna! Hope you can find some gluten free Finnish rye bread as well.


Rebecca A. Watson July 31, 2015 at 9:59 am

Yay Amos! Thanks for the comment. I agree, work and play in balance is key to keeping adventures going. I’ve read a lot of people get so bored doing the same things on vacation. We all need dark to appreciate light, sadness to appreciate happiness, etc. so I think work is an important part of play and adventure 🙂

P.S. I’m reading The Goldfinch right now. So so so good. Thanks for the recommendation 🙂


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