Written by: Beau DeCourcy
I wrote the post below prior to my August 2011 climb of the Matterhorn. I wanted to share this post to promote the value of minimalist and adventurous travel. With summer vacations on everyone’s minds, it seemed this would be a good time post this:
One and a half weeks from now Dan, my climbing partner, and I will be on our way to climb the Matterhorn. It will be the culmination of over a year of preparation and twenty years of dreaming of climbing in the alps. I’m anxious and nervous but enlivened by the challenge. In fact, the only certain aspect of the trip is that the mountain will be there. As of this moment, I have a plane ticket to London and a short paragraph of directions to a small village in Italy; the base of our climbing route. There will be no guide awaiting, no hotel (that I know of), and no guarantee of a summit attempt. Dan and I will simply show up. And while I have a moderate and probably healthy anxiety, I am not over stressed or fearful of failure. We are both well trained and prepared. And it is the uncertainty of the trip that contains the value.
I challenge anyone to travel with the least outside assistance as possible. All-inclusive trips tend to insulate you from the true experiences that build character and unforgettable memories. They can be contrived and tasteless in comparison. From my experience, resorts often are counterfeit portraits of the natural landscape. Wonder off the beaten path and you’ll see the true beauty. It may make you uneasy, but this emotion will bring your senses alive and pull your primal inquisitiveness through you. You will remember each moment vibrantly because it is real.
In the documentary 180 Degrees South, Yvon Chouinard, One of the founders The North Face company, and an avid climber and adventurer, expressed his view of commercialized climbs of Everest. He explained how one can pay 40,000 dollars to be nearly carried to the top of Everest, and in the process given warm tents and having meals cooked for them. He ended the thought by saying: “when you compromise the process, you’re an asshole when you start out and an asshole when you finish.”
I’m not advocating inherent danger as necessity for growth, rather be responsible for your own experiences. Not every trip needs to be an expedition, but should contain aspects of a challenge and push the edges of your comfort zone. Let your capabilities and intuition guide you. Use this minimalist and inquisitive approach to even small trips. Walk places rather than drive. Drive rather than fly. Engage the landscape and take the path that challenges you, and may even frighten you.
Opportunities to engage the landscape are everywhere. In 2007, a group of us rented a van and drove across the country to Washington to climb Rainier. At one stop in the bad lands of South Dakota, we pulled into a scenic overlook. Tourists were standing overlooking a herd of buffalo. As they watched from the safety above, they referenced western films they were reminded of and sipped their iced coffees, some even remained in their air conditioned SUV’s, unwilling to feel the midday heat. While watching the buffalo from afar was beautiful, we decided to hike down (with permission from a ranger) and be amongst them. We ran with them, sometimes chased by them. I can still remember the smell of them and the sounds and vibrations of the herd pounding through the Bad Lands. It was an unforgettable experience; much more than a rest stop.
It is often the motive of many vacationers to escape the rigors of daily life, and rightfully so. While laying on the beach is very relaxing, and I do advocate sometimes doing nothing at all, be fractal in your experiences. True relaxation comes from overcoming one’s fears, not hiding from them on a beach somewhere, lamenting the return to the office. Lean into to your fear, embrace uncertainty and experience the bliss and freedom of momentary fearlessness.
Each experience should build your capacity for life and enrich your existence. I challenge you now, to make your next vacation more cognitive and organic. Even though your destination may be predetermined, wander off the beaten path and make your travel fertile.
How do you prefer to travel? Would you ever trade in a safe, all-inclusive vacation for an uncertain adventure?