How I Choose which Adventure to Do Next

Emily Woodhouse Big Adventures, Comment and Opinion, Practical Advice

People often ask me how I decide which adventure to do next. I’ve never really given a straight answer before, because for me it just kind of happens. Yes, before you all pile in, particular circumstances like time off, travel bans, money – everything – all contribute to what I actually  end up doing and when. But we’re not talking about that. We’re talking about choosing ideas and dreams to chase. Because some people just know they want adventure, not how or what specifically. Other people have a sea of ideas and don’t know which direction to turn.

So yes, it’s a combination of circumstances and interests and practical things. For me, the big trips are almost always very deliberately chosen and planned out. The smaller ones less so. By smaller I mean things that are less of a big leap for me: I know how they work, there’s not really any unknown. Say spending time in one of the UK’s national parks or heading off on a weekend cycle touring trip. But remember small is relative.

Then a Pattern Emerged

But, in the few years that people have been asking this question (I’m not making this up, people actually do!) I’ve started to take more note of my adventure picking process. To my surprise – or alarm – there is actually a pattern, what might be a subconscious process going on.

For example, in 2019 – oh my word: this time last year – I went to the Julian Alps. I was really excited about it because I’d seen the mountains from Italy on a family cycle touring holiday. Back then on a bike I had no idea those mountains were even another country. They just looked pretty.

The end of the Rhine: the pier at Hoek van Holland

Coincidence, you’d think. And sure, I didn’t manifest the opportunity to go to Slovenia or anything. But then a German family we’d met on a different cycle touring holiday had recommended the Rhine Route EV 15. For some reason the recommendation stuck in my head. It wasn’t the reason why I said yes, when Alex suggested doing the Rhine, but the link was there.

Then, when I’d settled on Spain’s Sierra Nevadas for this summer’s trip, I realised I might have actually seen them on a school trip to Andalucia. I dug out the photo album and lo and behold, there it was.

The alluring snow-capped mountains on my GCSE Spanish trip. Note the great spelling.

Finally, as if that wasn’t enough, when my contributor’s copy of Wanderlust Europe arrived I had a good rummage for new trip ideas. The route along the spine of Corsica snatched my interest. I looked at the beautiful jagged hills and decided that I was going to Corsica. Maybe not now, or even for a while, but I would be going.

At the time, it seemed like an original and spontaneous thought. But a few weeks later, it started to seem familiar. Hadn’t someone recommended me a long distance marked trail across an island before? I knew where I could find out. I dug out my journal from my post-uni trip to Mercantour and the Maritime Alps. We were hitch-hiking back down the valley with a guy who turned out to be Cornish (what are the chances?!) living in Nice. I found his recommendation studiously recorded in my trip diary: “Corsica, GR?”.  The GR20. You couldn’t make this stuff up.

The Adventure Picking System

So, now I know how I choose where to go next.

STEP 1: go somewhere. Anywhere. With friends or family or school or work – or no one at all. Just leave the house at some point.

STEP 2: go with eyes and ears wide open. Be curious. Look at the mountains in the distance and the battered guidebooks on the shelves in huts. Listen to the recommendations of the people you meet.

STEP 3: use Step 2 to spread out and widen your realm of experience. In doing so, start at Step 1 again.

It’s that simple. I was very aware of it happening in small ways: standing on a ridge in Scotland and pointing at the next ridge over saying, “That looks cool, let’s go there next.” But it seems that the same is true for me on a much larger scale.

The ridgeline on the start of the Integral de Los Tres Miles in Sierra Nevadas (with sadly no scale). I’ll be back.

Now, I should make it clear that I don’t just accept any old recommendations. Don’t go out and post randomly on the internet, asking for suggestions. I’m talking about suggestions from people and places I encounter when I’m already on an adventure. It’s a little more like serendipity. But also the people you meet are probably better at making good recommendations. Because after all, you’ve somehow both been brought to the same place at the same time.

I also never asked for any of the recommendations I’ve mentioned. They were freely and enthusiastically given. Either they captured my interest at the time and stuck with me or I diligently recorded them like the strange, pathological child I was and am. I don’t go out looking for where to go next. But simply by doing, the answers present themselves.

Where Next?

So there you have it. That’s how I decide on the next adventure about 75% of the time, whether consciously or unconsciously. And since this realisation, I’ve definitely started taking more notice of freely given suggestions. For example, my taxi driver in Spain told me to go hike the Camino Norte and visit Rwanda. Who knows, I might do just that.