Privilege in the world of Adventure

15 things holding you back from Adventure that have nothing to do with you

The adventure world is awash with advice saying you should face your fears, throw caution to the wind and just do it! It’s not as simple as that. Hopeful adventurers start from very different places. Those who are successful may believe that it is entirely self-earned, being genuinely unaware of the various advantages that are baked into their lives through no effort of their own. 

1. PASSPORT PRIVILEGE

Just grab your bike and head off across Europe / Asia / the world. That is a lot easier if you hold a passport that allows for visa-free or visa-on-arrival travel.

In 2017 German passport holders topped the global ranking, they can travel visa-free to 176 out of a possible 218 destinations. At the bottom of the list- Syria, Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan, each with visa-free access to fewer than 30 countries. Visa-free travel is not just easier and more spontaneous, it is much cheaper. Visa fees, combined with having to visit a consulate in a capital city for face-to-face interviews and/or fingerprinting carries real costs. 

Visa-free travel is not the only way your citizenship makes a difference. 

2. CITIZENSHIP WITH POSSIBILITIES

There are ways around the conundrum of not having your own money. Apply for adventure grants. Or raise sponsorship. Which then probably means get media coverage. But much of this depends on your country of citizenship. Many adventure grants are country-specific. And only certain countries offer adventure grants - notably the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. 

Sponsors tend to support people from the country where they are based. Media report on their own citizens and the topics that interest their readers. If you are a citizen of a country that has no history of adventure and no infrastructure around it, you are at a massive disadvantage. And it’s not just financial. It may be far harder to learn the skills and source the equipment needed to do your adventure safely. 

It can play the other way as well. Coming from an adventurous country, many of the ‘firsts’ for your nationality have likely been done already. Coming from a non-adventure country, you still have a chance to be the first X to do Y - if you can gain the skills and find the funding.

3. NO EDUCATION DEBT

If citizenship or family wealth allowed you free tertiary education, you start with a significant advantage. Some countries require that student loan repayment begins immediately after graduating, others set an earning threshold before repayment starts but interest adds up in the interim. Either way, it makes it much harder to take off on an adventure rather then seek out a job. 

And that leaves aside the issue of whether you need to earn money to help out your younger siblings with their education or your family with their living costs. 

4. MIDDLE CLASS PARENTS

Middle class families offer advantages besides education. It is much easier to set off around with the world with £25 in your pocket if you know that when you eventually come home, you can move back into your childhood bedroom in the large house of your parents and they will (with a some long-sufferings sighs) ‘loan’ you some money while you work out your next move. 

It is also easier to travel on a shoestring if you have the fallback of calling home in the event of disaster, with your family able to buy you out of trouble with cash advances, medical care and flights home. 

5. CHILDHOOD EXPOSURE

Parents bring other advantages. When you see someone being the youngest to an adventure record, it's worth checking whether the parents are Arctic or mountain guides. Even if the record-breaker is not actually being guided by the parent, a young adult who has been immersed in the world of adventure sport since toddler-age literally has a twenty year head-start on city folk. 

Any level of exposure as a child is going to make it easier to have the confidence to step into that space as an adult. 

6. FAMILY CONNECTIONS

Cold-calling for sponsorship is very difficult. You always do better if you already have prior connections with the person or company that you are pitching. It’s even easier if you have CEO-level parents who can call in a few favours with their friends in the City. Many ‘youngest’ records rely on this kind of backing. 

7. ACCESS TO MONEY

Many ‘fastest’ records also rely on money. It takes money to pay for the flights from one continent to the next, to pay some else to have done all the ground arrangements, to pay to have guides waiting to escort you up the peak. Whether money comes from family, luck in the property market, cashing in your stock options at the right moment, starting a company and selling at the peak of a wave, twenty years working as an investment banker - money (and the business contacts that frequently come with having money) makes it all easier.  

8. A CULTURE THAT VALUES ADVENTURE

Separate from citizenship and family, you may not come from a culture that values outdoor achievement. Certain of the western cultures have been romanticising striving in the mountains for several generations. Other cultures have little interest in the subject, putting far more value on urban civilised living than on roughing it for no good reason.  

It is much easier to keep up your motivation and dedication to building an adventure life when you have people around you who share your passion and support your vision. 

9. FLUENT ENGLISH

With English now the second language of choice on most of the planet, you will have an easier time travelling in developing countries, and a much easier time entering other countries if you have a good command of English. English is the most widespread language in the world with over 400 million native speakers and over  700 million second-language speakers.
And you will have an easier time researching your adventure, as over 80% of the information stored in the world's computers is in English. 

10. A WHITE SKIN

Then there are the advantages that have less to do with where you were brought up and more to do with how you were born. In many countries around the world having a white skin gains you an extra level of respect. It may be almost unconscious on both sides - your expectation that you will be treated well, their experience that white people need to be handled with care. A white skin may earn you the clueless-foreigner pass, or (as a woman) the honorary-man pass. You look different when travelling in developing countries and so are treated differently. 

On the flip side, a brown skin in a predominately white-skinned country brings the assumption you are a (possibly unwanted) refugee or economic immigrant, rather than a tourist or traveller. 

11. BEING A MAN

Men can fear assault while travelling. Women can fear assault and then add rape on top. Of course it’s a generalisation. Man can be sexually assaulted. Plenty of women have and do travel safely alone through most of the countries of the world. That does not make the fear of sexual assault carried by women any less real. Or the experience of endless harassment in certain countries any less exhausting. 

12. GREAT GENES & GOOD LUCK WITH HEALTH

Not everyone is born into a body that can set adventure records. Not everyone has a mindset that enjoys a suffer-fest of striving, travelling alone and dirt-cheap living. Even for the able-bodied, it can feel like a moral failure to step down from an adventure when you see people around you who seem to have more ‘grit’ and more ‘drive’. 

With ‘human-powered’ unsupported adventure being in fashion for sponsorships and the new generation of adventure grants, there are many people who are born with or develop through life the kinds of physical or mental disabilities that don’t make that kind of travel possible. 

13. GOOD LOOKS FOR BOTH SEXES

There are plenty of men ready to claim that attractive young female adventurers get attention that has more to do with how they look that with what they’ve done. Women can retort that they lose out on sponsorship because they don't fit the 'adventure look'. And that, unlike men, they have to compete with female models when it comes to big brands picking personalities to advertise athletic leisure wear.  

Nevertheless, men are not immune from the good-looks problem. There is a certain kind of ‘Indiana Jones’ ruggedly handsome look that is associated with adventure. Men with that kind of  appearance are that much more likely to get onto a magazine cover, into an advertising campaign or on television as a presenter. 

14. ROLE MODELS OF PEOPLE LIKE YOU

To tackle an adventure you have to be able to imagine yourself in that space. Browse through the covers of adventure magazines. Look at the athletes sponsored by outdoor brands. Watch the faces on the speaker stage at the next adventure festival that you attend. Search Google Images for adventure-related keywords.

How long does it take you to find the not-white face? Or not-male, not-slim, not-young face? Seeing role models who resemble you has a big influence on whether you can envision yourself doing it too. 

Women adventurers have begun to fight the gender imbalance by pulling together assertively in all-women Facebook groups, online magazines and adventure festivals, and brands are beginning to respond. But the other kinds of gaps remain very noticeable.

15. THE STROKE OF LUCK

Many adventure careers have been launched by pure luck - being in the right place at the right time. Some element outside your control meant your adventure found a sponsor, attracted media attention, caught the public imagination. And with that initial boost it then becomes self-perpetuating, as your profile and track-record now make it easier to find further opportunities and to fund your next project.

It is absolutely true that you need to have done the work to be in the right place to seize that lucky break, and you need to work the opportunities that then come your way. But you can also do all the work and never get the break. 

And 1 bonus point when it comes to comparing yourself to other Adventurers. 

THEY STARTED 10 YEARS AGO

Many of today’s high profile adventurers began building up their reputation a decade ago, or longer. It’s hard to look back and appreciate how insignificant they were in their beginnings. 

None of these are reasons why *you* can’t do it. But they are factors that can impact how difficult it may be for you and how long it may take. 

You will be further down the road on your adventure path by being realistic about the assets you already have, the disadvantages you need to overcome, and the opportunities that you can access. 

Look to the adventurers who are already doing well for inspiration and ideas. But don’t use them as a yardstick and then beat yourself up for your inability to equal their success. Your only comparison should be with yourself. The measure that matters is where you are a year from now, and five years from now, based on the work you start doing today. 


What other factors have you come across that are out of your control and back your success? What adventurers do you admire who are doing a great job despite facing some of these obstacles? Add your voice to the conversation the comments.