Against Adventure

On the questionable motives behind the “road less traveled”

[originally published on Substack]

WHAT IF ADVENTURE isn’t all it’s cracked up to be?

Adventure currently occupies high ground in our culture. Who can argue against the enriching effects of more outdoor and travel adventures? More creative and entrepreneurial adventures? Perhaps even spiritual and romantic adventures? If you’re not busy adventuring—if you’re not constantly pushing your comfort zones, seeking novelty, and escaping complacency—then you’re busy dying.

For twenty years, I’ve swallowed, embodied, and perpetuated these beliefs. Growing up in California in the 90s, getting exposed early to adventurous role models, and stumbling onto a few life-altering books undoubtedly primed me for this path—as did powerful advertising campaigns, newly accessible wilderness areas, cheap gasoline and cheap airline tickets.

But precisely because adventure is so popular, I must consider the possibility that I’ve misled and deluded myself by following a culturally unassailable trend. I must consider that a life of constant adventure may actually be the easy way forward, instead of the “road less traveled.”

What follows is a list of doubts I’ve accumulated over the years of living a high-freedom/high-adventure lifestyle—as an outdoors junkie, world-wanderer, digital nomad, and perpetual entrepreneur—and watching others take similar paths.

What if we act like the low-income “dirtbag” lifestyle is noble, but we’re really just incapable of earning more than our parents?

What if constant adventurers have Peter Pan syndrome, glorifying the privileges and freedoms of youth, never wanting to grow up and take on adult responsibilities? What if we are products of overprotective parenting and the self-esteem movement?

What if our love of constant outdoor activity is a mask for eating disorders, body image issues, and the desire to feel superior as a fit person?

What if our nomadic lifestyles are really about avoiding long-term commitments, the messiness of human relationships, the pursuit of new relationship energy?

What if our guilt about environmental impact drives our decisions to forsake traditional houses, jobs, and commutes—to live ostensibly “closer to nature?”

What if we are reacting to painful upbringings by pursuing relationships with seemingly pure entities (like wilderness) which will never guilt or betray us?

What if we choose adventure over starting a family because we fear the costs and culture of parenting, the lack of support for parents, and the perceived environmental consequence of bringing children into the world?

What if we say “living adventurously is a choice” when really it’s about being born on third base, with precious few obstacles in our path, requiring only good health and a positive attitude (both of which may be largely inborn)?

What if we just want to feel superior to the normies, the sheeple, to those who blindly “buy into the system,” to those still “plugged into the Matrix”—despite the fact that we depend upon normal people to do the boring tasks that support our lifestyles?

What if we’re addicted to the oohaah feedback we receive when telling stories about our adventurous lives? What if we just want to show the world how smart and clever and special we are?

What if we want to consider ourselves original and countercultural, but we’re just following a different rutted path? Thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, traveling the world, running an ultra-marathon, living out of a van… unless you’re a rare pioneer, every adventure has a veritable “how-to” guide now.

What if we’re confused about how to genuinely contribute to human society, so we focus instead on “getting after it” and “inspiring others” to do the same?


Maybe adventure is simply useless and if you really want to make a contribution to the world you are not going to do it by climbing a mountain. You might do it by becoming a doctor or an aid worker in a desperate country like a South Sudan or Somalia.

The idea that adventure is a good thing—that is a proposition that needs to be critically examined. How do we know it’s a good thing? I think it’s a good thing because it’s dictated my life. I also recognize what it’s cost me and I don’t mean in just in terms of friends dying, but in aspects of my own character I never fully developed because adventure is ultimately selfish.

David Roberts

Kings Canyon High Basin Route, 2016

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