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Anatomy of Adventure

Perhaps quality of life is not measured by how much money you can make, but by how little money you can spend. I wrote this a week ago at the beginning of another travelogue entry. I thought it sounded pretty good . . . So I wrote it again, to start off in a new [...]

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Perhaps quality of life is not measured by how much money you can make, but by how little money you can spend.

I wrote this a week ago at the beginning of another travelogue entry. I thought it sounded pretty good . . .

So I wrote it again, to start off in a new direction:

In point, the less money  I spend, the more I need to live by my wits, trust my intuition, and BE in my life. To live on very little money requires a living strategy that is perpetually in the face of itself: spending little money takes a certain degree of wit.

I pity the man with an infinite amount of money, for I cannot see his life as being anything other than boring. To be able to buy everything that you need or want, is to live a life without struggle.

Without struggle, trials, and tests a man becomes pouched and fat in the mind.

Without conflict, there can be no story. I am sure that rich people have conflicts and struggles too, but who wants to hear about them?

I fear the day that I may become wealthy. What would I write about then?

I think of the times in my travels when I have come closest to being disspassioned, unaffected . . . bored, and I realize that each time this has happened I have had a good wad of  money in places that required very little.

Places where your livelihood consists of little more than walking into a store, passing cash over a table, taking away a bag of goods, and tossing your receipt in the trash on the way out often carries the threat of becoming under stimulating — no matter how interesting the surroundings are.

Months and months of traveling on end — buying my way around the planet — always tends to leave me feeling slightly useless, like a bike sprocket without a chain: I just keep spinning on without any effect or consequence.

For some odd reason, of which provenience I have not yet been able to ascertain, travel becomes all the more worthwhile if it is a challenge. The root word of travel is travail, and to travail is one of the most enjoyable parts of the Open Road.

Motorcycle Bob likes to travel by riding like 10 thousand frigging miles on his bike in only a few day’s time. They call these rides Iron Butt competitions for a reason: you don’t sleep, you ride all day long for days on end, you never really get off your motorcycle. Why does Motorcycle Bob choose to ride a full thousand miles each day rather than traveling across countries at a more leisurely, common sense pace?

I have no idea. Perhaps it is because these Iron Butt rides are challenging: they require thought, deliberate living, attention to detail, endurance — they are exciting.

Read about Motorcyle Bob and the IBR to find out why

Give me rocky roads, flight delays, missed trains, hotels that are so expensive that I have to sleep outside, buses whose tickets break my bank to the point that I ride a bicycle, places that are off the map, no public transport, and times when I realize that if I want to travel, I need to work a little every day to supplement my survival.

Perhaps challenges, set backs, and road blocks should be welcomed, rather than averted?

Give me an easy road, and I will of course take it. Who wouldn’t. But the times in travel where I have been tested, pushed to the limits of my endurance, hungry, wet, annoyed, scared, attacked, too poor buy food, and worried are the ones that I remember the best.

When people ask me for a travel tale, very seldom do I recite a story about the beautiful vistas, the relaxing days on the beaches, the wild wine nights with new friends, and the places that I would recommend someone to travel to, rather, I tell them about being in a hard spot with a knife up to my throat in Santiago, attacked by undercover police officers in Uruguay, chased around a grocery store by not so undercover police officers in Bahia Blanca, Argentina, stood up at the border of Vietnam, standing on a Chinese highway for 5 hours trying in vain to hitch a ride, walking through the sewers of Calcutta, fighting a wind and rain storm in Hungry while trying to set up my tarp to sleep under.

When I talk of my travel memories — when I sit alone dreaming of the road I had already traveled — it is usually of the times when I travailed, rather than walked a smooth Path. At the end of the road, memories will be the only things a traveler has. And I know that at this point, these memories will be worth more than the largest bank statements, the most expensive houses, and the most precious jewels combined.

It is my impression that I am one of the richest men on earth, and as long as I continue making the same sorts of investments that I have for the past 10 years, I am sure the returns will keep coming.

When someone talks of making money, I talk of not spending money: you will become vastly richer that way.

Wealth and adventure are inversely proportional. The more money you spend the less likely you are to have any semblance of an adventure.

It is very difficult to have an adventure when your pockets are full of cash. I suppose a man in this state could afford to drink himself into adventure, but this is a trial that I have long grown weary of facing.

Even the blase act of scouring a town dry in search of the cheapest possible room is to add a degree of challenge — passion — into a day of traveling. I cannot imagine ever wanting to buy my way out of this modest adventure: when you stick your head into every old rotting nook of a city looking for a cheap place to crash, you live the place that much more.

Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand

Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand

I know the reason why I despise Khao San Road, or any other modern backpacker centrifuge. I hate these places because I cannot stand the looks on everyone’s faces in the streets. Young people from far away lands trying so hard to have fun that they just wear themselves out. And few people seem to be successful in their quest.

I hate Khao San road because of the desperation. Not a desperation for lack of money, but because of an excess of it. Kids from all over the world go to Thailand looking for adventure, but their pockets are too thick to allow for such. So adventure is forced through drinking excessively, spending lots of money in bars, and coming away with adventure stories that sound more like a drunken rabble than traveler’s tales.

Where is the adventure?

You cannot buy the exotic. Adventure comes at a price, and that price is not measured in dollars and cents, but in the lack there of.

Adventure and wealth are inversely proportional.

In any land, in any country, if you are striving day to day to earn your bread, if you are taking measures to conserve every last dime that you have, you will have an interesting time, meet people you would never dream of meeting, and come out with a story that is worth telling.

The Anatomy of Adventure.

Filed under: Adventure, Economics, Save Money for Travel, Travel Economics

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3703 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

13 comments… add one

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  • Emery August 1, 2009, 12:36 am

    My company’s HR director asked a roomful of people why we were all here. “And it’s not just for a paycheck,” she said. I thought these words, but I wasn’t going to be the kiss-up that said them out loud, “to improve our lives.” And though the lifestyle is not for everyone, I do believe that the work I do, the things I learn on a daily basis, do make my life richer. And she was right, it’s not about money.

    Me and my man were talking just the other night about how our lives might change if we were independently wealthy. I love the work that I do, but I might choose to teach or to volunteer or to write the novels I want to write. But travail, I certainly would.

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    • admin August 2, 2009, 9:25 am

      It is great that you have a job like this, Emery. It is really the pits to work for money alone . . . the straight vending of time of your life is rarely worth any amount of money.

      Keep Travailing,


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  • Mike Crosby August 1, 2009, 3:30 am

    You make a lot of sense.

    And yes, I’m one of the wealthy. Your story reminds me of the guy who hasn’t used money for a number of years. http://www.zerocurrency.blogspot.com/

    I certainly respect you and your lifestyle, but I do appreciate my life of leisure. And while I’m not wealthy by what most consider wealthy in the US, I know that without a doubt, I’m wealthy.

    First, I consider being able to breath makes me incredibly wealthy. Then I have my health. Today, I played golf with friends, had a few beers later, and then enjoyed the waterfront eating fish tacos. All with no thought or worry about how much the cost. Money doesn’t drive me, it’s merely a means of exchange.

    As a side note, I’ll be leaving Southern California and coming your way next week. My wife and I are taking our SUV with our dog, driving to beautiful New England. I get the idea you would not like me because my life is not one of difficulty, but even so, I’d love to get a chance to meet you.

    I remember years ago (around 30) meeting this man who had been travelling the US by himself for years. He had no home, and his faith was in Jesus Christ. He had such a warm spirit, and we had him in our home as our guest for quite awhile. I guess he got the urge to go, and left without even to say good-bye. Why do I remember him after such a long time? Maybe because even though we lived such different lives, we were alike in many ways. He was a dear man with a most sweet spirit.

    And I thank you for your blog. You’re a great inspiration to me. Michael C.

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    • admin August 2, 2009, 9:23 am

      Hello Michael,

      Thank you very much for your good words. I like your take on living.

      You should send me an email to vagabondsong@gmail.com and we can talk a little more about meeting up.

      I am sure that I would like you, I like most all people.



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  • Heidi August 1, 2009, 7:52 am

    Absolutely agree Wade.

    I’ve lived through a very adventurous period in my life, all because I lost everything I owned except the clothes I stood up in. My boyfriend was slung in jail and I was forced to live in the subway. Then started the real adventure, 5 years of “travailing,” trying to get us both back on our feet. I’m only just managing it now, but I look back and see the extreme trials and tribulations as the making of me.

    This all came down to a total absence of money. With money, my experience would have been utterly different.

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    • admin August 2, 2009, 9:07 am


      This is a really wonderful story. I often cannot feel pity for people who are on the “down and out,” as these experiences have the potential of really making a life, and, in the end, are often some of the most valuable experiences that a person will ever have. What you are forced to learn when there are no easy Roads is often some of the most valuable lessons a person can have.

      If I always had enough money to just pay for an expensive hotel, I would have missed out on some of the most beautiful nights of my life.

      Thank you for sharing this story,


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  • The Longest Way Home August 1, 2009, 10:58 am

    Another great post. Anything that kicks a Khao San Road “Travellers” ass is good in my book.

    It’s been a while since I’ve actually heard of a Thailand traveler write about something adventurous in Thailand that did not involve beer, and the odd girl. What’s worse is that it’s spreading.

    Hostel booking, daddy’s bank account, hold my hand tours and an exaggerated travel story at the end of it. Give first timers a plane ticket, $100 dollars and tell them to come back next year with $500. Now lets talk adventure!

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    • admin August 2, 2009, 9:03 am

      Dave, this is awesome,

      Yes, that would be a good practice:

      “Give first timers a plane ticket, $100 dollars and tell them to come back next year with $500. Now lets talk adventure!”

      It is funny how backpacking and budget travel has become very prepackaged: shuttle buses, booking hostels in advance through major websites, backpacker bars, organized tours that are becoming the norm of how backpackers “do” countries. Backpacking has become “developed” in an economic sense — it has become as neutralized, bubble wrapped, and isolated as regular tourism.

      Nothing wrong with this, per se, a lot of the people traveling this way seem to be having fun . . . although I fail to comprehend why someone would want to travel across the planet to be stick themselves inside of the tourist bubble, and be completed isolated from the people whose countries they are traveling through.

      I remember when I was working in high end hostels in Eastern Europe a while back, and I could not believe for the life of me how boring the travel stories were that erupted out of those places. Hundreds and hundreds of young people were passing through these very awesome places without ever doing anything other than drinking bars (Um, I mean, doing “pub crawls”), going on expensive tours, paying $20 to $40 a night for a dorm bed, doing chicks, doing dudes, and only hanging out with other travelers from places similar to their own.

      They seemed to be having a good time, though I could not understand why: it seemed to me that they could really just be doing the same thing in their own countries.

      I cannot really place a value judgment on this, but it seemed to me that many of these people thought that this was just what “traveling” was all about. No alternative is really presented: you really have to try hard to step outside of this bubble in order to get to the fresh air.

      Not having much money forces you outside of this bubble. You cannot be a tourist without money.



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  • anonymous August 1, 2009, 7:48 pm

    I’m sorry but I don’t agree. Having adventure has nothing to do with money (or lack thereof). No having adventure is all about going where the wild things are: wild people, wild animals, wild rivers, wild mountains etc. The kids on Khao San Road are having a sad, boring time because they are sad, boring people looking for adventure amidst fast food shops and massage parlors; boring. A wealthy person can have adventure same as anyone else. Edmund Hillary, Richard Branson, Steve Fosset, all were/are wealthy and all were adventurers.

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    • admin August 2, 2009, 8:45 am

      Hello Anonymous,

      I suppose your rendition of the word “adventure” is by its base definition. And you are right. If I was to have enough money to pay someone to fly me in an airplane to the base of Mt. Everest, be escorted to the top by a team of hired Sherpas, and then sled down to the western slope in a high tech toboggan and then paraglide to Mexico, I am sure that I would have an adventure . . . and one that would only be available to me if I had a lot of money.

      I suppose I was referring to adventure in more simple terms, as in the excitements, trials and errors that make up a life. I did not mean extreme adventure — which often requires a lot of money — but rather simple adventure — that almost requires a lack of money — very much like the story that Heidi tells in her comment.

      You said:

      “The kids on Khao San Road are having a sad, boring time because they are sad, boring people looking for adventure amidst fast food shops and massage parlors; boring.”

      I could not agree with you more.

      You said:

      “A wealthy person can have adventure same as anyone else. Edmund Hillary, Richard Branson, Steve Fosset, all were/are wealthy and all were adventurers.”

      Yes, a whole other strand of adventure is open to people who are able to pay for it. Perhaps I did not take this into consideration because it is so far outside of my pale of experience. Thank you for bringing this up.

      Thank you,


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  • Emery August 2, 2009, 12:38 pm

    Some other things I thought about after reading this post:

    1) The difference between being a tourist and a traveler is where the distinction truly lies, not so much in how wealthy a person is. And this distinction is not just about literal travel, but about symbolic travel. If you are merely a tourist in your life, just scraping the surface, going through the motions, then there too is boredom.

    If you haven’t seen the movie or read the book, The Sheltering Sky, you should check it out. I saw the movie earlier this year, and though it was rather slow, it affected me in some meaningful way. But here is a wealthy couple traveling in northern Africa, observing then becoming part of this other world before they emerge from the other side. I’ll have to go back and read the book now.

    2) I do agree that hardships can define a person and make him grow and improve his life. I went through some trials early in my life that I would never regret or trade. They made me stronger, and, dare I say, wiser. On the other hand, I think a lot about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow's_hierarchy_of_needs ), where you have to have all those food, shelter and safety needs squared away before you can become “self-actualized.”

    While I was in that trouble where I had to scrounge pennies to buy peanut butter and bread, where I was worried for the safety of my life, where all I could think about was survival, I did not have time to think about my personal growth. I could only think about those things once I had emerged from the other side. Personally, I think too much drama in a person’s life can make him equally boring. It doesn’t take long to figure out that soap operas are just repeating the same story lines and reliving the same mistakes.

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