Adventure in the 21st Century: Exploring Benedict Allen explains how genuine adventure means letting go of the modern world

For the second part in our series focusing on what adventure means today, explorer, writer and film maker Benedict Allen explains how his rejection of technology is becoming ever more necessary.

I think I’m either a bit of a maverick or a leftover, or perhaps the shape of things to come. I’m not very technical. For me, adventure is all about immersion and letting go, it’s about coming to terms with the place you are passing through or conquering.

I’ve always felt that if you go with a map you are going to come back with a better version of the map. Instead, I believe we should travel like 19th century explorers, using the simplest of technologies. They were at the limits of navigation for that era of course, but I’ve deliberately kept it simple – no back up, no GPS, not even a companion.

It’s not about being first or planting a flag in order to make your mark. It’s the opposite – it’s about opening yourself up and allowing the place to make its mark on you. We’re witnessing a huge revolution in connectivity and communication but I feel my approach is ever more relevant because it’s becoming more important to disconnect in order to understand and value a place – to step aside and allow yourself to be vulnerable and exposed.

How much are we ever really adventuring if we’re never getting away from our companions? How much are we ever really vulnerable? There’s a safety concern of course, but if you’re able to be rescued are you really travelling solo? Are you really conquering a mountain if you use oxygen or if you’re able to communicate and ask for help? I find myself questioning a lot of adventurers and their so called accomplishments. If they’re connected to the outside world, how exposed are they mentally? How exposed are they physically to the place that they say they’re immersed in?

If we call ourselves adventurous we need to have the courage of our convictions and really let go of the outside world. This is not to say there are not some remarkable feats being undertaken but I think we’ve got to be a little humbler and recognise that we’re not really leaving if we’re still connected to our friends and loved ones. Very little of these adventures live up to the endeavours of the old days, when people were truly exposed and put their lives on the line.

Adventure in the 21st Century: Freediving

In conversation with George Upton

Photography: Benedict Allen

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