It’s understandable to have an entire itinerary planned out when we are heading off on a trip or adventure. Sometimes it’s vital – especially if you have a specific goal in mind that you’re trying to achieve. However, this isn’t always the case and allowing time for curiosity, spontaneity and excitement can allow our adventures to have a lighter, more joyful feel. Travel, adventure and exploring are often seen as being linked to a sense of spontaneity – however, as human beings, our unease around the unfamiliar can often lead us to plan everything we do to minute detail with little room for flexibility.
In partnership with Outdooractive UK, we’re going to explore how letting curiosity become your guidance system can allow you to embrace a more unique way of discovering places and how this can help you find a new sense of joy and excitement.
Stream the accompanying two part mini series on tea:tv nowWhilst planning is, of course, needed in many circumstances, if done with no flexibility, you can actually find yourself missing out on experiences that present themselves whilst you’re on the ground. This can lead to us coming back from adventures and time in nature feeling a little unfulfilled or like we didn’t get a true sense of a place. There have been so many times where we’ve gone to a place with a set itinerary of what we wanted to see and do, only to realise just what was available to us there. In the past, we’d often hold ourselves back from trying out some of the new things we’d discovered, because we wanted to stick to a plan. However, a while ago, we started to do things differently and allow space for flexibility. When we did this, things started to change. We started to feel a sense of joy and wonder in a way we hadn’t felt before. We’d find ourselves exploring without a need for it to be anything specific, and before long, routes would reveal themselves. We became less competitive in the outdoors – and this led to a greater sense of personal fulfillment and in turn our connection to the world around us.
Come to think of it, when we recount some of our favourite hikes and adventures to date, they’ve come off the back of being more flexible like this and letting curiosity become our guidance system. We’re thinking particularly about the Little Gem Lakes Trail in the Sierra Nevada, California. We’d arrived with a fully prescribed itinerary with no room to wiggle – but having caught colds mid trip, we needed to take things a little easier, so we started explored other options to pivot our experience. What we found was one of the most incredible hikes we’ve ever done. Then, there’s the BLM lands of Utah and Arizona. When we first visited Utah, we went armed with every single day planned out, however when we started to explore the National Parks that had filled up our diary, we were unable to experience the peace and solitude we so often crave when outdoors. Our accommodation host, who knew the area like the back of her hand and who was, together with her husband, an avid off-road driver, started to tell us about some of the places off the beaten track that we might like to explore. At that point, we dropped the prescribed itinerary and started to take on board some of their suggestions. This trip – and the routes suggested by a knowledgeable local – went on to form the backbone of one of our biggest projects to date – documenting some of the hardest to reach and delicate landscapes in the American West.
Up until 2021, we’d never visited the Scottish Highlands. However, the opportunity presented itself for us to spend a little time there at the end of a project last summer, and we took it. One of our days’ plans was rained off and we decided to take a drive from Loch Lomond to Glencoe and Fort William via the A82 – often called the UK’s most beautiful road trip. It truly was, but what we loved the most about it was the curiosity it brought out in us. We saw trails winding off into distant landscapes and we wondered what it would look like to go down here or up there. For the rest of that short day, we allowed curiosity to guide us, and left with so much excitement and intrigue at the anticipation of the experiences we could have when we returned. So, when we were discussing this project, returning to the Scottish Highlands and exploring the areas that had excited us in this way seemed only natural.
Because exploring in this way gives you the opportunity to have truly unique experiences, it also allows you to look at what it is in the outdoors that really inspires you to get out there.Everybody is different and with that, what we crave from our time in nature can be completely different too. This is something that, if you start to really listen to what you enjoy, can give you a greater sense of fulfilment. We’ve found that since we’ve explored more in this way, our time outdoors has had a greater impact on our mental wellbeing also – as we’ve been able to truly connect to our surroundings in a way that feels meaningful for us. If you’re not sure what it is that interests you, spend some time thinking about some of your favourite times in nature to date – was there anything in particular that you can spot as a common theme? Is it a particular combination of things – such as varied terrain? Do you prefer loops where you can take in a whole range of areas rather than big climbs? Do you prefer one day or multi day hikes? This can start to inform where to explore and what to look out for in order to start letting your curiosity – and the things you like – guide you.
How do we become more curious of our surroundings? This can be as simple as some time spent in the landscape and looking at what is around you. There are tell-tale signs for trails and routes everywhere if we know where to look. However, this is where planning and exploring in this more intuitive way can be individually tailored. Depending on your interest, looking for clues in the landscape can help you discover what to explore. It could be a trail heading off steeply up a mountain. It could be a distant forest or a waterfall which gives an indication of a potential pristine mountain lake above. Combining this kind of exploration and being clear on the things that interest you as well as downloading offline maps through Outdooractive can allow you to reference what is actually there and the potential trails and routes that might present themselves. This can also allow you to get a feel for the amount of elevation or length of a trail before you head off – being as prepared as possible whilst still allowing yourself to explore in this more intuitive way.
Letting Curiosity Become Your Guidance System
We’re not saying for one second that we expect you to suddenly ditch all the plans, routes or ideas you might have for a place you’re visiting. However, we think that allowing yourself the opportunity to ‘see what’s there’ can be a really fulfilling way to experience the world around us. It’s about working out what might work best for you. It could be purposefully leaving a couple of days free to just take a closer look at some of things that have caught your eye. It could be allowing some time at the beginning to look around, to explore, which can help inform the rest of your trip. Outdooractive is a fantastic tool for this, as it allows you the opportunity to download maps offline for a particular area you might be exploring so that you can see what routes are in an area whilst you’re on the ground.
We arrived in Scotland with a few rough ideas of areas we wanted to explore. With the help of Outdooractive and the offline maps we’d downloaded beforehand, we were able to head off on trails that looked interesting to us with an understanding of elevation gain and length so we knew what to expect. Working in this way allowed us to discover things in a truly unique way. It allowed us to see what other trails were in the area and how these could connect. We genuinely don’t think we’d have been able to do this in the same, informed way had we tried to plan everything in meticulous detail beforehand.
Curiosity to Reality
One of the things we love the most about planning our own routes on the ground, is that it allows us to turn the curiosity we’ve allowed ourselves into the reality of a trail that we can follow. We do this very intuitively and having a level of understanding regarding what various signs, symbols and markings mean on a map, allows us to visualize what we are likely to encounter. We’d really recommend getting more familiar with some of the symbols used in mapping as this is actually very helpful when on the trail. We also recommend switching between the different maps that are available. The Pro and Pro+ subscriptions to Outodooractive come with additional maps. In the UK, the topo maps are provided by the Ordnance Survey whilst Harvey Maps are available to Pro+ subscribers. These maps show different levels of detail relative to the standard maps and we think that they can provide a valuable resource for visualizing the routes you’re potentially looking to plan.
In some ways, you need to learn to trust yourself. We think there is often quite a lot at play when it comes to deciding what we do or don’t do when we visit somewhere. We might feel pressure to do a certain set of things because we only have a small amount of time in a place, or it might be our first time there. We might worry that what we do won’t be ‘as good as’ and that we’ll miss out. However, having that trust to explore or engage with our surroundings can help us have more mindful and unique experiences that we’ll truly remember and, more often then not, these are precisely the trails that are the most memorable for us!