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Four Ways You Are Already An Explorer

Article and photos by Amy Gigi Alexander
9/21/2015

Explorer. When I used to hear that word, I thought that it did not apply to me. An explorer, in my mind, was a person who crossed the Antarctic solo, carrying all of their supplies, discovering new lands and animals, while having dangerous adventures. I was not an explorer—I was a traveler.

One of the reasons I thought this way about exploring was that historically we have been taught that exploration meant discovery of previously “unknown” places, peoples, and species. But places existed before explorers found them and mapped them; peoples existed before explorers decided to go and visit them; and species thrived before they were collected and labeled.

When I began to think about what exploration means in modern times, I began to see myself as an explorer. Exploration today is about our own human potential—whether it is an inner journey or one based on discovery outside of ourselves.

You might be surprised to find out that you are a modern day explorer, too.

Four Ways You Are Already Exploring:

You Feel Wanderlust

If you daydream about going places—or have already been to many, and can’t stop planning your next journey—that’s wanderlust. The magnetism of wanderlust is similar to what early explorers felt: an overwhelming desire to see or experience something to which they were connected and felt driven to seek out.

We often think of wanderlust as something that can cause us to take epic journeys, but it can also help us learn to travel right where we live. Pair wanderlust with purpose and you’ll find you are exploring. What interests you, what is your passion? Find the places that speak to your longings.

“Anybody can be an explorer if they want to be. Figure out what you want to do, and then go do it.“—Helen Thayer, first woman to walk across the Sahara
The central valley in Morocco
The central valley in Morocco. Photo © and courtesy of Amy Gigi Alexander.

You are Adaptable

You’ve planned the trip of a lifetime, and your luggage never arrived. You showed up at the homestay you reserved months ago, only to find there is no house at that address. You decide to wander around a city solo, and get completely lost. Travel depends on adventure, and adventure happens because we can’t plan for it. Explorers rely on adventure, too—it’s what makes their stories extraordinary and their discoveries more fruitful. But for adventure to happen, you have to adapt. You must assume your luggage will be found—or not. Your lodgings will work themselves out. You are confident being lost means you will find something even better than what you anticipated.

Sometimes I have to force myself to adapt a little. How about going to some more remote location that doesn’t provide access to the familiar? Give in to the journey, and see where it takes you.

“All plans, all safeguards are fruitless, we find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.“—John Steinbeck, writer
Berber family in Morocco
A Berber family I came upon off a main road in Morocco. Photo © and courtesy of Amy Gigi Alexander.

You are Prepared

Are you an over-packer or over-researcher? Despite the fact that explorers have to be adaptable, they also love to plan details. Two aspects fascinate me about explorers from the 1500’s onward and the modern traveler today: packing lists and the way information is gathered today as it was for long-ago expeditions.

Today we plan our travels using travel blogs, websites, recommendations, and guidebooks to tell us what to expect and do. Early explorers used maps, diaries, local people, and oral histories.

One of the best ways to prepare for visiting a place is to read literature by travel writers. Why not check out the travel section of your local library, and skip the guidebooks in lieu of a collection of short stories or a travel adventure?

“To read a writer is, for me, not merely to get an idea of what he says, but to go off with him and travel in his company.”Andre Gide, writer and poet

You are Willing to Take Risks

Is traveling risky? The very fact that you are interested in leaving your comfort zone and trying something new is taking a risk. What is most at risk is that your worldview will change. Risk need not be climbing up the Seven Summits—it could be traveling alone for a gap year, returning to the country of your roots, or a semester at sea.

Explorers in the past used to take incredible risks that were defined by the real possibility that they would not return. Today we can take calculated risks and build on those until we know a place well enough to feel comfortable exploring it. Try talking to people you don’t know, taking a bus on a new route, or saying yes to a dinner invitation from a local.

“Real adventure—self determined, self-motivated, risky, forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it to be. This will change you.”—Mark Jenkins, explorer and adventurer
Dangerous road in Morocco
The most dangerous road in Morocco. Photo © and courtesy of Amy Gigi Alexander.

Related Topics
Adventure Travel, Independent & Solo Travel, Solo Woman Travel, Cultural Travel

Amy Gigi Alexander
Amy Gigi Alexander is a travel writer and geo-cultural explorer who specializes in solo explorations. She writes for numerous publications.
 
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