What's An Adventure?

“Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.”

-T.S. Eliot

What’s an adventure?

To borrow a turn of phrase from Justice Potter Stewart, adventure is one of those things “you know it when you see it.” But as just one website, we can’t cover everything! So here at AdventureOnTheCheap.com, we define adventure in this way:

  1. Requires physical fitness.
  2. Demands time commitment.
  3. Highlights the Great Outdoors.
  4. Mandatory travel and locomotion.
  5. Technical skill required.
  6. Relatively affordable.

These are Big Adventures. These are goals that require mental fortitude, physical prowess, and a stiff upper lip. They can be life-changing. They are always unpredictable. There are no plaques or trophies awarded, only the memories and the stories, many of which we keep to ourselves.

As an example of what doesn’t count as an adventure under our definition (no disrespect intended): cruise ships, dog walking, skydiving, curling, halfpipe snowboarding, bungee jumping, ATV tours, paintball, ziplining, car racing. Even though some of these are considered “extreme sports,” they aren’t the sort of adventures we’re after! (Although rally car racing does sound like a lot of fun).

Let’s look at these six criteria in more detail.

Requires Physical Fitness

Fitness is a form of respect for our bodies. It’s an appreciation of our God-given talents. It’s insurance for our future health. Our society has removed the physical fitness element from most of our entertainment: movies, roller coasters, beer, etc. Adventures are a chance to train for a goal, to push our bodies (and our minds) beyond what we thought possible. Being humble-proud of your body is a form of self-love, and going on an adventure is  great movitation!

Demands a Time Commitment

While life is full of mini-adventures, Big Adventures usually require a time commitment. This can be as short as a half-day trip or as long as a month’s expedition! 

Adventures can be solo or done with others! In fact, we recommend getting together a group of friends and training for an adventure as a group. It’s a great bonding experience.

Highlights the Great Outdoors

Because these adventures take place in the Great Outdoors, there is almost always some danger and risk involved. Weather doesn’t cooperate. Animals bite or sting. Every rock and root is a potential sprained ankle. But the chance to spend time outdoors rehabilitates our psyche and regenerates our energy.

Mandatory Travel and Locomotion

When we engage with new places, we expose ourselves to new cultures and new perspectives. Travel invites us to consider environmental stewardship, the beauty of nature, the unity of mankind, anti-consumerism.

Locomotion – that is, moving around a landscape – is an important part of this experience. Traveling to the Grand Canyon isn’t enough to engage with it. You must stroll along the rim or descend its walls. Otherwise, it remains 2D, like a mega-sized postcard. Walking and driving are also moments of introspection, the chance to “do nothing” and consider our personal priorities.

Generally, this means human-powered propulsion: Paddling, walking, climbing, skiing, etc. 

Technical Skill Required

We’re not suggesting that you must master a new career to pursue your next adventure! And some adventures, like hiking, require very little technical skill. But most adventures require specialized gear, which forces you to learn new technical skills. Consider it “earning your stripes.”

Relatively Affordable

AdventureOnTheCheap.com is not a travel agency. We’re not selling 5-star beach resorts and Michelin foodie tours. We want our adventures to be accessible to everyday people with a thirst for adventure! That doesn’t mean all adventures are “cheap,” especially longer adventures like cycling across the USA, but they are give far more than they take.

Table of Contents

Water Adventure

Whitewater Rafting

Whitewater rafting is a classic “gateway drug” to the world of outdoor adventure. A family or group of friends can hop into an inflatable raft and tackle Class III,  IV and V whitewater rapids and runs all over the world! Whitewater rafting can be enjoyed everywhere across North America, Malaysia, India, Africa, Europe – every continent except Antarctica.

Rafting is often done with a guide or skipper as part of a guided trip. Most trips are 2-hour, half-day or full-day excursions. If you look hard (and are willing to pay for it), you can find a few guided multi-day tours.

But usually, if you plan to camp on the river, you’ll need to plan your own trip and take your own gear. It’s a great way to enjoy the outdoors with moments of peace interspersed with moments of delightful sheer terror.

Whitewater Kayaking

Whitewater kayaking is an expert’s game. The stakes are high! – but the thrill is higher!

Whitewater kayaking (Class 3, Class 4, and Class) are performed in a hardshell whiter kayak. Life jackets, helmets, paddles and skirts are required equipment!

This sport requires nerves, fitness, and lots of experience! You’ll need to scout rapids, practice rolling, swim well, and paddle fearlessly. Understanding river currents is paramount. You’ll often need to dart from eddy to eddy rather than shooting a rapid top to bottom. And if you bail, you’ll need to know how to swim of a hole!

  • Rapids: What makes the river so fun! Trees and rocks form drops, riffles, holes, eddies, and other whitewater features.
  • Waterfalls: Expert kayakers may drop over waterfalls, “boofing” on small ones (30 feet or less) or diving on larger ones.
  • Trick kayaking: You can play in the waves! With the right kayak, you can flip, spin, twirl, or roll in a standing river wave.

Flatwater Kayaking & Canoeing

Flatwater kayaking introduces you to the peaceful side of adventure. It is one of the most versatile and accessible adventure sports. You can put in your kayak anywhere you find flat water: a lake, reservoir, calm river, lagoon, river delta, swamp, marsh, canal, etc.

On a kayak, you can zip around docks and obstacles, explore shoreline caves, muddle through lily pads, drift down a river, or watch fish scurry below. It’s a Huck Finn experience at its finest.

Generally, freshwater kayaking is considered distinct from sea kayaking, which uses a different type of kayak and requires greater emergency survival preparedness.

Unlike traditional hardshell whitewater kayaks, flatwater “sit on top” kayaks often have an open hull. Many are even inflatable, and can be packed up in the trunk of your car! 

Open Water Swimming

Open water swimming is all about overcoming your fear and enjoying the sensating of floating above a foreign world. With practice (and a swim buoy), you can swim for miles through lakes, calm rivers, and even the ocean!

While the world’s best open water swimmers battle rough seas, jellyfish, and sharks in the straights of the Ocean Seven, you can take the easier way out! You can begin open water swimming at your local lake or reservoir (check local restrictions first).

This is a more advanced adventure activity, suitable only for experienced swimmers and people with excellent outdoor skills (and a cool head on their shoulders!) There’s nothing quite like diving into a lake and emerging from the other side powered by nothing but your own body, but beware! – water is unforgiving, and she doesn’t give second chances.

SCUBA Diving

If you can’t go to Mars, try out SCUBA diving.

SCUBA diving is an immersive aquatic experience. But you’ll need to get certified by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), following the 3-part course: online/pool/ocean.

SCUBA diving is both a cold-water and warm-water activity. You can explore the biodiversity of coral reefs or the subterranean landscapes of Greenland icebergs!

Even after being certified, it’s safest to go SCUBA diving with a certified guide. It takes many, many hours in the water to safely navigate the gear, underwater hazards, and health issues of underwater diving.


Snorkeling is the poor man’s SCUBA diving. Paired with nothing more than a breathing tube and a pair of fins, you can get a birds-eye (or fish-eye, anyway) view of the underwater world.

Snorkeling is a travel-friendly activity. The gear is small, cheap, and packs up easily. You can snorkel with friends and family, even people with almost no experience! With a wet suit or flotation device, you can even venture into deep water without fear of sinking.


Don’t be a Barney – learn how to surf and shoot the barrel! Then you won’t bail into the soup so much.

If you thought foreign language classes were too easy, you’ll love surf culture. A favorite of beachfront nations like the USA, South Africa, Australia and Spain, surfing beckons the brave (and foolhardy) to ride white-capped roller coasters.

Surfing can be as laid back as you want it to be. You don’t have to duck dive or hold your breath for two minutes as the surge drags you downward (unless you want to).  Just rent a board, kick off your shoes, and enjoy the break!

Kite Surfing

Yes, kite surfing is as cool as it looks. It takes strong arms and a cool attitude, but kite surfing is the perfect intersection of surfing, flying, and general badassitude.

It’s not the cheapest adventure sport to to get into, but you can go kite surfing almost anywhere in the world! You don’t even need an ocean. Anywhere where there’s a stiff wind and a body of water, you can kite surf.

Land Adventure


Ah, hiking – the original adventure activity, enjoyed by people of every age, background and fitness level!

Hiking can be as simple as a 15-minute stroll through a neighborhood park to an epic year-long thru-hike of the world’s hardest long-distance trails, like Italy’s Grand Italian trail, America’s Pacific Crest trail, or the Great Himalaya trail of eastern Asia.

Hiking is the springboard for many other adventure activities.

  • Hiking overnight, carrying your own gear? Now you’re backpacking.
  • Hiking up and down steep hills? Now you’re trekking or rambling.
  • Hiking using your hands for balance and security? Now you’re scrambling.
  • Hiking through the snow using shoeshoes? Now you’re snowshoeing?
  • Hiking up long, steep, technical ascents? Now you’re mountaineering!
  • Hiking at a jog? Now you’re trail running!


As Bilbo Baggins said, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

Trail Running

If you like hiking but wish it involved more pain, try out trail running!

But seriously, trail running is like hiking on fast forward. Unlike jogging on a treadmill, trail running offers continually changing scenery, great weather, and laser focus! There’s an art to dodging rocks and roots, skipping across creeks and short-stepping up hills.

Best of all, you can stop whenever you want to take a breather, and there’s no one to judge you.


Mountaineering is an odd but addictive quest. The goal is to ascend and descend a high peak, but beware! – that summit is further away than it looks. It’s hours upon hours of backbreaking labor, but once you’re done, you can’t wait to do it again.

Mountaineering is a technical mixed sport activity. It is not uncommon to mix hiking, ice climbing, scrambling, rappelling, rock climbing and glacier travel all in the same trip!

Simply walking up a mountain doesn’t count as mountaineering. Mountain requires a technical route, usually either crossing glaciers, ascending rockfalls or icefalls, and making camp along the way.

Today, most mountaineering is lightweight and fast, called alpine style. Mountaineers of yore packed thousands of pounds of gear and food to lay siege to the mountain in what’s called expedition-style.

Popular mountaineering areas around the world include the North American Rockies, the South American Andes, the Asian Himalayas, and the European Alps. The sport is practiced all over the world, with hotspots in North America, France, Japan, and Switzerland.

Mountaineering can occur at any altitude, although elevations over 18,000-ft are referred to as Extremely High Elevation and are suitable only for world-class professionals only. 



Canyoneering (also known as “canyoning” abroad) is an incredible experience, sandwiched between two vertical walls with nothing but a thin line of blue sky above your head.

In the U.S, most canyons are in the Southwest. Many are dry canyons, with seasonal water flow and the occasional watery pothole. Outside of the U.S., especially in Asia, canyons are typically wet, with constant water flow and many, many waterfalls!

Canyoneering doesn’t involve a great deal of technical rock climbing. It demands a high level of respect for the elements, moderate physical fitness, good swimming ability, a level head, and excellent knowledge of ropecraft.

Rock Climbing

Rock climbing is an escape into the vertical world, where gravity is your enemy, and the only thing between you and certain death is 3/8″ of nylon rope.

It’s both sport and meditation. The aurora of rock climbing has captivated athletes from around the world, and today, the sport has grown into many sub-disciplines:

  • Bouldering, which is climbing short, hard problems (25 feet or less) without a rope, just a pad to land on if you fall!
  • Sport climbing, which is climbing routes protected by drilled bolts for maximum protection.
  • Trad climbing, which is climbing natural rock and placing removable protection as you go!
  • Aid climbing, which is climbing crack lines and faces with the aid of gear, rather than just your hands and feet.

You can climb indoors or outdoors, but outdoors is where the real adventure is!


If you love snowboarding but find yourself without snow, why not give sandboarding a try?*

Common in the Middle East, Eastern Asia, Meditteranean and western United States, sandboarding is the art of descending a sand dune on a waxed board called a “sandboard.” Regular sleds, snowboards and skateboards won’t work – the special sandboard finish makes all the difference!

*It’s not as comfortable falling as in snow, though.


If you like mountaineering but wish it was creepier and the stuff of nightmares, try out caving!

But seriously – caving is an incredible experience within the guts of the earth. Seriously caving involves lots of ropework, technical descents, and wriggling your way through impossibly small spaces. Beginners usually stick to trade routes in dry canyons, but advanced cavers may get into spelunking in wet canyons, which may involve underwater dives and tunnel swims!

Wheeled Adventure


Bikes have come a long way since the penny-farthing bicycles. Today, these machines can ferry a human rider from coast to coast in less than a month!

Road bikes are great for day trips, weekend tours, or epic cross-country adventures. With saddlebags or a trailer, you can even live on one – indefinitely!

Cycling demands excellent muscular stamina, good cardiovascular endurance, and most importantly, a slight dose of sadomasochism. Feel the burn! 

Mountain Biking

Bikes have come a long way since the penny-farthing bicycles. Today, these machines can ferry a human rider from coast to coast in less than a month!

Road bikes are great for day trips, weekend tours, or epic cross-country adventures. With saddlebags or a trailer, you can even life on one – indefinitely!

Cycling demands excellent muscular stamina, good cardiovascular endurance, and most importantly, a slight dose of sadomasochism. Feel the burn! 

Roller Skating

Roller skating – not just for 12-year-old birthday parties!

With a pair of skates strapped to your feet, you can explore the concrete jungle and urban labyrinths. You can “bomb” hills at 35 mph, risking life and limb, or leisurely enjoy a paved lakeside path. It’s a great form of exercise for young and old. Just remember to wear elbow pads!


Over the years, skateboarding has diverged into two categories:

  • Park skateboarding, where the emphasis is on tricks, jumps, and daring-do.
  • Longboarding, where the emphasis is on flow, style, and raw speed.

Longboarding is commuter-friendly, and in fact, people have longboarded across entire countries! It’s also a good pick for speed fiends: The world record for fastest longboard ride is over 90 miles an hour!

Snow Adventure


Skiing may be the coolest (no pun intended) winter sport there is! It’s certainly one of the oldest, invented by the natives of Scandinavia in the Middle Ages.

While most people associate skiing with high-dollar resorts and Ivy League money, there’s a whole world of backcountry skiing beyond the lift lines!

Skiing comes in all kinds of flavors:

  • Downhill skiing
  • Slalom/grand slalom skiing
  • Telemark skiing
  • Freeride/Big mountain skiing
  • Ski mountaineering

And many more!


Snowboarding is skiing’s more rebellious brother. Born in the play park with twin tips, snowboarding is now a backcountry sport in its own right, thanks to split boards and helicopters.

Snowboarding is all about style and tricks. Big drops, spins, grabs, loops – it’s all fair game. Try it out for yourself, and you may find yourself doing a suicide front flip off Corbet’s Couloir in Jackson Hole!


There’s an old saying that if you can walk, you can snowshoe!

Snowshoeing elevates hiking to a whole new level. Rather than slipping on icy ground or post-holing in deep spring snow, snowshoeing allows you to traverse where humans aren’t naturally welcome. You can explore icy forests or snowy canyons, or just take a walk in the backyard. You can look for animal tracks, search for the first spring green, or just enjoy the softer sounds of a winter stroll.

You’ll find walking on snowshoes is enjoyable and moderate exercise. Don’t expect to walk as many miles as when summer hiking, though. In particular, snowshoeing will ask more of your hamstrings than what they may be accustomed to!

Air Adventure

Hang Gliding

Don’t let Peter Pan have all the fun. With hang gliding, you can leave this world behind! Just think about what you’ll find.

Hang gliding isn’t a sport to be taken lightly. It requires a great deal of training and safety. But if you’re up to the challenge, there’s nothing quite like soaring with the birds!