A Trip, Adventure or Expedition?

A Trip, Adventure or Expedition?

We each take a trip when we pull out of the driveway, and those trips sometimes become adventures, but what does it mean to embark on a true expedition? While it's fun to use the term 'expedition' to give our trips or adventures a cool sound, it’s important to know the difference and understand why overlanding is gaining in popularity.

The word trip, with its curt monosyllable and harshness doesn’t act to inspire or convey what many of our travels encompass. And even though the definition from Dictionary.com is long winded “Trip is the general word, indicating going any distance and returning, by walking or any means of locomotion, for either business or pleasure, and in either a hurried or a leisurely manner”, we still don’t get excited when someone says they went on a “trip”. And that's OK, because much of the time, it is a “trip” that we took, a day trip, a camping trip, a weekend trip, but mostly something that wasn’t far from home, wasn’t dangerous or hazardous and we returned home as planned.

But, the word “adventure” stirs the soul and brings a sparkle to our eye. Many of us have had “adventures” with our 4wd’s. Adventures in mud where we didn’t know if we could get out. Adventures with the weather that involved rain, wind, hail, snow or all of them. Adventures in strange lands with languages we barely spoke and food we barely recognized. Again the dictionary gives us “a bold, usually risky undertaking; hazardous action of uncertain outcome” as the meaning of adventure. Often these adventures aren't planned, they just happen. You left home on a trip that due to trail damage or breakage, weather, animals, or some other unforeseen force your trip became an “adventure”. These make for some great stories around the campfire: the time you winched across a river, the time that snow closed the trail and you had to find another way off the mountain, the time an axle broke and it was a long hike to help. These adventures are what we plan and prepare for, yet hope to never experience.

Different from a trip or an adventure is something else in the vehicle dependent travel world: an “expedition”. Defined by the dictionary as “an excursion, journey, or voyage made for some specific purpose, as of war or exploration”. Yes war is in there since the word comes from the Middle English use of the Latin “expeditione” or military travel. Today we consider an expedition in the 4wd world to be an organized journey with a specific goal or purpose. A bit different than a vacation since there will be roles for each person, schedules, work to be done, and results to be presented. Very few of us will ever get to go on a real expedition and that’s OK because very few of us would enjoy a real expedition. Be it mapping the Sahara, collecting measurements of tree width in the Amazon, counting rabbits in the Outback or other tasks that are less about the journey and more about the task; a true expedition involves route planning, gear selection, training, documentation and presentation of the result, communication with a home base and more.

But, in truth, the word “expedition” is the word we know and use to convey our desire to do something more than a day trip, something more in-depth than a weekend get-away. So we use the term because it invokes in ourselves and others that feeling of remoteness, of independence and of discovery that traditional expeditions embody, but with out the tedious tasks that define true expeditions. We have other words to use like “overlanding” that are more precise and accurate, but somehow have not yet gained the emotional reaction of the word “expedition”.

In this advanced day of easy air travel to anywhere in the world, when you can sit at your desk and let Google Earth take you to the furthest reaches of the planet, thankfully, there is still a desire to put tracks on the trail, to bring your family into the backcountry (or another country) and have the direct experience that is missing in the other methods of travel. Flying over a country by air or seeing it by satellite image has little comparison to driving through that same country, seeing, smelling, and feeling the land around you. We use the term expedition somewhat incorrectly in detail but on target in spirit. We want to convey to ourselves and others that we are setting out to do something unique and less common.

I think the growing popularity of overland & expedition style 4x4 use comes in part from our increasing loss of motorized access to the backcountry. Our desire to properly use the machines we have invested so much time and money in also drives our need for longer journeys. We long to regain a sense of exploration and discovery that has been a part of our nature since time began.

So while you often leave home on a trip, and those trips sometimes become adventures, strive for more on your next journey. Plan to go further, stay longer, be away from towns and cities, explore and experience the backcountry. And don't forget to document it all so you can share and possibly inspire others with your “expedition”.

Lance Blair is the founder and operator of Disabled Explorers, a non-profit organization dedicated to exposing disabled individuals to independent backcountry travel. He's a regular contributor to the Expedition Portal and FJCrusierForums.com.