What's the Difference Between Adventure and Exploration?

Idee explores an increasingly controversial question: In today’s world of travel-blogging and adventure sports, how can we define true exploration?

It’s a frigid winter’s eve at Norway’s Finse 1222 Lodge, high above the tree line overlooking Hardangerj√łkulen glacier. The rustic lodge is accessible only by train or dogsled, and in its library huddled before a blazing fireplace, a group of road-worn explorers discuss past and future expedition challenges while sampling spirits they’ve collected from around the globe.

Centuries ahead of Shackleton and Amundsen, early explorers began taking to land and sea. The late Sen. John Glenn once said at an Explorers Club Annual Dinner, “Explorers push dragons from the map.” — they uncover and discover the mysteries of our oceans, space, earth, and humankind. Though today’s satellite imagery of Earth is void of dragons, we still have a lot to explore. So, let’s first understand, “What’s exploration?”

Cenote survey during a 2015 expedition in Mexico’s Yucatan State. Image by Idee Montijo ©

The late , wildlife champion and explorer extraordinaire of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom fame, once described exploration as the pursuit of information that advances the greater body of knowledge on mankind, space, oceans, and the Earth. How explorers undertake that pursuit varies from expedition to expedition, but the common thread is a hope of ‘discovery’ or the real possibility of making a contribution to our greater body of knowledge.

Bob Ballard, ocean explorer and National Geographic Explorer-At-Large, provided the world with a first glimpse of the legendary ocean liner Titanic since its unexpected demise in 1912. But in an NPR interview, describes what he considers his most important contribution to science, stating, “ …The hydrothermal vents, for example, I would think was my greatest discovery. We knew where Titanic was, but we never knew about these new life forms, and we didn’t know they were there.” It’s all about the data.

Idee Montijo photo-documents a biomedical research expedition to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro

While adventure can be one element of many expeditions, it differs from exploration in that exploration involves a pursuit of data that increases our larger body of knowledge while adventure is a personal experience that can provide individual growth.

It is only in adventure that some people succeed in knowing themselves — in finding themselves. ~ Andr√© Gide, winner Nobel Prize in Literature, 1947

An important aspect of the human experience, adventure helps people become more confident in their personal capabilities, to broaden their own knowledge of the world, and advance personal skills. Psychology’s Self-Determination Theory (SDT) is a theory that explains human motivation and personality with respect to inherent growth trends and natural psychological needs. Researchers in the 1980s proposed that we have three basic and universal psychological needs that promote intrinsic motivation: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Adventure addresses all three of these needs. For example, autonomy can be gained through accomplishing new tasks like navigation where one has a freedom to choose their course, competence is earned through successful interaction with one’s environment through activities like building a shelter, and relatedness is the desire to belong to a group of others with similar experiences.

Whether pushing dragons from the map like those explorers gathered on a Norwegian mountaintop or seeking personal growth and development by blogging about one’s whitewater rafting trip, we benefit when driven by curiosity to engage with the world around us in exploration and adventure.

Get inspired with expedition portfolios at and on Instagram (at).


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