You epitomise the current travel trend of experiential travel, what do you think the trend will be in 10 years?
I think that travellers will move increasingly towards immersive travel – slowing down and spending time in a country, or a destination. Experiential travel is all about getting to know the local cultures and gaining an understanding of how the local communities work. I think the trend will continue towards that sense of being immersed in local cultures, making sure that your travel experience or holiday is aligned to local culture – and is ultimately responsible.
Where is your favourite destination and why?
I’ve always loved visiting South Africa – and have even considered relocating to Cape Town. It has the perfect climate and some pretty great beaches and you are near the wilderness, if you want to go off wandering into the South African bush you can.
When embarking on an expedition what wouldn’t you leave home without?
I never go anywhere without a white linen shirt. You can never be sure when you might need to dress up for a smart occasion. When I was walking the length of the Himalayas, I had been trying for weeks to organise to get an audience with the Dalai Lama, when we passed through Dharamsala, which is his home in exile. We were repeatedly told that he wasn’t available and that he was actually in England, at Glastonbury. Eventually, we got a call from his PR manager who said that the great holy man had a window and offered us a chance to come and meet him. Needless to say, it was an unforgettable and inspiring experience.
What does wellness whilst travelling mean to you?
I think wellness whilst travelling is about consciously trying to relax, and often it takes a couple of days to really unwind. If that takes leaving your phone and laptop and other devices at home in order to properly switch off, then so be it.
Where do you go when you travel for pleasure and what do you look for from a hotel or destination?
I spend so much time in remote and far flung places, but it’s important to remember that there is a lot of real beauty to be found in the UK. In terms of hotels, it is nice to just go somewhere for some total downtime, and attentive service with good attention is key to this.
What have been your most memorable trips?
When I was just 22, I made the most of my university summer holidays and hitch hiked from England to India. It was a pretty adventurous route and I crossed some fairly testing countries, including Russia, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, which forced me to be resourceful and independent. As well as these challenges, everywhere I went I met interesting people and was discovering incredible stories – especially in places like Iran, which had been off-limits for a while and it really gave me the travel-bug.
How do you get yourself in the right frame of mind to pursue an expedition?
The real trick to making sure an expedition is a success is the planning. It takes numerous people many months to get everything organised and a lot goes on behind the scenes. Once you are on the ground you have much less control over what might go wrong, but if you are ready for any eventuality, then it’s less likely to take you by surprise.
The other thing that people often forget is that I tend to be away for months at a time and there are some very mundane things that have to be organised. Making sure that everything else in your life is sorted – that there is not going to be milk piling up on your doorstep – is not to be underestimated.
Where are you headed to next & why?
My next trip is a circumnavigation of the Arabian peninsula. It’s only in the planning stages at the moment, but I’ve wanted to do it since I read Wilfred Thesiger’s stories about crossing the Empty Quarter desert when I was young. I became even more fascinated when travelling in the region in 2003. The Middle East is often misunderstood and misrepresented and the bad news in its countries gets a lot of coverage. I want to find out some of the real life stories and show people how diverse it really is.
Any top travel tips?
Cache your maps on Google earth, so that even without data you can access them. If you are going somewhere where there is a risk of being robbed, laminate money and hide it under the sole of your shoe. And always take the business card from your hotel, just in case you get lost on your way home.
Does social media influence your travel?
There are a few photographers that I follow on Instagram who take incredible photos of seriously remote places. And following the Nat Geo account always gives some pretty extreme inspiration.
You advocate changing perceptions of destinations and showcase the real beauty. What can the travel industry be doing more to encourage this too?
The travel industry is pretty good at showing an honest perception of countries, away from the mainstream news or media narrative. It’s about keeping that integrity, not being swayed by stereotypes and showing the truth of places through travel.
Is there anything hoteliers can do more to get into offering real adventure travel experiences?
I think the way to do this, is to create bespoke experiences. Asking customers exactly what they want, speaking to people and finding out exactly what they want to do and giving people choices when they travel.