There's a whole world outside your window. Go further, experience more.
Build bridges, not walls
Travel can be like a tunnel. You go in one end, certain of what you know, what you believe and who you are. By the time you come out the other end, dazzled by the glare of new and very different perspectives, you don't really know where you are or how to get back to where you once were. But you do know who you are.
Money can never make anyone truly fulfilled and rich. Experiences can do. They shape your existence. Why travel, or live, in fear of received wisdom? Why not see for yourself? Being too cautious means never being pleasantly surprised. It is a simple, but easily neglected principle: if you go further you see and do more. I always enjoy trying to go further and see more. That's what life is about.
I've seen incredible beauty. I've listened to evil and felt the unpleasant breath of anger. Kindness has moved my soul. Nature has hijacked me into insignificance. Man made accomplishments have strangled the comfort of my breathing.
I have experienced the unexpected wonder of very poor people opening their hearts and homes to me. I have also experienced the greed and nastiness of people trying to rob me and rip me off. Sometimes I have sunk into the gritty depths of despair. I've seen delight in people's eyes. Never for one moment have I doubted the privilege and value of my experiences. My aim is to share them with you as intimately as I can.
"I cannot think of anyone else of the same age who has travelled to so many incredible (and dangerous) places and had so many amazing and diverse experiences. I salute your endeavour and hope that many more people can enjoy trying to keep up with you as much I have done!"
"...nothing less than inspirational, extremely perceptive and very funny too!"
"You have really made me think totally differently about important, and also forgotten or overlooked parts of the world. You have opened them up in an very accessible and entertaining way."
"Thank you so much for your fascinating talk. The images were wonderful and you really broadened our minds and entertained us."
"...some amazing places and incredible experiences..."
Q & A: A few commonly asked questions...
Most friendly people - Iran, Brazil, Myanmar, Albania, New Zealand, Romania Colombia
Also very friendly - Poland, Finland, Ukraine, Norway, Zimbabwe Laos
Most unfriendly people - Israel
Saddest, most depressing places - Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Palestine, Myanmar
Most annoying hasslers - Egypt, India
Best beaches - Zanzibar, Rottnest Island (Australia), Brazil, Venezuela, Bay of Bengal
Best for partying - Brazil, Colombia
Most dramatic mountains - Nepal, Mt Kilimanjaro, China
Strangest mountain - Mt Mulanje, Malawi, China
Most dramatic view - Machu Pichu, Peru
Most amazing deserts - Namibia, Jordan, Egypt
Best waterfalls - Angel Falls, Iguassu, Victoria Falls
Best Jungle - the Amazon
Best Volcanoes - Guatemala
Most impressive architecture - St. Petersburg, Vienna, Cartagena, Antigua, Cambodia, Hong Kong
Best for outdoor activities - New Zealand
Hardest journeys - African buses, off road through Afghanistan, 3 day bus trip from Bolivia to Brazil, Colombian buses, Cycling the length of the British mainland, Myanmar motorbike
Most challenging activities - Colombia's Lost City, Tour de France, New York marathon, climbing Mt Kilimanjaro …the hard way and in the rainy season!
Under-rated- Lebanon, Mozambique, Bolivia, Sri Lanka, Bosnia, Albania, Nicaragua, El Salvador,
Best white water rafting - Zambezi, Nepal, New Zealand
Most surprising country - Albania, Ukraine, El Salvador, ,
Worst border crossing - Israel-Palestine, Zimbabwe-Mozambique Most places in Africa
Best border crossing - any country that doesn’t have one!
Most expensive country - Norway
Cheapest countries - Iran, Syria, Pakistan
Best food - Vietnam
Worst food - tea and bread in remote Afghanistan
Craziest adventure - Venezuela, Cycling the world's most dangerous road, Colombia's Lost City Riding my motorbike to Burma-Chinese border
Worst illness - Malaria, Zambia
Most ridiculous accident - Ice Climbing in New Zealand,
Walking into an Australian bush fire,
Favourite country really - England of course! (weather, people permitting!)
Next destination - Somewhere different!
Maybe you've already travelled. Maybe you aspire to travel. Maybe you want to travel again. Either way, whether nearby or far away, for a long time or a short time, travel can be a wondrously life-changing thing. At one time or another we've all found ourselves on an eventful journey of some description.
Gloomily dull, dank and dark days are dangerous. They ignite a fire of restlessness to exchange the bland and the banal for somewhere, anywhere, exotic and exciting to stimulate the senses. Secretly, we all crave a little exotic escapism. And once you begin to explore the seductive possibilities, youre heading down a one way street. Life is for living and soaking up experiences.
Travelling to places which are different or challenging has plenty of life-affirming merit. On all worthwhile journeys, you can never be entirely sure where they will take you.
Travel does many things. It threatens you, it exposes you. But it makes you, it defines you. It excites you, it challenges you. Ultimately, if you are true to yourself, travel will reward you in a way that no amount of material consumption or career advancement ever can.
If you have lived with fear and survived, you can do anything. Life is not the days which passed, but days remembered. And deep beneath the exhilarating moments and agonising ones, a resolutely calm sense of perspective reassuringly pervades under anything else you will do in the rest of your life.
To break down barriers of prejudice, erode accumulated ignorance, consolidate knowledge, expose bias. To enhance personal self-fulfilment. To make people question things and question the motivation behind important decisions which are made and effect other peoples lives. To inspire curiosity and exploration of whatever size and nature. To make people think a little before taking for granted basic rights, freedoms and comforts. To be exposed to the richness of different ways of living.
What inspires me?
- The sheer ingenuity of people in many neglected parts of the world, making the best of what they have right down to the last scraps of depleted resources.
- The desperation of those who want to better themselves, by learning a new language or becoming more educated.
- Those who suffer from physical pain or disability, but just carry on with their lives regardless.
- People anywhere who ask good questions or have thoughtful opinions. People who can think critically for themselves.
- Those who are able to retain a healthy sense of humour under nearly all circumstances.
- People who, for various reasons, dare to be different from the conventional choices of those around them, or choices imposed on them.
Its not been without real sacrifice and determination, but I find myself fortunate enough to have travelled through many diverse and fascinating countries (90 to date) across 6 continents of the world, bringing me experiences which have been extremely rewarding and challenging, at times in equal measure. There have been good times and bad ones, but it has rarely been dull.
My journeys have taken me within touching distance of the Taliban in Afghanistan. I've taken tea with drug lords in Pakistan where I also saw how guns are made. I’ve sat down with the mullahs in Iran and been inside refugee camps in downtown Beirut. I stayed with a Palestinian family inside the West Bank and I’ve witnessed the misery of Zimbabwe’s people first hand. You've no idea how many sacrifices I've made on occasions to go to some of the places I've been and I've sometimes tested myself to my limits of survival in some places and situations, but I think it has been worth it for the many truly unforgettable memories and insights.
Aside from the parts of the world covered in Into India Out of Africa, other notable journeys include travelling around South America from the Andes to the Amazon and back again, and a more recent trip through the Middle East, which has provided material for my second book. I have tried to use the breadth of all my experiences to provide informative and interesting insights in my writing.
Hopefully, I can open up a little of what is still a very big world - places, people and experiences which may remain distant dreams for many. I want to open some of these places and experiences up in a way that is accesssible and unpretentious. This is why I would like to share my photo collection with you - some accompany the book, but many are from other parts of the world as well, so why not take some time to browse and explore some other countries also? You'll never get through them all (!), but they're good for dipping in and out of now and again.
With a degree in International Politics, as you might expect, I like to keep abreast of what's going on in the world, but more importantly, why it is going on. It is always healthy to ask questions and challenge assumptions. I am also thoroughly versed in domestic politics.
I once tried to get straight answers out of Tony Blair during a conversation on BBC Radio 5 Live. Now he's followed in my footsteps to the Middle East, where I know many people will have a warm welcome for him!
Sometimes, I get frustrated by lazy, uninformed journalism as much as sitting through lectures from politicians about countries they've never been to or just flew into for a photo opportunity. How can any politican or decision maker even begin to understand a country they've never spent any meaningful time in?
My philosophy is simple: if you really want to understand somewhere properly, then let your curiosity drive you there and see it for yourself with an open mind free of lazy prejudices.
In my spare time I am a big sports enthusiast (rugby, football and cricket). Entire days of my life have been consumed or wasted by watching cricket. But then time which you have enjoyed wasting is not wasted, while cricket, as anyone who knows the game properly will testify, is just like life itself in so many ways: one long subtle, occasionally explosive, drama unfolding. And although rugby will always be my first love, football is, of course, the only truly international language that can be understood almost everywhere.
Please feel free to email me - to guarantee a reply, try putting my full names together in one word at hotmail . com
Or just find me on www.facebook.com
I always love to share my experiences and will happily offer travel advice or tips on any of the countries I have travelled through, and of course to hear of any travel experiences (good and bad) you might have had as well. There's still loads of countries I haven't been to yet and probably never will go to (or even be allowed into!)... no one can ever go everywhere and do everything! So if you've been somewhere I haven't, I'd love to hear about it, good or bad.
What I do is really quite simple. I don't take mounds of electronic equipment or fancy technology with me on my travels. I just take myself, my camera and something to write with. Where possible I try to learn some of the languages of the places I go to because that helps to break down barriers. I like to talk to local people about their country to help me understand it better. An unintended side effect of travelling is that sometimes you also come to understand your own country better as well.
A few unusual facts about the author
(which don't appear in any books...yet!)
- Was interviewed on TV in Bolivia where he also went to prison (voluntarily)
- Cycled the length of British mainland from John O'Groats to Lands End to raise money for a cancer charity.
- Narrowly avoided being shot during a bank robbery in Rio de Janeiro
- Climbed the 2 highest mountains in Venezuela
- Asked a question on Question Time TV programme and interviewed Tony Blair on the radio before the 2005 election.
- Ran 2 marathons, in Paris and New York (2001) and cycled a stage of the Tour de France. Not bad for someone one doctor said would remain a cripple for the rest of his life after snapping his knee to bits!
- Once played rugby at Twickenham and scored the winning try to win the national schools rugby cup (during the same game, he also amusingly fell over advertising hoardings running to catch a high ball!)