An intrepid spirit and enduring passion for the natural world have led Ben Fogle, adventurer, writer and TV presenter, to some of the most extreme and spectacular places on earth. Whether he’s walking to the South Pole or rowing across the Atlantic, this fearless explorer is at his happiest when facing a gruelling physical challenge in the great outdoors. Here’s the lowdown on his latest exploits:
Where have you been travelling recently?
In the last few months I have been to Haiti and Japan to make documentaries about their recovery after natural disasters. I also went dog sledding in Norway, a country I love. And I was in Texas a couple of weeks ago, for a Channel 5 series called Where the Wild Men Are. It’s about people who have given up their conventional urban lifestyles to get away from it all.
Which one thing do you always pack when you embark on a journey?
I take a SPOT tracker to more remote locations – it’s a little beacon, and whenever I press the button it sends out a message to my family, on my Twitter account and on my website. I do appreciate how lucky I am to travel so much, and I think it’s important to share photographs, stories or even just my location on Google Earth.
What is the first thing you do when arriving in a new destination, and why?
I think places are all about the people, so it will inevitably be meeting the locals. It could be prearranged – they might have been helping me with my planning – or it might be going to a café or bar.
What places or experiences would you recommend for a budding adventurer, who might not be up to some of the more extreme challenges that you set yourself?
If your budget will stretch, then New Zealand has to be the Holy Grail, but there are loads of adventures that you can do in the UK: head to Wales, which has incredible kayaking, coasteering and caving. Adventure is just what you make of a landscape.
Is it harder to find truly new and exciting challenges now?
It’s a challenge sometimes to find something completely unique: you go online and find that someone has already done it. There aren’t any new lands to be discovered, but instead, you can explore your own physical limits.
If you could pick one place that changed you, where would it be?
I was completely mesmerized by the extraordinary mix of old and new in La Paz, Bolivia. I found it extraordinary to see big financial institutions right next to witches selling llama foetuses.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learnt from your travels?
To be respectful. Trying to understand others is what travel is all about – as well as trying to grow as a person through the people you see and the landscapes you visit.
Who’s the most interesting person you’ve met on your travels, and why?
My next book is provisionally called Accidental Encounters, and will feature stories about the interesting people I’ve met over the years. One person who springs to mind now is a man called Adam Britton, who lives in Darwin, Australia. He has a 5-metre saltwater crocodile called Smaug in his garden and is the world croc expert.
What was your most memorable meal on your travels?
In Iceland I tried hákarl, which is putrified shark meat. I actually had to throw out the gloves I ate it with, because I couldn’t get rid of the smell!
Should air travel be made more expensive?
That’s a difficult one for me because I travel so much, but I’m also passionate about the environment. I do think it’s ridiculous that in this country it’s cheaper to fly than to take the train.
Where in the world is still on your must-visit list, and why?
I’ve always wanted to go to Sierra Leone in West Africa. It’s partly because I met a guy from there early in my life who told me tales of his extraordinary country, which at the time was in the midst of a civil war.
Ben Fogle’s Year of Adventures, an action-packed new BBC Worldwide series that sees Ben take on a succession of daring challenges in some of the world’s most extreme environments, airs on 7 February at 9:00pm. His latest book, The Accidental Naturalist (Transworld), is also available.