Life Of An Explorer
Life Of An Explorer
Benedict Allen (Explorer) gives expert video advice on: What is the difference between an explorer and adventurer?; Do you need qualifications to become an explorer?; How do you raise money to pay for your expedition? and more...
What is the difference between an explorer and adventurer?
Well there are all sorts of discussions about what an explorer is. For me I think it is something different and what people imagine. We come to think of people planting flags, people trekking through the polar wastes as explorers. To me, generally these people are athletes. Often very great athletes, but I think there is very rarely discovery. I think discovery is one of the key aspects of exploration. Second aspect is the reporting back. You have got to push that barrier of knowledge and report with that information back to the people who sort of sponsor you, who send you out, who read your books. It is about that process of finding out something new and reporting back. I am not interested really in those people walking however heroically, to the North Pole or the South Pole because that is like a racetrack almost. People are just competing and so on. To me that is not exploration. These are adventurers. I call myself an explorer not because I am a scientist. Because I am not. Although I have done a degree in science. I call myself an explorer because I am going to places that people have misunderstood or they are very unfamiliar to people for some reason and to experts. I am telling the story or reworking themes about that place and writing them down in an account that can be shared.
Do you need qualifications to become an explorer?
You don't really need qualifications as such. Of the two sort of sorts of explorer - the scientific sort of explorer, that sort, yes, of course, you need to know what you're studying and that sort of exploration is incredibly increasing detail. You know, we're not looking at great continents that we're trying to discover. We're looking at species and how they behave and interact and so on. So, yes, of course you need qualifications for that sort of explorer. But I think that most people also think of an adventurer really as an explorer, so not really a true explorer. I suppose I have an adventurous side to me, but I've got no qualifications at all, really. Except that I still call myself an explorer because I do report back. So, I've got the skill of writing. I suppose I take photographs. You need to find a way of communicating back. Some explorers or adventurers simply stand up and give speeches so, again, they've learned to communicate and I think that communication skill is absolutely key. But beyond that I think you just need the character of an explorer. You need to have that steely resolve. You need to have that ability to have a clear vision of where you're going. You've got to be able to adapt to changing circumstances. You've got to be able to use the resources around you. You've got to be able to use the resources inside you. All these characteristics of a pioneer, of someone who's pushing themselves to the limit.
Do you need sponsorship to be an explorer?
I don't think you do need sponsorship to be an explorer. I think you can just set off and pull off your aim but you can't expect to be doing a big polar feat. You can't expect to be doing something in the middle of nowhere and expect to be able to do it for free. You've got to have at least the ability to get to the place that you are trying to explore. And for me, it was generally the tropical places, and the dessert, the jungles. As soon as I went to the arctic, I found there was real money involved. But essentially you don't need a stash of money, you've got to build up your skills and I would say if you haven't got any money you should do my approach, which is not to take a huge expedition but simply go off alone, take your courage in your hands and live with people who know what they are doing. They don't see things like the Amazon, Borneo or New Guinea as a threat. They see it simply as their home. And that's the way you've got to start thinking if you are going do anything in these places and understand them.
What made you decide to become an explorer?
I wanted to be an explorer because my dad was a test pilot in the days when planes didn't have computer models. They weren't designed in some clever way, or rather, there wasn't all that much technology to help people. So being a test pilot was quite a risky thing. And people just used to experiment with these planes, and these pilots were at the forefront. So I think that sort of drive, or certainly the mental equipment, I got from my dad, the ability to be calm in a crisis. That's something I have, perhaps, from him. But something compelled me. I think I was romanticized, I romanticized places like the Amazon, Borneo. I just thought, wow, wouldn't it be great to be out there. I'm just like every other boy, really, and perhaps every other girl. I just thought, wouldn't it be a great life. So my dad, being a pilot, brought back birds' nests and little baby stuffed crocodile, and there was a bottle he bought with a snake. All these things excited my imagination. But I've something beyond that. I did have this drive, and I don't know quite where that came from. I had it even with my dad. So, whatever that was, it gave me a sort of resolve. My brother and my sister don't have it, so I think that's something inside you. I do think you need to be an explorer - I mean, you need to feel it's vital. It's no good just saying, well, I want to. Otherwise, you'll drop out along the way, and it's rare to be absolutely able to be a successful explorer, to be able to keep your income going along and not just sell out, So, yeah, it's not that easy. So you need to have that sort of drive, and it was just something I set my mind to do, and I think that was the absolute key. I didn't compromise.
What would you have done if you weren't an explorer?
I don't know what I could have done actually apart from being an explorer. It sort of helped my career in fact in that I perhaps thought 'uh oh.' I started very young, it was three expeditions at University, at the age of 22 I did a major expedition by myself so luckily I hadn't started on any other career path so I had no other distractions. My Mum was very supportive, my Mum and Dad were very supportive they just said, 'come on stick by your dreams and just keep on doing it if that's what you really want to do you should just do it.' It got harder and harder, by the time I was twenty-six, twenty-seven they were probably worrying about my career, I didn't seem to be doing anything else but ironically it sort of helped my in that I wasn't gaining any other skills and therefore I had become less and less able to do anything else. I was able to write well and so that encouraged me on and I was able to communicate quite well and that encouraged me on so I thought, 'one day I'll break through,' and it seemed to take about ten years, I mean fellow adventurers it seemed had noticed that you had to stick to it and don't just expect easy results. People email me all the time expecting to become some sort of explorer to become a household name but it just doesn't come easy you've got to earn your reputation.
What's the best thing about being an explorer?
The best thing about being an explorer is that moment when despite the odds, despite everything having gone wrong, you've got malaria, your shoes, your boots are falling apart, you've been shot at, everything has gone wrong, you somehow have overcome those obstacles, and you spring out of the forest or stagger out of the forest, knowing that actually that dream you had two years ago has been achieved. That is a wonderful thing. It's I suppose the same as an athlete crossing the finishing line first or maybe a scientist finding penicillin you know. What ever you set your mind to finally you've achieved and it can be a simple simple moment when you realize that sort of your struggle has somehow been vindicated and its just that special moment and it's encapsulated either when you come out of the Arctic and realize you're safe or you come out of the forest and realize your safe, but I suppose I always think of that moment arriving back in Heathrow and I know that I haven't let my family down, my girlfriend down, and I'm safe.
What's the worst thing about being an explorer?
Well see there are terrible moments. Of course, there are the dramatic bits I have been shot at. I have been attacked by gold miners. I had to eat my dog to survive on my first expedition all these things that have happened but those aren't really.. These are great stories they're not the things that stick in my mind. The terrible thing is I suppose the loneliness and I don't mean when I'm alone crossing the Gobi desert with three or walking up the Sucobie coast with another three camels. It's not that it's the moment at the beginning of an expedition perhaps when you're planning I remember being in Ulaanbaatar the capital of Mongolia and I didn't speak Mongolian and I was just struggling by myself in a rented flat and I didn't know anyone. Nothing was coming together BBC were expecting me to pull of a film by myself no camera crew. How was ever going to pull this together? And I just felt like the world wasn't against me but it wasn't sympathetic to me and I thought what's the point in the is it's just a silly expedition no one‘s really interested in. So that loneliness and of course back here it can seem quiet lonely a lot of my time I am just alone I'm writing books about my stories. I think it's that the solitude with the loneliness it's not actually the solitude it's simply that loneliness because you can be actually be amongst a great crowd and feel the loneliest of all as I was in the capital of Mongolia or here in London.