Q & A

Life of an Explorer
– answering your questions

A number of people ask Benedict's advice. Here are some of his thoughts:

"I think it'll help if I'm straight-talking – because the fact is that it is incredibly difficult to pursue a career as an adventurer -explorer (what most people ask about) and there's no point in saying otherwise. Here's the truth of it: what you need is tenacity, and, I'm afraid, a fair bit of luck – though I think luck will come your way, if you "hang on in there" long enough. Don't be put off – and that includes by me! But be prepared to make great sacrifices – I had little income to speak of, and lived with my parents til I was 27 (see Inside Story). And if you are the sort of person who is discouraged at that thought, then perhaps a life of pushing yourself against the odds isn't quite your thing anyway.

First, I'd urge you to read through the Inside Story and Q & A sections – because when people do kindly think to seek my guidance, I find myself saying that I can only speak from my own experience, which is decidedly NOT typical of most adventurers today. I have a policy of not using commercial sponsors (particularly because this sits uncomfortably with the idea of learning quietly from indigenous people) and furthermore my route into the TV world was a strange one – I had already written five books as an adventurer, and was simply asked to take a camera along with me. This dates from some time ago, when there was simply no-one else on TV really doing adventure.

The good news is that I had no savings or income, no family wealth, and indeed no inheritance to speak of. I found a way of doing what I felt driven to do – more-or-less by earning a little bit of money for my air fare and then just heading off and slowly learning from indigenous people, coming home to live with my parents while I wrote the books. There are other routes – photography, journalistic writing, and indeed TV – but TV opportunities are very rare, you are very unlikely to endure long as a presenter (and nor are you likely to be an authentic discoverer of anything useful while you are one!). In short, it is very hard to do more than just the occasional substantial journey, if you want to have a reasonable living. I'd expect most people to take ten years to establish a reputation as a writer or photographer before they can make ends meet – but it will probably always be an unreliable living and often I suspect a struggle. That said, this was the life I was determined to have, and I was prepared to face these obstacles and do without girlfriends, much of a social life or money. If you are to determined to pave your own way in any field this is probably what is required of you – and anyway you won't be dissuaded by these discouraging words!

So, you must first decide what you really want – and then find your own way to do it – "where there's a will there's a way."

If in the UK, a first port of call might be the Royal Geographical Society in London– visit www.rgs.org. The RGS "Geography Outdoors" centre is there to provide practical advice – but in order to take full advantage of it I'd advise that you have a really good think about your aims before hand – write in (or if possible make an appointment to visit) and have well thought out and specific queries. For those able to get to London, just one of the resources on offer is the "Explore!" weekend, usually in the Autumn of each year – you'll meet like-minded people, hear talks from those who have set out and come back, attend seminars on everything from photography to tropical medicine, and get the chance to mingle with experts in the field and pick their brains.

Finally, remember that you are on truly an "explorer" if you discover something, or reveal some truth – and report back about it. All others are sports men and women and tourists, and (bearing in mind the problems facing our planet) though inspiring are not doing much that is intrinsically useful. The world is not simply a playground.

Good luck out there – if it was easy, everyone would do it!"
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