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Simon Parker

Interview with Simon Parker

Simon Parker has sailed and cycled from China to London, scaled the highest peaks in the Andes, stared down charging black rhinos in Namibia and documented the impact of climate change in Svalbard. In this interview, read about his travels and what he has learned from them.

How and when did you start exploring the world?

At the age of 19 I decided to hitchhike from one end of New Zealand to the other, with less than £500 in my pocket, and after a year of sleeping on beaches, living in communes and working on sheep farms I was totally hooked. Since then I’ve gone on to visit over half the countries in the world, and I’m on a mission to see all of them by the time I kick the bucket. I’m totally addicted to travelling to new places and seeing them with my own eyes. I don’t ever expect that to change.


What are 3 habits you would recommend when traveling?

Trust people.

You’ll open up a whole new world of opportunity and adventure. 99.9% of people, from whatever background, are GOOD people, and putting your faith in strangers will nearly always result in positive experiences.


Don’t pack too much!

I take over 100 flights a year and often visit over 40 countries, and I hate carrying more than what I need. I’ve whittled down my luggage to roughly two pairs of everything. These days you can get pretty much anything, pretty much anywhere – and if you do happen to need something new, it’s a great chance to dress like the locals.


If you can’t sleep, don’t stress yourself out trying.

Despite the amount I travel, jetlag doesn’t get any easier and I suffer from terrible insomnia at times. Instead of tossing and turning I go for a run, go for drinks in a bar/pub, or use the opportunity to dream up new ideas while wandering around, often in the dead of night. On a recent trip to Tokyo I even turned my battle with jetlag into a story for From Our Own Correspondent on the BBC, exploring Tsukiji Fish Market.  


How do you stay motivated on a difficult journey?

When it gets really tough, I just look back to how much I disliked working in Central London – so even when I’m being snowed on, burnt by the sun or toiling up to a mountain pass on my bike, I’d always take that over sitting in an office somewhere. It’s never that difficult, really. It’s a privilege – I’m living my dream.


Tell us about a favourite experience from your career?

Crossing the Pacific Ocean was, without doubt, the worst month of my life, personally. I lost about 10 kilos in weight and was violently sick every single day. I suffered from incapacitating seasickness.

On a professional level, however, it was the story that allowed me to move onto bigger and crazier things. And however tough it was at the time, looking back on what the centre of the Pacific looked and sounded like is something that I really cherish. So few people have got to experience that place, and I’m a glutton for experiences that are rare and unique.

Like a lot of the things I’ve done that are particularly tough, the thrill of looking back on them keeps you going back for more.


How much does humour factor into your keynotes and other speaking engagements?

Very early in my career I learnt that self-deprecation is very important, and I think it has become something of a motif that runs through all of my work – in print, radio and, recently, TV. Travelling to lots of amazing places for a living is a fantastic way to live one’s life, but no one likes a show off, and there’s a fine line between bragging and informing.

There are enough adventurers and explorers out there, who profess to be masters of taming the great outdoors, Mother Nature or the wilderness. I am, however, just a pretty normal bloke that has been fortunate to make a career out of going to extreme places, and doing some pretty crazy things. But that doesn’t mean I’m actually any good at it.  

If I’m hopeless at something, then I’m not afraid to say it – and I think that is relatable for an audience. I try to fill my talks with examples of me finding myself totally out of my depth; sailing across the Pacific, paragliding solo through the Andes, getting stuck on the side of a mountain in a blizzard. I’m no Ranulph Fiennes by any stretch of the imagination, but simply a journalist who likes to experience all the incredible things this planet has to offer.


How are your keynote presentations unique?

I think my story is unique in the way I’ve combined mainstream journalism with the very trendy world of adventure travel. Most other speakers out there are either journalists or so-called ‘adventurers’ – but I think I’m somewhere in between.


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