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What Escape the City learnt at RGS Explore 2009

I am faced with a tricky challenge.Main Hall

I want to write a summary of the Royal Geographical Society’s Explore 2009 weekend (this past weekend).

How do I do this when I have a thousand different thoughts in my head inspired by the different talks, workshops and people that I have heard from over the past three days?

Where to start?

We heard from George McGavin who told us that the people who are going to change the world were the very people sitting in the room – not our children.

We heard from Michael Palin who said that it is important to take some time out to reflect on life and that travelling is a great way to do this. He also told us that he is very jealous of everyone doing these incredible trips.

BannerWe heard from Roz Savage who left a 11-year long career in management consulting – the first woman to be the first woman to compete in the 3000-mile race across the Atlantic, solo. She told us that we all have an impact on the world. It’s up to us to decide whether we want it to be a positive one or not.

We heard from Al Humphreys who showed us how to use audio slideshows as a useful medium for telling the story of an expedition if you don’t have the technical skills or inclination to make a video.

We heard from Charles Montier who explained how a combination of luck, planning and blag can see you be the first person to descend a river in Guyana (with the backing of the Guianan military).

What is the one thing that ties these people together?

They are all following a dream.

They have all decided to do something extraordinary, something that takes guts, something outside the mainstream.

They all reflect Escape the City’s ethos that there is more to life than working in a job that doesn’t excite, inspire or fulfill you.

Who are you doing it for?

DippersThere were some interesting conversations about the purpose of a trip. Essentially, whether you should do it for yourself, do it for a cause, do it for a scientific goal, etc.

It is undeniably important to have a positive impact.

There are no end of worthwhile causes out there for which an expedition could raise awareness and even cash.

There is also the school of thought that you can just get out there and do it for yourself (without Tweeting about it every other hour).

However, there was a feeling that there should be a meaningful effort behind an expedition. And with the technologies that we have available today that it is not difficult to publicise your trip and raise awareness / funds for a given cause.

Compared to much of the world, we live in relative luxury. We owe it to people who are worse off than ourselves some compassion and support.

It is important to respect the communities and countries through which you are travelling and leave no trace.

How did Escape the City go down?

MapsWe were rather preaching to the choir on this front!

Many of the people we met over the weekend have left jobs that don’t fulfill them in order to pursue their dream adventure.

It wasn’t hard to explain our concept to people and it certainly didn’t require much encouragement to hear some incredibly kind and supportive messages back. Thank you to everyone we met for all the suggestions, advice and potential contacts.

Who else was at Explore 09?

There were some great talks on the use of technology for expeditions and adventurers (the pros and cons). Thanks to Ollie Bray for a particularly insightful introduction to social media, I-phones, and the use of emerging technology to enhance learning and adventure. And Jamie Buchanan-Dunlop for another.

A brilliant pre-lunch talk from Prof. David A. Warrell on the perils and pitfalls of adventuring (complete with gory photographs) and what to do to avoid them. The main answer being: stay away from roads, cars, and other motorised forms of transport (more than 80% of travel deaths result from these areas).

We heard from Tim Moss – from The Next Challenge – about how to raise funds for a trip.

ScreenWe also met Steve Fabes, a doctor who is going to spend the next 5 years cycling the 6 continents of the world (apart from – I hope – Antarctica). We met Nigel Winser, executive director of the brilliant Earth Watch. We met Harold Evans, who graduated from Durham this year and is about to cycle north from Ushuaia in South America (because he wants to). We met Jamie from BSES Expeditions – a good man to know if you want to go on an expedition, or lead an expedition.

We finally met one of our first Esc Heroes – Henry Brydon – in the flesh with his equally nutty cycling partner Jamie King – who together form The Blazing Saddles.  Departing from London and heading to Sydney, April 2010.

Ben Davenport – whose shirt I read on numerous occasions but didn’t get a chance to talk to properly – is driving from Cornwall to Cape Horn… by himself!

It was a pleasure meeting Sarah Outen (Esc Hero No. 10) and her boat – Serendipity aka ‘Dippers’ – in the yard of the RGS. Looking forward to hopefully asking her to talk at an Esc Talk during 2010 (providing she isn’t in a boat in the middle of some ocean or other).

Not forgetting Spike Reid’s ‘5 things I wish I had known before I set off across Central Asia. The fifth of these was:

“I wish I had known the Russian for ‘no camping and no fires’… and the Russian for ‘please don’t shoot me, I’m English”

So what did Escape the City learn?

Vehicle ExpeditionsWe learnt the following:

  • That there are a lot of crazy people out there
  • That whilst lots of us are sitting at home dreaming about an incredible adventure, they are out there making it happen
  • That the RGS has dozens of grants to help fund your trip
  • That every one of us has the power to inspire other people through our actions
  • That we all have a responsibility to the countries through which we travel
  • That driving from Cape Town to Cairo is extremely popular and not nearly as unique as I had hoped
  • That individuals can have a vast impact on the world
  • That FX Expedition’s Borneo Brew was delicious
  • That the RGS is one of the few places that you could stand up and say “I’m Rob and I want to convert a double decker bus so that it runs on renewable energy and drive it round the world” and not get laughed at
  • That there are people who feel the same way as you do about spending your short time on this earth having meaningful experiences – you just have to find them…

Thank you very much to the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) and all the speakers for a great weekend.