Travelling to the earth’s wildest places has obsessed humans for centuries. The difference is that now, we can do it in style and little risk, as Darius Sanai explains
To travel to the ends of the earth. It’s a metaphorical concept these days, but one that has inspired travellers from Livingstone to Scott. Many of us would like to think of ourselves as modern-day explorers, setting foot where no man or woman has gone before, and there are a surprising number of experiences that can take you very close to this goal.
Staying in a mountain village in Papua New Guinea, or trekking across the Antarctic, may not be replete with the kinds of danger Stanley faced in Africa or Scott in the South Pole, but it’s certainly a change from the office grind, yacht or private jet, however privileged your lifestyle. And a new generation of travel companies has emerged to assist clients with just such demands.
It’s about far more than barefoot chic. “One of our clients, who is on the Forbes Billionaires list, comes from a very humble background,” says one travel company insider. “He wanted to show his children that the world is very different from their Chelsea house and Nikki Beach holidays. He asked us to organise a three month tour through South America, including being left on an Amazon tributary for a week with just the supplies on their back. They had no satellite phone, nothing: if they’d gotten ill or lost, they would have died. But they didn’t; and they had the time of their lives.” They also spent time in mountain villages in Peru where very few Westerners had gone before. Some may decry such journeys as “human safaris”, but how better to learn about the world? And if it is done with humility and empathy, there is no reason why all three sides – the traveller, the locals, and the travel company – can’t benefit.
One of the companies at the forefront of this style of travel is the London and New York-based outfit Black Tomato, which has recently launched an even more extreme offshoot, Epic Tomato.
“To me Epic Tomato is about meeting the needs of an experience-hungry person who wants to be challenged and get more than the easily accessible,” says Tom Marchant, the company’s young founder and CEO. “They may have the yacht, the plane and the island but to summit a never-beenclimbed mountain, or trek through jungle that no western traveller has ever set foot in, is something truly unique. “To me it is also a modern definition of luxury. Luxury these days is about providing rare access and extremely personalised services to an individual and dropping off the grid to go somewhere where few others or no one has been before is the embodiment of that.”
They may have the yacht, the plane and the island but to summit a never-been-climbed mountain, or trek through jungle that no western traveller has ever set foot in, is something truly unique
Another player in the adventure travel field is the global travel company Abercrombie & Kent. Says their UK Managing Director Justin Wateridge: “Our clients have the curiosity and confidence to learn more of the astounding diversity of this planet. Travel gives them so much – experience, empathy, perspective, understanding and such vivid memories. They come to us for inspiration. We listen to their brief and deliver an experience that is tailor-made to their needs.”
The great Victorian-era travellers were criticised in some quarters as selfish, for leaving their families and seeking personal gain from their experiences. We can be just as selfish; the difference is, we can do it with our families, and with rather less risk to life and limb. These pages are a celebration of the enduring human passion for adventure travel.