A fellow of the UK’s Royal Geographic Society and a 2019 recipient of the Explorer Award from the Scientific Exploration Society, Reza Pakravan has made a living from travelling to some of the globe’s most remote corners.
Those adventures, documented in numerous TV series, books and films, include a journey across the Amazon rainforest, and a Guinness World Record breaking journey across the Sahara Desert.
In 2019, the 45-year old’s latest expedition saw him become the first person in modern history to travel the entire length of Africa, west to east from Senegal to Somalia, via the Sahel region. As well as presenting and producing a television series that has aired on Fox, the BBC and Channel 4, the former financial analyst looks to use his adventures as an opportunity to shine a spotlight on global issues such as human trafficking, poaching and climate change and how they are impacting indigenous societies.
Viewers can catch another of Reza’s amazing expeditions, an epic bicycle journey from the Arctic Circle to Cape Town in South Africa in a new series set to launch on Amazon Prime shortly. The films captures his incredible adventures, from fighting thieves in Egypt to battling malaria from a hospital bed in Nairobi as he bids to complete the 11000 mile distance in a world record time.
Currently on lockdown in his hometown of London, Pakravan took time out to share some of his most memorable travel moments, top tips for surviving jet lag and where he can’t wait to travel next.
Where is home to you and why? What do you love about this place?
London is my home. I’ve spent most of my life in this city and have had the most amazing experiences here. London offers me the world. If you work in the TV industry and are in love with travel, London is the place to be as it offers the best opportunities. It’s an inspiring city full of driven people. It has the most amazing bookshops, shows, theatres, restaurants and museums. There is so much going on. Not only is the city full of opportunities, it is also an easy place to access the world from. You can fly anywhere from London. I have lived in San Francisco, Berlin and Rome, but I always missed London. What London offers is incomparable to anywhere else.
If you could live anywhere else in the world where would it be and why?
I would love to live in Los Angeles because it’s good for people who work in TV, as well as offering great outdoor pursuits such as skiing and surfing. However, the downside is that it’s so far away from everything else.
What first started you travelling?
I started travelling seriously when I graduated from university. I saved up some money by doing student jobs, bought a trans-Europe rail ticket and travelled extensively. I also managed to find work while travelling. I really enjoyed it. Then, when I got a job, I had a bit of cash coming in and I spent all of my disposable income on travelling. Those were the early days of budget airlines; tickets were so cheap. Twice a month, I travelled to various parts of Europe during the weekends to spend time with friends in different destinations. Then I started travelling to remote corners of the world with my bicycle, eventually making a career out of adventure travel.
Where do you like to regularly revisit?
I am really struggling to answer that. There are so many places I want to regularly visit: New York as a city destination; Roatán Island in Honduras as a beach destination; Cornwall for a weekend getaway; and Tehran because of my roots (and the skiing).
Where’s the most remote destination you’ve visited?
The Yuruá River, also known as the “Headwaters of the Amazon”. I travelled six days by a small boat upstream to get there, knowing all along the way that, whatever happened, I had to be self-reliant as the nearest civilisation was a week away.
Where haven’t you been that you would love to go and why?
New Zealand. I am not sure why I’ve so far missed out on New Zealand. It offers some of the most stunning wilderness. I’d love to go there.
What place have you visited that surprised you most?
The city of Agadez in Niger. I cannot describe how much I love that town. It’s a gateway to the desert and home to the Tuareg people. A lovely, charming city of legend, with great food, fantastic people and awesome music. I was shocked by the prevalence of that last point – the music – in particular. There are so many music bars, where hot licks are played on electric guitar by Tuareg bands, and tasty local gin is served alongside delicious food. What more do you need?
What has been your most life–changing moment travelling and why?
I was filming on one of the tributaries of the Amazon river. I came across a family who had just come out of isolation and entered our world. Until a few months before, they had been living in the jungle, hunting and fishing to survive. All of a sudden, they had entered our material world and they were in a state of shock. I couldn’t believe that, in the 21st century, there are still people living in isolation with no contact with the outside world whatsoever.
What has been your scariest moment while travelling?
Being held at gunpoint by a human smuggler. I was filming in Niger in the middle of the desert. We were filming a convoy of migrants. The smugglers got angry and came at us with an AK–47 and asked us to leave. That was scary.
Describe the best view you’ve ever witnessed?
Abuna Yemata Guh, a rock-hewn church in Ethiopia. It’s nestled in the Geralta Mountains in northern Ethiopia. To get there, you have to take your shoes off and climb a rock using the footholds and grips that your guide suggests to you. It was scary, but once I got to the top the scenery was absolutely out of this world.
What are some of your top tips to survive jet lag?
When you land in the new destination, go for a run and drink loads of water. Going for a run has many benefits. It increases your metabolic rate, makes you drink water, activates your muscles after a long flight, and you can see the new place while being active. Once you’ve finished, take a cold shower and I guarantee you will feel better about life. Also, I always carry a couple of pouches of Sun Chlorella Algae. It rejuvenates my system.
How do you think travel has changed you?
Life on the road teaches you a lot. The more you travel, the more you look for similarities instead of differences. I’ve learned that most people around the world are good people and they will go out of their way to help you when you are in trouble. They all want to make honest money to feed their families. I’ve learned to celebrate our cultural differences. I don’t want to see an English menu everywhere; I don’t want the world to look the same. Being on the road for a long time gives you space, thinking time and perspective. It makes you realise how small you are.
What are your three travel essentials?
A quality pair of earbuds, a Kindle, and my trusted multi–functional LeStoff scarf.
What’s your top tip for a long-haul flight?
Enjoy the experience. Make yourself comfortable, catch up on all the films, drink a lot of water and sleep when you can. I love long–haul flights. It gives me some space and thinking time away from my phone and computer (I lock them away).
Where do you dream of travelling next?
Due to the COVID-19 crisis, we have had to cancel our family holiday to Dubai. I can’t wait to take my little boy on a beach holiday. Perhaps, when we can, we’ll go to Puglia in Italy.
How do you think travel will change in the future?
This pandemic has forced us to think creatively. We can’t stop people from travelling. That is not going to happen. We have enjoyed affordable travel for a long time. I don’t think that will vanish all of a sudden because of COVID-19. We will win this war over the virus and things will go back to normal. However, in the long term, I believe people will prefer to have more sustainable experiences while travelling.
To find out more about his adventures visit Reza’s website.