Levison Wood has walked the length of the Nile, crossed the Americas on foot and is currently undertaking a circumnavigation of the Arabian Peninsula. But his latest book, Eastern Horizons: Hitchhiking the Silk Road, tells the story of his first big adventure: aged 22, he decided to hitchhike from Nottingham to India with a budget of just £750. We caught up with the intrepid explorer to discover his top travel tips and find out more about his favourite destinations.
How did being in the army prepare you for your travels?
I was a paratrooper for five years and it taught me so many practical skills, but also about leadership. It also taught me to believe in myself, and to push my boundaries.
Your new book documents your attempt to travel from Nottingham to India. Can you imagine doing that journey today?
The world is a very different place now. I don’t know if it would be possible – if I’d be able to get visas for a lot of the places, such as Afghanistan. But I retraced part of the journey for a documentary about the Caucuses. Certain places, such as Georgia, had changed enormously; there was so much development taking place.
What’s been the highlight of your current adventure – a circumnavigation of the Arabian Peninsula?
Crossing the Rub al Khali, otherwise known as the Empty Quarter, in Oman was amazing. The mountains of Dhofar were also spectacular. I also love the contrast of this part of the world – being out in the desert then being in places like Dubai.
What have been your hairiest moments?
I was travelling across Afghanistan on a bus when the brakes failed and we almost plummeted off the edge of a cliff. I don’t think I even had travel insurance back then but I certainly do now. When I was walking the Nile I was snapped at by crocodiles and charged by hippos and elephants. And when I walked across the Americas I was bitten by a snake. I’ve experienced the whole spectrum of animal attacks! I also got arrested around eight or nine times in the space of 24 hours in southern Russia. I kept getting stopped at road blocks and interrogated. After a while it just became tiresome.
What are your top tips for someone planning a big adventure?
The hardest bit is getting to the starting point – raising the money and committing to it. But I’d say just go for it. Don’t make excuses not to do it. Personally, I try not to do much preparation. I like the surprise and the sense of adventure.
How long do you think you’ll be travelling for?
I’ll always travel. The past five years have been pretty full on, and I’d like to take some time to relax next year. There have only been a few moments when I’ve considered packing it all in. One occurred during my Nile walk. I was stuck in a hotel in Egypt for several weeks. I was basically under hotel arrest due to visa issues, and the cabin fever really kicked in.
Do you have a favourite country?
From the Americas trip, it would be Nicaragua. The landscape is stunning – so many volcanoes and lakes. And the people are lovely. From my Eastern Horizons trip, Afghanistan. The people are wonderful and it’s such a beautiful place. It was the country which surprised me the most. I was 22 and it was my first time there.
What’s the most significant way in which travel has changed over the years?
Technology. When I started backpacking you had to rely on a Lonely Planet guide. If you wanted to check your email you had to find a café. Now everyone has phones – they use Google maps and Trip Advisor. Everyone’s constantly connected. People used to talk to each other in hostels but now everybody’s just looking at screens. It’s a bit of a shame.
Where do you go to relax?
This year I had a couple of long weekends away. I went to Ibiza with some mates. And I love a good city break, especially in Paris or Rome. I love Paris for the café culture. I’ll just sit in a café and have a coffee or some wine and watch the world go by.
Do you have a favourite hotel?
The Lords of the Manor hotel in the Gloucestershire village of Upper Slaughter. It’s just a picture perfect hotel in a typical Cotswolds setting.
What do you always take with you?
Photography is one of my passions, so I always take my camera. And a notebook.
What do you miss when travelling?
Cups of tea. And toast.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve eaten?
Maggot stew and bush rat. I ate the bush rat in Uganda. It was rubbery and pretty unpleasant.
Do you have any travel-related rituals?
Not really, although I always carry my little Union Jack flag.
Is there a country you’re desperate to get to but haven’t visited yet?
Portugal. Simply because I think it’s the only European country I haven’t been to, so I feel like I should go there.