Ernest Shackleton, Robert Falcon Scott, David Livingstone – history is rich with figures such as these. The bold, the brave, the exceptional Brits who pushed human limits and the curled edges of maps to venture where none had gone before. And yet perhaps it should be noted that, for many an explorer, the “where” in question is often of little importance. As Livingstone once famously said, “I will go anywhere, provided it be forward.”
Whether you’re hearing tales, reading diaries or watching documentaries on these famous explorers, you can’t fail to be inspired. Of course, most of us simply take quotes like the aforementioned, post them on nice backgrounds to our Instagram timelines and be done with it.
Here’s another: “20 years from now, you’ll regret more the things you didn’t do than the things you did. So sail away from the safe harbour, cut away the bowlines – explore, dream and discover.” Who said that? Shackleton? Scott? It was in fact Levison Wood, the 36-year-old best-selling author, photographer, writer and 21st century explorer destined to feature in many a history book.
My first love has always been travel and adventure,” he tells us in the video above. “Ever since I was 18 and went off on my first very cliched gap year travelling South East Asia and Australia, I just got the travel bug.”
Of course, if you’re familiar with Wood, you’ll know his idea of a “travel bug” is more than just a couple of weeks of sunning himself in the Balearics. After returning to the UK, he opted to join the parachute regiment, where he spent five years as an Officer in the British Parachute Regiment, serving in Afghanistan, and eventually being promoted to Captain.
You would think, after leaving the army in 2010, he’d maybe put his feet up – content with having served his queen and country. Surely taking on the Taliban is enough action to last one man a lifetime? “We live in a risk-averse society these days,” he counters, “People are scared of everything because of what we see on the news. I think it’s important to go out there and see the world with your own eyes and make you own decisions.”
Outside of the military, Wood is perhaps best known for his jaw-dropping feats and expeditions, all of which have been well-documented in his books and numerous Channel 4 television series. In 2014, he became the first man to walk the 3,750 miles of the River Nile. In 2015, he walked the length of the Himalayas from Afghanistan to Bhutan. In 2017, he trekked 1,800 miles from Mexico to Colombia. He recently returned from his most ambitious challenge yet – a 5,000 mile expedition through the Arabian Peninsula from Iraq to Lebanon.
But that’s only scraping the surface of the explorer’s epic travels – each with their fair share of, what he likes to call, tricky moments. “I’ve been shot at and ambushed by ISIS in Iraq, chased by a hippo in Uganda, snapped at by crocodiles on the River Nile, been right on the front line in Syria, had spears thrown at me in Central Africa.” The list really does go on.
But from speaking with Wood, it’s clear that these adventures are about more than racking up miles, setting records or pulses racing. “What I’ve found is, that in the places we often perceive to be dangerous or off-limits, that’s where you’ll meet some of the most incredible people who offer the most amazing hospitality.”
Not only that, Wood’s travels have seen him capture moments of incredibly humanity – no doubt contributing to him being as notable a photographer as a writer and explorer. In the video above he tells us of one such moment in the Middle East, where he encountered an old man pushing a bicycle through the rubble of a destroyed city. When Wood asked the man where he was going, he replied, “Home”. “It seemed like such a futile task,” says Wood. “But he had this amazing sense of hope. That’s an image that stay with me for a long time.”