If your idea of travel is kicking back on a yacht for 10 days, it’s time you started thinking bigger. These days, anything is possible – and the only limit is your imagination. Want to recreate a trip to Mars in the middle of the desert, or spend 10 days touring the untouched slopes of Alaska? There’s a travel company for that.
And while the world gets increasingly smaller thanks to air travel, the internet, and that ever burgeoning industry of armchair tourism (cheers David Attenborough) there is also more to explore than ever. That may not be the case for much longer, though, as you’ll probably have been made aware of thanks to… David Attenborough. Because the planet is under threat. From the dying reefs to the dramatically decreasing shark population, to the 150 acres of rainforest lost every minute, the time to see the wonders of the world is now. Or yesterday.
It’s not like we aren’t travelling – 70.8 million Brits went overseas in 2016 – it’s just we’re all travelling to the same places. Skiing in the Alps. City-breaking in Portugal. Holiday-ing on just three of Indonesia’s 17,800 islands. And as for the rest of the world? Well, there’s only so much you can enjoy through a TV screen.
In the last 10 years a handful of forward-thinking adventure-junkies have become aware of this, and hence a new market for exclusive, wildly expensive, if-you-dream-it-you-can-do-it adventure holidays has been born.
One of these men is Geordie Mackay-Lewis – an alumni of the British army with previous experience at another adventure travel company – who’s broken out on his own along with co-founder Jimmy Carroll. Between them the pair have set up Pelorus to make all your weirdest, wildest travel dreams come true.
To give you a flavour of what you can expect from this new breed of adventure travel companies: one of the duo’s recent ‘Unknown’ experiences involved a deep desert insertion using helicopters in southern Israel, traveling to the Jordanian border and the group navigating their way into Wadi Rum desert – where they found their accommodation: pressurised dome tents, which sort of simulated the experience of being on Mars.
If you’re going to put your lives in someone’s hands, it should probably be these guys. Alongside his army credentials, 36-year old Carroll has also managed the largest ever medical research expedition to Everest, and done time as Manchester United’s global tour manager. Mackay-Lewis’ own CV includes two tours of Afghanistan and both desert and jungle warfare.
The duo seem acutely aware of what a privilege it is to explore truly untouched parts of the world. “We’ve got such little time to enjoy our planet and see everything,” says Mackay-Lewis. “The key thing is that people realise our world hasn’t been explored yet, there’s so much more to do and see.”
That privilege comes with a huge amount of responsibility. Because from a conservation perspective, these incredibly unique experiences can be a conflict of interest. There are areas these companies are taking clients to which are completely unregulated and untouched. “If we’re the ones taking people there and visiting them we have to have respect and also write the rule book,” offers Mackay-Lewis. “These are places which humans don’t just go to.”
“It’s even more important to respect the animals there because they don’t run away – because they don’t know who you are or what you are. So up in the polar regions we do say now – when someone asks ‘Can I go and put a pair of sunglasses on a bearded seal’ – we say no, you just can’t do that.”
Right now, the pair are working on a bespoke brief. “A father and son approached us a month ago, and the father said, I want my 15 year old son to experience some of the best experiences the world has to offer, so I want to create a 10 year bucket list” says Mackay-Lewis.
“In 10 years we can do some extraordinary things,” he continues. “We’re going to give him an adventure plan, where he’s going to go through some mountaineering training, some scuba diving training, make sure he has the tools he’ll need to access certain parts of the world.”
For many, relaxing on a beach is a great way to switch off. But for others, particularly those with high pressure jobs and fast-paced city lives, adventure is the only antidote. And the fun starts as soon as you have your first face to face meeting.
“It’s about being kids again,” says Carroll of the initial stages of putting ideas together. “As an adult, you have that sense of safety and security behind everything, but you also need the mentality of a child to create enjoyment and fun and creativity. And we do not work with the standard suppliers, but with experts around the world. From BBC Natural History to an interesting anthropologist who spent 25 years in Papua New Guinea.”
With these kind of contacts there is little of the world which is out of bounds. But occasionally someone comes along with an idea that they really have to say no to. “I had a client who wanted to spend a night on an iceberg. I said no,” says Mackay-Lewis. “We create alternate realities and sometimes people get quite carried away about what reality is possible.”
He continues: “There are things which are just physically not possible. One person wanted to reenact The Battle of Britain, and hire ten spitfires and some German bombers. And that’s just not going to happen.”
It’s easy to imagine that we’re in a golden age of exploration, thanks largely to technology. But the human desire for adventure is nothing new. “Through technology advancements we’re now able to go to far flung places pretty comfortably,” says Mackay-Lewis. “It means anyone can be an explorer.”