Expedition to Adventure: Oliver France

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It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but one day Oliver decided to go for it. He did the thing that so many of us dream of. He quit his job, packed up and headed out on the adventure of a lifetime. But for Oliver, it wasn’t just a year out on a whim. Completely hooked, adventure became his lifestyle and eventually, his career. A few years later and Oliver runs an expedition company, taking likeminded folk out to remote areas of the globe with him, to experience what the world has to offer. We spoke to Oliver to hear more about his story Expedition to Adventure.

I have always had a certain wanderlust and spent much of my childhood either staring out of the classroom window or climbing trees and building huts in local forests. As I grew older this restlessness to explore led me to want to travel and go on expeditions.

I arrived back in the UK in 2013 after a year of overseas work and travel, and out of a need for some cash, I fell into a job working for a kitchen manufacturer, first in design and then in sales. It was never a job I enjoyed or felt passionate about. I left this company after two years to re-start a life of adventure. It was incredibly intimidating for me. I was leaving behind a well-paid job and company car. For me though, I had reached a point where I simply hated the life I was living. It took three years for me to build a sustainable career in the adventure travel industry. Leaving behind the day job remains the toughest decision I ever made but looking back, it’s also the best.

I headed off to travel the mountainous spine of Asia; climbing mountains in each country I visited, until I reached Istanbul which was my final destination. It was an audacious solo winter journey but one that I felt I needed to do. I told my fiancée, who had miraculously supported my plan, that I would be home in around six weeks. But by the time I reached Uzbekistan, I was over eleven weeks in. And after crossing the border into the country, I found myself detained in a cell. My charge: trafficking drugs. With a problem with heroin trafficking across the borders into Uzbekistan, Uzbeck border guards eye travellers like myself with a heavy dose of suspicion. And after rifling through the files on my laptop, the photographs on my camera, and the fluff in my pockets, the guards found their prize: a dozen small co-codamol tablets. The tablets are a common painkiller in the UK, but an illegal narcotic in Uzbekistan, a fact unbeknown to me, until I was collared.

Thankfully I was able to get out of my predicament in Uzbekistan and continue on my way across Asia, but it does remain one of the scariest experiences I’ve had. For me however, there is a great excitement that comes from the unknown. One thing that I have learnt is that no matter how much you plan; the most unexpected events can still arise at any time. It is almost always such events which create the greatest stories. If I was intimidated by the unknown, I would still be selling kitchens.

What fascinated me about my route across Asia is that it is filled with cultural and geographical diversity, from frozen festivals in the mountains of Tibet to wrestling horsemen in Tajikistan and to bush meat hunters in the jungles of Laos. Every country I visited had its own unique personality. Lots of research and preparation is required if you are planning an expedition to somewhere unfamiliar, but it is a mistake to try to learn everything from scratch. Invariably, there is local knowledge that can be tapped into or other travellers from whom you can seek guidance. If travelling to a potentially high-risk area, it is important to seek a detailed source of current information on your destination and have a robust plan to deal with all of the major risks you may face, from broken ankles and extortion to landmines and avalanches.

This is something I’ve been keen to translate into my own company and to impress upon the individuals I travel with. Another is the need to be physically fit and ready for what might be thrown at you, whilst travelling. I like to maintain a high level of fitness and enjoy doing lots of different things to stay sharp. A typical week would involve four to five circuit training sessions, a couple of long runs and some speed-work, plus some rock climbing or a mountain walk. Keeping fit while travelling requires lots of improvisation. If I can grab some free time, it’s also a great way to get some important time to myself when I’m working with a group overseas. For me as an expedition leader, being physically robust and energised is totally crucial. When things get tough or in an emergency situation, a reserve of physical stamina is invaluable. A strong head game is of equal importance. Having a calmness in adversity and an ability to make big decisions in stressful situations are all skills imperative for any budding adventurer.

The world is so big and there is so much room for adventure, but much of what we hear about certain countries is negative. In Iraq, for example, you are far more likely to encounter a beaming market trader, a group of friendly schoolchildren or a tremendous wedding, than any hostility. Unfortunately, such normality doesn’t often make the headlines. I think one of the most important things to be aware of while you’re travelling, is cultural differences. Just knowing how to greet somebody or whether to take your shoes off at the door will go a long way. The best thing you can do though is just treat everyone you encounter as human. You do not need to share a single common word to build a strong human connection. There is a real beauty in that. And it’ll make you a great adventurer.

To read more about Oliver’s story, click here.