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Travel: It’s like the Hierachy of Drugs

An Interview with Austin Vince - #GrandAdventures

Austin Vince is one of life’s superstars. He has motorbiked round the world twice. He runs the wonderful Adventure Travel Film Festival. He is married to the adventurer Lois Pryce. His website is “strictly adults only. No clergy. No children.” And he always wears overalls. I want to be more like Austin!

30 years ago you travelled overland to India. How do you think that journey would be different today?

Crikey, hard to say. The two obvious things that jump out are the facts that:

a) I would now be able to research the trip in advance. Back in April 1984, I don’t think there were any guide books. If there were, I don’t think I had any idea such things existed so I didn’t attempt to find them. i.e. I didn’t even research the research! My sister Isabelle had solo hitched/back-packed from London – Tehran – Kabul – Delhi in 1977 and I was simply attempting to recreate her route.

I bought a bus ticket in a travel agent in Camden Town which had a hand-written sign in its window saying “Athens – £29 – one way”. My sister said that once I got to Istanbul I would find other routes east if I went to a cafe called: ‘The Pudding Shop’ and asked around.

That single fact was the only thing I knew when the bus pulled out of the waste-ground that today, houses the British Library.

b) Politically, the landscape has changed substantially. The bus route to Athens transited a still-communist Yugoslavia. I was too naive to realise how special that was and simply couldn’t wait to press on to the mysteries of Asia. I wish I had seen more of it before civil war and ethnic cleansing took hold. Istanbul was still unfeasibly exotic and truly felt like the gateway to the Orient, especially to a pimply 18 year-old from Wealdstone.

Actually, 1984 Austin could not have even constructed the phrase ‘Gateway to the Orient’!

Iran was in the cauldron of their war with Iraq, yet I had still been able to secure a visa from their embassy in London. Whereas Afghanistan was overwhelmed by the Soviet invasion which meant I had to by-pass it to the south with a bus through the Baluchistan desert that entered Pakistan near Quetta. Pakistan seemed incredibly civilised and I became very enamoured with this single faith that seemed to bind this whole region together.

I sit back and lament the way that Islam is now so feared yet when I bumbled through muslim country after muslim country I felt far safer than I had back in Camden Town!

As I reminisce, I realise that being British and Western was clearly seen by my hosts that I came from a society that could be trusted. On my recent trips in this part of the world this sensation has decayed and I now have to apologise for what governments have done in my name.

Convince an avowed non-petrolhead [me] of the joys of travelling by motorbike…

Interesting turn of phrase because I would consider myself neither a petrolhead nor a ‘biker’. I am not interested one iota in motorcycles and can barely read the motorcycle journalism that we have today.

However, motorcycling is tremendous fun.

That’s definitely a fact rather than my opinion because, like it or not, most people ride motorbikes for sheer pleasure.

The curvy A-roads from Oregon to Oxfordshire are testament to that. What are they are they all getting out of it? Motion, exposed to air, controlled by your skill and judgement. I’mm serious. This dry definition (which I have only just coined!) is what lumps skiing, sky-diving, skateboarding etc together.

Add to that the chance to actually travel and go somewhere then it’s pure dynamite. Take your bike on unpaved deteriorating trails and the thrills and skills are quintupled.

It’s like the hierachy of drugs; start on simple cigarettes, move to dope , then ecstasy and acid, onwards to crystal meth with a detour into cocaine and matriculate with heroin.

The progression is the same; start (as a kid) on a tricycle, move up to a mountain bike, get a small 125, then a street-bike, experiment with speed (motion, not the narcotic), discover dirt-bikes, then trail-riding, then long distance trail-riding combined with camping and campfire cooking, then trans-continental or ‘adventure’ motorcycling through totally alien cultures and you’ve got something that is as close to perfect as you’ll ever get!

But legal.

Do you notice many differences when chatting to Lois about her adventures? (I’mm thinking of the differences between travelling as a woman / man)

Yup, it’s easier for men, far easier in a million ways. The women who do what Lois, Tiffany Coates etc do, are cool adventurers. All I’mve ever done is go on holiday with my mates. The women are the real deal. The rest of us are just playing…

What do you think about modern journeys that are busy Tweeting and YouTubing all the time. What are the pros and cons compared to the good old days of Mondo Enduro?

Personally, I think tweets, blogs etc are a nice touch for friends or family. However, if you are doing something that you think is special then you need to make a proper film about it or write a proper book.

The latter will live on long after the trip is over and hopefully, will be a respected addition to what is fast becoming a huge canon of work.

As we know, making a decent film about your exploits is a huge ask but the results are well worth it if you are prepared to make the sustained effort.

I do NOT believe that blogging etc gets in the way of the trip. On pre-internet Mondo Enduro we used to schedule post card-writing DAYS. Not to sponsors etc (there weren’t any) simply to friends, family and people who had hosted us over the previous weeks. It takes time to say ‘thank you’.

If I gave you £1000 for an adventure, what would you do?

Something in the Congo or some kind of pacifist motivated project in Somalia. I’mve got increasingly political in my old age. I don’t want ‘experiences’ or ‘adventures’. I want to stop people hating each other.

Dip into the Austin Vince solar system here.

My new book, Grand Adventures, is out now.
It’s designed to help you dream big, plan quick, then go explore.
The book contains interviews and expertise from around 100 adventurers, plus masses of great photos to get you excited.

I would be extremely grateful if you bought a copy here today!

I would also be really thankful if you could share this link on social media with all your friends – It honestly would help me far more than you realise.

Thank you so much!

Grand Adventures Cover


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