How to be a Classic Explorer

Amidst some of the most evocative scenery in the world, our greatest destinations work best for us when we switch modes — approaching them less as a fully-wired city dweller. With an eye on both the present and the past, and the help of some of the most illustrious travellers, Luke Clark looks at ways to reclaim your inner explorer again.

Legendary Antarctic adventurer Ernest Shackleton was once asked how he first hit upon the notion of risking life and limb, in order to explore the Earth's most extreme corners. "Strangely enough, the circumstance which actually determined me to become an explorer was a dream I had when I was twenty-two," he told a journalist. He was sailing into the wind, on a voyage from New York to Gibraltar. "And I dreamt I was standing on the bridge in mid-Atlantic and looking northward. It was a simple dream," he recalled. "I seemed to vow to myself that some day I would go to the region of ice and snow, and go on and on till I came to one of the poles of the earth, the end of the axis upon which this great round ball turns."

Of course, it was somewhat overblown. Shackleton could simply have said, ‘I want to travel as far south as I can, then come back again.' And in doing so, he would have been a member of those who believe that the very the act of travelling, the collection of passport stamps, is in itself an ambition. Instead, our hero was someone who breathed in deeply the magic air of exploration. By spinning those miles into his own mythology, the mere name Shackleton to this day holds within its vowels and consonants a rich and intoxicating notion: that through travel, we can define and redefine our world.

Of course, becoming a classic explorer need not mean traversing the icy waters of the Southern Ocean. Yet like all the very best things in life, what Shackleton's motivations conveyed so richly, was that the seeds for real adventure are always sown first during our own moments of dreamtime. In some ways, it can feel that our times are against us. In these days of maximum inter-connectedness and heightened convenience, travel has become almost painfully easy. It is now possible to cross numerous time zones while maintaining a near-obsessive control of your every variable along the way. You can purchase your plane ticket, then fly halfway across the planet — just to eat the same thick-crusted pizza, drink the same brand of coffee, and watch identical TV shows as you did back home. For everyone else, a little advance preparation is required. Just as you would make a plan in order to climb a mountain or run a marathon, so a pre-trip refresher can put you in the mode to go from everyday tourist, to classic explorer. Though fear not — it need not mean dawn raids on the gym or advanced courses of probiotic thick-shakes. At first, all you'll need to prepare for exploration mode is to sit back and savour a timeless sentence: once upon a time.


Ultimately, classic exploration is as much about the attitude you take with you, as what you end up doing. Steering a course for icebergs, as Shackleton did, is clearly going too far. But maybe, as Pico Iyer, argues, the act of travelling is about giving yourself enough of a jolt — a moment apart from daily life — so that you return renewed. As he suggests, maybe travel is simply about what we find after having been lost once again. "And that is why many of us travel not in search of answers, but of better questions."


Time to dig deeper and explore the exotic brew of South East Asian culture: