How I travel… with explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes

Destinations

The best travel advice comes from the people who have done it all before. In this series, we ask well-traveled experts for their tips and advice. 

Sir Ranulph Fiennes, age 78, might be the world’s greatest living explorer. He holds the world record as the first person to reach both the North and South Poles by land, plus as the first person to cross both the Arctic and Antarctic Seas unsupported. At the age of 65, he climbed Mt Everest. He counts King Charles as a friend, who has said of him, “I’m somebody who greatly admires the kind of intrepid explorer activity undertaken by Ran.”

I live in Exmoor in the Southwest of England and traveled to Oxford yesterday to deliver a lecture to 900 people on competitive expeditions. I’m always moving around, and I love giving lectures. I am on tour into next year with my own show, Living Dangerously – I have 90 towns to visit! One day it might be on the south coast, the next day up in Scotland; sadly, it is not organized geographically. When it’s not too far, I prefer to come home afterward. The last time I was overseas was to Málaga in Spain, to deliver a lecture to top performers in a company, who had been flown out for a team-building motivational retreat.  

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I have never taken a traditional holiday to a beach or a city. For my last big trip, I traveled 2500km down the Nile with my cousin the actor Joseph Fiennes for a National Geographic series pre–COVID-19. It marked the 50th anniversary of my 1968 expedition on a hovercraft down the same river. I plan in summer of 2023 to return to British Columbia in Canada to retrace an expedition I did in 1971 by rubber boat from the remote forests of the Yukon to the USA border.

My longest trip started in 1979 and ended in 1982 – and took seven years to plan. I circumnavigated the world without flying. There was no GPS, no satnav. My wife plotted the entire trip on a globe using a crayon and we communicated via Morse code.

Filming with cousin Joseph Fiennes in Egypt © National Geographic

When traveling I listen to the radio in the car or the music of Enya. I read The Economist and The Week for a good summary of what’s happening.

I have lost fingers due to frostbite on expeditions. So I would tell anyone going into extreme weather to always take six-hour hand warmers. On expeditions I always carry a tube of Anthisan Cream in case of any bites, as it deals with the sting and itch straight away. 

My earliest vacation memory is Kruger National Park with the family. I first traveled to South Africa when I was one year old, as my grandmother was South African. One of her sons was killed in WWI and my dad was killed in WWII four months before I was born. I was raised there until I was 12 years old, until I went to boarding school. I haven’t been back for about 20 years now.  

Sir Ranulph Fiennes Expedition To The North Pole
Sir Ranulph Fiennes expedition to the North Pole in February 2020  © Alvaro Canovas / Getty

The Isle of Man is somewhere I consider an underrated destination.  It is close to the UK but not part of it. It is a wonderful place with history, and remains individual like Guernsey and Jersey.

If I could be anywhere right now, it would be somewhere hot and without rain. I have never been to China or India so either of those would be great to visit.  

Climb Your Mountain: Everyday Lessons from an Extraordinary Life by Sir Ranulph Fiennes is out now.

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