Travel in Adverse Environments

British adventurer and expedition leader, Oliver France, talks taking groups to remote and hostile places, as part of the Discover Interesting campaign.

Oliver France is not your average travel guide. Specialising in leading groups through some of the world’s most notorious locations, he can count Ugandan jungles, Berber villages, bombed Lebanese suburbs and arrests by Uzbek authorities amongst his past experiences. Amongst many, many others.

But what makes such an adventurer keep going back for more? Why continue to dedicate oneself to such extreme pursuits?

For Oliver, who had always had a certain wanderlust and spent much of his childhood either staring out of the classroom window or losing himself in the great outdoors, the need to explore grew to a boiling point over his early adult years. Having stumbled into a job as a kitchen salesman, he spent the better part of three years suppressing his natural urges for travel.

By the time 2016 rolled around, he had finally decided to leave his old life behind. Not only was he going to dedicate his life to travel and adventure moving forwards, as he has always dreamed, but he was going to start with a bang.

His expedition of choice? Journeying from Hong Kong to Istanbul, by any means necessary, along the 8000-mile mountainous spine of Asia – crossing eleven countries and climbing fourteen mountains in mid-winter. This experience led him to continue his search for adventure by leading expedition groups through some of the most hostile and dangerous places on the planet.

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Oliver notes that these locations, considered notorious by many, are actually often misunderstood in many ways. From his experiences, in Iraq for example, you would be far more likely to encounter a beaming market trader, or a group of friendly schoolchildren, or a wedding celebration, than any hostility. Unfortunately, such normality doesn’t often make the headlines.

For him, this is where the excitement truly lies. There is a rush that comes from the unknown. No matter how much is planned in advance; the most unexpected events can still arise at any time during his expeditions. However, where most people would find this to be a deterrent, he notes that it is almost always such events which create the greatest stories.

In his own words:

“If I was intimidated by the unknown, I would still be selling kitchens.”

What has followed since that fateful 2016 trip across Asia has been a career full of exotic locations and unexpected moments. In Tajikistan, one of his favourite countries, Oliver tells tales of untouched mountains, warm and hospitable people and fascinating cultural traditions. The opportunities for adventure in such a place are almost endless.

However, it hasn’t been without its bumps in the road either. He has been arrested and tailed by authorities in Uzbekistan after crossing the border with some over the counter Co-codamol tablets in his bag, which – unbeknownst to him at the time – are illegal there. Getting caught in a 6.9 magnitude earthquake which struck on the Indonesian island of Lombok, where he was travelling in August 2018, is another such experience where he noted the full force of mother nature.

But true to his resilient determination to continue to explore at all costs, nothing has slowed him down. The last decade has been all about exploring Africa and Asia. But he has his eyes set on travelling through South America next. The Amazon rainforest and the mountains of Patagonia are both within his sites.