Where can travellers find – and, more importantly, how can they cultivate – a true spirit of adventure? Who better to answer these questions than those who have spent a lifetime pursuing it.

We asked the stellar line-up of speakers appearing at the Cheltenham Literature Festival in the UK to reflect on their favourite destinations, most extraordinary experiences and top tips for leading adventurous lives.

And for even more ways to get the adrenaline cascading through your veins, check out Lonely Planet’s Atlas of Adventure, the ultimate encyclopedia for thrill-seekers.

Phoebe Smith looking down on the clouds from the slopes of Ben Nevis, Scotland © Phoebe Smith
Phoebe Smith looking down on the clouds from the slopes of Ben Nevis, Scotland, the highest mountain in the British Isles © Phoebe Smith

Phoebe Smith – wild camper extraordinaire

Award-winning editor and travel writer Phoebe Smith is author of eight books on the wilderness and wild camping, including Extreme Sleeps: Adventures of a Wild Camper, Wilderness Weekends: Wild Adventures in Britain's Rugged Corners and her latest book, Britain's Best Small Hills.

Favourite destination for adventure

It has to be the UK. Why? Because adventure doesn't mean travelling hundreds and thousands of miles. You can find it on your own doorstep – and the UK is mine. From searching out the old Scottish mountain huts (known as bothies) in the highlands, to climbing our own collection of 'mini Matterhorns', teetering on the edges of sea cliffs and wild camping in the woods – we really are spoilt for the diverse range of scenery and adventures right here.

Most adventurous travel experience

Probably my most recent mini-expedition. I went to Greenland to walk the Arctic Circle Trail by myself, unsupported from Kangerlussuaq to Sisimiut. It's a true wilderness and in the eight days it took me to do it I saw far more reindeer than people, got to glimpse a smear of the Northern Lights, battled storms and river crossings and found the perfect beach to camp on and stand, hundreds of miles from any houses or roads, in awe of the complete silence.

Tip for leading an adventurous life

Adventures can be as big or as small as you want them to be. I have a busy full-time job and yet I still fit them in to evenings and weekends. The key is to always be prepared. I keep what I call my 'go-bag' packed and ready for an overnight camp at all times. That means when I get the weather window I want or just need to escape the city, I have no excuses, I simply pick up my bag and get out there. I urge you all to pack yours too.

Mountaineer Chris Bonington on the face of a cliff © Chris Bonington
Chris Bonington on one of the countless perilous climbs that have defined his extraordinary career © Chris Bonington

Chris Bonington – legendary mountaineer

Chris Bonington – mountaineer, writer, photographer and lecturer – started climbing at the age of 16 in 1951. It has been his passion ever since. He made the first British ascent of the North Wall of the Eiger, led the first ascent of the South Face of Annapurna and lead the successful first ascent of the Southwest Face of Everest in 1975. He has written many books on his adventures including Ascent: A Life Spent Climbing on the Edge.

Favourite destination for adventure

My favourite place for adventure is Nepal because it’s so beautiful and there really is something for everyone – from gentle tourists to the most adventurous mountaineers. The people too are lovely – the Sherpas, the Nepalese – it’s a great part of the world.

Most adventurous travel experience

My most adventurous experience was in 1996 but began in 1982 when, whilst flying from Chengdu to climb Everest, we flew over an immense mountain range – the Nyainqentanglha Mountains. The range stretched to the far horizon but one peak stood higher than any other and I was determined to find it. After a failed attempt in 1989 when the Tiananmen Square protest prevented our entering Tibet, we set off again in 1996 with nothing more than a single photo of this mysterious unknown mountain and a Tibetan guide who had never heard of it. It was while staying in a guesthouse in a magical little town that a woman recognised the photograph and directed us on the final four-day trek across undrivable terrain to the mountain, Sepu Kangri, above a sacred lake. It was the sense of discovery that made it such an adventure.

Tip for leading an adventurous life

Be clear about what you can achieve – for a truly adventurous life, freelance around your travels. If you do have a full-time job, be sure to plan and research carefully to achieve the most in the time you have.

Charley Boorman riding a motorcycle in Vietnam © Charley Boorman
Charley Boorman riding his trusty steed through Vietnam, one of dozens of countries he has explored by motorbike © Charley Boorman

Charley Boorman – motorcycle-mad adventurer

Charley is best known for his TV motorcycling adventures with Ewan McGregor, Long Way Round, from London to New York via Europe and Asia, and Long Way Down, from Scotland to Cape Town. Other shows following his epic two-wheeled journeys include By Any Means, Right to the Edge and Extreme Frontiers.

Favourite destination for adventure

One of the most incredible places Ewan and I went to for our adventure Long Way Round was Mongolia. It’s still very rural and underdeveloped, so there wasn’t much tarmac, which made the riding more of a challenge.

Most adventurous travel experience

The Dakar Rally is probably one of the most dangerous off-road races in the world. I went in 2006 when it was still in Africa, a 16-day race across the Sahara Desert. It has since been held in South America for security reasons and for the first time ever a British guy called Sam Sunderland has just won it.

Tip for leading an adventurous life

One of the biggest tips I was told about travelling was to have patience as things don’t always go your way when you’re on the road. I learnt that you’ve got to be willing to adapt and not be too rigid as life can turn on a sixpence.

Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent enjoying the hospitality of the locals in Arunachal Pradesh, Northeast India © Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent
Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent enjoying the hospitality of the locals in Arunachal Pradesh, Northeast India © Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent

Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent – travel writer

Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent is a travel writer. Her latest book, Land of the Dawn-Lit Mountains: A Journey Across Arunachal Pradesh – India's Forgotten Frontier, tells of her three-month journey across this wild, mountainous state.

Favourite destination for adventure

My favourite destination for adventure has to be the wild, mountainous and little-explored state of Arunachal Pradesh in Northeast India. Few other places are blessed with the same intoxicating mix of proper mountains, dense forests, exotic flora and fauna and array of tribal cultures.

Most adventurous travel experience

In March last year, I trekked through an extremely remote valley on the Indo-Tibetan border in search of a mystical Buddhist land called Pemako. For two weeks, myself and my guide – a whimsical Khampa llama called Dorje – walked through deep forests and wild valleys, spending each night with Tibetan families in tiny villages. I felt like I’d been teleported to the 19th century.

Tip for leading an adventurous life

To stop making excuses and just GO! It’s so easy to find reasons not to travel and have adventures but ultimately, if you genuinely want to get out there and explore the world, there’s nothing to stop you making it happen.

Sarah Outen kayaking in the Aleutian Islands © Sarah Outen
Sarah Outen battles the elements while kayaking the ultra-remote Aleutian Islands, which divide the Bering Sea from the Pacific Ocean © Sarah Outen

Sarah Outen – waterborne daredevil

Adventurer by land and sea, Sarah's journeys have taken her all over the world on long and remote expeditions, including London2London: Via the World – a journey that saw her row, cycle and kayak from London all the way around the northern hemisphere and back to London. Her latest book Dare to Do was shortlisted for the Edward Stanford Travel Book of the Year.

Favourite destination for adventure

​I love the ocean so either somewhere on the coast or way out to sea. Alaska is my top choice for its wilderness, massiveness and beauty – it's raw.​

Most adventurous travel experience

​Kayaking through the Aleutian Islands and Alaskan peninsula in 2014, I was taking a wash in a stream one day when I looked up and saw a brown bear walking towards me. Instead of staying calm, I screamed and ran out of the stream, tripping as I did so. The bear took this as cue for a game and chased me – thankfully, he was young and only curious and we managed to scare him off with lots of shouting and rocks. ​

Tip for leading an adventurous life

​Get outside as much as you can, open your eyes and ears to everything that is around you,​ and spend as much time travelling in a human-powered way as possible. You see things from a totally different perspective this way.

Alastair Sawday on a bike © Alastair Sawday
Alastair Sawday has explored the world in a never-ending quest for authentic travel experiences © Alastair Sawday

Alastair Sawday – travel industry maverick

Alastair was born in a shack 9000ft up in the mountains of Kashmir in India, so perhaps he was always destined to become a travel industry maverick and entrepreneur, the brains behind Sawday’s, an award-winning travel company that seeks out exceptional places to stay.

Favourite destination for adventure

The Parque Natural de Grazalema – wild Spain, ever-changing and hauntingly beautiful.  There are walks for every agility level, from the Salto del Cabro, where goats have to leap, to the high open grassland fringed with memories of old houses. Even the few white-washed villages are exquisite.

Most adventurous travel experience

That would be travelling from Guyana to Venezuela by a canoe with an outboard engine and an over-heavy cargo – that was a novel way of getting from one country to another. Venezuela had, as a matter of routine, declared war on Guyana and slung chains across the rivers, under which we would duck. But the wide, easy, estuary of the Orinoco, which we had to cross, became a perilous mountain range of salt-water as the wind gathered pace and threatened us with catastrophe. The frantic prayers of the boat’s owner and wife were, happily, less effective than the bailing the rest of us took to – with no more than shoes and cupped hands, for we had thrown the bailer overboard in an earlier incident.

Tip for leading an adventurous life

Say ‘yes’ to the invitation to an adventure, and pretend you are younger than you are.

You can hear more stories from all these adventurers at the festival, which runs from 6-15 October. Find out more at cheltenhamfestivals.com and follow @CheltLitFest.

Explore related stories

adults, diving mask, holiday, marine animal, mature man, ocean, one adult only, only adults, split level, water's surface, wildlife

Water Sports

Dive in: 10 of the best snorkeling spots in the world

Mar 4, 2024 • 8 min read