Within a lifetime underscored by extreme adventure, Bear Grylls is known for his exploits guiding famous names – among them Julia Roberts, Will Ferrell and President Obama – on the TV show Running Wild, along with his role as Chief Scout. Here he reveals his travel inspiration, guilty pleasure and the answer to the crucial question: would you rather eat a sheep’s eyeball or its testicle?
This article appeared in the April 2019 issue of Lonely Planet magazine’s UK edition, which was guest edited by Bear in celebration of its 10th anniversary.
Bear Grylls on the set of Discovery Bear Grylls: Breaking Point – Mexico © BGV and friends
In terms of travel, what is your guilty pleasure?
Long baths with huge mugs of tea!
What does an average family holiday with the Grylls look like? How has having children changed the way you travel?
My perfect holiday is always to our small island hideaway in North Wales. This really is where I feel most at home. We have no mains electricity or water and run everything totally off-grid, and we love it. Our three boys, Shara and I are happier there than anywhere else on Earth. It’s adventure and solitude mixed with fun and family. We dive, train, paraglide and climb. It’s a very special place. Having children with us when we travel just makes the adventure more fun. And when things go wrong it takes the frustration away, because we’re all in it together. I like that feeling.
Wales's Snowdonia National Park – a one-of-a-kind place © Alan Novelli / Getty Images
Where in the UK would you head for an adventure, and why?
Snowdonia National Park is a one-of-a-kind place of incredible natural beauty, and the real heartland of mountainous Britain. It’s somewhere that still takes my breath away every time I’m flying over its rugged peaks in my paramotor, or hiking up with the family – a real national gem of unspoilt terrain, moments from the sea. The magic of the area is that it can be whatever you want it to be: gnarly and testing for training and fitness, or a fun family outing with a gentle route up to the summit, to take in the awe-inspiring views. I feel proud that I have often brought Hollywood stars to the area, and we try to film as many shows as we can up there, as it’s near home and can be so wild.
You’re adept at dealing with extreme situations. What aspects of more conventional travel experiences do you tend to find challenging?
Security queuing and long delays. I have never been a very patient person.
You don’t seem like someone who seeks out comfort – but is there a place that does make you relax?
An outdoor hot-tub we had installed on the clifftop of our small-island hideaway. It faces west, and watching the sun drop under the horizon from there is magical.
Venezuela's mighty Angels Falls © Apomares / Getty Images
Tell us about an incident in your travels when you experienced failure, and what lesson you took from that.
We attempted to fly powered paragliders over the remote jungles of Venezuela and the Angel Falls and we got rebuffed, hard. But we always learn more from our failures than our successes, eh? We simply got such dynamic, humid jungle conditions that it made it near-impossible to use our paraglider engines high enough. The lessons of failure are so important, and the only real failure is giving up. We can only reach success by passing many times through the door of failure.
Some very famous people, ordinarily protective of their privacy, have exposed their vulnerability on TV by taking part in your shows – why?
I’ve been so lucky to take some incredible guys and girls on fun adventures over the years – including Roger Federer, Julia Roberts, President Obama, Ben Stiller, Kate Winslet, Will Ferrell and many other great names – for our TV show Running Wild. And I am always reminded that, however big the celebrity, they are always just like you and me underneath all the glitz. They put their trousers on one leg at a time, and have their quiet fears, like all of us. It is often very humbling, though, to be beside these stars when they are working at their limit and so far out of their comfort zones. Their commitment is always inspiring. I think the wild is a safe place to share personal stuff because it doesn’t judge – and nor do I. Out there in a jungle or on a mountain, the fears and concerns we carry in regular society often seem so trivial. There are more important things to focus on. That’s a good thing.
Bear is in no hurry to return to a croc-infested 'death-swamp jungle' in Indonesia © Moment / Getty Images
Which place do you hope you’ll never return to, and why?
A death-swamp jungle on a remote island off Indonesia – I don’t want to name the exact location so as not to offend anyone! This place almost cost me my life when I got pinned in a river by huge rapids. Many people had died there and been eaten by crocs. I vowed I would never return.
Which place has surprised you, and why?
The power of home. Every time I return after even a short trip, nowadays, it reminds me of the power of love and family and all I hold most dear. It matters more than any adventure.
What’s the one thing you always take with you, and why?
A sense of humour and a never-say-die spirit! That conquers all. But if I were to pick a physical item, I would always take a good small knife. For me that’s my Gerber Bear Grylls Grandfather Knife, which is so special, as it was designed from a blade that had been handed down from my grandfather to my father, then to me.
What travel book (not a guidebook) have you found most inspiring or influential, and why?
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. It shows the power of the human spirit at its best.
British mountaineer George Mallory, who died scaling Mount Everest in 1924 © AFP / Getty Images
Which historical traveller do you find most inspiring or influential, and why?
George Mallory, who died attempting to climb Everest in 1924 – I would like to ask him what really happened up there with Andrew Irvine. ‘And did you reach the top or not?’ He gave his all for that summit, and he knew he would never return…
Do you enjoy spending time in cities, or is it only wild places that appeal – and why?
Both have a time and a place, but if it had to be one it would always be the wild – the power of Mother Nature to move and inspire knows no bounds.
What is your idea of holiday hell?
Being on a cruise ship with a diarrhoea bug going round.
The slaughter of rhinos for their horns is 'tragic beyond words', says Bear © Chris Minihane / Getty Images
What’s the place or experience that most disappointed you?
Seeing rhino horn for sale in China and Vietnam. A rhino is killed every eight hours in Africa to feed the false belief that horn will cure certain ailments. Horn is simply keratin, like fingernails. That’s all. But poachers slaughter entire rhino families for a single horn. Tragic beyond words.
What’s the place or experience that most exceeded your expectations?
Taking an open RIB through the infamous Northwest Passage in the Arctic. To see how wild those remote, northern Arctic islands are was mind-blowing and humbling.
Aisle or window seat?
Eat a sheep’s eyeball or its testicle?
Clean pants or clean socks?
Snake or croc?
Extreme cold or extreme heat?
Scuba dive or mountain climb?
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