As a qualified space scientist, trained mountain leader and self-confessed travel geek, Huw James’ mission is simple: to learn as much as he possibly can about our planet and encourage children and adults around the world to do the same.
From teaching kids about climate change in Libya to diving between Iceland’s tectonic plates, Huw’s curiosity takes him all over the globe in search of adventure – and it turns out he’s learned a few lessons worth sharing.
Where was your last trip?
Iceland. I’ve just completed my PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) certification, so I went to Silfra in Iceland to go scuba diving in between the tectonic plates. As a photographer, Iceland is the place. You get such dramatic landscapes there – volcanoes and whatnot. We saw herds of reindeer, glacial lakes, thermal springs… you can do a lot there in just a few days.
Where is your next trip?
This summer, along with the British Exploring Society (britishexploring.org), I’m taking around 80 young explorers to the Peruvian Amazon. The area where we’ll be based was slashed and burned 30 years ago for farmland and is now bouncing back as secondary rainforest. We’ll spend five weeks doing research there to see if this rainforest is as biodiverse as primary rainforest; how nutritious the soil is; and to see what wildlife lives there. I can’t wait!
What’s your first travel-related memory?
My first memories are of my dad’s travels. He was an electrician and would get sent around the world to fix transformers. I’d see pictures of him straddling the equator and he’d bring me back gifts, like quartz from Abu Dhabi. He left when I was 18 and never came back. But for 18 years, he showed me the world and sparked my need for adventure.
Aisle or window seat?
For short haul flights, window seat. For long haul, aisle – for the leg room, but also because the best views are normally out of the door anyway, so that’s a good incentive to get up and stretch my legs.
Favourite city or country or region?
It’s kind of the same as your favourite band – it changes year to year, day to day, mood to mood. I’ve often said my favourite city in the world is Hong Kong; I love it there. For me, it’s the perfect mix of West and East. I feel at home there. Alaska and the Alps are high on the list too.
Do you have any travel habits or rituals?
I’m an organisation geek. I’m geeky about photography, I’m geeky about outdoor gear, and I’m geeky about packing stuff. Whether it’s my van, my bag or my camera case, I’m really geeky about how I pack it.
I think the key to packing for travel is starting the week before you go. Find an area of your house where you can keep your bag or case open; then for that week, whenever you come across something you want to take, you can add it to the pile. This reduces the chance of forgetting something.
What has been your most challenging travel experience?
Two years ago I spent some time in the Monte Rosa region of the Alps. The team’s goal was to reach the Margherita hut on the Signalkuppe peak – the highest building in Europe.
On the day we were supposed to go up to the high hut there was a blizzard – we got snowed in for two days (which was fine as the hut we were staying in had loads of food and beer). Our team consisted of a wide range of ages, so when the weather cleared a little we decided not to go for the high hut, aiming to hit another peak on the way down instead.
But a few of us wanted to do one last high peak – so we split off from the group. As we started our descent, one of the boys suggested we skip the first ski lift down to save some money. We could walk down, at least to the next ski lift. So we did, but the next ski lift was closed...
We ended up doing around 16 hours of walking with 20-odd kilos on our backs, at altitude. We walked all the way down into the valley, all to save 25 euros. I learned a big lesson that day: if your gut tells you something, trust it.
What is your best or worst travel souvenir?
The best is probably the wooden carving of a face I got in Libya. I was touring schools doing science shows talking about climate change in 2008, before the war – it was such a lovely area. We went everywhere with a guide, seeing Roman ruins and stunning architecture. I bought the carving from a man who looked like the African version of Billy Connolly.
What is the best or worst piece of travel advice you’ve received?
When I was on Mount Etna once, a guy put his hand inside one of the thermal vents and burnt it, and said to me ‘don’t put your hand in there’. That was pretty good advice.
Quick, an asteroid is going to hit the earth in one week! Which is the one travel dream you’d rush to fulfil?
I would go to the Brecon Beacons, back home in Wales. That would be the place to go – the place where I learnt about travel. Straight up Pen-y-Fan.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from your travels?
I’m fortunate that I get to learn something new every day. Whether that’s through travel or science – it’s all linked. The biggest lesson is to stay curious; always ask questions. But being curious isn’t enough – it’s making an effort to find the answers to your questions. Travel is a way to do that.
Do you have any advice for parents who are thinking about travelling with their children?
Don’t underestimate the impact travel can have on kids. The more we see of the world, the smaller it gets. Travel shapes you as a person; you see that differences between people don’t really mean anything – we’re all the same. You learn that when you travel, and you can’t start that at a young enough age.
What advice would you give a first-time traveller?
Travel with a purpose. I’m not overly keen on wandering aimlessly. That’s why I do a lot of education stuff and photography. Whether it’s creating a video diary, taking photos or writing a journal – do something for yourself, for someone else at home, or for the local community.
Find out more about Huw’s travels and educational projects at huwjames.com or check out his YouTube channel to see the adventurer in action. Want to teach your kids more about the world? Check out lonelyplanetkids.com.