Is backpacking dull? Is gap year travel too ‘safe’? Tom Morgan thinks so. Tom is the founder of The Adventurists, a brand that puts on epic journeys for extreme escapade-loving travellers. Whether it’s driving through Peru in a taxi, pootling across India in a tuk-tuk or steering an old Nissan Micra to outer Mongolia, Tom and The Adventurists spend their time facilitating what they believe to be real adventure. Their aim is to make the world of adventure travel less safe and less boring, one race at a time. Gapyear.com caught up with Tom to find out more…
Hi Tom. What’s The Adventurists all about?
I guess it started as a bit of an obsession with wanting to have adventures. I always found the most interesting times I had travelling around where when I had no plan and everything went wrong. It doesn’t make for a relaxing holiday but it is sure as shit more interesting than staring at a guide book and knowing exactly where the next toilet is going to be.
I am genuinely gutted that I can’t get into a sailing boat with a useless map and discover a new continent, so I think setting off in a spirit of ignorance is the next best thing.
What about people that want to see the great wonders of the world?
I’ve never understood visiting tourist sites like the Pyramids, the Taj Mahal or Machu Picchu. You’ve seen them on a hundred documentaries and magazine articles already so you are heading there with a preconceived set of ideas that they are bound not to live up to. I find them staggeringly disappointing every time. It will never be the same as stumbling across the Pyramids by mistake and wondering what the bloody hell a giant triangle is doing in the middle of the desert.
Once you have seen the documentaries and the postcards it’s too late; the magic of discovering it is gone. You are reduced to just being a consumer of places, saying ‘this or that place lived up to my expectations’; just ticking things of a list. Again, nothing wrong with it, just personally I don’t enjoy it.
You imply that adventuring trips have become too ‘safe’. Can you elaborate on that a little?
Gladly. I wibble on about this all the time. Adventure travel these days tends to mean a hike up to Everest base camp with a guide and a local carrying all the bags you don’t need. That’s travel for sure but possibly not adventure.
We live in a horrible health and safety shit-storm of a world where you have to do training to use a ladder and people are too scared of being sued to take any risks. Backpacking with a guide book is basically a cheap package holiday, which is of course totally fine, but there might be moments when you want a bit more. When you want to get shot at by border guards or get lost for days in the deserts. Those are always the stories you remember.
Throw your guide books down the loo, I say.
Is it all about just having a good time?
No, the other arm of The Adventurists is raising massive sacks of cash for charity. I figure if we are going to enjoy ourselves out there in the world we should give something back. The teams have done a staggeringly amazing job over the years of whipping up millions of pounds for some excellent causes.
How much have you raised for charity over the years?
Well over £3.5m to date. It’s nice to see a big number, but I think we can do a lot more. We are working on a bigger plan to save the world now.
So when did The Adventurists get going?
The Adventurists started when I was living in the Czech Republic with a good friend called Joolz. We had just bought an appallingly rubbish Fiat 126 and picked the most stupid place we could think of trying to drive to, which turned out to be Mongolia. We failed to get there, but had so much we fun we swore to try again. It took a while to get round to it but I knocked up a website and invited the world to come along too. Only 6 teams thought it was a good idea, but in 2004 we set off and 4 teams made it. Then it seemed to grow from there.
Can you tell us a bit about The Adventurists different rallies?
We have six different adventures running at the moment. We have the world’s longest and toughest horse race – the Mongol Derby. This is a 1,000km dash across the steppe. It’s based on Genghis Khan’s ancient postal system so you change horse every 40km. The horses don’t get knackered, but the riders certainly do.
Then we have the Mototaxi Junket, which is about 3,000km through the Amazon rainforest and the Andes on the worst vehicle ever invented. We also have the Rickshaw Run, which is a 5,000km dash across India in tuk-tuks. This also runs in Indonesia.
I recently got back from running the first Ice Run, which is a rally up the frozen rivers of Siberia on vintage Russian motorbikes and side cars.
We have just launched our attempt at getting to the moon. That one will take us a few years though.
We’ve previously featured a team that did the Mongol Rally, which is one of The Adventurists’ journeys. Can you tell us a little more about this trip?
It’s anywhere between 6,500 and 15,000 miles depending on how lost or circuitous you get and there are about 400 teams each year. I guess I would describe it the only way to get to Mongolia.
The whole point with the rally and all our adventures is that you get out into the world and get into trouble and get stuck. We live in an age where all the corners of the globe have already been discovered, photographed by satellite and stuck on Wikipedia. So we have to go out of our way to make life difficult for ourselves to get an adventure.
What are the rules behind what route people take and what car they can use?
There are no rules about the route. We have teams going as far south as Iran and Afghanistan and right up north through Siberia. Set off and get lost is the general plan. The cars have to be small and unsuitable for the task. It used to be ‘under one litre’ was the only rule, but these days we have changed it so that all the cars also have to be under 10 years-old. We sell all the cars in Mongolia and give the money to charity. So to make sure the cars we sell are going to be useful we introduced the rule.
So what happens if a team’s car properly dies? Can they just buy a new one?
They could take camel if they like.
What is top of the packing/kit list for the teams? What would you be a fool to leave behind?
It’s best not to take anything. The ‘best’ prepared team I met had no maps and just wrote the names of a few cities on their arms in biro while they were on the ferry from Dover. Obviously they didn’t wash either. All very commendable.
How many teams usually finish the Mongol Rally?
What happens when teams get to the finish point? Do they all turn around and just start home again? Is there a huge party?
We all tend to get very drunk at a series of parties stretched over a three week period. The teams usually fly home sometime after that.
What kind of preparation do you need to undertake? How much does the rally cost all-in?
It all depends on how you approach it. Visas are pretty expensive but that depends on the route you take. I would recommend sleeping in the car so you don’t need a tent or any hotels, but I am a smelly bastard. I favour as little preparation as possible.
How can people get involved with the next Mongol rally or other adventure trips? What kind of character do you need to be?
If you want to get stuck in and come on an adventure just head to the website and pick your fate. In terms of the type of character I would say as long as you are a bit of an idiot you have what it takes.