Meet the adventurer: Daniel Raven-Ellison

In our new series, we meet record-breakers and boundary-pushers in the world of travel. This time it’s a National Geographic Emerging Explorer.

By Angela Locatelli
Published 22 Nov 2019, 13:00 GMT, Updated 6 Nov 2020, 16:15 GMT
Daniel Raven-Ellison
Daniel Raven-Ellison is a guerrilla geographer and National Geographic Emerging Explorer
Photograph by Daniel Raven Ellison

Tell us about your first adventure

I was fortunate to have parents who gave me the freedom to go on adventures, and I definitely think that if I hadn’t had that freedom, then I probably wouldn’t have the explorer blood. I grew up in a military family, which meant we travelled around the world, so I spent my youth trying to catch snakes in places like the United Sates, Zimbabwe and Kuwait.

What does adventure mean to you?

People often think of adventure in terms of it being about risking your life. But actually, for me, adventure is more about the risk of discovery. You might find a cave that you wouldn’t otherwise have found, discover an animal that you wouldn’t otherwise have seen or learn something about yourself that you didn’t know before. To me, adventure is about risk-taking.

If you were able to change one thing in the world of travel, what would it be?

It should always be cheapest to travel in the most environmentally friendly way — for example, trains should always be cheaper than planes to the same destination. If you want to get a boat across the Atlantic rather than getting a plane, that should be cheaper too. The people flying should subsidise the people who spend two weeks getting to a destination on a boat, and those willing to get the train should be subsidised by the people who are flying.

Who’s the most interesting person you’ve met?

My son. I find him absolutely fascinating and inspiring. When he was 10, we did a project where we went on 125 microadventures across the UK doing everything from wild camping and snorkelling in rivers to riding really fast zip-lines and jumping off waterfalls.

What’s the best bit of advice anyone has ever given you?

There’s some indigenous wisdom that says the decisions we make today should be considerate of those who will be alive five generations from now. I think that’s a great bit of advice for everybody: this idea that our present lives and how we behave now not only impacts us and those around us, but also those who will inherit the land in five generations’ time. There’s not enough of that kind of thinking going on at the moment.

What’s your favourite piece of kit, and why?

A really good, really large map. A map is crucial to finding your way when you’re on an adventure, but for me maps are things of dreams. I’ll spend a long time looking at maps before I go on adventures.

Do you collect anything while travelling?

Ideas — I quite often go on adventures on my own and have a lot of time to reflect on the world around me and how I think about it. So I collect ideas, which often become seeds for the next adventure.

What are you working on at the moment?

I started a campaign six years ago to make London the world’s first National Park City, collaborating with lots of people. The London National Park City launched in July and there are now similar campaigns starting in other cities around the world. People don’t often think about cities as places where they can go on big walks and hikes and have real adventures, but take London — a city of nearly 10 million people speaking 300 languages with around 15,000 species of wildlife. All this makes it one of the most biologically diverse regions in the UK. To me, walking through a city is exciting, incredibly rewarding really easy and actually really easy. What’s more is that it also allows you to experience its diversity. As an explorer, of course I love deserts and rainforests, but I also love hiking across cities such as London or Manchester or Amsterdam or Paris just as much — it’s just different.

Daniel Raven-Ellison is a guerrilla geographer and National Geographic Emerging Explorer. 

Read more interviews from our Meet the Adventurer series

Published in the December 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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