Risk assessment is a tricky game. It’s something that I was trained to deal with every day during my time in the Army and it’s a daily challenge in today’s world. Whether it’s humdrum health and safety checks or sussing out how you can most safely cross the most dangerous stretch of jungle in the world, it’s something I tackle often in the remote and testing places to which I travel.
For me, adventure started young. I remember scrambling around the Peak District as a kid, going off camping with friends when I was 14 and doing my first overseas backpacking trip before I’d left school. Adventure and exploration are in our national psyche and it’s something we should embrace and encourage. Without risk, there is no growth or reward.
In my experience, the risks are often overstated. The biggest dangers on an expedition are not kidnap by terrorists, but banal ones, and the chances of bad things happening are actually very low. The suggestion that you are going to set foot in Pakistan and immediately come under grenade fire or land in Colombia and get scooped up by Farc rebels is a false one – the odds of coming a cropper under a London bus are far greater. Millions of people live out their daily lives in these “dangerous places”, and while we mustn’t trivialise suffering, they are not getting shot at all the time.
During my expedition in the Himalayas in 2015 it was a car crash that posed the biggest threat to my trip, and my life, rather than the oft-reported perils of crossing Afghanistan. People have a misconception that that part of the world is all Taliban and suicide bombs, but where I travelled in the Wakhan Corridor the women are unveiled and the men are nomadic shepherds. It’s a rich and open culture and it’s important to share the perspective that I got to see.
It’s important to take risks from an educated stand-point – do your research and know the places and dangers to avoid. This year when I walked through Honduras – a country famed for violent crime – I found a pastor who acted as a diplomatic go-between for the local gangs. By walking through the dangerous neighbourhoods of San Pedro Sula with him, we were granted safe passage.
With the global power of social media, it’s easy to assume that the world is getting smaller, but ultimately, tweeting across time zones or watching overseas Instagram stories is not getting out there and seeing the world. When you go on an adventure, you see the places and meet the people for yourself – and there is a lot to be learnt. Gaining an understanding of other cultures is a quick and effective way to eradicate the fear and prejudices that are so easy to fall back on.
Going on adventures will force you to have a sense of humour. The romance of travel is usually short-lived as routes change, kit fails and it will probably rain a lot more than you anticipate. But above all, adventure can teach you self-confidence, perspective and humility.
But there’s no adventure without risk. It’s time we stopped worrying about what can go wrong and started concentrating on what can go right. Because risks are part of life, and essential for us to develop and learn. You don’t have to go to the Himalayas or walk Central America to take them, though. It can start with encouraging kids to stand on their own two feet, and for us adults to embrace a bit of childish adventure.
Walking the Americas is on Channel 4 at 8pm on Sunday