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Adventure is a mindset. You can find it in a pocket of wilderness in your local area just by doing something different and seeking out the unusual — or you can find it by running Great Britain barefoot, cycling the Andes, and running the length of New Zealand!
In this interview, adventurer Anna McNuff talks about the definition of adventure, finding the element of the unknown, encouraging young people to explore, and the acceptance that change is the only constant.
Anna McNuff is a British adventurer, professional speaker, and author named by Conde Nast Traveler as one of the 50 most influential travelers of our time. And by The Guardian as one of the top modern female adventurers.
- What is ‘adventure’?
- The changing motivations for adventure travel
- Cultivating a voice that supports adventure
- Stepping into the unknown
- Running from Scotland to London barefoot
- Change is a constant
- What travel might look like in the future
- How adventure travel is actually about storytelling
- How moments from our young lives shape us
You can find Anna McNuff at AnnaMcNuff.com and on Instagram @annamcnuff
Photos used with permission from Anna McNuff.
Transcript of the interview
Joanna: Anna McNuff is a British adventurer, professional speaker and author named by Conde Nast Traveler as one of the 50 most influential travelers of our time. And by The Guardian as one of the top modern female adventurers. Welcome to the show, Anna.
Anna: Oh, thank you so much. It’s a pleasure to be on.
Joanna: I’m so excited to talk to you. I’ve been following you on Instagram, reading your books. And we’ve known each other for a while now. I really wanted to talk to you about adventure because the word adventurer can mean so many things.
What does adventurer mean to you and how does that definition shape how you choose to travel?
Anna: I think it’s changed over the years. Adventurer used to be a term that was kind of solely reserved for the Shackletons of the world and the people who went off and did brave and daring things in far-flung places.
But now I think the more adventures I do, and the more I adventure in between myself big ones and do little things around and close to home, I think I realized it really is a mindset.
Adventure is just about trying to see something, and it could even be something that you thought was familiar, but you see it through a new fresh set of eyes. So it is just about trying to experience something new and see how you feel in that landscape or experiencing that culture or eating that food.
That is what adventure is to me. And the beauty is that it’s a personal thing. So what is new and exciting and intriguing to one person might be completely different for someone else. And also, you don’t have to go very far to do it.
So yes, you can have an adventure on the other side of the world. But you can also have a great adventure across the road in your local hill, checking out bluebells and finding new trails there. So that is what adventure means to me, seeing something new.
Joanna: I go up the hill, our local Solsbury Hill, for example, and I don’t think that’s an adventure, but for example, going at night with a head torch, I would probably be quite afraid. You go sleep on hills a lot and that to me is slightly scary.
Do you think there needs to be an element of fear or apprehension for it to be an adventure?
Anna: I think to call it an adventure when it’s going to be an adventure because you feel it, you feel that thing and it goes, ‘Let’s go on an adventure.’ Or ‘I’m going on an adventure,’ and there’s sort of a buzz in your veins.
I think there does have to be an element of the unknown in it. But that doesn’t necessarily have to be 100% fear. There’s probably a tiny bit of fear there because that’s what happens with the unknown, we are fearful of it. But there can also be a lot of excitement. And I think an adventure probably ranges on that scale.
Sometimes it’s a little bit too scary and sometimes it’s just 100% fun and excitement.
But yes, there’s definitely an element of fear, I think in some adventures, but it doesn’t have to be terrifying. That’s the thing when I go and sleep on hills, the first time I did it, I did terrify myself, I thought I was going to get attacked by a rogue badger in the middle of the night or something.
But the more you do it, the more you realize those things don’t happen and actually, you just get used to it and it becomes your new normal and then that becomes familiar and so you go and try something else.
Joanna: It’s interesting, isn’t it? Because I feel like I’ve traveled a lot. So the most recent one before lockdown, we went to Bilbao in Northern Spain.
Anna: Oh, lovely.
Joanna: Yeah, amazing, wonderful food, went to the museums, but we stayed in a hotel. It’s not adventure. It wasn’t adventure travel. It was more cultural travel. So I think maybe that has part of it. As you say, it doesn’t matter how far away it is. It’s more the attitude.
Anna: That’s right. It’s the attitude and the feeling you get and there has to be a little bit that nervousness. I think that’s what makes it fun.
Joanna: We talked about sleeping on the hill, but you’ve also cycled the Andes and across the USA, and you’ve run across New Zealand and we’ll come to some of the others in a minute.
Do you think you have any limitations when it comes to the adventures you aim to do?
Anna: That is a really good question and one I think I’ve spent the last six years of my life trying to work out because I started doing this for a living, once you do a big adventure, there’s a tendency to feel like the next one has to be longer, harder, higher.
And actually, as time has gone on, I’ve realized that that’s not for me. And that’s not the way I want to push my limits. What I’m trying to actually do every time I go on an adventure, is find something that is that little bit fearful or a little bit uncomfortable.
One of the reasons I went to South America is because I’m very confident in the English language, but try to get me to speak other languages and I am dreadful. I just get nervous, I get embarrassed. So I thought, right, get out of my comfort zone, go to another country and speak a different language, and put myself in places where they don’t speak English, so I have to give it a go.
And so each adventure that I’ve done is almost like I’m trying to test a different part of myself. Really it comes down to it’s a mental test. Yes, the physical element is there. But it’s a sort of, ‘I wonder…can I do that?’
Definitely, there were two adventures that I’ve really pushed myself to the edge, and they’re both running adventures. And I’ve got to the end of them and I think I’ve realized that, I don’t know there is actually a limit to what you can do if you really, really want to do it. But the difference is, is when you lose that will to want to do it.
The more time goes on, I feel like there’s less to prove to the world and so actually, my reasons for doing things become different. I’m trying to seek out more enjoyment and just explore different things, not necessarily how far I can go or how fast I can go. It’s more about learning about myself and the places that I go to.
Joanna: I’ve read your book about running across New Zealand. And that has some really low moments in.
And very high moments, obviously. That’s the point of perspective, right?
Anna: That is. You just summed up what adventure does to you. It takes you on this emotional roller coaster. It’s almost like normal life is just the highs and the lows are just stretched out. So your extreme highs, you are literally sometimes at the top of a mountain running on a ridgeline in New Zealand with beautiful mountain scenery around you.
And then other times you are in the valley and you are in the depths of it. And I think the way I managed to get through it, and again, it’s similar, the more you get used to things and the more you’ve been through them, the more you realize it’s going to be okay.
What you’re going through at that point in time, if you’re feeling so low and doubting yourself and feeling like you can’t possibly go on, then there’s a tiny little voice that pipes up and says, ‘You’ve been in a similar situation before, this won’t last forever, things are going to be different in an hour’s time, in a day’s time. This doesn’t last forever, nothing can last forever, good or bad.’
So that is the main thing that gets me through. And I guess that’s about focusing on things one day at a time. If I think for a second about cycling thousands of miles or running thousands of miles, I would have an absolute meltdown because it’s a ridiculous idea. But it’s something like the lockdown, isn’t it? If you think about how long we’re going to be in it, but I just find focusing on a day at a time or a week at a time, that just keeps things in check.
Joanna: Just for everyone listening, we’re on day 49 as we record this.
Anna: Oh, please, you’re not counting or anything.
Joanna: I am counting and it’s interesting, but coming back to the little voice you mentioned there. So the voice that’s telling you that you can do this and you just have to get through the day. Where do you think that voice has come from? Because at some point you hadn’t done anything and the voice couldn’t tell you you’ve been in that situation before.
How can people listening cultivate the voice that tells them they can go on?
Anna: This is what’s interesting, you might not have been in that specific situation before. So say, for example, I’m lying in the middle of the New Zealand bush and I’ve busted my ankle. But I can probably think back to an exam I did at high school where I thought I’d flunked it and I was ready to give up and I just almost wanted to walk out of the exam halfway through. And actually, it turned out that I passed in the end.
I think there are things you can draw on from other areas of your life. Everyone, at some point, by the time they make it to adulthood will have faced an experience where they felt doubt and they felt fear, and it might not be in an extreme sense, but things have come around and it’s just trying to look for those things.
And that’s why I say to people if they want to go and do travels and adventures, start with just beyond what you’re comfortable with. So if it makes you nervous to wild camp in the middle of a desert, don’t go do that straight off the bat, try and camp in your local hill or whatever.
That’s how you build up that set of feelings and you get comfortable with the idea, I guess it’s of being uncomfortable, and you start to recognize that those feelings of nervousness and fear and the unknown, they’re very, very normal. And they actually mean you’re about to do something that’s pretty cool and you’ll be very proud of yourself at the end of it.
Joanna: I wanted to come to one of your more recent adventures. In 2019, you ran over 2000 miles through Britain from the Shetlands to London and you didn’t just do that, you did it barefoot.
Anna: Whenever I hear someone say this, I just think, ‘Who is this mad woman? What is she on?’ And then I realize it’s me.
Joanna: What made you choose such an adventure?
Anna: I’d done a long run through New Zealand in my trainers, 2000 miles, and I was thinking about a new adventure. And the whole point of that adventure was I’m an ambassador for Girlguiding, which is for young women across Britain. And I thought, I want to use this run to go and talk to the young girls and try and talk to them about all the things I’ve learned through doing all my adventures and tell them adventure stories and trying to encourage them to get outdoors.
I thought long and hard about what my message was. And really the message was that idea of, you’ve got to do things where you have that element of the unknown if you want to grow. If you want to have a nice time, that’s great. But if you want to kind of grow and test yourself, there’s going to be that fear level and that’s okay. And I just thought if I do this long run in trainers, for me, I knew I could do it.
And that’s the thing about adventure and travel, it’s all relative. You know what, I’ve got no idea. I know you love your walking and I’m sure you’re pushing yourself in you’re walking, and whatever is a challenge for you won’t be a challenge for someone else.
Or some people, that’s like a 5K or something like that. So I think what I was trying to say to the girls, it’s all relative. But for me, the relative challenge was I think I could do this real long run in trainers and then I just thought. ‘How could I make it harder?’
Joanna: What were some of the highlights of the journey, some of the high points where you were like, ‘Yes, this is awesome?’
Anna: Oh, there was a day when I was running. I think it was into Kettlewell, which is in the Yorkshire Dales and I was running, I’d gone up to the top of this…it was a mountain, it’s a mountain in British terms. I think it was like 1000 meters up. And I was running down this valley. And oh, the sun was setting and it was that beautiful golden hour.
I was running down the valley and I’ve no shoes on. I feel like a child and my body’s feeling really good. I’ve just cracked out like a really long day. And I know that I was actually running to a pub that night. I was going to stay at a pub and so I was going to have a nice pub dinner. All around me, the sheep, green fields, and just beautiful birdsong. And I just thought, ‘Man, what a day to be alive.’ That was absolutely beautiful.
And other highlights, the Shetland Islands. Have you ever been to the Shetland Islands?
Joanna: Yes, I have. It is beautiful.
Anna: It is beautiful, isn’t it? I felt so naive when I went there because I didn’t even know if they were going to have Wi-Fi or, you know, I was just like, ‘Do I need my passport?’ Obviously, it’s a British isle, but I knew nothing about it and I felt so ignorant, but it is kind of like going to another world because it’s just so cut off from the mainland.
I just loved it out there and I was there in mid-summer so it was sunlight for like 20 hours of the day, and Shetland ponies, and seals, and puffins everywhere. That was a definite highlight of the trip and somewhere I’d love to go back to.
Joanna: Yeah, I was there in November. It was not as fun.
Anna: What were you doing there in November?
Joanna: I went to speak there to a group of authors. And they have a lot of Viking festivals. Were you there around then?
Anna: I wasn’t but everyone talks about it, it’s called Up Helly Aa, or something, isn’t it? It looked great. I’d love to go back. I think it’s January or something. So that would be a cold one.
Joanna: Definitely. But so that was some of the highlights. I want to ask you about pain because I saw one particular…I still can’t get out of my head, a particular picture on Instagram of your feet. And obviously, you had some cuts and things but there must have been a lot of pain and your feet looked like they changed shape.
What did this do to your body?
Anna: They did, yes. That was a cool thing about it because it was basically a huge experiment. Because my first thought when I thought I’m going to run these 2000 miles, I thought, ‘You can’t do that.” And then I thought, ‘Well, can I?’
The more I read about it, the more I realized it potentially was possible, whether I was going to be able to do it was another thing. But as I went along, it was amazing to watch my, this is kind of gross, but the layers on my skin build up.
Within six weeks, I had loads of extra layers, hard layers of skin on the bottom, where I was landing on my pads on my feet. And then I was getting to a point where I couldn’t actually scratch the bottom of my foot if I got an itch because my nails would just go clean off, it was that hard. It was obviously crazy. And then I started to feel really proud of my feet.
And then by the time I finished the run, I think the picture you might see would have been the tendons on my feet where they looked like racehorse legs. You could see every single tendon and I thought it was amazing because sometimes we take our body for granted, don’t we?
We walk around on our feet all day and people hate their feet, some people do. And I just looked at my feet at the end of that run and I just thought, ‘You have just carried me 2000 miles.’ And how amazing and they were so strong.
I did have a point in the middle of the journey where I did pick up a cut. And that was about 1000 miles in. And that was a dreadful moment because I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to carry on the run.
It was getting a lot of media attention. I had all these talks lined up to the young girls along the way booked in. I ended up getting a foot infection for a couple of weeks. But that, again, was a great time to talk to the girls and say, ‘Girls, this is an adventure. This could be a complete disaster, and my run could be over, but I’m still here I’m talking about it. And let’s see if I can find a way to keep going.’ So I did manage to in the end and I ended up with panther paws, that’s what I call them.
Joanna: It really was like that. And I feel that we only really get our feet out usually in the summer and on the beach or whatever. So I found that really interesting, as you say, we take our physical bodies for granted. Coming back to pain, obviously, on these really long trips, you’re going to be feeling pain like more than just uncomfortableness.
How do you tell the difference between pain that is an acceptable part of your experience and something that is worrying?
Anna: That’s a really, really good question because I think sometimes I get it wrong.
Joanna: I think maybe you do!
Anna: I think sometimes I do! Well, I think this adventure showed me that because actually, the worst kind of pain I found on this adventure wasn’t a sharp, ‘Oh, I’ve stepped on a thistle pain. I mean, God, whoever stepped on a thistle with bare feet, it’s agony, it’s like 12 little dots into your foot. But actually, that pain didn’t bother me because you can see the source of it and you understand it.
The worst kind of pain is, like you said, the low level, the rumbling, kind of the day after day after day when you’re trying to get up, pick yourself up, carry on, do that repeatedly. That kind of pain gets really exhausting.
But I guess, when it comes to knowing when to stop and when to push on, there is a difference between, I find, pain and an injury.
And this is crazy, but I have a four-day rule. And if I have a pain in a part of my body and it stays there in exactly the same position for four days, and at the end of that four days it has not moved and the pain level isn’t any less, then I will treat it as an injury and I’ll rest it.
I don’t know why it’s four days, but that seems to work for me. It could be a different length of days for other people. But I find what normally happens is two days in you notice a niggle in your knee and then two days in you go, ‘Oh, yeah, that knee is really sore.’ And on day three, your hip starts hurting and you’re saying, ‘Oh, my hip’s a bit sore.’
And then suddenly, you’ve forgotten about your knee and then your hip hurts for a bit and then your toe might start hurting and you’re like, ‘Oh, my toe’s hurting.’
But as long as the pain is almost like moving around your body and so I actually take comfort in that because I feel like it’s like as long as it’s moving, as long as the pain is moving around, I feel okay with it. It’s when it gets really stuck in there, really rooted and it won’t go away and it gets worse and worse, that’s when I go, ‘Okay, I need to stop now. I need to take a few days of rest, get the ice on it.’
In those 2000 miles of that British run, I only have one day off for a sore calf, which I thought was pretty amazing and a testament to the body really.
Joanna: It’s just incredible. And then I wanted to ask you about running. I am not a runner. As you just mentioned, I like to walk and I’ve done some cycling through India and other places and I’ve done sailing and I’ve done lots of things but running is not really my thing. But you’ve done all these different things as well.
What is it about running particularly that you love? What is traveling by running for you?
Anna: I applaud you with walking because I’m terrible at walking long distances. I can’t do it and I get so many blisters on my feet. I actually find running easier, which is crazy, isn’t it?
Joanna: It is.
Anna: But honestly, I couldn’t walk the distances you walk. I would just suffer. And so I think the thing with running is the main thing is, I like the speed at which it allows me to move through the landscape.
Cycling’s great, but sometimes you miss things when you’re cycling and when you’re running, it’s that little bit slower so you get time to see everything. And there is something great as well about going places where cars and wheels cannot, which is similar to walking.
You can get off the beaten track and you can go up a trail on up and over a mountain rather than having to stick on some kind of paved or gravel road around it. That is what I love about running, it gets you into the nooks and crannies of the earth. And I just love that.
I love the idea of being places where other people haven’t been for a very long time and having that pocket of wilderness to yourself and that quiet and calm when you’re sat in a valley and all you can hear is birds and the breeze through the trees. I just think that’s an amazing thing. And that’s what running brings me.
It’s not the easiest way to travel. But, for some reason, I can get into that. I’m sure you have this when you’re walking, that kind of sick, monotonous rhythm, you’re just going. It’s like driving down a motorway, you don’t know where your brain was for the last hour, you’ve just gone. You’re in the zone. Thankfully, I’m able to do that with running. When it’s going well anyway, not my bad runs, but when it’s going well.
Joanna: The other thing is you’ve written a number of books now. But when you’re running or cycling, when I walk, I can take pictures easily, I can write notes down.
How do you document your journeys when you’re cycling or running?
Anna: There is that big battle, that battle where you go, ‘Oh, that’s really nice. Should I get the camera? No.’ And then this voice in your head goes, ‘It won’t look as good through the camera lens. Just take a picture of it with your mind.’ And then your brain goes, ‘Well, what if you write a book, Anna, you’ll need to take…Oh, goodness sake, get the camera out.’
I realize now that I basically just use my phone for photography because for the first few trips, I actually had a proper camera with me, but I just found the hassle of stopping and getting out was too much and it would mean I wouldn’t take pictures.
So I always have a phone readily accessible. And if I’m running that will literally be in a kind of like a pocket on my chest or around my waist. So I can just pull it out, stop, take a snap. And I’ve literally stopped for half a second.
Sometimes I don’t even stop unless I’m taking a really nice photo because I do take a lot of photos just for memory. I circle things on maps and make little notes and say, ‘This was awesome,’ or something or like, ‘Sheep,’ to remind me.
When I’m cycling, that is a big decision because you really do have to stop the bike to take a picture. But again, I have it in a front pouch, my phone, that’s really easily accessible so that I can stop and take a picture. But it’s a bit more of a battle when you’re cycling.
Joanna: I know you’ve got this great Instagram channel @annamcnuff on Instagram
Anna: Yes. Thank you. Yes. I love following yours as well, you can now shop for new walks.
Joanna: Well, mine are more sedate than yours…
Anna: No, I like it. I look at it and I feel like I’m there with you.
Joanna: Oh, so sweet. Well anyway, recently you posted a picture of a beautiful tattoo on your back and look, I’m not over a decade older than you and I would love a tattoo but I’m literally in that generation. It was just a little bit too much for us.
Anna: I get that.
Joanna: You said it marked an era of massive change in your life.
Tell us what the tattoo is and what that means.
Anna: I’m so pleased and I’m glad you enjoy it, you like it as well, but it’s basically autumn leaves going down my back and then the bottom leaf is not autumny colors. It’s kind of in blues and purples and it’s got like a mountain scene within an autumn leaf, which sounds a bit crazy.
It’s done by this really cool guy in Poland and he does the most amazing artwork and the main thing was it’s really bright colors because I love bright things. But I said it marked a period of change in my life because…I’ve got a couple of tattoos. And the last one I got when I was 26.
I got it at a point in my life when I was really, really happy, but it came after I’d come out of a relationship, which was 5 years long. I completely lost who I was as a person. And so I got that tattoo to mark as sort of a new beginning in my life when I was at a really good point again.
And when I thought back at when I wanted to get this one, I thought back over the last nine years since I had that last tattoo and so much has changed. I was doing a full-time 9 to 5 big corporate company in London, and now I make a living from writing books and giving talks about adventure. And I’m also absolutely loved up.
And my boyfriend and I as well, we want to start a family. So it was the end of we spent the last six years darting around the world doing our own crazy adventures. He’s run across Canada dressed as a superhero and across America and stuff.
And so it was another point, it was just a marker point in your life and say, ‘Okay, I think the chapter of long solo adventures is ending and the next chapter, I don’t know what it looks like but our priority is more about trying to start a family, see how that goes, and just adventuring slightly differently.’
And again, I’ve got no idea what it looks like, but I wanted to end that chapter and also look back and be really proud of it and just go, ‘God, I was pretty awesome, look what happened in those nine years.’
Joanna: I love that and it’s very beautiful and I’ll link to it in the show notes. But I agree and I think what you’re saying is that it’s a different type of adventure period in your life that you’re going to be doing different types of things now.
I think the leaves are great because things change and the leaves change. We’re recording this just as everything’s gone nuts like the weather’s been beautiful here and all the leaves are just incredible and then there are other periods, aren’t there, when they’re gone.
Anna: That’s it. And that’s exactly, I’m an autumn baby and I love autumn and I love the colors, but you’ve got it there. That’s exactly what I love about autumn.
It’s just a reminder that the world is always turning beneath our feet, good or bad, things will change and you’ve got to embrace that. And so yes, it’s a reminder of that as well, which I think is a cool thing.
Joanna: It is. And so, as we mentioned before, as we record this, we are in lockdown in the U.K., and obviously, the coronavirus and COVID-19 has completely stopped all of the travel that we’re so used to.
How do you think that this will change the way people travel in the future?
Anna: I thought about this and I can’t quite get my head around it. And I feel like when travel opens up again, I feel like we might almost go back 5, 10 years in that there will be fewer flights available, things will be more expensive. That’s what I feel like might happen.
In a way, I actually hope that’s true because I think we were getting to a dangerous position with travel, I think, where it was so easy just to go and jump on a flight. And obviously, I’m trying to be more conscious about the environment and trying to fly less, but I do love to travel. So those two things are very difficult when you put them side by side.
But is it going to be good or bad? I don’t know. But I do feel like we’ll just go back 10 years, and I think a lot of travel companies will have gone bust. I wonder if a lot of budget holiday companies will have gone. But it’ll be a really interesting time.
I cannot wait to go on a trip again. And this is making me realize how grateful I am for the ability to travel and how good we had it. And we will have it again, I’m sure.
Joanna: I feel the same way. I have some days where I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m really grateful that I can take the time to look at my local environment more and really enjoy where I live.’ And then the other part of me says, ‘Open up so I can get on a plane.’
Anna: Oh, I know but that’s because it’s an addiction, Joanna, isn’t it? I honestly think if you’re a wanderlusty person, it’s an addiction. Yeah, and I feel it now. I’ve got a map on my wall, a world map, and every night I’m looking at it going, ‘Oh, I just want to go to Japan, or Canada, or Alaska.’
Joanna: That’s the problem with this podcast at the moment. Every person I talk to I’m like, ‘Ooh, there’s an idea.’
Anna: There you go. One thing that this has taught me is if you knew lockdown was coming and that someone said, ‘You can never travel again,’ maybe you’ve got a place that you’re like, ‘I wish I’d gone there,’ that you haven’t quite gone to yet.
Joanna: And also, I think of Memento Mori, Remember you will die. I think is important too, which is when we come out of lockdown, we’re still going to die at some point. So what do you want to achieve within your lifetime?
Do you have ambition around the adventurer label?
Anna: Oh, I’m not sure, because when I started doing adventures, I didn’t actually want to be a professional adventurer, make a living from it. I actually thought it looked like an awful lot of hard work, which it is, but what I realized along the way is actually it’s not really about the adventures.
It’s actually about the storytelling that comes with it. And that is what I love, the creativity, I guess. That is what I’ve loved more than the adventures.
I’m a bit of a free spirit. I feel like I might just keep reinventing myself as life goes on. And I’m the kind of person that I like to try and see if I can do something and then once I’ve kind of got it and I’m okay, I sort of want to move on.
I think I get a lot of that from my mom. She’s had about 15 different careers and can do lots of different things. I guess I don’t have aspirations as an adventurer. I have aspirations more as a creative person and trying to share stories and, I guess, bring a bit of joy and escapism to people if that makes sense.
Joanna: Oh, absolutely. And talking about that, your most recent book, very creative, is 100 Adventures To Have Before You Grow Up, which is aimed at getting kids to be more adventurous. And as you mentioned, you’re also an ambassador for Girlguiding.
I think what I don’t like most about the…obviously, the disease (COVID19) is really bad, but I don’t like walking on the street and have children look at me with fear because of needing to social distance. And I think the fear that’s accompanying this is very worrying, and I don’t want young people to be scared of other humans, let alone going to a different place. People listening will have kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews, whatever.
How do we encourage the young people in our life to be more adventurous when the world even without coronavirus is portrayed as so dangerous?
Anna: When I go out for my walks at the moment, I find myself, when people pass me and there’s that look of fear, I think, ‘You can still smile. You can still smile even though with the world in a mess, we can still smile at each other within two meters, it’s good.’ So I’m smiling at everyone.
But that is a really good question. I think the first thing to recognize, as you said, kids pick up on everything, if you are fearful about something, I think, do your best to try to keep it under wraps a little bit because kids, they have such a natural sense of awe and wonder about the world and they are so naturally curious.
I haven’t got kids yet. But I just think our job as adults is to hold the space for them to explore all those questions they have and just try not to shot them down. And obviously, you’re watching a kid climb a tree, if they get a bit high, as a mother, or a father, you’re going to be extremely nervous. But just to try and always push your own boundaries of like, ‘Take a deep breath, let them do it, let them explore, let them learn.’
I think kids naturally, they want to explore and they want to learn. If we can just hold that space for them until they’re old enough. If there’s someone that wants to travel, that will naturally be there. I think the fear is almost imposed.
I do a lot of school talks and you see the kids up to the age of about 10 and they think anything is possible, they’re going to rollerblade to Greece and meet a polar bear, which obviously isn’t correct, but who cares.
Joanna: Maybe in the zoo.
Anna: Exactly, you just do it. You do it. But then you see them as they start hitting those teenage years and all of that self-doubt and they start to feel nervous and question themselves. I just think if you can catch them at that point and just remind them to trust themselves and whatever it is they’re interested in to go and explore that, then I think that’s the way forward. I’m hoping the book’s doing that.
I had great fun coming up with ‘100 Adventures’ because it was originally said, ‘Oh, we’re going to do a book called ’50 Adventures To Have Before You Grow Up’ because we don’t think you can come up with 100. I said, ‘What?’
Joanna: Of course I can!
Anna: Of course I can, here we go. So I had good fun. I learned a lot as well.
Joanna: Oh, that’s great. Well, you know, my mum took us, me and my brother, to Africa, Malawi in Africa when I was 8 and I credit that with a lot in my life.
Anna: That changed your whole perspective on things surely.
Joanna: Exactly. Growing up just accepting that kind of travel to be normal. And the other thing my mum sent me on…do you know Mill on the Brue? Because you live in this area, don’t you? Mill on the Brue, it’s the River Brue in Somerset. And it’s a bit like a mini Outward Bound for young people.
Anna: Oh, cool. No, I haven’t been, I have to check it out.
Joanna: I went on that when I was 15. And 15 is such a terrible age, you know? You really hate yourself. And I credit that as well.
You remember these moments from your younger years and they can shape your life, can’t they?
Anna: Yes. And I think you never know what is going to be important to a kid as well, the things I remember. I say to my mum, ‘Do you remember that point when I did something, and I was really proud of myself?’ And she can barely remember it, but I know it happened. And that was really important to me.
You can definitely have really formative experiences when you’re a kid.
Joanna: Apart from your own books, which are fantastic, what are a couple of your favorite adventure books that you’d like to recommend?
Anna: The one that started it all for me and got me off adventuring with there’s this amazing book by Rosie Swale-Pope called Just A Little Run Around The World. The title says it all. It’s so inspiring, she’s in her mid-50s and she took off to run 20,000 miles around the world after her husband actually passed away.
So it’s this amazing story of her coping with her grief, but also just the bravery in it is unbelievable. And the people she meets and the sight she sees is just I mean, at one point she’s been followed by a pack of wolves across Siberia and then she realizes, they’re not hunting her, they’re protecting her. It’s amazing.
Joanna: Oh, wow.
Anna: I’ll rattle through some other ones. I love Alastair Humphreys. I know you’ve had him on the podcast, his books are great. His Thunder and Sunshine book about cycling around the world is brilliant.
[Check out the interview with Alastair Humphreys on walking through Spain in the footsteps of Laurie Lee.]
And there’s a really interesting book called Revolutionary Ride, which is by Lois Pryce, she went by motorbike into Iran as a woman by herself. And basically to try and bust…this was a few years ago, to bust all the myths of ‘Is it safe as a woman in Iran,’ and she had a whale of a time.
But it’s really interesting to get that insight on what it’s like for a female traveler on a motorbike, so that’s really good, and she’s a really funny writer as well. So those are some of my top ones I’d say.
Joanna: They sound great. Iran is somewhere I really want to go but I feel like I would want to do it on a tour.
Anna: Again, that’s unknown, isn’t it? I’ve got lots of friends, cycle tourists. There used to be a way to get in as a cycle tourist and everyone that’s been there says it’s the friendliest place. But you’d have to go on a tour on that one, won’t you? I think I haven’t checked on the latest restrictions.
Joanna: We can’t go anywhere. I can’t even go to Wales!
Anna: Definitely not Wales!
Joanna: It’s been so great to talk to you. So where can people find you and your books and everything you do online?
Anna: If you just pop in, Anna McNuff into social media or put it into interwebs anywhere. I’m the only Anna McNuff in the world, which makes it very easy. And everything about me should pop up. www.AnnaMcNuff.com
Joanna: Fantastic. Thanks so much for your time, Anna. That was great.
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