These days, it’s tough to take truly novel journeys. For a lot of us, travel entails visiting a different country, staying in reasonably priced accommodation, eating local food, wandering around, staring at things, and working our way through the guidebook. We’ll probably have a damn good time doing it, too. But Trailblazer Matt Prior wants to embolden travelers to ask for more from their adventures. His solution? The Matt Prior Adventure Academy.
Matt once circumnavigated 2,000 kilometers on top of a frozen lake in Siberia in a World War II motorcycle. He also holds the world record for the highest altitude reached by a London taxi; rode a motorbike through the deserts, mountains and jungles of Peru on his own (in rainy season); drove a rickshaw from the southern tip of India all the way to the Himalayas; and was one of the pioneers to tackle the now infamous Mongol Rally. And that’s barely the half of it.
A commercial airline pilot by day, Matt started the Matt Prior Adventure Academy in 2015 as a way to help regular punters conceptualize, plan and tackle the kind of expeditions that’d make your mum go, “Look, I really don’t know if this is a good idea…”
We caught up with Matt to find out just what people can hope to gain from spending a week with the Adventure Academy and to see what he thinks about contemporary ‘adventures’ in general.
Adventure.com: OK, Matt. What is the Adventure Academy? What does it offer travelers that they can’t find elsewhere?
Matt Prior: It’s an introduction to adventure and overland expeditions. It allows you, for the first time in the world, to experience the highs and lows of adventure with a safety net all in under one week. It’s unique in the way it can be tailored to whatever you’re looking for. It covers all aspects of planning expeditions—from conception to completion—and the groups are very small. I only take three people at a time, which allows you to get the maximum value while ensuring it’s nothing like a ‘tour’.
When and where did you get the idea for it? How long have you been running?
The idea came to me a few years back, after a trip with my girlfriend. With very little information available, the plan was to get a small motorbike and just go and explore. We’re always looking for places that are relatively untouched and where not many people go to and this particular area seemed ideal. We climbed volcanoes and explored the area by foot, boat and motorbikes. I was able push things a little and show her the sort of things I like to get up to, while also testing myself physically and mentally.
It was only when we were flying home that I realized I’d effectively provided an introduction to the sorts of trips I live for. I thought other people might be able to benefit from this kind of trip—one where you can get completely out of your comfort zone, yet still have someone with experience on hand. And so the Adventure Academy was born. It’s been running since 2015 now and it’s gaining more and more traction on a daily basis.
“I think there are an awful lot of people who are bored of ‘mainstream travel’.”
Without giving too much away, what kind of destinations have you taken travelers to in the past? And for how long?
The courses in Indonesia with the Academy are just under a week long, as people are so busy nowadays. The beauty of this is that it takes minimal time but still has maximum impact. We do so much, people feel as if they’ve been away for three times as long!
Over the course of the week, we climb active volcanoes, travel overland day and night using almost all forms of transport on different surfaces, genuinely engage and stay with the locals and visit some very cool places along the way.
I’m being deliberately vague, as the whole premise is you get used to embracing uncertainty and the unknown. Each trip is slightly different. The best thing to do would be to go through the testimonials of people who’ve been on previous trips and you’ll get a better idea of what we get up to and what they thought of it.
What kind of people do you find book your trips? Are they all people who are bored of ‘mainstream travel’? Do you know if any of them have gone on to plan and embark on their own epic adventures?
This is probably the most interesting aspect of the whole concept. I guess it makes sense as all sorts of people are drawn to adventure, but we’ve had all sorts—young, old, single, divorced, professionals, tradesmen, filmmakers, pilots, directors, bankers, copywriters, marketing professionals, life coaches, military, journalists and even professional adventurers. There is no one typical person, which is what is so great about it. Each group is unique.
“The thought of a real adventure would not sit well with them as it means that they may actually feel uncomfortable at some point.”
I think there are an awful lot of people who are bored of ‘mainstream travel’, which is another big driving force behind why I set this all up. Travel has become too easy, too convenient, with far too many people all doing the same thing—ultimately, it can feel pretty dull and uninspiring. Humans used to travel to do something different, have genuine experiences, meet new people, and immerse ourselves in new cultures. I think that’s becoming harder and harder as the world becomes better connected with advances in technology and globalization.
Since I started the Adventure Academy in 2015, I’ve seen people quit their jobs and go off to South America and Nepal, others are seriously looking at rowing oceans, and I had one guy this year who actually canceled his flights as he didn’t want to go back to ‘any of that touristy bullshit’. Instead, he stayed on one of the islands we’d been to as he loved it so much. He said there’s no way he would have done that before, but he now felt comfortable to go out on his own.
This is ultimately what it’s all about – removing the safety net and roaming free. It had such a positive impact on him, he actually got a tattoo of the whole experience.
A lot of mainstream travel companies tout ‘local experiences’ as their offering. Do you have an opinion on that?
I feel the terms ‘authentic’, ‘adventure’ and ‘local experiences’ are bandied around a lot nowadays, as they know that’s what people are looking for and therefore, it’s what sells. It’s only when you follow through with some of these experiences that you realize a lot of it is bullshit. In some cases, locals have been roped in, told to smile and put on an act, and when the tourists leave, it all changes. The TVs come out, the internet is back on and life continues. I think doing it this way is incredibly disingenuous, fake and unfortunately, all in the name of making a quick buck.
Something else I’ve realized recently is that people know deep down that it’s not a real adventure or experience, but that’s fine with them and they just want to tell others that it was. And with the world of social media, with people constantly comparing themselves to each other, I believe this will continue. The thought of a real adventure may not sit well with them—that means that they may actually feel uncomfortable at some point and it might even be a little difficult, but I think people are getting softer and increasingly choosing the easy option.
What do you think stops people from going out on their own? Fear? Doubt? Is the world really such a scary place?
I genuinely think it’s down to a variety of reasons, most of them totally natural. I think time, money, family and work commitments, lack of confidence or knowledge and fear—the media can also make the world sound far scarier than it really is. But all these fears can be overcome.
In terms of the world being a scary place, I honestly believe that 99% of people on this planet are nice, genuine people who want the same basics from life that we all want, and without encountering any problems while pursuing these. Obviously, there are always a few areas where you’d be more cautious, but I think that careful planning and research can even make those places accessible.
Inspired? Sign up for the Matt Prior Adventure Academy and find out what you’re capable of.
Oliver is the Australia editor of Adventure.com, based in Melbourne, Australia. He likes doing things that scare him, but only after he’s done them. And not too often. Maybe like, three times a month.