Karl Pilkington on what makes him a 'real' traveller

Wanderlust editor Phoebe Smith grills Karl Pilkington about his views on travel, sheep testicles and Ricky Gervais's inability to eat cold fishcakes

5 mins

With Karl Pilkington going solo on his latest TV outing – The Moaning of Life – we caught up with him to talk becoming a ‘real’ traveller, eating lamb testicles and space travel…


Travel is said to broaden your horizons. You’ve travelled more than most now – and in the Moaning of Life it can be said you travelled on a journey of self-discovery as well as taking a physical journey – so has it changed you as a person?

I'm physically knackered. My back has been hammered. My L5S1 in my spine is a bit crushed from doing a land dive in Vanuatu so you could say I kind of did broaden my mind ... by landing on it.

I think it has made me see life differently. It’s impossible to do and see all the stuff I have seen without it changing the way I see things.

At the beginning – before the Idiot Abroad series – Ricky and Steve loved winding you up about being the least travelled and cultured – but surely they can’t now. How do you think they would have coped being put in some of the situations and places you’ve been forced into?

They wouldn't have handled it. Ricky does his nut if his fishcakes are cold so I can't see him tucking into a camels testicle like I did in Egypt. That was served quite cold… but is that how they’re supposed to be served?

Would you class yourself now as a traveller rather than a tourist?

I'm neither these days. The last thing I want to do at the moment is travel. I just want to stay at home and live the simple life for a bit doing relaxing jobs around the house. I was separating Yorkshire teabags yesterday before popping them into the teabag jar. I enjoyed that. Honestly.

Should you travel fully informed or embrace serendipity and surprise?

I'd say travel uninformed, as then you'll have low expectations. I went to Rome years ago and all the guidebooks suggested going to see the fancy ceiling that Michelangelo did. It was like a boxing day sale at John Lewis, just loads of pushing and shoving and noise. Soon as something has made it into a guidebook for being special it is ruined by crowds of people.

If you could chose to live in any country in the world where would it be and why?

I'm always happy to get back home so it must be Britain. As much as everyone who lives here moans about it, it's still pretty good compared to a lot of places in the world.  I’ve found that after a while you see a lot of similarities no matter where you are. Everyone is the same all over the world. I was with a tribe who used frog sweat to get off their head whereas we use ‘Bargain Booze’ that gives the same end result. I’m telling you, we’re all the same.

Go somewhere completely new or revisit the places you have already seen and loved?

I say go somewhere different otherwise you'll keep comparing your trip with the last time you were there. Keep the memories of the time you enjoyed it fresh and uncluttered. Another good thing to do is to go somewhere horrible so that you are really glad to get back home.

In the Moaning of Life book you liberate a softshell turtle from a cooking pot – but what’s the most unusual thing you’ve eaten on your travels? And did it taste better than you expected?

I've had all sorts. Crickets, toad, ant eggs, lamb testicles, dog, and rhino poo. None of it had any nasty effect and yet when I’m at home I only have to have a pie and I have to swig on Gaviscon as the pastry gives me heart burn. Ant eggs don’t have that effect on me.

Travel into space – is this the final frontier in travel or for £125,000 are there much better things to spend your money on?

I don’t know why it’s that expensive as Space isn't that far away, it's only about 68 miles away, I used to drive 70 miles to Deal in Kent for the odd weekend and that costs £15 for fuel there and back. Also it wouldn’t feel like you are really getting away from it all as you’ll probably spend all the time looking out the window seeing if you can see your house.

You once said that you had never visited Scotland and that people should see what’s in their own backyard before going to explore other places around the world. So, now you’ve seen a lot of places abroad, have you got plans to explore the UK? And if so, where will you go first?

Yeah that’s the plan. I was down in West Wittering a few weeks back. They’ve got a really nice beach down there. We went to look at caravans but they were more expensive than I thought and they don’t tend to hold any value, plus there were site fees on top of that so we didn’t bother going any further with it and just had a ham sandwich and packet of crisps on the beach. 

Such a fascinating chapter on Death. Which country or culture do you think has the right idea about what to do when people die?

Yeah the death episode was the most interesting thing I’ve ever done. I’ve not seen everything people do around the world so I’m not sure who’s got it right. I’m happy for people to do whatever they want to do. I don’t think we can keep using up land burying people though otherwise they’re going to end up taking up more room than the living.

What luxury item do you take with you on every trip?

Nurofen tablets. I get a lot of headaches from jet lag. They sort me out pretty quickly.

In the section of your book on Vocation and Money you try out a pair of shoes that are supposed to help with a bad back. Did they work? And did it inspire you to invent any more travel items – in line with the Pilkington Pump Pants?

I suffer with restless leg syndrome so those shoes helped with that a little bit. I come up with a lot of ideas but I’ve never took them any further than just the idea. I came up with the idea of a pillowcase that can hold two pillows.

Anywhere else in the world now on your travel wishlist?

There isn’t a place I want to go but I plan on seeing a Starling murmuration. I like watching a video on Youtube of one of these with Bill Oddie.  It’s when thousands of starlings are whizzing about making odd shapes. I just need to find somewhere that doesn’t have crowds of people filming it on their phones instead of just watching it with their eyes.

And anywhere in the world where you never want to visit?

Legoland. I just don’t fancy it.

What’s next?

I’ve no idea. I don’t really plan too far ahead. I know I’m having pork chops for my tea tonight but other than that I’m not sure. I need to spend time sorting my back and hips out as it’s getting me down quite a bit.

The Moaning of LifeThe Moaning of Life is out on DVD now, the book of the series is also available, published by Canongate. Order your copy from Amazon now.

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