Sarah on the first part of her round-the-world journey (Sarah Outen)
Interview Words : The World According To ... | 05 December

The World According to Sarah Outen

Adventurer Sarah Outen is half-way through travelling round the world by human power alone. Here she takes a break to give us her take on the world of travel

Mountain/ocean/jungle/desert – which are you and why?

I am definitely a sea creature. Being on the ocean means so many different things to me, but most of all I love being close to the wildlife.

What was your first great travel experience?

A school trip to Greece on a tour of the ancient sites when I was 15 made a big impression on my boisterous mind, but it was four months in Mexico during my gap year which really got me hooked on travelling. I spent most of the time on a wild beach as part of a turtle conservation programme and a few weeks travelling with a couple of other girls. I loved it.

What was your favourite journey?

I think my current journey is up there as a favourite because it is so varied and really a combination of many different journeys, countries, environments and wonderful people. It's the journey of a lifetime really – I doubt I will ever do something on this scale or for this length of time again.

What are your top five places worldwide?

West coast of Scotland; Oxford; Russian Far East; China and Kazakhstan. I think I will add Canada to that list too once I have been there next year.

Name a special place to stay.

Some of my favourite places are secluded beaches or mountains in my tent – the west coast of Sakhalin in Russia, for example. But for hotels and the like... Pen Y Gwyrd Hotel in Snowdonia was a special stay and Anahitas resort in Mauritius was a very special treat that the owners sponsored after my landing there in 2009 after my Indian row.

What three items do you always pack?

My Lifeventure All Purpose soap, my happy socks and my camera.

Which passport stamp are you proudest of?

Mauritius, August 2009 with 'Serendipity' written across it. I had just rowed across the Indian Ocean from Australia in my boat, Serendipity.

Which passport stamp would you most like to have?

Canada – because it will mean that I have rowed safely across the Pacific from Japan. Fingers crossed, it should be in there by autumn 2012. Besides that, I have quite a list of places I would like to visit and expedition in...

What is your guilty travel pleasure?

Massage. Being human powered my body takes a bit of a beating, so I always try and get a massage wherever I can, which has at times been quite expensive.

Which do you prefer: window or aisle?

There is no choice! Window all the way. You can look out at the world and then fall asleep with your head against the window.

Who is your ideal travelling companion?

David Attenborough would be top of my list. A loveable, walking encyclopaedia of natural history. Peace activist and conservationist Wangari Maathai, too – she would have been a wonderfully interesting woman to travel with.

Best meal on the road? And your worst?

The cheap and delicious carbohydrate and fat-rich street food in China was my favourite in recent times, coupled with lots of scrumptious and unusual fruits. My worst meal on a journey was the cold porridge which I ate for the final days of my ocean row in 2009 – I had run out of everything else and my stove had broken.

Most surprising place? And your most disappointing?

China for both of these I think. I was continually surprised by the scale and pace of so many aspects of the country, and was frequently saddened by the extent and pace of destruction of beautiful landscapes too. The road traffic was astonishing – I have never seen anything like it.

Where do you NOT want to go?

Nowhere. There is nowhere that I actively don't want to go to. Not that I can think of, anyway.

Who/what inspired you to travel?

Camping holidays with my family in the UK led me to fall in love with the wild, and school trips and expeditions played an important part in taking me further afield and into new cultures. My wanderlust all stemmed from those early experiences I suppose, coupled with books and films on expeditions and adventures. Ellen MacArthur's first book made a huge and lasting impression on me. For me the excitement grows and grows – the more I wander, the more I want to see of the world.

What do you listen to on the road?

All sorts. Different times and places and moods need different music either to inspire me, excite me, calm me down or help me escape from whatever physical and mental challenges I am confronting. Often I enjoy silence too and immersion in the sounds of waves, wind, trees – depending on where I am...

Does any song take you back to a particular place?

We are the champions – Queen.

What do you read when you travel?

Everything from Winnie the Pooh to War and Peace and all sorts in between. I love audio books that I can listen to while rowing or cycling.

Is there a person you met while travelling who reaffirmed your faith in humanity?

So many people have helped me on my journeys – the last seven months have been humbling and wonderful in that respect. One person who has inspired me endlessly is a young guy I met at the front end of my journey in China. He asked if he could join me to Beijing on the other side, by bike, though he didn't even own one. 4,000km and 35 days later we pedalled into the capital together. It is perhaps the most extraordinary thing that has ever happened to me. And one of the most brilliant too.

What is your worst habit as a traveller?

I'm not sure. But my favourite is to give people food or money and then pedal off as quickly as I can so that they can't refuse. I find that so many people share their food or money with me and won't accept anything on return. So I like to put some goodness back into the karmic pot.

Snowbound in a tent in Antarctica, how would you entertain your companions?

I do a great monkey impression, though it's pretty loud and might send them all out into the cold. It's also a bit short. I would probably recite poetry.

When are where in your travels have you been happiest?

I am grinning as I think back through some wonderful memories and very happy times. Out on the ocean in 2009 was a very happy journey – perhaps landing at the end was the pinnacle of that, not only because I was alive and had just escaped being mashed on a coral reef, but because the journey meant so much to me. It was more than just a row.

What smell most says 'travel' to you?

At the moment it is my smelly cycling shoes – not all that fragrant after months on the road. A much more pleasant smell would be that of street food in China, full of spice and warmth or maybe a ripe juicy mango.

Given a choice, what era would you travel in?

I would have loved to have travelled on the Beagle with Darwin. All those unspoiled lands and unknowns.

If you could combine three cities to make your perfect metropolis, which would they be?

I'm not generally a city girl but Oxford is very special to me, Beijing intrigues me and I can't wait to visit Vancouver next year.

Sarah Outen is half-way through a round-the-world trip travelling the world solely by her own human power. She has been travelling since April 2011 and is currently in Japan – having rowed from London to France, cycled across Europe and Asia, and then rowed across the East China Sea. You can follow her journey at www.sarahouten.com.

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