Tristan Gooley: Natural Navigator

The Natural Navigator's unique perspective on the world of travel

4 mins

Mountain/Desert/Ocean/Jungle... which one are you?

My job is to understand the natural navigation aspects of these areas and others (like ‘Town’, ‘Polar’ and ‘Air’), so I try not to grow too attached to any one of them.

What was your first great travel experience?

I was fortunate enough to be sponsored to travel to Beijing for the 71st Universal Esperanto Congress in 1986 when I was only 12. It was a culture shock on so many levels and a bewildering experience, but a huge privilege.

What has been your favourite journey?

My wife and I chartered a small yacht and sailed around the Andaman Sea for a few days. It gave us everything we ever dreamed of from a travel experience.

Which are your Top 5 places worldwide?

Any island between Phuket and Krabi.

La Roche Bernard, Britanny.

Lombok, Indonesia.

The north Devon coast.

Jebel Toubkal, Morocco.

Which passport stamp are you proudest of?


Goose Bay, Canada. (It was stamped just before I climbed into an aircraft to fly solo across the Atlantic. I was so nervous I have no recollection of getting my passport out at all.)


Which passport stamp would you most like to have?

Cuba. I’d like to think you get half a dozen there.

Where or what is your guilty travel pleasure?


Window or aisle?

Always window. Aisle seats are there for those who have forgotten there is a world outside the window, those who have a serious fear of flying and the incontinent.

Who is your ideal travelling companion?

My wife. Nearly always.

Best meal on the road? Worst?

I had a kebab in Cairns in 1993 that was so good I still think of it.

I bought a meal through the window of a train that had stopped at a station in China on my 1986 trip. It consisted of what looked like the knuckle bones of an animal I could not identify, with gristle, on rice, with a watery sauce.

Most surprising place? Most disappointing?

Libya. I loved Tripoli, the desert and every Libyan I met.

Zakynthos. Years ago we went on a last minute super-cheap package deal. It was as bad as package holidays get. The highlight was getting a splinter.

Where do You NOT want to go?

I’ll happily try anywhere once, but I’m in no hurry to return to Torremolinos.

Who/what inspired you to travel? Any travel heroes?

I come from a family of travellers. They’re not Gypsies, they just like to travel a lot. I look up to the best humorous travel writers the most. Bryson, O ‘ Hanlon & Co.

What do you listen to on the road? Any song take you back to a particular time or place?

Whenever I hear any Red Hot Chilli Peppers songs from their Blood, Sugar, Sex Magic album, I remember trying and failing to learn to surf in Bali in 1992.

What do you read ?

The best fiction I can get my hands on usually. I love reading the ‘Best Novels of All Time’ compilations and picking one before setting off.

Is there a person you met while travelling who reaffirmed your faith in humanity? Anyone who made you lose it?

It is the thousands of small gestures that reaffirm. It is too easy to remember the bad occasions, but that skews things unfairly.

What's the most impressive / useful phrase you know in a foreign language?

Pole, pole. (Slowly, slowly in Swahili. A useful mantra when climbing big mountains.)

What is your worst habit as a traveller?

The one I will admit to you mean? Stuffing not packing.

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

By singing ‘Sixteen Tons’ and then reciting some Spike Milligan I know. After that short burst I would try to get everyone to play a juvenile game of dares.

When and where in your travels have you been happiest?

Sailing in southeast Asia.

What smell most says 'travel' to you?


Given a choice, which era would you travel in?

Late 18th Century.

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

Sydney, Edinburgh and Essaouira.


Tristan Gooley has been practising the art of natural navigation for over ten years and runs his own school, The Natural Navigator. The pocket edition of his guide, The Natural Navigator, is available now on Amazon


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