First up, aisle or window seat?
Somaliland on the Horn of Africa. A very wonderful state in a tricky part of the world. Somaliland is not a recognised country, it has no seat at the United Nations, but it has traffic lights, a minister for tourism and some of the most magnificent Neolithic rock paintings on the continent. It’s still building itself up from the ashes of war — it’s an inspiring place with inspiring people.
Biggest travel fail?
Goodness, we managed to get lost inside the world’s biggest minefield. That wasn’t a very happy situation to be in. I also managed to contract malaria on one of the journeys and would’ve died if it wasn’t for some magic pills that a doctor turned up with.
Favourite book, film or podcast?
I’ve loved everything written by Bill Bryson because I don’t think he takes travel too seriously. A lot of travel books can be quite pompous and elitist about travel, and often they’re a load of rubbish because they’re fiction rather than fact. But I like his honesty about the inevitable muppetry of travel and how he often finds himself falling asleep and drooling in the back of a vehicle — that’s so often the reality.
Worst piece of travel advice?
“For God’s sake don’t go to Haiti, you’ll never get out alive.” That’s the sort of advice we’ve had regularly. People told us endlessly that we’d lose all our equipment and that the voodoo gods would get us, or that we’d never leave and be robbed. Everybody had a horror story to tell, but we had absolutely no problems and the people we met were all incredibly welcoming. The biggest lesson for me has been how safe and welcoming the world is, rather than how dangerous it is. I think Haiti is an extraordinary place: there are so many human tales there and that’s the main reason I travel.
Most interesting person you’ve met…
A young woman called Fatima, a Somali refugee who I met in a camp on the Kenyan-Somalian border. She’d been living in the camp for 17 of her 23 years. She couldn’t go forward because the Kenyan government wouldn’t let her settle and she couldn’t go back because of fighting in Somalia. She was really interested in the big wide world even though she was prevented and denied from joining it. She was a fascinating person and I often think of her when I’m thinking about the privilege of travel today and how lucky we are to explore our planet. This is an extraordinary thing to do when most people on the planet still don’t have that opportunity.
The one place you keep going back to?
Studland Bay in Dorset is where we went to when I was a child. We went year after year after year. It was our go-to holiday destination. I didn’t get on a plane until I started working when I was 20. I’ve been back as an adult since, almost on a kind of pilgrimage with my own family to somewhere that was sacred and special to us.
First thing you do in a new city?
I will generally get out and just go for a walk. I won’t be led by a guidebook. I like walking long distances across cities and just taking it all in.
Oddest circumstance you’ve found yourself in?
I went to see the president of Moldova and I thought I was going to have a slightly formal chat with him. He insisted on teaching me how to fish and then he cracked open several bottles of Moldovan cognac and insisted that we all get completely hammered. He only released us when his wife came home from shopping and scolded him. She made him let us go. That was a very, very strange day. Generally, I think the weirder the circumstances, the more memorable the situation.
Most looking forward to eating on your next adventure?
I’m not sure where it’ll be yet, but I’ve eaten some pretty odd grub around the world. The most delicious thing was probably roasted sheep eyeballs in Saudi Arabia. They were particularly melt in the mouth.
Sean Langan, Michael Palin, and my grandma. She was one of my favourite travellers. She had a calliper because she had polio as a child and travelling was a struggle for her, but she still loved to do it. She’d drive us around in her adapted car and we’d explore exotic places… like Chiswick… She was quite an inspiration.
Completely bloody brilliant.
Interview: Josephine Price
Simon Reeve’s latest documentary takes him on an epic journey to the dark heart of the Mediterranean. The first episode aired on Sunday 7 October and runs until the 28 October.