Born during an earthquake on the beach outside of Santiago in Chile, Em Bell is an adventure enthusiastic and truly makes the most of her 24 hours each day. Currently in London, she is Editor-in-Chief at Back of Beyond, as well as the co-editor of Trivial Pursuits.
She was the first girl to kayak the length of Britain as the crew captain on Sean Conway’s record-breaking swim. Last year she stand-up paddle boarded 1001 miles down the Missouri River as the writer on Dave Cornthwaite’s big swim. Next year, she is set to complete the longest kick-scoot by a woman.
As a person full of many stories, 24wanderlust was lucky to get Em’s insight into making the most of your day, travel and adventure!
How do you make the most of your 24hours everyday?
Em – Six years ago, I realised I hated my job in financial headhunting, which I went into because I wanted to ‘do the right thing’. As soon as I realised, I walked into the office and quit. I refused to wish away five days of every week waiting for a weekend or occasional holiday. Everyone calls me a dreamer, especially my family. But I refuse to live an average life. I want every day to be amazing. And that started with trying to create a career I loved. And while I had to move onto a floor to do this, I was happier than I had ever been.
I have done everything from cleaning jobs, representing the UK on a game show dressed as a frog, organising Bat Mitzvah’s, presenting a music festival in Cape Town over the World Cup, running the production on a McFly documentary and being a nanny. And in the end I realised there were two things that made me happy: adventure and writing. So I worked my way up to Managing Editor for a magazine while running off to do adventures on the side.
Now I’m back in London setting up a brand new adventure magazine as well as taking children out on adventures. This will still give me time to run off on mad expeditions. So I have slowly (very slowly over six years!) managed to create my dream career and lifestyle.
How would you describe yourself?
Em – I can probably describe myself and life in the same sentence. Totally erratic, spontaneous, outdoor and a little bit nuts. But kept stable by family and friends. And mini cheddars.
What adventure that you have done stood out to you the most and why?
Em – I think kayaking the length of Britain while supporting Sean Conway (who became the first person ever to swim the distance) was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It was intense, beautiful, incredible, hard, cold, wet all at the same time. Everything went wrong every day. I was also facing my fear of the water. I had never kayaked. I was living on a tiny leaking boat with three boys I had never met who are now extremely close friends. I got to visit Ireland for the first time by kayak. I got to see the entire British coast from the water. We discovered deserted, secluded beaches. We ate fresh seafood. We lived a simple life together in extremely confined quarters and we helped someone achieve something that had never been done before. Reaching John O’Groats after 4 ½ months at sea was incredibly overwhelming.
What is on the top of your bucket list?
Em – I am desperate to do a big journey with husky dogs. I am keen to live with them, bond with them and then travel a long way with them. I won’t bore you with the rest of the boring list but I would like to learn how to base jump.
What is the best and worst thing about travel?
Em – I love leaving all your stuff behind. I love having a tiny bag and that is it. I love how people don’t care about looking nice. You shower less. You are less materialistic. You have the freedom to explore and try new things. You meet and talk to people constantly. You try new food, learn new things, make new friends and you can be as spontaneous as you want. Book a ticket, go and see what happens. I love that. The worst thing would probably be the warnings people give you. On all my adventures, people have told me I’m going to die. It’s hard to work out which are useful bits of advice and which are just comments from people that are scared.
What did you aspire to do in high school and how has that changed since then?
Em – I had no idea what I wanted to do growing up. It would change continuously. I couldn’t quite work out what I was good at and it upset me that I didn’t know. My sister always knew she wanted to be a vet. My brother always knew he wanted to be in the army. My other sister bakes the most beautiful cakes. They all knew. And I was the black sheep, with no idea. And it took me six years of hunting after university to find out what that was. My Dad says some of the most interesting people he knows, still don’t know and Baz Luhrmann says the same.
What is your favourite travel/adventure quote?
Em – “So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more dangerous to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”
Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild
Who is your favourite travel writer/blogger?
Em – Jon Krakauer. Deep. Powerful. When I read his words I want to get out of the city as soon as possible. Obviously Bill Bryson is amazing. And I love reading the blogs and books of Dave Cornthwaite, Al Humphreys and Sean Conway. All ginger and all inspiring.
If you could suggest someone to do one of the adventures you have done, what would it be and why?
Em – When we were growing up we used to jump on our bicycles, pack up our rucksacks with food and kit, and cycle for miles along trails, marshes and finally a beach. It was in the far north of Scotland and the beach was miles long without one person on it. We would set up our tents, have a BBQ on the beach, swim in the freezing cold sea and spend the night eating marshmallows and looking at the stars. I will do it for the rest of my life with my friends and family. The big expeditions are epic for so many reasons but it’s getting people to take a cycle, swim a little or spend a night camping that I think really changes peoples lives.
What is your next adventure going to be?
Em – I’m going to attempt the longest ever kick scooter journey by a woman. Around Italy. With my kit on my back. Watch this space for scooty updates www.scoottheboot.com