David and Ellie (YakOverland)

Today's Explorers

David and Ellie (YakOverland)

November 23, 2021
min read
Charles Forman

Where are you from?

Devon, UK

When did you start your interest in exploration?

Ellie: I’ve been travelling from a young age with my family in our Land Rover Defender 110. I suppose my first overland trip would have been in the womb as my parents drove their Series 3 around Scotland and camped in -10 degrees!

In 2005, at the age of 8, I went on a 5-week expedition around Iceland with 6 Land Rovers and 42 people. We drove from Devon to Aberdeen, then on to Iceland via Shetland and The Faroe Islands. It was an experience like no other; I camped in a roof tent in katabatic winds, learnt ice axe arrest on a glacier and abseiled down an active volcano. I remember relishing the sense of remoteness and freedom that came with setting up camp in the desert somewhere new every evening and moving on the next day. This journey in particular definitely sparked my interest in exploration.

David: As a child I was always very inquisitive and had a lot of energy. I loved being part of the Scouts; learning basic survival skills, map reading and camping on Dartmoor. Being out of the house and having a break from normal routine is what sparked my interest in living an adventurous life. My parents always encouraged us to spend more time outside, than inside watching screens and I’m grateful for that.

What is a brief understanding of your background story up until you started seeking adventure?

Growing up in Devon, surrounded by nature, you can’t help but develop a passion for the outdoors. Both of us as children spent our weekends hiking coast paths, exploring Dartmoor with our families and spending time in the water.

David: My Dad has been in the Royal Marines since I was born so long yomps across Dartmoor in miserable conditions were a common occurrence as a child. I didn’t always appreciate it at the time, but these experiences were often the most memorable and character-building. Waking up in a wet tent was a big part of my and my siblings’ younger years. Some of my key memories are walking in the Lake District and Snowdonia as a family.

More recently, working in London as a Primary School Teacher (through a pandemic!) has made my feet particularly itchy.

Ellie: Throughout my childhood and teenage years, I went on a number of overland adventures with my family that involved Land Rover-based camping. Some of these destinations include: Norway, Morocco and many European countries. My parents’ adventurous spirit definitely rubbed off on me and I spent my school days counting down until our next Summer trip. I found that the more I travelled and experienced different landscapes and cultures, the more I craved it.

I’ve always had a keen interest in Human Geography and studied International Development at University. I’ve probably been slightly brainwashed in this area by my Grandpa who has worked for years as an agricultural development consultant in many African countries and my Dad who’s a Geography Teacher. I think this interest fuels my desire to learn about how people live and adapt when faced with challenges in different parts of the world.

What special skills do you have to help with your explorations?

We wouldn’t really say we have any special skills, though we’re trying our best to soak up mechanical knowledge from Ellie’s Dad who’s spent a lot of time under old Land Rovers. David is a long-distance runner so could hopefully run for help when we inevitably break down on a trip!

Where have you explored so far?

Between us we have travelled to 25 countries, some in a Land Rover, some not.

What is a brief understanding of your adventures so far?

Our first big overland expedition as a couple is pending but we’ve backpacked a few amazing countries since we’ve been together. We got engaged in western Kenya in 2017 when Ellie was out there researching for her dissertation and then spent our honeymoon traveling around Cuba which was an incredible experience. Cuba ticked a lot of boxes for us as a travel destination: a vibrant culture, amazing music and a lot of fairly untapped beauty spots.

A couple of years ago we went on a short trip to Romania - a country we love and definitely want to drive to some day.

What are the top three destinations you hope to explore next, and why?

  • Mongolia (and Central Asia) - This is where we’re planning on travelling in our Land Rover ‘Yak’ from the end of this July (if Covid allows!). We’ve mapped out a rough route from the UK, passing through Russia and Kazakhstan and then back through the Stans, Turkey and the Balkans.
  • Pan-American Highway - We know we’re cheating here as it passes through many countries, but this has been a dream of ours for years. Neither of us have been to South America yet so this would be an amazing experience to share.
  • Ethiopia - We’re hoping that we’ll get to visit this epic country one day, whether that’s in our Land Rover or backpacking. The highlands in particular look breathtaking and the diverse culture interests us.

Where would you recommend others visit?

Morocco for an overland adventure that isn’t too far from home (if you’re based in the UK like us) where you’ll experience a dramatically different culture, incredible hospitality and awesome scenery.

How do you primarily travel on your adventures today?

1997 Land Rover Defender 110

Top modifications:

  • Roof tent
  • Dual battery system
  • Snorkel

What are five pieces of equipment you always travel with?

  • Coleman Unleaded 2-Burner Stove
  • Fire striker
  • A decent knife (we use our Mora Companion a lot)
  • Headtorch

What inspires you to explore more?

Fundamentally, the opportunity to experience something different, whether that be landscapes, ways of life or the individuals we meet.

How do you engage with others?

The Land Rover community is truly unique in the way that it feels like an international family. Social media is really helpful in networking with other travellers, sharing tips and giving support. We try to be friendly and approachable with everyone we meet when travelling. Sharing food is a great way to connect.

Why is it important to embrace global cultures?

We believe it's important as it broadens your perspective which challenges your attitude towards how you live your life and treat other people.

What are your goals when you explore?

  • To make meaningful connections with people we meet and learn from them where possible.
  • To grow through challenging experiences.
  • To appreciate the beauty of the new places we visit.

What are some challenges you have experienced?

One challenge that springs to mind is when our bank card was blocked in Cuba (being disorganised as ever, we'd forgotten to tell the bank that we'd be out of the country). We were therefore without money for 2 days and were unable to contact the bank and family as internet connection is scarce in Cuba. This is an example of how making connections with people can be really important, as we were helped by a Belgian man we'd made friends with in a shared taxi ride from Havana who kindly offered to pay for our food and water.

What has been your most meaningful moment so far?

We can't really single out a particular moment, but a pretty special one was getting engaged in rural western Kenya with a beautiful view stretching out towards Mount Elgon.

How has exploration changed you?

Our travels have definitely made us more resilient in some ways. We feel more aware of the realities of life in some different parts of the world and this broadened perspective has made us thankful for what we have and our opportunities.

What is the number one lesson that you have learnt through your exploration?

Patience! With each other and in the face of unexpected challenges.

How do you explore locally?

We like to make the most of weekends. While we've been living in London, we've driven out to Surrey quite a bit as there are a few great, green lanes to explore in the Land Rover. When we're in Devon, we spend a lot of time on and in the water - fishing, swimming, kayaking, boating etc.

What does the explmore mantra mean to you?

Embrace and be grateful for opportunities to travel. Be willing to engage with and learn from people and situations.

What advice would you give to others who are seeking life changing adventure?

We've never been big 'planners' when it comes to travelling which we know doesn't suit everyone, but we truly believe that having a bit of flexibility and an open mind can open up the opportunity for memorable and unexpected encounters. Most of our favourite travel experiences were unplanned.

What are some comparisons you can make between exploration today, compared to what you know of exploration in the past?

It's tempting for us personally to binge YouTube videos about places we're interested in visiting but this can take away some of the sense of adventure/unknown. We're also aware that navigation is a far easier job for us nowadays and we have huge respect for the original overlanders, who relied solely on compasses and limited maps.


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