I was recently asked in an interview for Royal Bank of Scotland, where I suggest to go for a very different kind of travel experience. My response was Svalbard, and my answers to the interview questions as follows…
When did you first go to Svalbard and why?
My first visit to Spitzbergan, Svalbard was in 2006 for a weeks polar training in preparation for a North Pole expedition. It was in fact my first experience of any kind of expedition training as it wasn’t until later that year that I went on my first major expedition. So Svalbard was where my baptism into the world of adventure began.
What did you love about it?
I loved the feeling of it being so remote, so ‘in the wild’, so far from the world that I new in the UK (although Longyearbyen settlement was actually never that far away during my training).
I spent a week skiing around the Island towing my pulk/sledge behind me, with everything I needed in it to survive. Each day I would long to spot a Polar Bear and each night I would set up a polar bear perimeter fence with flares around my tent, hoping it wasn’t while I slept that I would have my first encounter with one! The scenery is too epic for words and the light is nothing far from magical. There are so few people that you don’t have to share the landscape with anyone for days and days, and for me, that’s what makes it extra special.
What was the most amazing/memorable/inspiring thing that happened while you were there?
Svalbard is so memorable for me, is that this was the place where I learnt to take care of myself on a Primal level. The skills to stay safe and healthy in challenging and wild environments. It’s here I learnt to be a little tougher than I was before.
What kind of person would this trip suit?
If you are looking for a unique holiday away from the ‘norm’ and have an adventurous soul, then this place has to be on your bucket list. It’s a place where you can combine some luxurious comforts of fine dining and modern hotels with a truly Arctic experience, on the edge of the inhabitable world.
What’s a ‘must-do’ when you’re there?
A ‘must do’ while you’re there is to leave town! (Even if its just in the day and then return back to the comfort of a warm modern hotel in the evening) Once out of the settlement there are no roads, so regardless of the time of year, whether you’re on snowmobiles, skis, dog sleds, kayaks or by boat, just head out and take in the epic scenery, Northern Lights, and incredible wildlife. There isn’t a ‘high sided polar bear tour truck’ in sight! This is real explorer country!
How challenging is it to get there?
The Svalbard archipelago is set high in the Arctic Ocean, but it’s not as inaccessible as you might think. Sitting about halfway between Tromso in Norway and the North Pole it is the farthest North you can travel by scheduled flight. From London you can fly with SAS via Tromso to the settlement of Longyearbyen. There are a three or 4 four hotels to choose from in the small settlement, including the Radisson Blu Polar Hotel, the world’s northernmost hotel offering spectacular views and amazing food.
>What’s your top tip for turning any holiday (even a dreaded package holiday) into more of an adventure?
My top tip for turning any holiday into an adventure is to head away from the crowds, go somewhere remote. Anywhere hard to get to is usually well worth the effort. I think it’s very easy to assume that the popular spots are busy because they are the best, but usually, they are just busy because they are the easy option.