I'm 29, a woman and an explorer – here's how I travel the world

As I emerged from the dense, dark and damp jungle and into the heat of the Savannah, I felt the warmth of the sun on my skin, something I hadn’t experienced for weeks.

In that moment, I knew we’d completed the Amazon Uncharted expedition. The one that so many thought to be impossible. The one that so many said we’d never come back from, while others thought we were foolish to even try.

It had been a brutal 50 days through 253 miles of uncharted, untouched and inhospitable jungle, using just 50-year-old maps to navigate – but we had actually done it. We’d defied the odds.

And the reason for taking on such a dangerous and extreme challenge? To highlight and celebrate the wonders of – and the need to protect – our wild places.

Our pristine, natural environments, such as the jungles and rainforests are the lungs of the earth – and are teeming with diversity that we’re at risk of losing forever. If we continue to lose our rainforests, the consequences will be devastating for all.

I’m an explorer. In other words, I go to the uncharted places of our planet and document the many worlds I find along the way.

I understand that having ‘professional explorer’ as a job title sounds ridiculous, maybe even outdated, but I use it unapologetically because I think it’s about time we redefined what an explorer is, and what they can be.

We are used to hearing the term when talking about the likes of Shackleton or Scott – all incredible explorers. Now in our modern and technological world, we might think that we’ve discovered everything there is left to discover on the planet.

However, there’s still land left on this planet that humans know very little about. I find that humbling and have a desperate desire to make others aware of it, so we can protect these areas.

I now consider it my duty to open people’s eyes to the beautiful fragility of our planet, amplify the voices of climate advocates, and support sustainable enterprise.

On this particular exploration, I led a team of four friends, who also happen to be indigenous Amerindian men, on this mission to trek (although I hesitate to use the word ‘trek’ considering it was more like a climb, crawl and wade) the entire width of the mystical Kanuku Mountains in Guyana, deep within the Amazonian Rainforest.

Our aim was to cross the width of Guyana through the protected Kanuku mountain range in order to highlight the need to protect places like this and to encourage others to adventure outside.

There wasn’t a day where we didn’t face any danger. It was around every tree, every river crossing, every step. We encountered all types of wildlife; whistling deadly bushmaster snakes, hundreds of wild boar, head crushing jaguars, electric eels and giant wasps.

When we weren’t dodging the wildlife, we were dodging falling trees, crossing raging rivers and trying desperately not to let our skin become infected from being soaked all the time!

My team and I had created such a strong, unusual and unique bond during our brutal adventure through the uncharted territory – helping us to overcome the dangers together.

My interest in exploring started at a young age. As a child, I was happiest when I was outside. I was given a long leash by my parents, which allowed me to roam the fields around the house. I would hear adults describe me as ‘adventurous’ and I liked that.

It began to become my identity, but never did I think that I could become a real life explorer.

I’ve been in the exploration industry for over a decade now. I’m 29 years old and my first expedition took place back in 2011 when I was 18. I was lucky enough to apply and qualify as one of the team of 10 for a 10 week Arctic expedition to Svalbard with the British Exploration Society.

I learnt what went into preparing for an expedition – the training, the skills and of course, the fundraising. Expeditions are either funded by organisations or I’m paid to go by companies who are inspired and want to be involved.

When I finally got to the icy, pristine landscape, I knew something special was happening; I’d never felt so alive. I was exactly where I needed to be, and I embraced every moment.

I loved the feeling of overcoming suffering, working in a team, learning about the risks, and how to be disciplined in order to stay safe in extreme environments.

Coming back from this first big expedition was hard. As an explorer, you’re told to be grateful for having that once in a lifetime experience, but that idea deflated me. I’d tasted what it was like to live my dream, but now I was being told I’d never have that again?

It was a shock to the system and in all honesty, I took a hit mentally. I now cared so deeply about the environment and felt a duty of care to protect it. I’d get angry when I saw friends and family wasting water or energy and I wanted everyone to feel and care the same way I did.

Time went on and, eventually, it clicked. If I wanted to keep having adventures like this for the rest of my life and share my love for our wild places, then I had to find a way to make it my career.

I had to learn more, do more, take every opportunity, get a reputation, share my stories in every way through talks, film, and photography. Maybe then I could figure out a way to educate and inspire more people to care about our planet, while also making a living from being a modern day explorer.

I spent my time giving keynote talks, guiding expeditions, writing and filming my adventures – partnering with brands and companies that shared my values and goals.

The Amazon Uncharted Expedition was by far my most ambitious expedition to date. It had been 10 years of work to get to that point. It wasn’t just the challenges that the expedition itself required, it was the amount of work it took to even get to the start point.

I frequently get asked if I’ve ever felt unsafe as a female explorer and the answer is, all explorers, male or female, feel unsafe (a lot) at some time or another on these adventures.

There are life threatening activities but we mitigate the risks as much as we can and also accept that death is a possibility.

But have I felt more at risk as a female? Maybe. I’ve felt vulnerable in the more built-up areas, or when I’ve had to hitchhike, but most of the time I go to the remote regions where there’s no one around.

For me, the rewards outweigh the fears, but it has taken a lot of experience to get here. Adventures show us who we really are and who we can be. They are a catalyst to see our own potential and can provide self-belief like no other.

They have taught me that life is fleeting and if we don’t grab it with both hands then before we know it, it will have passed.

I’ve seen how incredible our home is, the kindness of strangers, the fragility of different environments, and how vulnerable our beautiful paradise of a planet is.

Only recently, I returned to the Arctic of Svalbard to guide a group of eight people. It had been 11 years since my very first expedition there and there was no doubt that the landscape and ice formations have changed after over a decade of rising temperatures.  

The risks were bigger than before too, with the glaciers and sea ice more unstable and polar bears more unpredictable (we ended up having an encounter with one). Even after all of these years and with the additional dangers, I felt just as connected with the freezing Arctic wilderness as I did when I was 18.

Looking ahead, I want to inspire and empower more people to get outside. To push their boundaries; realise their potential, reach their dreams and most importantly, I hope to encourage more to feel that same connection with our natural world as I do.

I’m not stopping anytime soon and there are so many more big adventures to be had and stories to be told. One thing I know for sure, is that the best is always yet to come.

For more information on Lucy’s adventures, head on over to her website or follow her on Instagram.

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