Tom Kendall: born with the ‘explorer’s gene’

WE TALK to Tom Kendall about his passion for adventure and the world journey it's lead him on.

Tom Kendall

Tom Kendall has had a passion for adventure since a boy. photo Tom Kendall

TOM KENDALL has had a passion for adventure for as long as he can remember. He was obsessed with adventure documentaries when he was younger and when he was 18 he decided to  circumnavigate the length and breadth of Australia. He later moved to Japan where he immersed himself in the country’s culture and nature.


He’s since explored many more countries around the world and many of those trips have been with the British Army for which he leads a team professional Army photographers called the Combat Camera Team. 


In this exclusive interview Tom goes into detail about many of his most exhilarating adventures and also talks about his challenge later this year to summit Mont Blanc, which he will do to promote adventure to the younger generation.


To follow Tom’s blogs and vlogs and to learn more about his adventurous lifestyle visit www.tom-kendall.co.uk.


Great Wall

Tom pictured at the Great Wall in Croatia. photo Tom Kendall

When did you first realise your passion for adventure and who and what helped inspire it?


I’ve always had a sense of ‘wanderlust’. I totally believe the theory that some people are born with the ‘explorer’s gene’; an innate characteristic which makes some people more open to adventure and risk.


My inspiration comes from people who bring experience and enlightenment back from their adventures. As a teenager I watched people like Benedict Allen and Bruce Parry go to extreme locations, film it, and bring back footage of things not seen before and a sense of shared human experience that also involved and immersed their viewers. If any of my modest pursuits can go some way to inspire people to explore what’s around them then that’s just great. 


Jamison Valley

Tom at the Jamison Valley in Australia. photo Alexandra Obee-Kendall

What were some of the earliest adventures you ever went on?


I’m not sure when my passion for adventure really developed, but my first big trip was when I was 18 years old. I went travelling and chose to circumnavigate the length and breadth of Australia. I was fascinated by different aspects of exploring the continent. I wanted to cross the Nullarbor Plain for example, which contains the longest straight stretch of road and railway in the world, visit Perth, one of the most isolated major cities on earth, and drive the stunning Great Ocean Road in Victoria. The whole country is great from an adventurous point of view; from Botany Bay where Captain Cook first anchored back in 1770, to climbing the gorgeous Stirling Mountain Ranges of Western Australia — the country is a totally exhilarating place to explore. 


A few years later I moved to live in Japan. I am fascinated by the Japanese language and culture, and had heard it was the closest experience a westerner can have to visiting an alien culture without leaving the planet. Whilst that is a tall claim, the place is totally amazing. The sheer white of the Japanese Alps and the rural, wood-built communities, juxtaposed with the urbanity and convenience of Tokyo, for example, is something distinct and entirely unique. 


Cape Point

Tom at Cape Point in South Africa.

What have been some of the biggest adventures you’ve ever been on?


The thing I’m most proud of is when I travelled back to Europe from Tokyo in 2008. Instead of simply flying back home, I was keen to experience Asia from the ground up, and to travel the Trans-Siberian Railway too. So, the challenge was born: to only use surface transport to cross the continent. My route took me from Japan to China by sea, from China north into Mongolia, and then I swung back east to Vladivostok. From there I travelled through Siberia to Novosibirsk and then through Kazakhstan. By that point I turned north to Moscow where my route ended. I had one 50-litre backpack with everything I owned in it, and lived very frugally as I gradually made my way west. I had to learn some Russian to get by, and faced things along the way such as attempted muggings and fights with aggressive drunks. I once slept on a Siberian railway platform in the freezing cold, but I’ve never felt so liberated or challenged as I did those months in the middle of Asia with nothing but my wits.


It was also a great exercise in expedition planning. I needed multiple visas, enough funds, likely routes, in-country contacts, and also visited some very deprived places. The experience has stood me in good stead for the future and the lessons learnt on that trip are as relevant now as they were then. 


After that I joined the British Army, which has been one long adventure in itself. I’ve been around the world to a variety of environments, and been involved in some amazing projects. I’m currently fortunate to be leading a small team of professional Army photographers called the Combat Camera Team. As we are unique in being both soldiers and film-makers, we deploy wherever the Army is around the globe and make interesting content. Combat operations, humanitarian aid, training alongside our allies — you name it, we aim to show the force for good and the ‘life less ordinary’ the Army can offer. You can look us up at www.facebook.com/BritishArmyPhotographers/


Gaddafi Tower

Tom at Gaddafi Tower in Uganda. photo Tom Kendall

Who have you shared these adventures with or have most of them been solo?

I’m always up for collaborating with other adventurers and some trips do lend themselves to being as a team, as opposed to going solo.  Most of the Trans-Asia trip was with a guy called Craig, a very good friend of mine, although I travelled the Kazakhstan and Russia legs solo. 


When I was younger I did the ‘Lon Las Cymru’ cycle trail from Anglesey to Cardiff solo. That’s a great example of an adventure any one of any age can access. I did it in about four days, wild camping in a one man tent I kept on my pannier, so it cost next to nothing and was a great trip you can do within the British Isles. But, it’s also a great example of a trip which can flex and suit those who want to do shorter cycle legs, over a longer period of time, or stay in accommodation en route, for example.


Tell us about your website www.tom-kendall.co.uk and what our readers can learn from your vlogs and blogs?


Well, I truly believe that travel should always involve learning from our rich and varied planet. I want to steer clear of reducing our appreciation of ‘adventure’ to simple thrill-seeking: true exploration relies on education and engaging with all the people and places we encounter. So my website www.tom-kendall.co.uk is sort of my ‘life’s journal’. Hopefully my collection of blogs and photographs (and recently, I have been experimenting with vlogging micro-documentaries) will inspire people to do similar things, and the key message is that the scale of your adventure is really only limited by your imagination. From big expeditions across continents to smaller scale adventures, there’s something for everyone. 


One example of a smaller adventure on my website is my entry on the Caminito Del Rey in Spain, a wooden walkway ‘stapled’ directly onto a cliff face winding up a gorge, offering breathtaking views and once dubbed ‘the World’s most dangerous walkway’ due to the deaths of people falling from it. However, it is only a few miles long, and is now quite accessible after an injection of cash and safety infrastructure. Trekking it inspires the same sense of sheer awe of days past, and it can now be enjoyed by everyone from intrepid types to a whole family on holiday. 



Tom takes a photo in Mauritius. photo Geoff Obee

What do you have lined up for your next adventure and what else is in the pipeline for the rest of the year and beyond?


Well, my main trip of 2017 is to summit Mont Blanc, the tallest mountain in Western Europe, as part of a team of amateurs in collaboration with Alpine mountaineer David Love in August. The team is doing this challenge to raise money for the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme, as we passionately believe in promoting adventure to a younger generation. 


You can find our JustGiving page at www.justgiving.com/fundraising/mtblanc17/ if you’d like to learn more or donate. There are also a range of prizes from brands such as Craghoppers and Ordnance Survey up for grabs for those who donate as a big thank you for your support! 


Later in the year I have various projects across Africa lined up, but you’ll have to watch this space to learn more. If you’d like to follow me in real time you can connect with me using my handle @thomasmkendall on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. 


Mont Blanc

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