What's life as a TV travel presenter really like?
How would you like getting up at dawn every day, sharing meals with your colleagues week after week and even sleeping with them at night? Simon Reeve loves it
Getty, Steve & Ann Toon
Dawn light: TV directors are big fans, Simon Reeve less so
It's true: people do sometimes express envy about my job. In response I usually mumble excuses about the difficulties involved. I talk about the danger of being in one isolated part of the world after another, about all the heavy camera kit that needs to be lugged constantly in and out of accommodation and 4WDs, about having to get up at dawn every day to catch the beautiful early morning light telly directors seem to love and about eating an identical meagre breakfast, lunch (when available) and dinner with three colleagues week after week.
If anyone still looks jealous, I regale them with tales of sleepless nights in godforsaken villages and unmade beds in brothels part-timing as hotels. I might even offer up a recent experience, such as the joy of sleeping head to toe with two colleagues on a raised reed bed in a tiny hut on the remote African coast a few weeks away. Thankfully, our reeking unwashed clothes seemed to ward off all local insect life.
In short, I earnestly tell people hankering after my professional life: "These trips really aren't holidays."
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Yet I have a confession to make: filming a TV series while on a journey is one of the most spectacular ways to travel. It is enlightening, entertaining and it provides a purpose and reason for adventure. It is, in short, an absolute blast.
Travelling while filming for the BBC opens doors. We get to see things and go to places that other travellers could never hope to visit. We meet people who would normally be completely out of reach.
For such privileges it's only right that we should endure the occasional frustration and hardship, and one of those is that we are constantly on the move. On every journey I make there are always half a dozen places where I would love just to pause and savour the surroundings. Filming on a beautiful tropical island off the coast of northern Africa recently for my latest series, Indian Ocean, I would have swapped a limb for a chance to stretch out for a couple of days and relax in paradise.
If I was travelling for pleasure I could simply have decided to halt my trip and unwind. But, of course, on our filming trips we are slaves to the journey, and after the briefest of stops to recce and then shoot, we are back on the road.
Simon often just wants to lie down in paradise but, no, the show goes on
Off the road
I say "road". In the countries I visit they are often just connected potholes. Travelling for months means I have spent large chunks of my life bouncing around on the world's most appalling tracks while crammed into 4WDs apparently designed for midgets. The result is spinal pain that has earned me a loyalty card from my local osteopath.
Then - I'm defending myself again against accusations of privilege - there's all the bureaucracy and paperwork. It's an aspect of the journey we never show on TV, simply because it is so tedious. But the meetings we have to attend and forms we have to complete just to be allowed into a country to film would try the patience of a particularly saintly nun.
For some reason, the more unattractive, undemocratic and unappealing the country, the tougher the entry requirements. Do they really need to know my late father's profession? The name of my first pet? Some visa forms for film crews feel like a crib sheet for an internet identity thief.
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The bureaucratic fun doesn't stop even when inside the country. While some rare places will send a tourism official to greet us and speed us through the airport (lovely Seychelles), others send the secret police to lock us in a room and bombard us with questions.
In Botswana, an otherwise magnificent country, numpty government media managers held colleagues and I hostage for half a day, quizzing us and then insisting we waited while press credentials were laboriously created for us using what looked like a Guttenberg printing press and those Letraset kits for children you get in WHSmith.
I have never been particularly good at incarceration. At Guantanamo, they could have just turned the key in a lock and I'd have ratted on my wife. After a few hours at the Botswana media ministry, sod the film, I was begging to be allowed to leave the country.
I can tell your hearts are bleeding for me. Don't worry, I'm not looking for sympathy. Because although filming trips certainly aren't a holiday, they remain a glorious treat.
Author and TV presenter Simon Reeve has visited around 100 countries and circled the world three times for the BBC TV series Equator, Tropic of Capricorn and Tropic of Cancer. He is currently filming a major new series travelling around the Indian Ocean.
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