Growing up in Derbyshire, Charlotte has always been surrounded by the great outdoors, with wildlife and a menagerie of pets. She believes it is hard not to fall in love with it all when it’s right there on your doorstep, and you’re constantly dragged outside, come rain or shine, by the family for some ‘fresh air’. Even when indoors, this love of the outdoors was only amplified by watching copious amounts of wildlife programmes and reading endless encyclopaedias about the natural world at large.
So at the age of 16, when Charlotte’s school friend invited her to stay with her family in Kenya for the summer holidays, she jumped at the chance. From this moment on Charlotte was addicted to travel. To new continents, new people, new cultures, new experiences, new adventures.
Before becoming a tour leader in 2013, Charlotte’s education and working life had very much been focused on design. She worked as a Design Director with a global branding agency for 11 years, across all their offices in Dubai, New York and San Francisco, departing in 2014 to start her own business and allowing her to focus on both design and travel.
Q: How did you fall into tour leading?
A: I’d spent my life working towards my next adventure – planning, saving, plotting. I’d even shaped my design career in a way that took me to far-flung countries, be it working out of the Middle East and India, or living amongst Mongolian nomads and farmers to get a better understanding of their culture and provenance of their produce. But I found this wasn’t enough. So back in 2013, I trained with Wild Frontiers as a tour leader, allowing me to make travel a sustainable and consistent work/life choice – and no longer just for a holiday.
Q: What do you like most about tour leading?
A: It’s a fantastic way to see the world, and with a slightly different lens – building close working relationships with local people isn’t the privilege most people get. I also love getting under the skin of other countries and cultures, it’s fascinating and enlightening to discover and learn new things and get to see things from another perspective. Being able to share that with an enthused group is equally as rewarding.
Q: Where is your favourite part of the world?
A: That’s hard to answer, and the more of the world I see, the harder it becomes. Kyrgyzstan however, has been a highlight for me since I fell in love with its awe-inspiring landscape back in 2004. But it’s India that seems to have captured my heart. I can’t help but keep returning here time after time, and no visit is comparable to the last.
Q: What was your biggest travel highlight?
A: On my first Wild Frontiers trip, aged 24, with Jonny to Kyrgyzstan. It was a seminal trip for me and set the tone for my adventures to come. At the end of a long day riding, and walking, across the snow covered passes and steppes of the Tian Shan mountains, we discovered our pass was blocked by heavy snow from the night before. We needed to find another way. Dom, Richard and Jonny found a solution – but this involved crossing the snow field below, and trekking up the mountain on the other side. With snow up to our hips and at an altitude of 4,500m, this was no mean feat. As we, and our horses, were making the final push up the mountain, exhausted from crossing the snow field, suddenly a storm came in – black clouds, wind and hard snow. It felt like a film set. Jonny urged us onto our horses to get up the remainder of the mountain as fast as possible. I was directly behind him, and as if by slow motion, I watched in horror as his saddle slipped right back and hit the poor horse’s crown jewels. As you can imagine, Jonny got to the top of that mountain quicker than anyone! He shot off like a rocket. Once all safely at the top, it felt like we had all been through a true mini adventure – excitement, exhaustion and hilarity, all rolled into one. I’d be lying if I didn’t shed a little tear and tell Jonny this was my trip of a lifetime.
Q: What’s the craziest request you’ve ever had from a client?
A: In Delhi, during the briefing session for a Wild Walk in Kashmir, a client asked to be urgently taken somewhere to buy some pearls for the trek. I was somewhat perplexed at this request, as we were leaving for the mountains early next morning, and I was unsure as to why she needed pearls to walk with, but not wanting to judge, I arranged for a local guide to take her shopping. Later that evening, upon asking if her shopping trip was a success, she said it was, and that the “poles” would be perfect for walking!! We had quite a chuckle at my mishearing.
Q: What’s the one thing you couldn’t travel without?
A: My camera. Photography has been a passion of mine for as long as I’ve been old enough to hold a camera. I love capturing the people, places and (sometimes crazy) experiences we come across on our way. Looking at the pictures years later always brings back such keen memories – it’s like having the excitement, emotion and wonder all over again. I wouldn’t leave for a trip without it.
Q: Which famous person would you most like to travel with?
A: Since hearing a talk by Benedict Allen at The Royal Geographical Society, I’d love to go on an expedition into the jungle with him. He’s wildly adventurous and great fun. Both vital ingredients in an unforgettable trip.
Q: Have you ever made a cultural faux pas?
A: Not quite, but in Iran the cultural etiquette of taarof, where people insist that you do not need to pay for something, caused quite a few foxing situations – especially when this polite exchange could go on for quite some time, and at the end of it, you’re still terrified you’ve done the wrong thing!