Illuminating The World Through Experiential Travel: Jonny Bealby of Wild Frontiers

After growing up in a family of intrepids, it wasn’t long before British-born Jonny Bealby began seeking out his own path of adventure. He recounts years of listening to his grandmother’s tales of India along with his parent’s whirlwind road trip from the UK to Kenya as the two seeds of intrigue that led him to seek out his own experiences–beginning with his decision to attend college in Montreal.

What followed were years of traveling, writing, playing in a band and a motorbike trip that ultimately inspired him to found Wild Frontiers–a company that shares the value of the detailed, experiential travel he was raised on, in more remote areas of the world. Influenced by his connection to India, Bealby became fascinated with countries like Pakistan, Georgia, and Jordan, as destinations that offered more than just an easy getaway; with adventure, experience and authentic interactions at the trips’ core.

“Beautiful landscapes and impressive buildings are all very well but unless you get to meet the people that live there – whose ancestors built those buildings, or walked in those hills – you only get part of the story,” shares Bealby.

Wild Frontiers uses Bealby’s belief to connect travelers with locals as an immersive experience through off-the-beaten-path itineraries–whether in less popular destinations or current hotspots. “In countries like Pakistan, pretty much everything is ‘off-the-beaten-path’ as so few travelers go there but in places like India, Cambodia, Argentina, we have to work harder to find those special places that mainstream tourism hasn’t yet discovered.”

With holidays designed around themes from walking and riding, to wildlife and luxury honeymoon, across the seven continents, Bealby has thoughtfully grown Wild Frontiers to cover every traveler’s needs and more. And although he may discover the destinations for you, the trips are curated to encourage discoveries of your own. In fact, that’s what Bealby wants to share with customers as his tours only continue to increase; “Don’t be scared. Contrary to what many believe the world is not a scary place.”

We caught up with Bealby to learn more about a life full of travel, his favorite destinations, and the lesser known tragedy that ultimately inspired the founding of Wild Frontiers.

Was travel always something you were interested in growing up? If not, when did this change?

There are three aspects of my early life that gave me the travel bug. Firstly my mum was born in India, and my gran used to love sitting me on her knee and telling me stories of that magical land. Secondly in 1971 my parents drove a Land Rover from the United Kingdom to Kenya when I was just a few years old. The photos, souvenirs and stories they came home with captivated me and sowed a seed of excitement in travel and foreign cultures that has never left me. And finally, at age 17, I went to college in Montreal. After that the die was cast.

Tell me about your path from rock singer, to motorbiking through Africa, to the final motivators that gave way to Wild Frontiers in 2002.

Goodness this is a big story, so big in fact that I wrote my first book about it. But in a nutshell… After five years of singing in a band my partner, Melanie, and I decided it was time for a change and to indulge in some travel. Having got engaged in Thailand, we journeyed to India, Kashmir to be exact, where, very unexpectedly, Melanie died. So devastated by this was I that 18 months later I decided to throw caution to the wind and drive my grieving heart across Africa. It was an extraordinary journey that helped me come to terms with my loss and also lead to my first book. This in turn lead to a second book, about a journey through India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Whilst I was in Pakistan researching this book a pagan chief said I should set up a travel company to bring tourists to meet his remote tribe. This I did and the following year Wild Frontiers (named after Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province) was born.     

Wild Frontiers specializes in personal, cultural tours that often lead travelers “off the beaten path.” What does “off the beaten path” mean to you?

I believe it can mean very different things to different people. To me, it means travel to places where tourism is not the norm, where, quite literally, there is not a well worn path – or route – used by countless travel companies, all offering the same or similar things. In countries like Pakistan, pretty much everything is ‘off-the-beaten-path’ as so few travelers go there but in places like India, Cambodia, Argentina, we have to work harder to find those special places that mainstream tourism hasn’t yet discovered.  

How would you describe your style of leading a Wild Frontiers’ journey?

With a small l! When I am leading a group I try to make sure first and foremost that all the members of the group get on and understand that each is there for their own reasons but that those reasons are often shared. Once that is established I make sure I open as many doors as possible so that the clients can gain vicarious friendships through my friendships. For me, travel is all about the people you meet along your journey. Beautiful landscapes and impressive buildings are all very well but unless you get to meet the people that live there – whose ancestors built those buildings, or walked in those hills – you only get part of the story. I see it as my job to open the world through which we are traveling up to my clients so they can see it as the place I see. But I am not a ‘flag waving, listen to me’ type of guide.

What would be your advice for a first time traveler?

Don’t be scared. Contrary to what many believe the world is not a scary place. It is an incredible place, full of wonderful people that will go out of their way to help you. So get out there into this amazing world, in which we are so lucky to live, and enjoy it.

You have said that your favorite country is India—that “you couldn’t live without it”—tell me why? And how often do you get to visit?

As Wild Frontiers has an office in Delhi I am lucky to go back there at least once, often twice or even three times a year. The reason why I love it so much is firstly because there is just so much to it – from the mountains of Kashmir and the steaming backwaters of Kerala, or from the magical mayhem of Calcutta to the quiet tranquillity of rural Rajasthan India really is a subcontinent, and offers so much for so many different moods. But India is also in my blood. I’ve been brought up with tales of the country and as a consequence have always felt at home there. I also get on very well with Indian people, who I believe share a similar sense of humor to us Brits.

You’ve been to more than 90 countries. How do you think this amount of diversity and culture has impacted the way you live your day-to-day life?

Absolutely. Experiencing many different cultures, creeds, ways of life, ultimately makes you realize we are all the same, living our lives wherever we are from with the same hopes and fears, the same issues, the same ultimate goals. I think travel dilutes prejudice, breaks down barriers, makes us more accommodating and ultimately makes the world a better place… more people should do it!

Do you have a role model or someone who particularly inspires you?

Growing up, living the life I have, I have been inspired by so many – parents, grandparents, wives (I’ve had a couple!) friends, explorers, writers, musicians, filmmakers – all of whom have had a cumulative impact on making me the person I am. But if I was to choose the person that has had the greatest impact on my life it would of course be Melanie, as her love and subsequent death has lead directly to the life I have lived.

Is there a place you’d like to shed a bit more light on for travelers?

Pakistan is for my money adventure travel’s best-kept secret; with its epic mountains, historic cities, excellent cuisine, better-than-imagined infrastructure and a diverse and hugely hospitable population, it is a country that has it all. People are of course nervous about the security, but honestly they shouldn’t be. Firstly this has improved radically in the last few years and secondly, I can honestly say, in all the 20 years I have been traveling there and leading groups I have never had the slightest issue.

What are the top three travel destinations on your list right now? And why?

India – because it always will be. As previously mentioned it is a country that just has everything, from highly adventurous, to hugely romantic. Who could want more?

Georgia (as in part of the former Soviet Union) – this is a country that again offers so much in a relatively small area. It has a history that dates back to Jason and the Argonauts, through the Silk Road and Crusades, to modern geopolitics. It has beautiful landscapes, a great cuisine, a welcoming population and was the birthplace of wine!

Japan – this is a place I long to visit, as I think it must be one of the most foreign places on the planet and yet is totally safe, and very comfortable. We started selling it this year and it is proving very successful. Hopefully I will get there soon!

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