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BECOMING A PROFESSIONAL ADVENTURER

Take adventure to another level in Indonesia, with Royal Air Force pilot-turned-explorer Matt Prior

If adventure has a name, it must be Matt Prior. A world traveller by the time he was 17, a British Military Overseas Expedition Leader at 18 and an RAF pilot by 22, he’s ridden a rickshaw through the Himalayas, taken a motorbike over a frozen lake in Siberia and circumnavigated the globe in a London taxi.

Starting an academy in Indonesia to give other people the chance to live their own adventures, few people know more about living life to the limit than him.

What does the word ‘adventure’ mean to you?

It’s a term that’s bandied around all over the place nowadays: on holiday brochures, on TV, on car adverts.

My definition of adventure is ‘the pursuit of curiosity and a willingness to embrace uncertainty and the unknown’.

For me, as long as whatever you’re doing ticks those boxes, then it’s an adventure.

And I think it’s that idea of the unknown that’s the most difficult for most people. The minute you put more knowns in place, an adventure just becomes a holiday, or a guided tour.

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Matt Prior strapped into a powered paraglider

Where did the idea of the Adventure Academy come from?

I was just following my curiosity rather than any sort of grand plan.

Since the age of 12 I decided I was going to be a Fast Jet Pilot in the Royal Air Force.

As time went on, and especially as I was about to finish university, I realized I needed to do and see as much as possible in the world.

This led to a friend and I buying a car for £150 and driving from London to Mongolia and back.


You’re told to turn up at an airport with 10kg of stuff and off we go!


This journey turned my world upside down and suddenly I found this whole new adventurous way of life.

I never quite knew what was going to happen next and, as I learned to just go with the flow, it became very addictive.

Funnily enough, after just under six years into my career in the Air Force, a large group of us ended up being made redundant after government cuts in 2011.

This was a bit of a shock to the system but at the time I was helping some friends with a London taxi to drive around the globe for a world record.

After not too much deliberation I decided to join them on their journey and we ended up driving all over the planet.

After a few more adventures, along with my desire to set something up I was passionate about, I came up with the idea to create the academy.

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Prior, upside down in a Tucano during his time in the Royal Air Force

Why Indonesia?

After a week of exploring the country with my girlfriend we came across what I thought would be the perfect training area.

I’ve been to over 100 countries across the world and I knew what we stumbled across was very rare. It has everything.

Other than desert or arctic landscapes, Indonesia just has such a wealth of diversity in a very small space.

Every time I go back I find more things to see and do and experience.

What kind of adventures do you take people on?

The specifics are kept under wraps which makes the whole experience all the more worthwhile.

You’re told to turn up at an airport with 10kg of stuff and off we go!

But over the course of a week, we climb active volcanoes, visit hidden villages high up in the mountains, stay with the locals, travel by all forms of transport day and night including boats, planes, cars, trucks, jeeps and motorbikes.

There are no English-speaking people around, no internet and no hot water.

It really is a full-on adventure.

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Blue fires of Indonesia’s Kawah ljen volcano

What kind of people usually sign up?

You can’t really put a finger on it. Adventure appeals to all sorts of people for all sorts of reasons. That’s why I love it.

I’ve taken anyone from 20 to 65. All ages, all religions, all beliefs, all backgrounds.

Some people are at a junction in their lives, some have just lost their job, some have just quit, some are doing it for relationship reasons, some have just been through personal tragedies and some just want to get out of the rat race.

I vet everyone before I take them, and the most important question I ask is always ‘why do you want to do it’?


To genuinely get off the beaten track—and not just coin the phrase—is a really wonderful thing.


I only take three at a time so it’s nothing like a tour.

The cool thing that’s started to happen now is that some of the people who have been away with me have started going on adventures together afterwards, which is really cool to see.

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An Indonesian village hidden in the valley

What do you make of the ‘gap year culture’ and the way it’s changed the travel industry, especially in Asia?

It’s become almost a rite of passage in the west now—you finish university and go off traveling for a gap year.

But this gap year is a very, very well trodden path: you’ve got the internet, you’ve got hostels, you’ve got cheap air tickets and you know when you get there you’re just going to be surrounded by a load of other westerners.

It’s going to be drinking, or very organized mass tourism, and everybody around the world is plugged into this.

I could draw a line on a map and show you exactly where people go and exactly what people do.

Even all the locals in a lot of these areas have twigged it—they know that all they have to do is present something that looks local to pull in the tourists.

Then when the photos have been taken and the tourists have left, they can put the satellite back up and carry on.

And I look at that and I think, ‘what are people really getting out of this experience, apart from potentially meeting other people’?

It means nothing in terms of real adventure, and in terms of embracing something that’s genuinely unknown.

To genuinely get off the beaten track—and not just coin the phrase—is a really wonderful thing.


What does ‘adventure mean’ to you? Share your views below in the comment box.

Photos: Matt Prior

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