(Oct 31): Iraq war veteran, extreme athlete, and author Akshay Nanavati gives advice for adventure travelers.
At Bloomberg Pursuits, we love to travel. And we always want to make sure we’re doing it right. So we’re talking to globe-trotters in all of our luxury fields—food, wine, fashion, cars, real estate—to learn about their high-end hacks, tips, and off-the-wall experiences. These are the Distinguished Travel Hackers.
Iraq war veteran Akshay Nanavati joined the Marines after overcoming drug addiction in high school; his role in Iraq was to walk in front of convoys to find IEDs, or improvised explosive devices. On his discharge, Nanavati was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and considered suicide before turning to extreme sport as an answer. Since then, he has run ultramarathons, skied across the world’s second-largest ice cap, and climbed in the Himalayas.
Together, those experiences form the basis of his current career as a coach and motivational speaker, as well as the backbone of his new book, Fearvana: The Revolutionary Science of How to Turn Fear into Health, Wealth and Happiness.
Nanavati spends much of his year traveling, whether between his two home bases—the U.S. and India—or on extreme expeditions in Greenland, Alaska, or Bolivia. His favorite carriers are Southwest and Lufthansa. Of the German airline, he says, “The service is great, and it flies locally to Newark, and it’s convenient for places like India where my family’s at.” He lives in Basking Ridge, N.J., with his wife.
Approach air travel like a workout
When you travel with the Marines, you don’t get the luxury of time off to relax and recover, whether this is going to San Diego for Marine Corps boot camp or flying to Kuwait in preparation for the war. You’ve got to hit the ground running. So I took lessons from that: If I’m flying to a destination at night, to combat the jet lag and ensure I get back into the rhythm, I force myself to stay awake on a long flight. I use pre-workout supplements with caffeine in them like Gnarly Maximus.
The other thing I’ve started doing to keep me going and keep my energy and my blood flowing is to find a corner of the plane somewhere and knock out pushups every so often. I’ve gamified it, so depending on the mileage of the journey, I’ll tell myself: one pushup for every 10 or 100 miles of the journey. You’ll get funny stares from people eyeing you in that back corner, but I think usually it’s often a smile of admiration
My favorite travel companion is a Bear Grylls Gerber, a small, simple one—that’s my go-to MacGyver tool. Having a multitool always comes in handy to fix any little things that might break on my adventures. It’s got a little knife on it and a pair of pliers. Pliers are useful for everything—when my [suitcase] zip came loose, I used the pliers to zip it shut again. If nothing else, it also just serves as a useful bottle opener.
Bring an extra water bottle on cold camping trips
In cold environments, like when I was mountaineering in Alaska, it really helps to have a pee bottle. The first time I heard this, it kind of grossed me out. But then the first time I had to get out [of my tent] in a cold mountain environment to go pee radically changed that thought. The best way is to take a yellow Nalgene bottle and mark big Xs all over it because you do not want to confuse it with your regular water bottle. You learn how to pee in a pee bottle very effectively. And it also becomes like a hot water bottle you can keep with you in your sleeping bag, which was helpful in Greenland, where it’s minus-30 degrees.
As soon as I landed in Kerala [recently], I went on a 10-mile run in the pouring rain, and it was beautiful. I absolutely loved it. I have a Ziploc bag in my running kit, where I put my iPod and these little 100-calorie packets, Gu Gel, that runners use for ultra-endurance sports. There’s a very specific formula I follow: You want to take anywhere from 250 to 300 calories an hour, so I take two per hour.
Get uncomfortable as soon as you can
As I like to put it, seek out a worthy struggle on every trip. I find that traveling to a new place and meeting new people is not worth it if you do everything you can to stay in your comfort zone, like never leaving the confines of a luxury resort or eating the same meals you would eat back home, for example. Sometimes it can just be staying at a lower-end Airbnb instead of a luxury hotel.
I did that when I was in Andorra. I did a whole run from the northern tip to the southern tip of Andorra, so I essentially saw the whole country when I ran through it—a 20-mile run. There’s a lot of gorgeous, gorgeous nature and so you can do all these amazing hikes, but it’s also like this beautiful, quaint little city and the towns there. I’ve paid the price for this also: I was in the Indian Himalayas after a mountaineering trip, and my mom said, “Don’t eat the vegetables here, because those could be raw.” I thought, “I’ll be fine,” and I had severe dysentery for four days.
Another thing I learned from the Marines: When you really push your mind, body, and spirit, the feeling of rest after that is so much more relaxing. So I like to strategically plan my vacations. I pair trips—one that’s physically or emotionally intense, then one that allows you to relax. I’ve learned that when you relax on vacation after a hard [trip], it’s the best feeling in the world because there’s no greater rest than the rest that is really truly earned. I did a one-month ski across Greenland: 350 miles while dragging a 190-pound sled. After that, I was ready to relax, so we planned a vacation with my family to South Africa and went on a very nice safari and to Cape Town, too.
Prepare for monotony
The first time I took a polar expedition, I wasn’t prepared for the monotony: You’re just skiing into empty, white nothingness every day, for 8 to 12 hours. You have to deal with your mind a lot, which goes everywhere, because it’s wandering. So now, to train for an adventure trip, I practice stillness. An endurance cyclist friend of mine told me to sit and stare at the wall, with no music, no TV, no paintings even. No stimuli to engage you. He would do that for 24 hours, then go riding for 24 hours. It’s a hard thing to do; surprisingly, it brings up a lot of stuff, all the demons and everything else. But you kinda grow from it.
There’s a website called Explorers Web, which is where I follow communities of the things I want to engage in. Once I figure out who the top explorers or mountaineers are, I follow them on Twitter, Instagram, and all that. I really want to visit Patagonia, for example, so I learned of this Norwegian explorer called Børge Ausland who leads trips to the Patagonia ice caps.
Pack a secret sauce
In Iraq, we would have Cajun powder, Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning. We would put it on almost everything to flavor it all. The unit I went to deploy with was a Louisiana-based unit, so that’s why. I put a little of that hot sauce powder in my washbag. And sometimes when you travel, it’s hard to eat healthy, so I also pack vegetable powders like Athletic Greens.