I’m a National Geographic Explorer who has been walking across the world on a 24,000-mile journey from Africa to South America. Throughout this multi-year journey, I’ve written stories about culture, environment, history and science along the ancient pathways of the first humans who discovered the Earth during the Stone Age. You can learn more about my journey here and my latest story for National Geographic Magazine here.

PROOF: https://i.redd.it/4161dprp99z71.jpg

EDIT: Thanks for joining the discussion tonight, everyone. It's been great to chat a bit about walking and writing. Get out and take a stroll whenever you can. I can recommend it as a natural boost for any creative effort. Walk in peace. Maybe see you out on the trail.

Comments: 77 • Responses: 24  • Date: 

mozzisticks39 karma

Hi Paul! So glad you’re doing this! I have been following your Out of Eden journey from the beginning. I have so many things I want to ask but I’ll refrain to the one I’m most curious about.

The walk was forecasted to take 7 years at first right? Has it just taken you longer than you thought it would or did you run into unexpected obstacles? Will you still finish the walk even though it is taking longer than expected?

nationalgeographic64 karma

Back in 2012, I scratched out calculation on a piece of paper: distance along my global route divided by how far I could walk a day, then doubling that time. It was laughable. The world is far too interesting not to pause to talk to folks, to listen to their stories, and let them share their own with readers. Because of this, the walk is a work in progress--I'm not sure how long it'll take. It depends on the people I meet--how long their yarns are. I just braid those stories together, a growing thread of voices.

nationalgeographic22 karma

EDIT: Thanks for joining the discussion tonight, everyone. It's been great to chat a bit about walking and writing. Get out and take a stroll whenever you can. I can recommend it as a natural boost for any creative effort. Walk in peace. Maybe see you out on the trail.

doomdoggie20 karma

What kind of shoes do you wear?

nationalgeographic27 karma

Merrells. I get about 2000 km (1200 miles) out of each pair.

jorph12 karma

How does one get this most amazing job ever?

nationalgeographic29 karma

By failing at most other jobs.

Mesapholis12 karma

Travel opens the mind and makes people more accepting to cultures, I think the variations which you are exposed to through traveling for such a long time are incredible; but was there a time or situation where you were feeling unsafe or worried because you walked into the wrong place at the wrong time?

Very interesting AMA!

nationalgeographic40 karma

Hi Mesapholis. I get asked about safety a lot, and I have to caveat any reply on this subject by stating this inescapable fact. I'm an older guy, and I'm white. So how I am perceived by the new people I encounter along my trails--as a threat or a target or something else altogether--is informed at least partly by the advantages of my phenotype. That said, whenever I stumble into dodgy situations (and there have been a few: conflict in the West Bank, civil war in eastern Turkey) I also remind myself that, while we all have different tolerance levels, we can't entirely avoid risk. Nor should we. Whether walking across the world or walking across your own street, accepting reasonable risk is part of being alive--being human, no? We wouldn't grow otherwise. And the truth is, I've been received with extraordinary and completely unearned kindness all along my route for more than 8 years--across borders, languages, cultures, ideologies. That continuing evidence of human goodness is what keeps me going.

space-goats11 karma

Really cool, I've been following your journey for ages!

What place(s) that you have walked through was least like you expected?

nationalgeographic32 karma

The thing about walking is that it makes even so-called familiar places new. Moving slowly really opens your eyes to what goes unseen when you speed through landscapes. So some of the greatest surprises were in supposedly familiar tableaux: city edges, for example. They are chaotic--a jumbled, incoherent, startling mix of rural and urban. It's also where cities tend to dump their junk. Want to peer into the soul of a city? Forget the downtown. Go to its edges.

Leenzlions10 karma

What has been the most physically difficult part about your walk? (That might be an obvious question but still curious to hear your thoughts!) And what’s been the most mentally and/or emotionally challenging aspect of your journey?

nationalgeographic34 karma

Going through the Kyzylkum desert of Uzbekistan was interesting. Somebody stole my water cache. Imagine walking 4 days across hyper-dry sands . . . only two reach a hole in the ground where your stash of water jugs used to be. And nothing but tan desert for as far as the eye can see around.

But apart from the rigors of deserts and the bitter cold of mountains (traversing the Caucasus, Pamir and Karakoram) walking through humanity's new mega-cities is also a chore. The assault of noise and pollution grinds you down. Walking along the Grand Trunk Road in India and Pakistan, I would cough up black balls of grit at the end of each day. My ears rang for hours after dark with from booming traffic.

dbible9 karma

What's the biggest/most interesting thing you've learnt during your eight-year adventure?

nationalgeographic31 karma

How easy it is to walk the world, compared to some other alternatives that are considered "normal." There is little else that seems as natural, as bone-deep satisfying, as reassuringly familiar--from somewhere in the body's core memory--than rambling landscapes at 5 km/hr. It's what we've been doing for 300,000 years. It's what w've evolved to do for 95% of our species' history. Sitting down is what's pretty unfathomable.

shazspaz9 karma

Your passport must be in tatters.

I'd like to know how much do you think this journey has changed you and how you see the world?

nationalgeographic29 karma

I think it's made me more patient. And that's no small thing, thanks to the infinite distractions that we all have access to these days. People say crypotcurrency or diamonds are today's most valuable commodities. I beg to differ. The rarest treasure on Earth is the human ability to wait. Walking teaches this, among other things.

Lilonerocky8 karma

What advice/thoughts have stuck with you from your journey?

nationalgeographic32 karma

Hydrate. And read. Drink in plenty of water and words. That's worked for me.

iamasid7 karma

We hear so many things about China filtered through different lenses, mostly of the media channels. What has been your experience so far from the walk in China? Does it match the reportage? Or is it different? Or difficult to say yet?

nationalgeographic13 karma

I've just been walking about 6 weeks in China. I've never been here before. So my first impression is sheer surprise--at the unforeseen diversity. I'm starting in one of the most culturally and biologically kaleidoscopic corners of the country, Yunnan province: about 25 ethnic groups, and dozens of habitats ranging from subtropical forests to glaciated peaks. It's a world unto itself. Beijing and Shanghai seem another planet. It's also beyond-words beautiful. Check out the pics on our social media streams. Walking through Yunnan makes want to change the project's name to "Into Eden."

SannevLambalgen6 karma

Dear Paul, Last years I've been walking quite some distances too, mostly in deserts, and I just came back from Namibia and South Africa last week. I am very much concerned with the current situation on this earth, therefore it seems that walking in quiet, listening, observing, learning, remains the only thing to do for now. It comes with a lot of sensitivity that perhaps we have lost on the way to this very moment. Sensitivity for each other, for the world and all that lives. As a young woman walking alone, sometimes not easy, challanging in a world full of conflict. Would it be possible to walk with you, and perhaps listen together, discuss some things together?

I am looking forward to your message.

Take care paul,


nationalgeographic9 karma

Hi Sanne. You're walking some extraordinarily beautiful places. (I lived in Jo'burg for many years.) I'm happy to swap ideas and notes. The storytelling web site www.outofedenwalk.com has a comments section where we can correspond, or write [[email protected]](mailto:[email protected]).

Lilonerocky5 karma

How have you been received in different cultures? Do you have any thoughts on how to best acclimate and understand so many different cultures/ideologies?

nationalgeographic7 karma

Received almost universally well. I don't there's much of a secret to it. Make yourself vulnerable. Listen. Be patient. Try to be a fraction as curious and generous as the average stranger greeting you from under her mulberry tree.

flatlanded5 karma

Was there anything that was surprisingly easy about the trip so far?

nationalgeographic13 karma

I'm surprised overall that I've made it even this far. About 12,000 miles. This whole journey is very seat-of-the-pants in many ways. So each new day, each new mile or kilometer, is a sort of miracle.

CurIns92115 karma

What's your opinion on stone age people? What's surprised you more about them?

nationalgeographic26 karma

How dumb we often are by comparison. Overspeicialized. Disconnected from nature and each other by the millennia of technology we've built upon. The average perception of our Stone Age ancestors is that they were a kind of inferior, interim version of ourselves. But we should try innovating your way across diverse landscapes for a week, only using the raw materials at hand: That'll open our eyes to their utter genius. They gave us this world. Judging by current events, that legacy seems unearned.

dash473 karma

do you have any favorite areas ?, and did you meet with any hostile people?

nationalgeographic13 karma

Lots. Lots. Too numerous to name. Many were places with no name--the wildernesses of Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Yunnan. More. But generally, I tend to think of favorite people rather than favorite places. That's really what i'm doing--walking towards people. People are my destination. And there are even more examples of those--literally, thousands. Favorite people pop up almost every day.

Unaka_man3 karma

Hi Paul, I've enjoyed following your travels on the Out of Eden walk. Do you have any idea how long it will take to cross China, and where to next after that?

nationalgeographic6 karma

About 18 month across China. With a bit of luck. Then into Siberia.

dbible3 karma

Have there been any moments during your trip where you've been in fear for your life?

nationalgeographic9 karma

I wake up most mornings knowing that I will sooner or later die, if that's what you mean. But I probably have lots of human company. I'm incredibly lucky and privileged to be doing that I'm doing. I wake up to that thought daily, too. What I'm not sure about is whether what I'm doing--walking country lanes, market places, river banks, day after day, year after year--is any more perilous than working in a city, commuting to work every day. It's all a question of viewpoint, I suppose.

Litterboxbonanza3 karma

What's the most dangerous situation you've found yourself in?

nationalgeographic16 karma

You mean besides breaking writing deadlines?

I got sick a couple times--pneumonia in Palestine and and a choler-like bug in Pakistan. I got ambushed by militiamen in Turkey. But probably the most dangerous moments were those I wasn't even aware of--like perhaps getting missed by a speeding bus I didn't even see, or stepping over a viper that decided not to strike. Isn't is always that way?

CurIns92113 karma

Have you ever been to India as a Explorer? Where you visited? Share your experience!

nationalgeographic8 karma

Here's a distillation of 17 months spent walking across northern India:


chameauleon3 karma

What's your walking schedule like, and when do you make time for writing?

nationalgeographic6 karma

I'm basically moving commas around page most of the time, and walking across continents when I can, as a sideline. Just ask Ollie, my longtime and long-suffering editor.

When my walking partners are happily snoring away--like right now, a few minutes before midnight Yunnan--I'm at the laptop.

NOSlurpy3 karma

What shoes do you wear? How many pairs of shoes do you think you have gone through? What backpack do you use?

nationalgeographic7 karma

Merrells. I've been through about 8-10 pair. I've lost count. I use an LL Bean pack, an old design taken from the Swiss army. Basically, a canvas bag with shoulder straps.

Marrowbonecow-_-NL2 karma

Were the people you found on your way nice?

nationalgeographic8 karma

99% are. The remainder are usually just have a bad day.

doomdoggie2 karma

Have you had to rescue any animals along the way?

nationalgeographic9 karma

Sure, mostly domestic animals. (Wild ones I leave alone.) I've helped pull donkeys out of snow, for example, in Afghanistan. But mostly, its been animals reaching me--on occasion I use cargo animals as partners, camels in Saudi, mules in Jordan, etc. Walking with animals teaches you about empathy, and about landscape: you learn to read the land for grass and water.