Jobs in adventure: adventure mentor

Matt Prior juggles two careers so he can do what he loves...
By Phillippa Stewart

If you’re looking for a career in adventure it can be hard to know where to start out, let alone how to make money. Matt Prior may have a solution – do two jobs.

Formerly in the military, Matt is now a commercial airline pilot with an adventurous streak. He holds the Guinness World Record for the highest altitude reached by a taxi (17,143ft) and founded the UK-based Matt Prior Adventure Academy, offering bespoke, no-frills, practical courses designed to give people an introduction into adventure, travel and overland expeditions. caught up with Matt to find out how he juggles a full-time career and being an adventure consultant...

How would you describe your job?

I’m an adventure consultant. My job includes all facets of adventure from idea generation to planning and preparation. This includes bartering with locals, organising finances, accommodation, kit, media, marketing, sponsorship, transportation, security and diplomacy! So quite a bit...

What is the best thing about what you do?

I’m able to meet some really cool people from all over the world, show them what they are capable of in an adventurous environment and then call it “work”.

I also get to do loads of different things on each course including climbing active volcanoes, riding motorbikes, going off the beaten track, interacting with the locals and showing people what I like to call the “other side of life”.

By doing what I do, I am able to have a balance between a "normal life", a "normal job", "normal relationships" – yet I am still able to do one to two big adventures a year.

What’s the worst bit?

It can be a bit tricky balancing everything. I use almost all my leave to make this happen so I do end up working quite a bit throughout the year. I like being busy though. The other thing I find quite challenging is the marketing side of things. I really don’t enjoy putting my business in peoples' faces all the time so I run two careers alongside each other to help with this.

My flying predominantly takes care of my basic living needs, leaving me to run the adventure side how I’d like to.

We’re now at the stage where word-of-mouth fills the courses, or people have seen us in the media and get in touch. I am much happier about this!

What is it actually like day to day?

Matt Prior on jeep
Driving a $200 one-litre Jeep from UK to Mongolia © Matt Prior

The courses are fairly busy. As it’s an introduction to adventure you can be dealing with quite inexperienced and slightly nervous people. The main thing is building trust quickly and always being mindful of your responsibilities. You need to be aware of what each person is looking to get out of the week and how you can tailor it to their needs.

Anything unusual about your job that people might not realise?

Matt Prior tuk tuk
Sri Lanka by rickshaw © Matt Prior

Setting up all aspects of a business on your own is an adventure in itself! You learn a lot and there are ups and downs but overall it’s definitely worth it. In terms of the actual course, there’s a lot of planning involved before you set off.

Adventuring on your own is a very different kettle of fish to being responsible for others.

You need to be take things seriously as the consequences can be catastrophic. As such you need 24/7 emergency and medivac cover, GPS, sat phones and to know what you’re doing. This isn’t something you experiment with.

What's the pay like?

Matt Prior sitting on mountain
The volcanic landscape of Indonesia. © Matt Prior

I’m not sure anyone goes into this with making money as a priority. If they do they aren’t going to get very far. It has to be your passion, backed up by experience – that’s the key. You have to provide value in a unique way and maybe then there’s a chance you could start making some money. Only the people at the very top of the adventure industry actually make a decent living. I can count on my fingers those who have a pretty good life financially out of adventure.

The other thing to note is that life is not all about money. You don’t need as much as you might think you do to have a good life!

In terms of the Academy I’ve set up, as with any business, the first year is always an investment. Once established, things start to get a bit better but all of this takes time.

How would you suggest others start out?

Matt Prior mountain village
Matt takes a trip to a hidden village in Indonesia © Matt Prior

I suggest contracting, having your own business or running two careers alongside each other. Maybe you’ll reach a point when you can leave your other career but definitely take it slowly. Don’t just jump in or you’ll be in for a surprise! To have a job like this you need to ensure that you have the flexibility in your main career to manage both. Add to this relationships, your own time, sports and other commitments and suddenly you’re juggling quite a bit!

Like a lot of professions, it’s all about credibility and starting from the bottom and working your way up. Why should someone listen to you? If you can’t answer that then you’re not going to go anywhere fast. My advice would be if you’re seriously looking at going down this path, start building experience and credibility now. It has taken me well over a decade to get to this point – there are no shortcuts.

Talk to people, immerse yourself in the community and get yourself out there doing things.

Push yourself and become the person you yourself would listen to and trust. Actions speak louder than words and whatever you do always be genuine, honest and help others along the way. Who knows – I may be looking at recruiting in the future and so that may be a way in!

How much training is involved in your job?

I’d say experience is more important than actual qualifications. I’ve got a military background and had a lot of training while I was serving, both in survival and leading expeditions all over the world.

I think that the most important traits are to have good interpersonal skills, a positive attitude and a good understanding of how to get the most out of people.

It’s really important to know when you can push a little and when you should stop.

Why didn't you become a professional adventurer?

Matt Prior mountain guide
Chilling out on an active volcano... © Matt Prior

The standard thing is to do a big adventure then come back and write and speak about it – then repeat this process. I didn’t think this was going to be sustainable for me, long-term, as I’m not really a fan of writing and I don’t want to kill all my stories by repeating them hundreds of times. That’s just me though – many people are very successful following this well trodden path and love it!

Is there anything else you think would-be adventurers should know?

Like with most things in life. Stop procrastinating, stop the excuses and get the ball rolling with whatever it is you want to do! I like this one liner that I apply to most things:

Commit to something. Put your balls on the line. Then figure it out.

It’s done me well so far!

If you weren't doing this what would you be doing?

Matt Prior ice motobike
Deteriorating conditions in Siberia © Matt Prior

I’d still be flying and coming up with mad harebrained ideas and seeing if I could make them happen. I love it.

Matt Prior runs the Matt Prior Adventure Academy. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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