Nomadic Lion Founder and World Walker David Atthowe Shares His Best Packing Light Tips

Nomadic Lion David Atthowe

I am David Atthowe, full time walker. I am the founder of the organisation Nomadic Lion who’s mission is “Walking across entire countries to share joy and happiness with all.” I was born in Norfolk, England and have for the last 10 years been living nomadic all across Asia. I am currently in India as a part of our current 6,000km padayatra across the country called, Walk of Joy. Walk of Joy is a 10 month walk from Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu, to Amristar, Punjab.

How and why did you get into walking?

I first started walking as a joke. I had a job in Australia delivering leaflets that involved walking 50km a day. When I went back over to Indonesia to visit friends one of them casually remarked, “Ha, you’re walking so far you could walk across a country.” That was a light bulb moment for me. I selected Malaysia because of its short length and the fact that I used to live there and had a basic grasp of the language. With just 1 week preparation and little planning, we set off. We did not prepare physically, or in terms of planning, we only prepared mentally and spiritually for the walk. We learned all the lessons along the way the hard way, from blister management, to heatstroke, to how to remove poisonous stings and so many more things. But the biggest lesson was that we had discovered a very powerful platform and tool to spread a positive message. Everywhere we went people came and asked us who we were and what we were doing? We got invited to speak at colleges and universities and the media kept coming out to cover our story. We always wanted our message to be a positive message, to share all the positive stories we found along the way during the walk. There is enough negative news in the world today, we want to tell the often not heard positive stories.

I have no interest in walking across countries simply for myself, that is only beneficial to my own ego. I want the walking to be beneficial to the society. What is the purpose of an adventure only for an adventure? We are guests in somebody else’s country, why not do something as a part of the ‘adventure’ to give back to that country in some way?

That is why we walk to share joy and happiness. We have fundraised for various charities including rainforest conservation in Malaysia and music and arts for disabled children in the UK, all under the banner of sharing joy and happiness. We share the joy and happiness of each country through its arts, visiting musicians and artists and highlighting and sharing their work via videos, social media, etc. We are both keen photographers and belief wholeheartedly in the power of image to tell the story. Photography itself is a very powerful tool for sharing joy and happiness. We all know that seeing a photo of a smile or moment of happiness makes us feel happy.

I prepare for my walks by walking! Everywhere I want to go in life less than a distance of 30km I walk. Making walking a part of daily life and your basic form of transport removes the need for making so much effort to go the gym or plan intense train in g programs. What we do is not an extreme sport and doesn’t require extreme fitness, walking 30km a day with regular rest days requires only a basic level of good general health and fitness.

Planning a walk relies on building up a local network. Our walks are founded on the social so to make a walk means we need a good local network. People who can help put us in touch with musicians, artists, NGO’s, and interesting individuals. I have developed my own system for how to plan a walk across a country. I can plan a rough walking route across any country with a good Internet connection in just two days. I already have Walking routes planned for the entire continent of Asia ready to go at any time in a project/sponsor comes together.

Nomadic Lion David Atthowe

How do you finance your walk?

We finance a walk with the help of God. There is no simple answer for that. Our first walk, Walking Malaysia was self funded, our second walk Walking Borne was sponsored by Transglobe Expedition Trust and Tourism Brunei, our third walk was sponsored by a private individual sponsor and our current walk, Walk of Joy India has one individual private sponsor who has given us about half the total money we need. The rest we are finding along the way.

The nature of what we do is very low cost but of course there are still costs involved. We sleep anywhere and establish whatever we are blessed to be given. Many people cannot offer money but they can offer a shelter for a night or a hot meal perhaps. We survive off a faith in the general goodness of humanity. I spend very little on gear, 90% of it is only really deemed necessary because of good marketing. It is not actually necessary to an expedition. Most people who have done long distance walks or expeditions will stress again and again number one don’t take too much stuff. Whatever you take you will have to carry, whatever you take should have multiple uses.

Nomadic Lion David Atthowe

How do you eat and sleep on the road?

I sleep and eat anywhere I am blessed enough to be given shelter or offered food. A low-budget lifestyle means if we are paying then we will eat the simplest local street foods available. Regarding accommodation, we often seek shelter in religious buildings such as mosques, churches or temples. Most nights we are lucky enough to be welcomed into somebody’s house. The few nights we do sleep out, I use a hammock. It’s a cheap Chinese made rip off of the US army jungle hammocks that costs £10 and comes from a small village near the Thailand/Malaysia border. It’s perfectly suited to life in the tropics and has an extra fine mosquito net, which keeps all jungle bugs out.

Whenever I have gone into remote locations where food is not readily available, I have always done so alongside local indigenous tribes. Then only we have hunted for dinner in the jungle or ocean and cooked over an open fire. For example during Walking Borneo, I spent three weeks living deep in the jungle with one of just two remaining groups of the Penan, which are still living nomadically in the jungle. There everything we needed we got directly from the jungle.

Nomadic Lion David Atthowe

How do you bring your things with you?

The one piece of equipment I have which I do really value is my walking trolley. It’s a simple design made in Poland which is available on Amazon.co.uk. But it’s so useful for long distance walking, it’s also fairly durable, I’ve taken up mountains, through jungle, across beaches, etc.

I have one bag. Right now, I have a Lowe alpine bag but I’ve used Berghaus in the past as well as many local Indonesian bags, the best one probably being Eiger, which are a good local brand in Indonesia, a country with a large population of outdoor enthusiasts. But I don’t feel any of them are especially better than another, as long as it holds everything you need then what more do you want? The nature of our walking is very tough and extreme. No bag has survived a journey yet, they have all had to be repaired multiple times along the way. In fact, I would challenge a company to provide a bag that can survive one year of our walks. This current Lowe alpine model had the top he’s do the bag ripped open within the first week of starting the walk here in India.

Too much room in a bag is dangerous on a long distance walk, sooner or later it will get filled with the good menacing generosity of kind strangers. I regularly give away the gifts given to me as they can quickly add an extra few kilos to the bag. Only the most personal or touching items I keep or try to post back home. Only recommendation would be that golden rule of don’t overpack! Anything you put in your bag try to make sure it has multiple uses or one absolutely essential and vital use. Don’t waste money buying lots of gadgets, which you probably aren’t going to use.

Nomadic Lion David Atthowe

How do you organize things in your bags?

I have always been a big fan of rolling all clothes, someone once told me it’s called, snake packing or something. But lots of rolled up long shapes stack together and around the other bulky items very well. But sometimes I do just throw everything in, depending on space available and time circumstances. The nature of walking means we often have to pack and unpack our bags completely sooner or later everything there is going to have to be used.

I feel backpacks have a long way to go before they are actually practical in terms of supporting our backs and bodies. But at the same time it’s less about a specific design improvement and more about your ability to carry the weight. Indigenous tribes the world over have the most simple backpacks or carrying devices yet the majority of them don’t suffer from back problems.

I am working in designing my own walking trolley now, this is one area I think could be improved on a lot. Right now, there are only a handful of companies making walking trolleys around the world most of which are ridiculously overpriced. The cost of production of a walking trolley in India or Indonesia will be very low so it should be a very cost effective model. I don’t want to say too much though as it’s still in the design phrase, we made and tested a couple of models so far but they haven’t been up to our standards. I feel I’m in a very lucky position in terms of being able to really put it through a thorough test.

Nomadic Lion David Atthowe

How do your bags and gear hold up?

As I said before, the nature of our walking puts equipment to an extreme test. From camera to laptop to backpack to trolley to clothes — all have broken and had to be repaired during this walk here in India alone. Knowing some basic repair skills such as sewing or basic electronics can be a vital skill to have. That and basic medical knowledge can go a long way on expeditions and getting through the enviable challenges. But that is one beauty of walking here in a country like India where they still have a culture of repairing things. My DSLR was completely broken but here I was able to completely replace the main circuit board for a mere £40 including the labour charges and it has been working fine ever since.

We all know how much stress the global population and modern lifestyles are puting on the world resources today. Making an effort to repair rather than simply throwing away and buying new needs to be a global commitment.

Any gear you wish you had brought with you from the beginning?

I can honestly say after three years and five expeditions, this time I finally got my packing just about right. There is no thing which I missed or would have brought. Or indeed anything extra I brought along that I didn’t really need.

A good medical kit that is suited to local conditions is maybe the only thing I would particularly recommend.

Nomadic Lion David Atthowe

What has been your best adventuring purchase below $100?

My favourite gear would be Essential oil of peppermint and Tiger balm. Peppermint oil can stop stomach cramps and diarrhea in a way no other medicine can without the nasty blocked up feeling of conventional Allopathic medicines. It’s been used extensively in Scandinavian countries during gastronomy surgery. They coat the instruments in a diluted dose of peppermint oil as it completely stops the stomach from cramping keeping the stomach calm and easy to operate on.

Tiger balm can make the most volition and itchy scratch sting or bite numb within 20 minutes. Anyone who has been severely bitter by leeches or sandlfies will testify that the burning sensation can be enough to keep you up all night. Tiger balm completely neutralises the feeling replacing it with a warm numb sensation that can turn sleepless nights into vital rest.

I love my camera also as I’m a keen photographer. I own an old Canon 700D with a few different lenses other than struggling in low light it has served me perfectly well for more than three years now. My girlfriend often jokes that it’s my baby and I must admit I do take special care of it and I’m always aware of where it is.

Nomadic Lion David Atthowe

What is your best advice for others who want to follow your footsteps?

My best advice for others you want to do a long distance walk is simply to brave enough to take the first step. Too much planning and overthinking seems to stop most people, it’s too easy to get caught up in fears of the unknown and all. We were born with feet not roots, once you start moving all else will fall into place. That’s not to mean that a certain amount of planning isn’t necessary of course it is but overthinking can be a very dangerous trait.

Like I said earlier, I think that adventure should always try to have an element of the social involved. If you are going to visit a remote location then why not try fundraiser for its conservation? Or at least try to give something back to the local people in some way. Long distance walking is a powerful tool that has been used by many great thinkers and people throughout the ages from Mahatma Gandhi, to Vinoba Bhabe to Peace Pilgrim and many, many more. To get up and commit to a long distance walk gives you a great power to go out and create a positive change.

The only good way to ensure you will get out and follow the dream is to make the purpose or the goal, your burning desire within your heart. When you are out walking and you face tough conditions such as days without food, or proper accommodation then it will be a great mental and spiritual test. It is at those moments that you will be tested and that burning desire will keep you going. I personally get so much energy whilst walking from the smiles of the people I met along the way. A day full of smile and friendly greetings give me a great deal of energy.

I don’t consider myself an adventurer, I don’t feel I would be able to give a good advise to an adventurer. I am only a simple nomadic person who believes in the power of walking to create a positive change in the world.

Nomadic Lion David Atthowe

What will the future bring?

The future will bring more of the unknown but one thing is for sure I will not stop walking. Walking across countries reminds us of the value of living for today and living in the moment. I always have many big dreams and ideas, I have always been a big dreamer. But I’m slowly learning to just accept what comes and not give much thought to yesterday or tomorrow.

Visit David Atthowe on his website and follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter


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