The time I gave directions to Sir Ranulph Fiennes, the world’s greatest living explorer

… and how his current Saharan fundraising adventures for Marie Curie are an inspiration.

“How do I get from Stansted into central London?” Sir Ranulph Fiennes asked me in an 11pm phone call, after I’d spoken with a colleague to confirm his flight.

On travel-mode auto-pilot, I instantly replied: “You catch the Stansted Express train straight from the airport into Liverpool Street. It takes about 40 minutes. Or, if you want the Victoria Line, you can get off at Tottenham Hale.” I paused. “Thanks again for everything, Sir Ran. Good night and have a safe flight in the morning.”

I put down the phone and the thought dawned on me. I HAD JUST GIVEN THE WORLD’S GREATEST LIVING EXPLORER DIRECTIONS!

This, the man who has traversed the Antarctic, reached the North Pole, run seven marathons on seven continents in seven days, and conquered Everest. Places and experiences many of us can only imagine in our wildest travel dreams.

I met Sir Ranulph when he spoken at my then company’s conference just over a year ago. I was his point of contact. Sir Ranulph and his stories will leave you raptured and in awe, both on- and off-stage. And this week he’s inspiring me again.

Ultra marathon in the Sahara

Sir Ranulph is currently in the scorching Sahara desert, He’s running 156 miles in the Marathon des Sables over six days, from 5-11 April, to raise money for Marie Curie Cancer Care.

man running on sahara desert sand dunes

Fancy doing this for six days in scorchio temperatures? Me neither. Kudos to Sir Ranulph though 🙂

I’ve volunteered with Marie Curie. I’ve seen the great work they do caring for terminally ill patients and supporting their families here in the UK.

Over the years Sir Ranulph has raised over £14 million for charities including Marie Curie. He’s been named by JustGiving as the UK’s top celebrity fundraiser.

156-miles across a desert may be beyond me, but Sir Ranulph has inspired me to dig out my running shoes and enter the Jane Tomlinson 10k charity run in York in August. I’ll be fundraising, and trying to get my time under 55 minutes – it’s one of the 25 (more) experiences I’m going to have before I die.

Back to Sir Ranulph, though. I’ve made a donation to his stupendous ultra-marathon efforts. It would be wonderful if you could also support him in this challenge for an amazing cause.

You can donate via JustGiving at:

You can read all about how Sir Ranulph is getting on here. Let’s hope he knows where he’s going 😉

Looking back: Networking, volunteering and finding Mr Right

Looking back. I don’t know about you, but it’s not something I’m very good at.

I don’t really want to dwell on a broken relationship, or a gossipy work colleague.

But looking back is a brilliant way to help you realise just how far you’ve come.

A few months ago, I wrote down what I wanted to achieve between July this year and March next year. These were just three of the aims on my seven-strong list:

  • Be a networking queen
  • Do some volunteer work
  • Find myself a decent glass half-full bloke

Here’s the story of how I’ve been getting on and what I’ve learnt.

Looking back on being a networking queen

looking back: networking at Blogstock

My tent at Blogstock

This past couple of months I’ve been in full-on networking mode. Why? I’m a firm believer that people buy from people, and I’m seeking opportunities through both this website and all things travel, and freelance marketing work.

First up, I went to Blogstock, a blogging festival. I stayed in a tent. It rained. I survived. I learnt a tonne of tips on SEO, video and more from bloggers in the worlds of travel, fashion, lifestyle and food; and made some useful blogging and corporate contacts in a really relaxed environment. I’d go again.

I half expected to be completely out of my depth at Blogstock. But my experience was a welcome reminder that I may have a LOAD to learn on the blogging front, but my marketing / communications background means I can hold my own in a business conversation. Thank you, corporate world!!

Weirdest moment: When someone’s first question to me was: “What’s your twitter handle?”

Business networking group

My expectation: Accountants, lawyers, men in pinstripe suits.

Reality: Accountants, lawyers, men in pinstripe suits.

And some lovely ladies too. Cards were exchanged and contacts made. I’ll be revisiting this group again when I’m back from my travels in November.

Small business events

Wow, who knew how much free help there was for new UK businesses? I’ve mastered a book-keeping spreadsheet, learnt more about how google works, had some valuable input into social media strategy, and loaded up on video marketing tips.

I also met a real mix of new business owners – sooooo satisfying to be able to bounce ideas off one another.

The result of all this: several new useful contacts and allies, and a head full of creative ideas.

Looking back at my volunteer work

Following my Tour de France volunteer work I wrote about a couple of months ago, I’ve continued working as a volunteer with Marie Curie Cancer Care as part of their commercial partnerships team. It’s fascinating to see things from the other side of the fence after so many years managing charitable relationships from the corporate perspective.

Finding a bloke with a positive attitude

Newsflash: late-night bars are not the best places to meet active outdoorsy guys (but, looking back, can be quite a good way to meet guys with an alcohol problem).

With that in mind, in the last month I’ve tried out …

Army-style boot camp, which turned out to be 15 girls and 1 guy – who had been dragged there by his girlfriend. I went twice, just to make sure. My yoga class has more men than this. Unexpected upside: Turns out I’m quite good at sprint intervals.

Burlesque life-drawing class. This was mostly women and couples, though I did draw this guy.

looking back: my quest for Mr Right took me to life drawing class

he even looked a bit like this!

The local beer festival was man central, with a bonus being they weren’t all beer bellied and old enough to be my dad. I even quite liked the beer.

The results of my recent search for Mr Right

Total number of new men I’ve chatted to: 14

Of whom were definitely single: 3

Of whom were actually married but took their wedding ring off and pretended to be single: 1

No of dates: 2

No of potential Mr Rights: 0

And last but not least, number of men who thought it a good idea to post tea-leaves through my door: 1

Learning from looking back

Open your mind. Trying new events and experiences whilst meeting new people has opened my mind even more than I thought possible. Example: I now want to write a book. Something that hadn’t even crossed my mind when I was bound to corporate world.

Face the fear. Expectations and reality don’t necessarily match up, which is why that old adage of “face the fear and do it anyway” applies to a whole load of non-terrifying stuff too. Example: Boot Camp was crap for meeting guys, but did give me a business contact.

Write it down. Having my aims and objectives on paper reminds me – in broad terms – what I should be focusing on. It’s a little piece of motivation in my pocket.

Have patience. Whatever your aim – whether it’s to save £5k to travel or to change your job – it’s unlikely to happen overnight. Setting small steps to aim for – the first £500, the first job interview – can be a brilliant reminder of just how far you’ve come.

Do you reflect on how far you’ve come? Have you found it helpful – or not – to look back? Spill the beans below.

The advantages of volunteering from home

If you’re considering volunteer work on your career break, there are some definite pluses for keeping it close to home.

You may be sacrificing the experience of an exotic destination; but being home-based comes with its own set of advantages. Here I explore some of them, plus my own experiences volunteering from home in the UK.


If you’re not fluent in another language, keeping it local means no language barrier. And no language barrier means you can consider a wider range of roles.

Try it out

It’s easy to try out organisations or roles before making a longer commitment. There’s also often flexibility about hours, so you can volunteer for – say – a few hours a week. Ideal if you want to do paid work alongside your volunteering.

Free. Gratis. Zip.

It’s free. Many overseas volunteer placements of less than six months duration have a charge associated with them, to cover things like accommodation and food; or a donation to the host programme. Volunteering from home means you’ll have your usual general living costs, which – if you so desired – you could cover by doing paid work alongside your volunteering.

Keeping it local

You’re helping your own community. Apart from the feel-good factor that brings, and the potential for seeing long-term results first hand, it can also provide you with a new local network. Volunteer anywhere and you’ll grow your network of friends and professional contacts; but if you do your volunteering from home, it could be your local network for life.

Paying it forward

As well as doing good locally, the organisation you’re working with could be recruiting for paid roles in the future – Emma in Marketing or Alan in Accounts could become your post-career-break boss.

My experience

volunteering from home: Tour de France fundraising

Photo opportunity for Tour de France fundraising

I’ve been volunteering from home (the UK) since the start of May. One of the world’s biggest annual sporting events – the cycling phenomena that is Le Tour de France – was on my Yorkshire doorstep on 5th & 6th July.

Thanks to the power of Twitter, I found a role with Marie Curie Cancer Care, the official charity partner of the Grand Départ (as the start of the Tour is known) in the UK. I typically volunteer with them about a day to a day-and-a-half a week.

Here’s how it’s worked out for me.

I can write in my mother tongue

I’m helping with PR & Marketing and – whilst I can sort myself out a bed/food/bus and comment on the beautiful view in Spanish – it’s hardly the kind of fluency where I could talk to the press and write marketing plans to help with fundraising activities. Being able to communicate well in English is a definite advantage.

I was able to try out other roles

I tried another role first, working with another organisation on a charity event. I wrote a sponsorship package proposal that was well received, but the help they needed beyond that didn’t match my skills or the hours I had available. I simply wished them well and looked for other volunteering roles.

It suits me right now

Volunteering from my home country and part-time means I can build this website from the comforts of my own home / local café, and with access to local courses and resources on my doorstep. Although it wouldn’t be impossible, I think this would’ve been much harder to do at the same time as volunteering abroad.

Regardless of whether you do your volunteering from home or abroad, volunteering has other benefits

Experience in a different sector

My previous marketing and PR experience was in the private sector, so it’s been great personal development to get experience in the charity sector. It’s good to have variety on my CV for future job prospects too, if ever I need to job-hunt in the future.

Inspirational people

I’ve already met some really inspirational people.

People like Mike – the guy who’s raised £19,000 to fund a Marie Curie nurse for a year, nurses who care for terminally ill people and support their families every day.

Café owner Adele – who hosts fundraising events. She’s always got a smile on her face. And the café does a mean flapjack and a speedy wifi connection. She’s got a new loyal customer J

Cheryl – my boss at Marie Curie, who has made me feel so welcome and part of the family.

And firemen. Just because. I got to take pictures of some after they raised some money for Marie Curie. What’s not to love?

All in all, volunteering from my home country has been a case of right thing, place, right time. It’s suited my current goals and the time I have to donate. That said, who knows where future volunteering roles could take me?

Have you tried volunteering from home? Would you recommend it more or less than volunteering in another country? What were your highlights?