Having decided to take a break from working Television, Kate Owen decided to change her career and retrain to become an Expedition Leader. She has travelled to all corners of the world leading group expeditions, and she truly believes in the power of the outdoors and education in helping everyone. Kate shares with us how she reinvented her career, what she loves about expeditions, and how we can all play our own part in helping the environment.
Tell us a bit about yourself!
Name: Kate Owen
Home: Currently Llanberis, Snowdonia
Environment I like the most: Alpine
Best place I have visited: Ahhhhh so hard! Ailefroide valley, amazing climbing, running, hiking, food and friends
Fav adventure: Living with nomadic goat herders in Mongolia
Dream adventure: Fast packing the Via Alpina, or cycling around Spain and Portugal – sun, sea and cerveza!
Can’t go on an adventure without? A knife that someone made for me – they shaped the blade and whittled the handle and it goes on every trip
What was it like working in television and getting to travel the world?
It was a dream come true. When I first saw ‘Tribe’ with Bruce Parry I knew that was what I wanted to do. It combined all my passions – adventure, travel, story telling and protecting people and the planet.
When I landed a job producing a series about Nomadic cultures around the world I felt incredibly humbled -who really ever gets to live out their dream and I am so thankful to the people who gave me all the incredible opportunities! It was tough though, you’re away from friends and family a lot, you work extremely long hours and you learn through making mistakes but was equally one of the hardest but most incredible jobs I have ever done.
You retrained to become an Expedition Leader. Why did you decide to change?
Honestly? I got my heartbroken. Long story short, my husband left to be with someone else and almost overnight my world sort of fell apart. I tried to carry on living the life I had done before but I couldn’t…….everything was different. During the same period one of my best friends was killed in an accident and it put a new perspective on things.
I had spent the best part of a year being thoroughly miserable and that couldn’t go on. I decided to focus the next year on just having fun and so I took a step back from TV work and instead focused on using my ML to get out and go on adventures. I used the experience I had gained from travelling with TV to get jobs leading in Nepal, Africa and Europe and 2 years later I’m still going!
Leading groups and meeting people can be a lot of fun! What do you love the most about leading groups on expeditions?
I work with both adults and teenagers and whilst I enjoy working with both groups equally I get very different things from them. With the adult groups – and they are almost exclusively women and it is amazing to see them grow in confidence as they learn new skills and push themselves beyond what they thought was capable – it’s totally inspiring and I feed on it to fuel my own development. With teenagers I do a lot of educational work and being in a position where I can take them onto a glacier and then teach them about global warming and then get their feedback on how they are going to change their lifestyle for the better……..I’ll never get tired of that!
How did you retrain to become an Expedition Leader?
I feel very fortunate that I already had my Summer Mountain Leader Qualification and so was able to start working as a leader straight away. I also had a lot of experience working in foreign countries that meant I could apply for jobs that require in country experience in places like Nepal, S.E Asia or Mongolia. Once I had decided to work more in that industry I worked to get my International Mountain Leader. I am now trained and am saving up to complete the assessments.
What were the biggest challenges you faced when changing careers?
Managing my finances. Even though I had always worked in a freelance capacity in television, I usually had long contracts of 4-8 months and was used to a fairly steady and regular income. Working as an expedition leader you are working week to week or day to day. I have been incredibly fortunate in the work that I have secured – with one company in particular but it is a constant worry. I have also struggled to feel at home anywhere. After my marriage fell apart I changed everything – my job, I moved to a new place, had to make new friends and working away all the time has made it hard to settle – travelling is great but sometimes you just want to be at home so you can go to the pub with your friends.
For anyone wishing to make that first step to re-inventing themselves professionally and personally, what tips would you give them?
Don’t be afraid to try………you can always go back if you want to.
One of the biggest fears I had about stepping away from telly was ‘would I be wasting 10 years of hard work?’ I had slogged my guts out to get where I was and would I be throwing it all away? But I knew that if after a year I wanted back in I could and my CV would just be full of more experience if nothing else. But be smart about it, plan your work and finances to make sure you can support yourself through the first few months and then go from there.
I feel incredibly lucky in the way that I had no one else to look after except myself. I definitely made mistakes along my road but if I have learnt anything from the past few years it’s that the plans you make rarely work out but somehow you end up where you’re meant to be anyway – it just may not look how you thought
Why do you believe that the outdoors can help everyone’s mental health and well-being
I think the outdoors has a different effect on everyone – in my darkest days I couldn’t go for a run or a walk because I hated the idea of being along with my thoughts……the mountains just seemed lonely and bleak.
But ultimately it was the outdoors that saved me. It has the ability to test us, show us how strong and tough we can really be both physically and mentally. It can transport us away from social media, work pressures, family stresses to a place where all that matters is that you get from a to b in one piece. You get to catch a wave in those crazy seas, or that you get to the top of the rock climb – in whatever way you choose to get outdoors it has a way of focusing your mind only on what’s important. That break in the clouds can be all you need to make it through another day.
The world is your oyster! Where is your dream place to lead an expedition?
Hmmmm I think the dream would be to run a series of trips – giving people the chance to experience what life is like for some of the planets nomadic communities – for example accompanying the cashmere goat herders in Mongolia on their spring migration. However I am conflicted as I also don’t necessarily want to be encouraging people to fly all over the world. I struggle with it in my own work and only take jobs that have a strong educational purpose.
You encourage others to look after our planet. A great message to share! How can we all do our bit for the environment?
I think it’s key to pick your battles otherwise it can all get a bit overwhelming! When I do workshops on this with my school groups this is what we prioritise:
- Food – make sure you are making informed choices about the origin of your food, has the animal suffered? Has it harmed the planet? Has it had to travel thousands of miles?
- Waste – reduce first and this will involve sacrifice – does your favourite treats come in recyclable packaging – if not, is it worth it?
- Travel – do you need to drive to work or could you cycle? Do you need to fly away somewhere or could you stay at home or take the train?- ultimately try to consider the planet in every decision you make and everything you buy.
If you could only pick 4 words to describe what it’s like being an Expedition Leader, what would you say?
Constantly grateful (does that count as one?), exciting, adventurous, exhausting
Any big adventure plans for the next 5 years?
The trouble with being an expedition leader is that when you’re not working you just dream of being at home. However one adventure I have in mind is cycle touring my way from Northern Spain, down the coast of Portugal, along the Med and then back following the Pyrenees – no flights, just my bike and that Cerveza!
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Always wanting to have different experiences and learn new things (and a good strong coffee), Clare currently lives in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia working as a teacher. She loves living life to the full and completing new projects, whether it’s running a half marathon, hiking or visiting a new country.