You can read more about his Bulgarian and business background here, but it’s Alex’s adventures, advocacy and brilliant approach to responsible travel that we are delving into here. Starting with the question that we always get asked by friends who don’t work in travel….
What has been your best holiday ever?
The Tour International Danubien (TID), an annual three month self-supported kayak regatta on the Danube, covering 2,800km from source to sea, and paddling 40-50km per day in the most beautiful natural surroundings, alongside approximately 200 like-minded people from all over the world. I have never missed a regatta since 1993 (I must admit that most years I only do two or three week sections in different countries, but still…it’s incredible).
Tell us more about where you’re from and what’s your favourite place to escape to in your home country?
I am originally from Bulgaria, but I’ve lived in London and I am kind of a nomad now, having The Natural Adventure offices and team members spread all over Europe, the UK and Morocco. I have many favourite places in Bulgaria, especially in our spectacular Rhodope Mountains but, for somewhere really special, its got to be a small village on the banks of the Danube, where the borders of Bulgaria, Serbia and Romania meet. I guess I am alway happy when I am on the edge of other countries, looking outwards to what lies ahead.
What is your favourite walking trail?
Definitely the trails in the Accursed Mountains of Northern Albania, which is why I am over the moon that we now have some great self-guided holidays there on our site. Not too far away geographically, I also adore the Pindus Mountains in Northern Greece.
We know that kayaking is also key to an adventurous life for you, so what is your favourite kayaking trail?
Island hopping in Greece or Croatia is hard to beat. We will eventually have kayaking tours at The Natural Adventure, but I am working hard to ensure that your land-based tours are top-notch before we dive into the waters beyond.
Where was your most memorable sunset?
The Danube just after it enters Bulgaria makes a big turn and flows from east to west for a few kilometres. This bend provides some of the best sunsets I’ve witnessed, with the eerie feeling that the sun is setting in the east.
Where were some of your best sleeps?
Greece keeps pulling me back and so, without doubt, in a tent on the Halkidiki Peninsula. Just look at this photo. It says it all.
What do you always pack?
Enough battery packs for my CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine, as I have sleep apnoea. Could be a challenge on a multi-week self-supported kayak expedition or hiking trip, but I’m very lucky that I can still cater for this while enjoying an adventurous life. I like to think that we can support all of our customers’ needs too when they hit the hills.
Are you a mountain or coast person?
I am a river person. Otherwise, mountains. There are usually plenty of rivers to be found there anyway! For mountains, however, the Carpathian Mountains in Romania and Ukraine are probably the ones to have really stolen my heart. They are just extraordinary.
What took you in the direction of appreciating responsible travel as a way to visit the world?
As I see it, responsible tourism is all about respect. When you hike, you are in someone else’s garden. When you cycle, you’re following in the slipstream of local people’s lives. And when you buy your picnic from the local market, you are sustaining someone’s family. It’s a no brainer really. Just be nice and treat people and places like you would want to be treated, and if I can apply that to the trips we organise, then I am happy.
What aspect of responsible tourism do many people not get?
The huge impact on local communities, especially in remote places. Sometimes it’s the small things that make a difference. Being Bulgarian, I find beer is usually a good way to illustrate this, so I always advise people to order a local draught instead of an imported Heineken or Guinness. This way you support the local economy – and it usually tastes better anyway. Keeping things local always leaves a better taste in the mouth.
Which negative impact of tourism makes you do a silent scream?
Rivers full of floating garbage everywhere in the Balkans. It’s a shame but I am sure it will change with time, and we can certainly ensure that our visitors lead by example and leave no trace.
Which region/town/city disappointed you as a traveller and why?
Disappointment is a matter of expectations vs reality. I always have realistic expectations so have never been disappointed.
What three small changes can people make when they travel to be more mindful?
- Put yourself in the shoes of local people and respect cultural differences, and don’t be arrogant just because you come from a first-world country
- Avoid big hotel chains if possible and use locally-operated and family-owned accommodation and restaurants, just as we try to do on our trips
- Make more memories and friends (and fewer photos)
What do you think is our USP at The Natural Adventure?
First and foremost, we are a customer-centric company. Our aim is to facilitate financially accessible walking or cycling holidays for people who want to delve a little deeper into nature and the local community, but who want some infrastructure along the way.
Where is next for you on your travels?
Kyrgyzstan, with a view to finally introducing it to our travel portfolio, which I have been planning for some time, and am very excited about. So watch this space.
If there was one thing that you could change about the travel industry, what would it be?
Slow down the pace.