Matthew Hood’s World Of Adventure Travel
Matthew Hood is a documentary filmmaker/cinematographer who spends most of his life on the road shooting the planet’s natural beauty. But in 2020 like many Canadian travellers Matt was forced to stay closer to home because of the COVID pandemic. Grounded but still needing regular PCR testing, Matt came to TravelSafe and he’s been coming to see us for travel advice, meds and vaccines ever since. Matt’s passion is the natural world: Earth, weather, soil, water, animals, insects, birds, reptiles, plants and the natural systems and functions that make life possible. His love for adventure has allowed him to work with the biggest names in the documentary film space including National Geographic, the BBC, Animal Planet, Netflix, HBO, Disney, Apple, CNN and the CBC. I caught up with Matt recently during a brief break between adventures.
There’s Adventure Travel & Then There’s Professional Adventure Travel
Adventure travel is a massive growing part of the global travel industry. It would be even bigger if we could all afford it and get our bosses to agree to the time off work. None of which applies to Matthew Hood. Matt is basically a professional adventure traveller. He gets paid by a who’s who of documentary film and television companies to go and take pictures of the places you and I dream about. Icelandic glaciers, African lions, Baffin Island rainbows, you name it. You could say it’s a dream job except it’s not a dream. Granted it’s not always perfect, things do go wrong and when he gets to these fantasy destinations he’s almost always on the clock. But filming in unique, exotic and remote locations with unparalled access working side-by-side with experts and professionals who interpret what Matt films is still an outrageous perk. Another fortuitous by-product of Matt’s job is that we get to hear about adventure travel from an expert who has done it a lot. So read on as Matt provides pro-tips and shares his experience about how to get the most out of life on the road.
How Did Matt Get The Perfect Job?
Hard work, dedication and a little bit of luck is the short answer. It doesn’t matter if that sounds like a cliche, anybody who gets to the top of their profession knows there are no short cuts. Matt got the bug for cinematography and filmmaking growing up in Montreal. He studied cinema communication at Dawson College before taking an undergraduate degree in fine arts/photography at Concordia University. At both schools Matt lucked into a couple of inspirational teachers and professors who strongly influenced his career direction and interest in visual imagery. That led to his first real adventure abroad in 2005 volunteering for a series of humanitarian trips to Uganda to help local youth groups. In his free time Matt would go on wildlife safaris, taking pictures of anything and everything that filled the frame. See where this is going?:
“That’s when this little light started to really kind of shine. After university, I wanted to go to Africa for myself to shoot as many photos and as much video as I could to create a portfolio, which I did. I was spending a lot of time in the bush, cutting my teeth, learning the trade, doing these really long projects. And that’s when I started to make contacts. Eventually one of those contacts said, ‘You know, I have a project going’ and I pitched my services and they said yes. That was in 2010-2011. I did my first major project, a TV series in Zimbabwe. I ended up staying for quite a few years, going back and forth doing different TV or film wildlife projects.”
This is the hard work and dedication I was talking about above. Just because the backdrop is romantic Out of Africa doesn’t mean it’s a walk in the park. It takes fortitude, patience and a lot of drive to get the skills and experience that allow Matt to stay employed. It was on one these bigger projects that Matt finally felt like he’d arrived professionally. He was the principle cinematographer on a one hour film for National Geographic called The Lakeshore Killers. The film crew documented the survival tactics of a lion pride living next to Lake Kariba in Zimbabwe’s Matusadona National Park:
“We were in the field for about 9 months, shooting pretty much every single day. It becomes your life, every day getting up at the crack of dawn and having the vehicle just bashing around the forest and then towards the lake, looking for lions, trying to film their habitat and way of life.”
And that’s how you do it 🙂
Matt’s African Travel Adventures Bring Him Home
It’s not bragging to say that Canada’s adventure travel legacy is pretty legendary. Some of the world’s most famous adventure stories are being told here in our own backyard. We have epic mountains, towering forests, endless rivers and lakes, unique flora and fauna, extreme weather, temperatures, geography and so much more. A natural world to be envied. So after living, working and experiencing life in Africa and elsewhere in the world it wasn’t shocking when Matt decided to dig into life back home. He took on a series of projects that took him all across Canada, and eventually decided to move west to Vancouver to start a new life with his girlfriend:
“Coming back to Montreal (after being out in the world) I was like, guys, you know, there’s more to see. In fact a lot of the travel I’ve been doing in the last five years has been exploring different corners of Canada. But western Canada had these big mountains and trees, the Pacific Ocean, it was so much more in touch with nature than Montreal or Toronto, and being able to work with friends and colleagues at River Road Films in Vancouver, I just wanted a change, a different lifestyle.”
Bilingual Matt says he loves BC and plans to stay, but still misses Montreal, the people, his friends and family even the cold. (If you haven’t lived in Quebec this might be hard to understand but the cold is definitely a thing :))
There’s A Downside To Professional Adventure Travel, But It’s Minimal
Like most professions there are occupational hazards, aggravations and lots of boring day-to-day stuff to take care of. Every trip requires a ton of paperwork, especially when you’re traveling internationally. There’s also no such thing as travelling light. Matt packs multiple suitcases full of clothes, gear and equipment in an attempt to anticipate every conceivable scenario. It also means being at the airport 6 hours before leaving to navigate customs. He also misses his girlfriend:
“It can definitely be hard. I’ve got a girlfriend. I just got back last week and now I’m getting ready to leave next week on two back-pack shoots. But when you get to the place, and you capture the thing you’re after, or you’re meeting incredible people, eating amazing local food, that’s when it’s totally worth it. So I’d say I love it 90-95% of the time. I’m really lucky to have my job and really grateful for what I do. And I’m happy to put up with the hardships and difficulties to get all the other great stuff. So yeah, I love traveling.”
Personally when I’m on the road working it feels like work. It’s a lot better than being in the office but it’s not as if you can just sit there and take it all in. It’s much more involving. Matt agreed:
“I’d say it’s hard to enjoy myself when I’m working. In general if I take a break or a night off I always feel like I could be missing something. So I don’t feel comfortable taking much time off. But one of the benefits I do get from travelling professionally is amazing access and the insights of the team. We work with the best scientists, biologists, experts, fixers and support staff. We get to spend time with these people, hear unique perspectives and we often get to go places and see things most private people can’t.”
The Holy Grail Of Adventure Travel Is The African Safari. Or Is It?
Making a case for the world’s best travel adventure experience is hard and also kind of pointless. Rafting the Grand Canyon, cruising Antarctica, climbing Kilimanjaro, it’s like arguing what’s better the sun or the stars? But an African safari is an iconic rite-of-passage for virtually every adventure traveler I know and will feature on most Top 10 travel adventure lists. Everyone wants to get up close and personal with the fantasy animals Matt shoots for his clients. In recent years, the business of African safaris has exploded. There are guides and safaris to suit every taste so it can be tricky figuring out what you should do. So in this section Matt explains his approach to picking the right one.
To start with Matt says choosing the right safari depends on what you want. So in other words, you should take some time to think about the what and the why. Do you want to see Africa’s Big 5 or visit parks with household names like Serengeti National Park, the Okavango Delta or Kruger National Park? How much money do you want spend? There are high-end safaris that include luxury tents, hot air balloon trips and champagne and affordable safaris for those on a budget. What kind of safari experience would make a memory of a lifetime? There are walking, canoeing and desert safaris, eco-lodge safaris, safaris that take you to volcanic craters and safaris that track chimpanzee and gorillas. Time of year can be a factor so can temperature. In short, there’s a lot to think about before booking your trip. Having said all of that, here’s what Matt would do:
“If you can tough it out I would go to Africa during the hot season, so Zimbabwe or Zambia in October. It’s brutally hot, but there are fewer water sources which means that the animals collect in these smaller areas. It’s thick with animals. You see some amazing wildlife. You could also go to Uganda to see the gorillas and Namibia is unbelievably beautiful. Obviously going to see the Great Migration in Kenya or Tanzania is spectacular. But I tend towards wanting to experience wildlife more on my own. So I’d prefer to see one elephant by myself rather than trying to see a million wildebeest with a hundred vehicles next to you. But African safaris are just incredible. There’s no wrong answer here.”
FYI: Most of the famous/best safaris are in eastern and southeastern Africa – Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana. Although South Africa and Namibia have great safaris too.
Adventure Travel Is Exotic & Cool But You Need To Be Vaccine-Protected
I didn’t include this section because Matt comes to TravelSafe. I included it because a hallmark of Matt’s preparation for life on the road includes a conscientious approach to health and safety. Adventure travel can be risky. In Matt’s case his projects often take him to lower or middle income countries or places that are remote or hard-to-get-to. Medical care and treatment in locations like these are often sketchy or unavailable. If you aren’t medically prepared for adventure travel the consequences can be potentially life-threatening. Think rabies. (Matt got triple vaccinated for a recent job where the team was working near bats.) This also means being up-to-date on routine vaccinations and making sure you book a pre-travel consultation with a travel medicine specialist to ensure you get the right advice, travel meds and vaccines before you go. If a professional adventure traveller like Matt does it, it’s probably a good idea if you do too:
“The crew I work with in Vancouver do everything the right way, we take all the necessary precautions. You wouldn’t want anyone to get sick and professionally you wouldn’t want the project to suffer because of something that could have been prevented by a vaccine, a malaria pill or whatever. The service we’ve received at TravelSafe has been incredible. So now that we’re back on to International projects (following the COVID pandemic) it was a natural step to go with them for all of our vaccines and travel information.”
Matt says he’s been pretty lucky over the years but there have been times when he’s got sick:
“The first time I went to Uganda I got sick. I had an upset stomach for a couple of days. In Tanzania when I climbed Kilimanjaro in 2010 on the last day I felt something in my stomach it was quite painful and as I got lower it got worse. I went and got tested and I had the HP virus. Basically you get these stomach ulcers. You’re not nauseous, it’s not coming out of either end. But when you’re eating and the food is entering your stomach it feels like you’re eating glass. It’s unbelievably painful. You take this triple therapy of antibiotics. After a week it’s gone.”
And then there was India and Nepal:
“I also got some stomach stuff in Nepal and then again in India once at the start of the trip and once at the end. That one was kind of funny because my friend and I knew we were going to eat a lot of street food. We sort of knew we were going to get sick it was just a matter of when. So we thought when we do get sick we’ll just hang out, stay in whatever town we’re in and when we get better we’ll move on.”
And what was the illness?
“I think it was some kind of worm. I was constantly hungry. It took two or three weeks to resolve itself. I did take something, but can’t remember what it was. It was back in Canada. I even went to the travel clinic in Montreal and they said that they could do some tests but it would probably just resolve itself. Overall though I’ve been pretty lucky, I’ve never been sick too bad or for too long.”
So in short: possible Travellers diarrhea, stomach ulcers and a worm. Something to think about when your finger is hovering above the “Book Now” button on the TravelSafe website :).
Where Else Has Matt Been?
Matt has kayaked, camped, climbed, biked, bouldered, skied, hiked or trekked in a lot of different global destinations. Mexico, Belize, Thailand, Indonesia, Iceland, and parts of Europe. He’s flown his drone all over Canada and has even captured nature and immersive cultural experiences in exotic locations he can’t speak about. (The joys of employer non-disclosure agreements.) He’s posted lots of his trips to his Instagram page. Matt says all of his travels have been memorable, but a 10-week backpacking trip to India and Nepal seven years ago with a friend was one for the ages:
“India is full on, every sense is being completely lit up. There’s so much to see, lots of colours, smells, good and bad food, people moving around and pollution. And it’s very hot. But the sounds … we weren’t prepared for it. People in cars or trucks leaning on the horn. People talking, dogs barking it’s just so overwhelming. We went from cold and tea plantations in Darjeeling to extreme heat in Delhi and Agra. We went to Varanasi with the polluted Ganges and people being cremated in the burning ghats. Then up to Menali and back to the cold. We saw 20-25 foot high snow piles, bigger than I’ve ever seen in Canada that people would drive through. We saw India 50 different ways, it was just amazing. That’s one place I really think back to quite a bit. “
When I asked Matt what his least memorable trip was, he paused as his thoughts drifted back to Africa:
“The most challenging place I’ve been to is Burundi. You can see how much civil war and conflict has affected the country. It’s not that safe, there’s basically no wildlife, tourism has really been affected. I still met some really great people, some family friends live there, so I was glad to see Bujumbura a little closer than the average tourist. But it was sad to see how much war had affected the country. In neighbouring countries you feel like you can travel more freely, they live in relative peace, have more abundant wildlife and their tourism is flourishing. Not Burundi. It’s really sad.”
Adventure Travel Errata
Matt told me lots of other great stories about adventures he’s been on. One I didn’t include in this blog featured a trip to the Namib Desert in Namibia. But when you see Matt’s images of this stark desert landscape and his awe-inspiring time-lapse photography – the link takes you to a general page, you’ll need to scroll down to a video called Grand Namib – it will no doubt land on your list of top places to go. In fact most of Matt’s trips and stories are places that would likely end up on your bucket list. The special opportunity he’s been offered is not lost on Matt:
“I really do feel like I’ve got the world’s best job and I feel very lucky it’s a real privilege. It’s the best of all worlds. I’m really interested in visual storytelling. I love the natural world and working with amazing people, the access and going to all these exotic places. Even remote places in British Columbia. I just feel like I have the greatest job. To be able to do this and to be compensated for it, I’m really lucky and I hope I get to keep on doing this for a while. When people ask what my favourite job or my favourite place is, it’s satisfying to know there been so many amazing experiences.”
Adventure Travel Pro-Tips
Here’s quick list of things every smart adventure traveller should keep in mind before heading out:
– Plan ahead. Have an idea of what you hope to achieve.
– Make sure you are vaccinated/know vaccine requirements before you leave
– Pack an ample supply of all your prescription medications.
– Make sure your passport has not expired.
– Make photocopies of important documents and carry them separately.
– Buying travel Insurance is a good idea.
– Take cash money. Travellers cheques are no longer accepted in some LatAm countries.
– Break in new shoes.
– Venturing above 8,000 feet prepare for altitude sickness.
– Pack light. Less is better.
– Keep a journal. You’re going to forget things.
– Pack sunscreen.
– Take a camera, batteries and memory cards.
– Be flexible and expect the unexpected.
– For more info about all of the above go here!
I Want To Learn More About Matt And His Work
I knew you would! 🙂 If you’d like to learn more about where adventure travel has taken Matt there are lots of sizzle reels on his website. These short vids feature adventure, outdoor or environmental themed stories like “Grassland: A Hidden Wilderness,” “Growing Up Animal,” “Where The Water Flows,” “Takaya: Lone Wolf,” and “The Smoke That Thunders.” You can also watch his award-winning documentary short “My Irnik.” Matt shot, co-directed and produced this 15 minute look at a young father who teaches his son about the value of shared adventures, exploration and his ancestral Inuit heritage in the Canadian north. It’s very honest and very beautiful.
The International Traveller’s Reality Check
In this section I ask my guest to tell me one thing among all the amazingness they experienced that could spoil, taint or otherwise affect/shape someone else’s experience of the travel or adventure destination we are talking about. This doesn’t really apply to Matt’s story so instead I asked him for one thing all his travels have taught him? Here’s what he said:
“Maybe how little we need to be happy in material terms. You realize how stress-free and how happy a blissful very simple material life can make you. And you’re looking more for experiences and memories and friendships and things like that as cheesy as that might sound. For people travelling a long time, months and years, your life naturally changes. You just can’t carry around all that baggage, physical or mental.”
Where To Next Matt?
“The next place that I’d really like to go from a personal perspective would be Argentina. We really want to see and do it all from the classic Iguazú Falls and rural villages in the north to Buenos Aires, but also definitely the south, Torres del Paine National Park, the Fitzroy Traverse, Patagonia and the glaciers. I also really want to go Cuba, walking around Havana, it seems like an amazing place. So yeah, Cuba and Argentina are really top of my list. But New Zealand, Australia and South Pacific and so much of Asia and I’d love to go to the Middle East haven’t spent much time there.”
And Finally …
A big thank you to Matt for taking the time to talk to us about his life on the road as a filmmaker and cinematographer. As always I appreciate the patience my guests show while undergoing my grilling. The “I-Survived-Ian’s-Interview” t-shirt is in the mail
African Travel’s awesome website is a great introduction to the safari world:
Nat Geo Adventure is an obvious stop to learn about amazing adventure travel destinations:
Trusted Adventures provides a searchable list of the best adventure travel guides & outfitters anywhere in the world:
Explore makes travel easier for everyone: