Ben Wylson, 33, runs a London film production company called The Big Sky with his brother, Jack, and a friend. They make short films for all sorts of companies, from high-fashion to blue-chip corporations, as well as longer feature films and documentaries.
Was there a pivotal moment in your life when you decided to set up The Big Sky?
I was cycling around the world with my cousin, Jamie Mackenzie, filming our adventures. We left England with £2000 and that was it; we were free, on the road. The challenge we set ourselves was to visit every continent without using an airplane and we named this rather haphazard expedition and the resulting film ‘Free Wheels East’. This fuelled our passion for film production and gave us the idea to start The Big Sky.
How did it feel traveling with just a few essentials and never quite knowing what the next day had in store?
Life on a bike was a new existence for us. All of our worldly possessions were packed down into two one-man tents. We each carried everything with us: two sets of underwear, two t-shirts, a jumper, a pair of jeans; there was no space for being materialistic. When we crawled into our makeshift homes at night, each tent took up about the same amount of space as your average single bed. We slept under the stars when the weather was fine, in fields, by the road, and by day we cycled as far as our legs would take us. We answered to no-one. No day was the same. We explored. We discovered.
Why was it such a life affirming experience for you?
We rode away from the digital age of constant connection and interruption. We didn’t have computers or phones. We were truly free and we came to realize that true freedom is disconnection, peace and tranquility. We came to realize that these things were more valuable than gold – time and space, the wind, the mountains, silence; basic necessities that I now put on the highest pedestal, luxuries that few intrepid travelers of our time afford themselves. We disconnected ourselves and so we connected to the universe.
What inspires you in life?
The natural world; the trees, the birds, animals, sweeping vistas, stillness, the sound of the wind, the crashing of the waves, far-away people and culture. Travelling and seeing what the world has to offer.
Why is travel so important to you?
At some point the traveler has to go ‘home’ to be ‘comfortable’. To return to the welcoming arms of stability, certainty and love – the soothing all-enveloping arms of the everyday, the known. But we can easily find ourselves existing in the everyday and running on next-to-no fuel, low on energy, with a sigh in the morning, without appreciation. The daily luxuries are a given. They are taken for granted and we are no longer able to see or feel. We are trodden down, sapped of life-blood, and left to wonder when was the last time we were at one, in touch with our soul? So stick a pin in the map. Pack a bag, disappear, even if it’s only for a day, a weekend, a week! Watch the richness flood back, regain the clarity, see how it all snaps back into focus, rediscover all the things that the everyday so cruelly confiscated, realize how disconnected you have become, reset, recharge, rejoin, rejuvenate; that’s what travel is for me. Some say the opposite, they don’t wish to know what is over yonder hill, they are happy with The Shire, they thrive when it’s predictable, definite, comfortable. But that’s not for me.
What is your favorite place in the world? Why? How does it make you feel?
The wilds of Mongolia; no boxes, no boundaries, no fences, no fashion; just the stars like you’ve never seen them before; limitless horizons, warriors on horseback, words whispered by welcoming strangers; horses and yurts; gnarled, wise people scorched by the sun with twinkling eyes, pearly white smiles and the accompanying laughter.
Any secret travel tips you want to share?
Set yourself a challenge, a rough framework for adventure. Pick a destination and then improvise, letting the road and the wondrous people you meet point the way. You can have an adventure right now, after work, in your city if you like. It doesn’t have to be grandiose; just keep it open, unplanned; pick a different way there and wander the backstreets home.
What would your advice be for people who want to take ownership of their future?
I’ve worked all sorts of off jobs to survive, but when it came to my career I made a sober decision to only do what I love to do, what I am passionate about. So the rest fell into place. My career is for nobody else but me and consequently (with the exception of some telesales, factory work, fruit packing, being the boatswain on a tall ship, working in bars) in my career, I’ve only ever worked for myself. It feels liberating to do my own thing.
Why is experience so important in life?
Experience is a process that helps you pin down your dreams. For every day you sit idle or work in stagnation, for every moment that you spend re-living that which you have seen before, you cannot progress. For every opinion you’ve had that you could not change, for every great idea you did not act on, for every person you didn’t have the balls to speak to, every recommendation you dismissed, there is an experience waiting for you, itching to be discovered, to be picked up, to be cherished, to be remembered for the rest of your life.
What does travel mean to you?
Travel is a metaphor for life. Sometimes it’s terrible; you are stuck behind a belching truck, going uphill with a headwind. But sometimes the sun-beams and you are singing at the top of your lungs with tailwinds pushing you along, flying downhill. Anything is possible. Travel encourages me to discover my ambitions. Work and life commitments mean I can’t do as much as I’d like, but I make sure I don’t let the sedentary world take the wind out of my sails. We travel through conversation and thought all the time, by employing the attitude of the traveler day by day. As I say, travel is a metaphor for everyday life, it’s not an answer to your problems, but it jolts you out of stagnation. It also is the easiest way to bring back sanity, to bring back perspective and to ignite further ambitions.