Adrian Ferraro (small)Blog

Architecture to Adventure, via Barbie and Bolivia

You’ve got to love careers advice at school. A whizzy computer programme. Lots of options that seemed to always end up with mechanical engineering vs the army.

Hmmm... Let me think, was I interested in either? About as much as I was into blow drying my short-back-and-sides.

Adrian_Ferraro_(small).jpg#asset:502:thuI found my school ‘careers’ report in the loft last week.

Now aged 37, it made for hilarious reading. And is it any wonder? I barely knew what I wanted to do next week, let alone in 5, 10 or 28 ½ years time…

‘Classic’ career paths just seemed so dull. So prescriptive and epically uninspiring.

Why would anyone want to sit at a desk all day?

Or do the same job for 40 years for that matter? 40 years?

Did I have to choose now? What if I chose wrong?

What if I wasn’t any good at what I did?

What if I had bucket loads of money, the ‘dream’ medical career and yet woke up at the age of 53 wishing I’d been a blacksmith instead?

At the age of 18, I felt like I was sliding towards a life sentence with ten-pin bowling shoes on my feet and no chance of parole.

And yet, a few months later, on leaving school in 1994 (I’m still the right side of forty, just thought I’d mention that again), I had obviously succumbed to parental and/or teacher pressure and managed to blag myself a deferred place at Oxford Brookes to read… architecture.

It turned out I liked designing buildings. (who’d have thought?)

A good course.

A good university.

All fine?


There was just the small matter of Africa.

What I really wanted more than anything else was to go to Africa. But to pay for that GAP year dream, I had to earn some dosh, and quick. So after many MANY letters of rejection, I finally secured a work placement in an architect’s office in posh Harrow-on-the-Hill for six months.

But there’s a thing about architecture I didn’t know before. I feel obliged to mention it, just in case anyone else is considering it as a career. As well as designing bad-ass buildings, it also turns out architects have to work out where the err, ‘plumbing’ from the toilet goes.

Just a minute. Let me check my give-a-sh*t-ometer. Oh, ‘quelle-surprise’, it was registering a big fat ZERO.

More importantly, perhaps, the twenty minute commute from home in sleepy Amersham to boring work in mundane Harrow was full of grown men who stood on the same point on the platform every morning, waiting for the same train, carrying the same newspaper, sitting in the same seat, all looking like they’d rather be somewhere else.

Surely there was more to life?

I vowed I would do whatever it took not to be one of those ‘men’ in twenty years time.

So I quit, and boy did it feel good!

But Africa was still calling – shouting at me really. So I did what all self-respecting late-teenage boys do when short of money, I went and priced Barbie dolls for the next 5 months. It was more interesting and, frankly, better paid.

Barbie, bless her, I have a lot to thank her for. She ensured I made it to Africa and it was everything I dreamt it would be: six months that changed my life. An epic expedition saw me pushing a 15 ton truck across the Sahara, dancing to the rhythms of West Africa and winching the same 15 ton truck through Congo’s ‘Heart of Darkness’.

This was ‘life’ in all its glory: adventure, strange wildlife, roasted termites, 36 hour bus journeys with 40 people fitting snugly into 24 seats, luke-warm beers over-looking the Congo river, fresh sea-food in the Gulf of Guinea, epic tales of dodgy bowels and much more besides.

Happy days!

And on my return?

Sleepy Amersham and a major downer.

So I headed to Birmingham University to read Sport and Exercise Science. I had friends there and thought flogging people on a cycling machine while feeding them drugs and spraying them with water sounded like a good use of my time. It might even be fun (it is, by the way, you should really try it sometime).

Life’s too short to spend it doing things you don’t enjoy.

After 3 three years at uni, you might think I’d have had a clearer idea of where life was taking me. And I’m pleased to say it did, but it had nothing to do with work. Career ‘callings’ where remaining stubbornly silent. The loudest mutterings I was hearing were from my itchy feet. Actually, they were more shouting, even screaming. So to shut them up I journeyed through Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina for four months.

And then suddenly, I realised I couldn’t escape any longer. A ‘proper job’ was about to catch me up. Proper jobs apparently all begin with the letter ‘P’:

Pub management.



Proper jobs came and proper jobs went.

Then one day, just when I was considering a move from purchasing inks and machine parts for a printing company to a new job that would involve purchasing the flour, chocolate, eggs and lard for ‘Devon Desserts’, I had an epiphany.


A chance encounter and 6 months of badgering, meant I gave up my secure ‘proper’ job and went to work for a tiny start up in the world of adventure travel. It was a risk. I was the business owner’s first employee. I halved my salary. Yet it was utterly fan-f-ing-tastic.

Life was an adventure once again.

Every day was different. Helping people plan amazing trips, working on marketing campaigns, offering first-hand advice on how to avoid having all your stuff stolen whilst sleeping on Nice beach.

What wasn’t there to like?

I had finally found my nirvana.

Surprisingly (to me anyway), it was actually the business side of things, and particularly the marketing, that really interested me. It was the ‘risk’ thing I think.

I’ve since gone on to start two companies of my own.

The first, this one, is going strong.

The second?

Well, that crashed and burned. BIG TIME.

Stretching Horizons. A conference for teachers planning overseas trips and expeditions. You might have heard of it?

It was an epic failure and it still hurts. But that’s life and you have to pick yourself up and learn from your mistakes.

In a funny way, life has come strangely full circle. It is with a not unnoticed dollop of irony that I now find myself going into schools to give careers talks and launch ‘life-changing’ expeditions and educational journeys to the developing world.

I think of myself as an 'accidental educationalist'.

I tell young people what no one told me – that it’s OK not to follow the standard path. That it’s OK not to know what you want to do, it’s OK to make your parents despair, to live life by the seat of your pants, to challenge yourself through adventure, to follow the path less-trodden in the course of trying to find your dreams.

And in many ways, I’m actually just like those business men on the platform at Amersham station. I do sit behind a desk most of the day. But you know? It’s alright. I live in sunny Devon and can’t wait to get to work in the morning.

Adrian Ferraro

The Specialist Travel Consultancy

To arrange a careers talk at your school, or to launch an epic school expedition that your students will remember for the rest of their life, why not give us a call? A ring. A buzz. A shout. Preferably from a roof top, but the phone will work just as well.

Tel: 01392 660056

Experts in adventure | Passionate about education | Pros at putting the two together.