My Life in Travel: Anita Roddick

'My next trip abroad will be to the Angola State Penitentiary in Louisiana'
Click to follow
The Independent Travel

What is your first holiday memory?

What is your first holiday memory?

Winning a scholarship to study in Israel in 1961. It was the first time that I had ever explored a country ­ that was a holiday for me. I spent three months studying in a kibbutz in Ginosar, and then time hitching around from the Negev Sea up to the Golan Heights and into the north. It was my first experience engaging with a community, and the thinking that I picked up there and while hiking became a pattern for what I did for the next 40 years of my life.

Where did you spend the summers of your childhood?

As working-class Italian immigrants, we never had holidays as children ­ every summer was spent working in my mum's café. We often sneaked down to Littlehampton beach and to the Butlins amusement park, which was the highlight of the summer.

What has been your best holiday?

Travelling in the Colorado desert a few years ago. I spent some time in Slabtown, which is a community of retired people. There is a little town there called Niland, where I spent four days staying with an old Korean War veteran who was in his early 80s and spent his days painting a mountain, which he has named Salvation mountain. It's a huge adobe mountain with a large heart painted on it and some words from Deuteronomy, which I think they are going to make into a national monument. Spending time with him was inspirational.

Are you a frequent traveller?

I travel every four months for work and experience, but 99 per cent is for work. Travelling is the most abysmal thing that I do in terms of getting from point A to point B. The best way is to travel with just hand luggage if you can, so that you're not hanging around in the baggage reclaim at the end of the journey.

What is your favourite place in the British Isles?

Strathdon in Aberdeenshire. We had a wonderful house there for about 12 years, which we sold to Billy Connolly. It is a magical area for me, because you can see four seasons in an hour.

What have you learnt from your travels?

Travel is like a university without walls. The biggest insight that I have gained while travelling is that the greatest catastrophe is economic poverty. I really try to put that information into my work at the Body Shop. There is also the huge dilemma of spiritual poverty, where nobody gives a damn about billions of people living on a couple of dollars a day. Travel for me is experiential education and it has always got to have a purpose to it.

Who would be your ultimate travelling companion?

A combination of my husband, a great anthropologist such as Wade Davis, and a friend of ours who is an environmental photographer and also a drag artist. It has got to be somebody who can survive ­ I don't want anybody who is going to be worrying about their hair.

Are you an independent traveller?

I am an independent traveller, but I have absolutely fallen in love with an organised eco-tour operator called The River League (001 604 987 8667; in Canada. For the last three years we have been taking family holidays up some of the most remote rivers in northern Canada, rafting, walking and hiking with friends and family. It is incredibly well-organised. Being in the company of friends and family and having time to reflect on things is so important ­ the high blood pressure really goes down.

Are you beach bum, culture vulture or adrenaline junkie?

A combination of culture vulture and adrenaline junkie. I am absolutely not a beach bum, it just doesn't grab me at all. I just love soaking up the environment around me.

What luxury would you never travel without?

Body butter ­ you can wash and condition your hair with almost anything, but I really couldn't go without a good moisturiser.

What do you read on holiday?

I tend not to read on active holidays, because I am so exhausted at the end of the day. If it's long-haul travel then a good crime story like a Michael Connelly novel, or magazines. At the moment I am also loving Paul Kingsnorth's One No, Many Yeses about anti-globalisation and global resistance.

To where have you lost your heart?

On an aesthetic level it would be the Polynesian islands before they were squandered by the French military. The topography is breathtaking. I get the same feeling about South Africa, too ­ the mountains and the light are fantastic. On an emotional level it would have to be Israel.

Is it better to travel than to arrive?

I hate travelling ­ on aeroplanes there is too much concentration on food and drink. Ground-level travel is different. I think a train journey would be sublime, because it's far more reflective.

What has been the worst thing that has happened to you on holiday?

Being shut in an abattoir in the Sierra Madre mountains in Mexico. The rain was absolutely torrential and the only place we could seek refuge overnight was in this abattoir. I got covered in fleas, and couldn't get rid of them for weeks.

To where would you never return?

Siberia. I spent some time there setting up a community trade project for the Body Shop, but I've no desire to go back. I sat with more geese and chickens than people on the flight there.

Where is the most overrated place you've been?

Los Angeles. It's hideous. Other than Venice Beach, there is no heart to it and no centre ­ it's the future of the city sprawl.

Where is the most underrated place you've been?

There are two. The first is Belgium, because it is so creative. The second are the Northern territories of Canada, such as the Yukon. You can have unbelievably spectacular journeys there because it's so untouched.

To where would you emigrate?

If I was in my 20s then Australia, New Zealand or South Africa. The people are all so optimistic. South Africans, in particular, have a sense of what is possible and of generosity. On an environmental level, New Zealanders are smart as a button and Australians are just so in-your-face, funny, irreverent and pagan. I would definitely stay in any country that spoke English as a main language.

Where would be your trip of a lifetime?

I'd like to learn about boats then take my family sailing somewhere quite extraordinary, like Baja California in Mexico.

The world ends tomorrow ­ where do you regret never having been?

Bhutan, and Petra in Jordan.

Where are you going next?

To Angola State Penitentiary in Louisiana, where I go every six months. I work to try to get two men who have been in solitary confinement there for 35 years released. I usually stop off in New Orleans for a couple of days on the way then drive down to Angola Prison.

To read further about any of the issues and places mentioned by Anita in this interview, go to