Nick Broomfield: 'I drive a lot doing documentaries - it's a great way to see a country' / AFP/Getty Images

'The Karoo desert was strange but startling'

First holiday memory?

My father was doing some photography for Aquila Airways, the big seaplanes that used to take off from Southampton. We flew to Ischia and it was incredible. The planes were gigantic inside, very luxurious and went very slowly. They couldn't fly above bad weather, so if there was a storm you just flew straight through it.

On the way back we flew over the Bay of Biscay and went through the most terrible storm. I was five and completely hysterical. After that, I had to be dragged on to planes.

Best holiday?

Cycling through Vietnam with my son. We arrived in a completely unplanned way in Hanoi in December, rented a couple of bicycles and decided we would go as far as Ho Chi Minh City. We would arrive in the pitch dark after a day on the road and either sleep on someone's floor or stay in these incredible French colonial hotels. The people were so hospitable.

Favourite place in the British Isles?

Where I live on the River Ouse, near Lindfield in West Sussex. You're right by the South Downs, which are magical, and although it's just an hour from London it's defined by rugged, undulating countryside. It's a very special part of the world.

What have you learnt from your travels?

To be adaptable. You never know what's going to happen on the road. It's either feast or famine – as on my cycle trip in Vietnam – and you need to keep a sense of humour.

It's also important to find a way to communicate with people, even if you don't speak their language. If you show an interest in them or make them laugh, they will reward you with the greatest kindness.

Ideal travelling companion?

Either someone you want to spend a lot of time in bed with, or somebody who is hardy, adventurous and not too smelly. Someone who shares a love for other cultures and doesn't mind some discomfort; who has the ability to make the best of what's happening, with a wonderful infectious curiosity and is always ready to celebrate the day ahead.

Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?

I like physical pursuits. I once trekked for a week through the Sahara in Morocco with camels, which was enormous fun.

I did another one that started from El Kelaa Des M'Gouna, where the Rose Festival begins each year, and then hiked up the Dadès Valley for five days. It was physically demanding but I encountered fantastic people.

Holiday reading?

The last time I was travelling I took some Yeats, the Book of Longing by Leonard Cohen and also Just Above My Head by James Baldwin. I also walked from Liverpool to Morecambe Bay on a fundraiser recently and downloaded the e-book of Anna Karenina, which was a brilliant distraction from feeling like my knees where going to give way.

Where has seduced you?

East Africa. Once you've been bitten by the region, it's impossible not to hanker after it. I'm making my next film in Tanzania, which is just the most incredible country. Despite the fact that a lot of people there have far less materially than we do, I found that they have an enormous capacity for enjoyment and generosity – which is something I think we've slightly lost. There's also something about the size of the sky and the colour of the earth that's completely liberating. It makes you want to do crazy things.

Better to travel or to arrive?

Travel. I once drove from New York right down to the tip of Georgia before they built the main freeway. There were all these half-empty motels and half-forgotten towns along the way, which were amazing.I drive a lot doing documentaries – it's a great way to see a country.

Worst travel experience?

I was in Los Angeles when the Rodney King riots broke out in 1992. There were suddenly hundreds of people all trying to get out of the city. Everyone was terrified. They thought the airport was going to be attacked, so flights were cancelled. You suddenly realise the veneer of civilisation is so thin. It makes you reconsider the world that you thought to be safe.

Best hotel?

Villa la Quercia – a funny little B&B above Positano in Italy. It had incredible views of the sea, cost virtually nothing and the rooms were styled in that very grand, Italian way.

Favourite drive?

Everyone talks about the driving the Garden Route in South Africa, but the Karoo desert was by far the most beautiful place I saw there. It was Cecil Rhodes' favourite part, too.

There are tiny little towns with lots of wonderful, eccentric people. You find remote little artists' colonies in the middle of nowhere, or a shack that serves incredible food. It's that kind of place: strange but startling.

Best meal?

At The Lovat Arms in the Scottish Highlands. I was filming at a monastery nearby and they did this fantastic meal at Christmas time. I ate the most amazingly delicate venison, with cabbage and potatoes – it was all just so beautifully cooked.

Dream trip?

The Solomon Islands. I remember reading about them in school, which ignited my imagination. They're very remote and I don't think many people get to go.

It would be fun to go island hopping and explore that part of the world. I'd combine it with a trip to South Island in New Zealand to do some walking, too.

Favourite city?

Rome. It's a magnificent place, full of some of the

most wonderful buildings in the world. I know the Monti area the best, which is full of little artisan shops. It's a great place to hang out and people-watch. You get a sense of people really enjoying their lives and not working particularly hard.

Where next?

Ojai, California. Historically, it's a place where lots of spiritual thinkers have lived, near Santa Barbara. It's so unflashy and has magnificent mountains around it. My relatives have a house there so I'm going for a family Christmas.

Nick Broomfield's new film, Sarah Palin: You Betcha! is on More 4 at 10pm, 27 December