Heir to one of the most powerful and wealthy families in the world, David de Mayer Rothschild has taken a path less travelled. Dedicating his time to exploration and environmental conservation, he shares the wealth to be found in losing oneself in the wonder of adventure.
Born into one of the wealthiest families on the planet, David Mayer de Rothschild has had the financial freedom to pursue any one of the many paths that life presents. But after successful stints as a top-ranked horse jumper, a student of political science and an aspiring music mogul, the youngest heir to the Rothschild Banking fortune has found himself taking a path less travelled. Exchanging stories of ego for more eco-centric concerns, Rothschild has dedicated his life to the sole mission of championing greater awareness for the environment and planet. In a conversation with the conservationist and adventurer, we discuss the virtues of travel and the art of finding oneself in the great unknown.
David Mayer de Rothschild
I think what really very quickly happens is you realise how big the world is, and how small and insignificant we are on its endless horizon.
TBE: How can travel result be an act of self-discovery?
David: I think what really very quickly happens is you realise how big the world is, and how small and insignificant we are on its endless horizon.It’s an incredible opportunity to try and challenge myself physically and mentally. Not every adventure is glamorous, you need to have those peaks and troughs. You get on an adventure and you’re miserable at points. You think, “why am I doing this? I’m sick, my feet hurt, I’m tired”, but those magical moments that come are really special and you really really appreciate them.
TBE: What was one of the most illuminating discovery you made in your travels?
R: When I first went to the Antarctic it was definitely a selfish pursuit. But I came back from that expedition and very quickly realised that we can use the sense of wonder and awe as a way to investigate, explore and create stories about fragile ecosystems around the world and in a way that has been my mantra ever since.
I also think of the relationship between nature and us as one. We are nature and nature is us. Whatever image we have of ourselves, we see reflected in nature. So we see society starting to slow down into stagnation, at the same time, we start to see our ocean currents that are similar to our cardiovascular systems slowing down, and that becomes a massive problem. We start to see the soil that we use for agriculture being stripped for all it’s minerals, being over farmed, and then we look at our guts, and we see problems with our gut health.
Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encompasses understanding.
TBE: Why do you think so many are fearful of the idea of exploring the unknown?
R: From a narrative standpoint, the stories that you read are all very negative. Alot of stuff about nature and people is fear based. At this point where everyone is quite fearful, going “out” into nature becomes harder. We cocoon ourselves in routine, habits and in environments that make us feel safe and comfortable. I think that the thing that I always crave and love is travelling in environments that don’t have an absolute end or an absolute answer. You know where you’re going to go but you don’t know what will happen en route.
David Mayer de Rothschild
To be able to go into environments where you can let go and allow circumstance to unfold in front of you is a really beautiful experience.
TBE: What do we stand to gain in embracing one’s fear?
R: To be able to go into environments where you can let go and allow circumstance to unfold in front of you is a really beautiful experience. Especially in a world that feels so premeditated and connected. Using fear of uncertainty as a motivator can become very satisfying very quickly. That moment where you make the choice to leap can reset us internally. When you start to realise that you can handle a situation, you unlock experiences that then stay with you forever.
David Mayer de Rothschild
Nature flows and pulses at its own rhythm and that’s so beautiful. You miss it all if your head is down just looking at a GPS, trying to get to the top of the mountain as fast as possible.
TBE: How would you describe your approach to exploration?
R: I’m definitely the turtle, as in slow and steady, taking my time. Someone was talking to me about exploration. Exploration started out originally as discovery. It was very nomadic and had that sense of discovery – you know, ‘is the world flat? what was that? what’s over there?’ and then it became commoditised. It became all about conquering new lands for commodities. Then there was the colonisation of the planet, exploring for exploitation. Then it became about exploring for ego. We all fall foul of that mainly because a lot of the ways adventures are funded are by sponsorships, and sponsors want a media story and a media story doesn’t want to say ‘oh, this guy walked across America really slowly’. They want to say the guy walked fastest, and he was the youngest, and he was the first person to do it with a parrot that was singing the national anthem. But, it’s so antithetical to the whole experience of being in nature. Nature flows and pulses at its own rhythm and that’s so beautiful. You miss it all if your head is down just looking at a GPS, trying to get to the top of the mountain as fast as possible.
While I admire who do those sort of things for their endurance and their strength, my take is that the longer I can spend in those environments, the more I absorb, feel apart of it and not rush through it, which is always what we feel, is surely a better experience.
David Mayer de Rothschild
“I’ve never met anybody who hasn’t come back feeling more enthused and better about themselves and their character than people who spend their time in nature.”
TBE: How do you define the concept of wealth?
R: I think it comes down to ultimately spending time in environments that allow you to be a better version of yourself. I’ve never met anybody who hasn’t come back feeling more enthused and better about themselves than people who spend their time in nature. It removes all those layers, those opinions, those things we burden ourselves with. To be able to have the luxury to find space and time, to put yourself in an environment where you feel safe enough to express yourself and spend time with people, that to me, is the ultimate richness and wealth.
Ultimately, life just flicks past so quickly. It’s such a cliche but it does. As you get older you realise that we’re so impermanent. We’re living on a molten ball of lava floating in a galaxy of 3 billion stars. You realise the irrelevance and impermanence of us. You realise that most of this stuff doesn’t really mean anything. It’s only given importance because of consumerism, and that’s such a false sense of wealth. You have this and it’s going to make you feel better. No, what makes you feel better is having a conversation with somebody who you love and spending time with them and other people who allow you to be yourself. That is the ultimate wealth.
TBE: Is there anyone in particular that inspires you?
R: Yeah, I always say that travel and nature are the best mentors. You meet amazing people, some become friends, some colleagues, and some become mentors.
TBE: Taking what from you’ve learnt in life so far, what advice would you give to your younger self?
R: I think the ultimate thing I would say to myself is to continue to be curious, and to continue to be stubborn about things that you love- not taking no for an answer. I think I can advise myself to not stop doing things that feel too difficult, because those are the things that will be the most rewarding. Don’t take the path of least resistance because you won’t find satisfaction on that path. The things that challenge you are the things that will ultimately fulfill you the most and those are the things we often give up on.
Through the lens of Adam Jahiel’s ‘The Last Cowboy’ Project we explore the pull of the wild and the lessons of a life lived on the outskirts.
David Mayer de Rothschild is the youngest heir to the Rothschild Banking Family of England, however, is best known for his work as an adventurer, ecologist, and environmentalist. To date, he has launched numerous projects and foundations to raise awareness about the plight of the environment. These endeavours include the 2010 launch of Plastiki, a sailing boat created from the reuse of approximately 12,500 water bottles to raise awareness of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and, more recently, the launch of sustainable lifestyle brand The Lost Explorer.