Christina Franco on Polar Expeditions and North Pole Swimming

Global explorer Christina Franco has conquered the polar and arctic regions solo, and now she is working with the South Kensington Club to unleash the voyager in everyone

Christina Franco, global explorer and director of voyages at South Kensington Club, believes that everyone has an adventurer in them somewhere. It’s difficult not to be swept away by her passion and enthusiasm, and she soon has me planning to do the Great North Swim later this year, rather than just fancying that I maybe, just might do it, one day.

It makes sense, then, that South Kensington Club members are queuing up to join Franco on adventure after adventure with The Voyager Club. Led by Franco, SKC’s Voyager Club organises unforgettable voyages and help members prepare for bucket-list expeditions.

Destinations are inspired by monthly themes, which are presented through regular dinner parties, salon-style speaker events and practical workshops with experts – explorers, pioneers and inspirational speakers.

Travelling was very much part of Franco’s upbringing, but her longing for extreme adventure travel came from within. She tells me of her fascination and dream from an early age to go to the North Pole and she finally had the opportunity to do that in 2004. After that, her focus became the polar and arctic regions and trying to do them solo.

Arctic Christina Franco is director of voyages at South Kensington Club

Christina Franco, global explorer and director of voyages at South Kensington Club

‘The first thing I get asked is always why I want to go to the North Pole. The second is why I want to go on my own. But there is never a good reason when explaining a passion. The North Pole has been just that, a passion,’ says Franco.

‘Ever since hearing the first stories of men who slipped into frozen sleeping bags at night exhausted after a long day of hauling, I wanted to go there, I wanted the privilege of travelling in one of the greatest wildernesses imaginable; challenging my body and mind to do so against the odds.

The first thing I get asked is always why I want to go to the North Pole. The second is why I want to go on my own

‘I face a far greater comfort than they ever did and a certainty at least that my journey will not end with a plunge into the molten core of the Earth. The main challenges have come with having a child, which has changed a lot of things,’ says Franco. ‘My time is much more precious so I have to work out a time option that works for everyone.’

But Franco is keen to tell people of the benefits of having a focus and having a training plan, something that seeps into every aspect of her life. ‘It keeps me healthy, sane and happy,’ she says. ‘It’s not just for when I have expeditions to train for.’

 London adventure travel club director Christina Franco speaks about the South Kensington Club

Franco on an Arctic expedition

This year, Franco is facing a new challenge whereby she is swimming one kilometre at the North Pole, wearing only a bathing suit and goggles and the water temperature will be minus one. Of course, she is approaching it in her usual head-on fashion.

‘I have never swum in the Serpentine in a wetsuit, even at the beginning of my training,’ says Franco. ‘I like the cold though, although 0.5 degrees as it has been over winter is quite shocking. You get in and everything hurts, so it’s all about taming your breathing and not gasping.’

I have never swum in the Serpentine in a wetsuit. I like the cold though, although 0.5 degrees is quite shocking

How much preparation goes into Franco’s adventures? ‘A big expedition would need around a year and a half of preparation because of all the sponsorship you have to get and the logistics,’ she says. ‘Also, because I’ve now been working with the Arctic, there’s a window so if you miss the window then you have to wait for a whole year. So for skiing trips, they are only possible March and April, and the swim I’m preparing for will only be possible in July and August.’

So how did Franco first come to the SKC? ‘I know the founder’s sister and she told me that her brother was starting up a club where he wanted an explorer,’ she explains. ‘I came up with the idea of having a voyager programme. Here, what I do is tap into my network of explorers and trainers. We bring in documentaries and speakers to inspire our members for their own adventure and then assist them.’

Franco can meet with members individually, or they can email her, and she is always around when they want to have a chat with her.

‘We do at least one lecture a month and one documentary as well as events and screenings,’ she says. ‘I try not to only bring people in who are doing incredible physical challenges but try to incorporate travel, food or explorers in other ways.’

In May, Franco is putting a team together from South Kensington Club to do one of the IGO Weekend Challenges (IGO specialises in multi-discipline adventures in spectacular wilderness). She tells me how it works really well to bond people and gets them to work together as a team.

‘Somehow you give each other permission to do things and make each other realise what is possible,’ smiles Franco. ‘This is all about giving inspiration to others.

‘The world is changing,’ adds Franco, ‘so let’s learn to do something about it, explore and change things.’

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