When Tom Davies and his stepbrother, Greg, were growing up on the edge of Aldridge, a town in the West Midlands, they would pick a point in the distance, a TV mast for instance, and make their way straight there, even if it meant clambering through quarries, sneaking across railway tracks and running away from angry farmers.
Now Davies has channelled this childhood taste for adventure into a YouTube series following his attempts to traverse entire countries in a direct line, based on GPS tracking.
The scrapes he finds himself in along the way, from almost drowning in swollen rivers and slashing his hand on barbed wire in Wales to a run-in with the police in Scotland, combined with his laid-back humour (he describes Norway as “Wales on steroids”), have garnered him a huge fanbase, with 925,000 subscribers to his channel.
Videos documenting his most recent “straight line mission” across Scotland are currently racking up hundreds of thousands of views, with the next episode set to go live on Sunday – and each one could be his last as obstacles threaten to cut short his journey..
“It’s a bit naughty, but these days there’s so much that’s been done – all the mountains have been climbed, the rainforests have been crossed. People have crossed America on a unicycle, gone from Land’s End to John o’Groats on a skateboard,” he said.
“I just love the adventure, the mischief, the hurdles you face, the jeopardy, the ‘oh my god the trip’s going to end, we’re going to be caught by a farmer’, the adversity, and then the reward that comes with it when you overcome these obstacles – it’s amazing.”
As far as he knows, Davies is the only person to successfully cross a country (Norway) without deviating more than 50 metres away from a straight line drawn on Google maps from coast to border, although several other YouTubers have tried. Along the way, he’s both entertained and terrified viewers with edge-of-your-seat incidents such as pulling his semi-submerged body out from a peat bog in Norway by clutching on to clumps of grass – which he described as “the scariest experience of my life”.
He is anxious not to encourage viewers to replicate his missions without experience and careful planning, however. “We can just warn people of the dangers and say ‘do this at your own peril’.”
For Davies, the videos have had a transformative impact on his life. He grew up in a working-class family and misbehaved in school, which he left without much sense of direction, drifting between short-term jobs as a van driver, fishmonger and bartender.
It was only two years ago, aged 28, that he got into a new online game known as Geoguessr, in which players find themselves in random locations on Google Maps, and have to guess which country they’re in using an encyclopaedic knowledge of different countries to give clues – ranging from what their licence plates look like, to bollard colours and the direction of the sun.
Growing up with “a young boy nerdiness just to know all the countries and know their flags and what the longest rivers were” meant that Davies fitted in with the community of geeky young men, and was especially good at the game. He spotted a gap on YouTube for Geoguessr streaming before the game grew rapidly in popularity, and quickly racked up 60,000 followers under the Geowizard moniker.
But he soon felt he had something more to prove to his audience. “They presumed I was a nerd who sits in his bedroom playing this game all the time who never gets out, so they were quite interested to see I was quite outgoing and adventurous and not afraid of a bit of danger.
Buoyed by the popularity of windows into a world of escape and adventure during the pandemic, his account now earns him more than he ever has before from ad revenue and donations from loyal fans made on the Patreon platform.
He’s also been approached by production companies about making TV shows. He’s not interested for now: “I’ve always got the vibe they would probably want to do it their way. At the moment I’m just happy, I’m doing exactly what I want to do and I’m getting paid a fair bit of money for it.”
But, like all good adventurers, there’s no escaping the persistent itch of his feet. He’s planning to traverse the Patagonia region in Latin America’s southern tip next winter. “So far I’ve stayed in my comfort zone geographically, but I’m going to aim higher. That would be technically crossing a continent in a completely straight line, from Pacific to Atlantic coasts.”
The next episode of Davies’ Scotland series airs on Sunday on his GeoWizard channel.