In November 2013, British explorer, journalist-photographer and expedition leader Levison Wood left London for Rwanda, East Africa. Nine months, 4,200 miles and seven million steps later, he reached the Mediterranean in Egypt, making history as the first man to walk the length of the river Nile. Wood came home with battered feet, great memories and photos and footage (much of it self-shot) for a book and aptly-titled documentary Walking the Nile, which premieres tonight on Animal Planet at 8/7c.

A former Captain with the British Parachute Regiment who fought Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan, Wood is no stranger to war zones, and his trek took him through several. But there were unforeseen dangers as well: Journalist Matt Power, who joined him three months in to walk through Uganda’s remote Ajai Game Reserve, collapsed in the 115-degree heat, and with the nearest help two hours away, died of heat stroke. Wood considered quitting but ultimately decided to press on in Power’s honor. “It reminded me just how dangerous this journey is,” he says, and that’s not all he discovered on his epic walk.

For those who’d dare to follow in his footsteps—literally or figuratively—he shared a few lessons from his epic adventure.

In Sudan, I was sweating and took my shirt off to dry it in the sun. I put it back on and right there on the collar was an enormous scorpion. There were snakes as well. When you sleep on the ground in the desert, you’ve got to be careful.

 

Research first
There’s not a lot you can do to prepare physically for something like this, but you can do your homework. In the two and a half years before, I learned about the political and cultural situation and went to Africa to learn about wildlife behavior, like what to do when a lion gets close.

Travel light
I only took essentials, like a satellite phone. You can get food and water along the way. I thought it would be a good idea to take a laptop but it was too much weight, so I ditched it and used my iPhone.

Be vigilant
In Sudan, I was sweating and took my shirt off to dry it in the sun. I put it back on and right there on the collar was an enormous scorpion. There were snakes as well. When you sleep on the ground in the desert, you’ve got to be careful. My biggest fear was crocodiles. They jumped out of the water a couple times, right next to me.

Don’t pack heat
I didn’t think about bringing a weapon because if you’re armed you’re asking for trouble, though there were times I had to employ local rangers, militia or police, to help me out and keep me safe.

Keep your mind stimulated
I didn’t prepare for the boredom, the difficulty of trying to keep yourself mentally stimulated every day for nine months, or waking up every day and the horizon is the same. That was probably the toughest thing.

Watch where you walk
Walking through a war zone in South Sudan, a guy ran out, pointing a gun at me and threatening to kill me. He thought I was with the United Nations. It was scarier than the minefield we went through. I’ve been in minefields before, so I made sure the guide went first.

Sudan has more pyramids than Egypt
Everyone’s heard about the pyramids in Egypt but there are many more in Sudan. There are no tourists, so it’s a really special experience to be there on your own and encounter these things.

Respect Mother Nature
When we planned the trip, we picked the lesser of two evils by going with the summer heat; it would have been worse to arrive in in Uganda in the rainy season. You prepare yourself for it, plan ahead, make sure you have enough water, and that’s all you can do. You do gain a new respect for Mother Nature. You realize how ruthless the environment is.

Believe in mind over matter
Toward the end, my feet were so bad—really bad blisters. I couldn’t even walk to get breakfast. I had to flick a switch in my brain to go on.

Don’t rush it
In hindsight, I’d probably take it more slowly, because I was so focused on getting there and finishing. By going so fast and pushing it so hard, you don’t have time to enjoy it on the way. I have a big plan for this summer, not in Africa—I can’t give much away, but it will be just as interesting, exciting and dangerous.