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Setting Records and Saving Elephants: Lessons from Holly Budge

Holly Budge - Adventurer & Conservationist - Summited Mt. Everest & holds 2 World Records - 1st women to Skydive Mt. Everest & raced 1000kms across Mongolia on Horseback!

What happens when you create a life where your passions converge? You may just set a few records and enact real change. Holly Budge is an incredible woman making this happen in her life today. She is an adventurer, conservationist, and Founder of the award-winning charity, How Many Elephants.

Holly has combined her love of adventure and art to raise over £300,000 for charity initiatives. She uses her adventures and skills in art and design to create interest and awareness around the causes she believes in.

“I've struggled for years to figure out how all my interests fit together,” Holly says, “but I feel now that the stars have aligned and they're all feeding each other.”

Holly has an incredible story of outlandish adventures and charitable missions. Read on to learn how it all came together and the lessons Holly learned along the way.

Discovering Self-Belief Through the Boldness of Youth

Feeling trapped in University, Holly escaped to go backpacking in Australia and New Zealand. Here she experienced her first tandem skydive. “That 60 seconds of adrenaline, that 60 seconds of sheer terror, completely changed the course of my life forever,” Holly shares. “Not only was I blown away by the experience and wanted to go straight back up and do it again, but I was also really blown away by the fact that people were getting paid jump out of perfectly good airplanes every day of the year. My career advisor at school hadn't mentioned this to me as a possible career move.”

This inspired Holly to start her career as a skydiving camerawoman and she achieved that goal after months and months of hard work. As a skydiver, Holly was getting paid to jump out of airplanes 8-10 times a day.

“I like to refer to this as the boldness of youth,” Holly says. “I knew no one in New Zealand or anything about skydiving and filming, but none of that mattered because I knew I could learn all those skills, or I could at least try.”

Achieving this goal gave Holly huge self-confidence and self-belief. She’s taken this mindset with her for the last two decades and gone on quite a few interesting adventures because of it. Have you had a moment that’s made you believe in yourself? Self-belief is just one of the amazing things adventures offer.

Making Decisions in Free fall

After going back for her degree at 24 years of age and creating a successful e-learning skydiving program, Holly thought she’s spent enough time looking at laptops and was ready for another adventure. When she heard about the opportunity to skydive Everest, Holly called and signed up immediately.

The day of the skydive, Holly went up on a small airplane to an altitude of 29,500 feet, just higher than the summit of Everest. As Holly prepared to jump, the pilot signalled her to stop because of cloud cover. Unfortunately, Holly had too much momentum and ended up falling out of the plane.

“It was absolutely terrifying,” Holly remembers. “I had no visual reference to where I was landing below.” Because skydiving doesn’t come with equipment showing where the landing area is, Holly had to rely purely on what she could see. With her oxygen mask obscuring her vision, Holly had to make the brave move to pull it off and find the landing area on her own.

“There isn't anyone there to ask questions,” Holly relates, “so you really do have to back yourself to make good decisions and have full faith in the decisions you've made. I decided to take the oxygen mask off and just focus everything on getting down safely and that's exactly what I did.”

Holly’s experience shows the importance of decision-making skills and expertise when embarking on an extreme adventure. Putting the hours in and then trusting your decisions is crucial when you’re free falling from 29,500 feet.

Mongolian horses

Two weeks after skydiving off Everest, Holly got a call inviting her to another world first adventure racing semi-wild horses across Mongolia. Having ridden most of her life, Holly was in for the expedition. To train, Holly started riding horses as much as she could around her other commitments and felt fit and strong when she arrived at the starting line.

“It was an amazing way to experience Mongolia,” Holly says. “It's just such an incredible wilderness, wherever you can see, you can go. I rode a total of 25 horses in the saddle for about 13 hours a day. It took me nine days.”

When she met with a South African woman also going on the expedition, the duo decided to team up and do the race together. While following the GPS, one night Holly and her partner got stuck in the mountains without water or their horses.

“I was scared,” Holly recalls. “I'm not a big fan of pitch-black darkness. It was pretty scary. It’s dark, the horses ran off, we thought there’s nothing we can do about it. We just had to deal with it at first light.”

When morning came, the horses were right next to the tent again. Holly spent 8 hours trying to catch her horse again and in the end carried on to the next checkpoint without having had water for 15 hours.

“I think it's quite a rarity in this day and age to be able to experience a country with that level of freedom,” Holly notes. “There were no fences, no boundaries, no gates. We just had this intense freedom.”

Discovering true freedom through adventure is one of the most eye-opening experiences an adventurer can have. Consider what you could do to experience this kind of freedom.


Studying for a Master's in Sustainable Design at the University of Brighton was a real life-changer for Holly. As she studied a material called vegetable ivory, Holly realised its similarity to elephant ivory and began researching the elephant ivory crisis. Since then, she hadn’t stopped.

Holly was inspired to create a stunning necklace with vegetable ivory that told the story of the elephant ivory crisis. It’s 96 elements of vegetable ivory represent the 96 elephants poached every day in Africa. Through her artwork, Holly illustrates important statistics in a visual way.

Accompanying the necklace is a hard-hitting exhibition that showcases 35,000 elephants, the number of elephants that are poached in a year. “To see these statistics visually is quite a sight to see,” Holly says. “ My art is about showing what these numbers actually look like.”

As part of this work, Holly supports an all-female, frontline anti-poaching team in South Africa. While spending a month with them, Holly saw lions, rhinos and a big herd of elephants. She was touched by what she was able to experience not on a paid safari but as a part of the frontline of anti-poaching.

I spend an awful lot of my time advocating the work of these women,” Holly says. “They patrol great big areas of the nature reserve and they aren't armed. They just have pepper spray and handcuffs. But you know, they're amazing role models. They're not only on the frontline of conservation, but they're also educators and beacons of hope in their local communities.”

Connecting her interests has taken Holly’s life in an incredible direction. It’s so interesting to see how this adventurer’s passions came together and led her to an important cause. You never know what your passion will lead you to.

Hear more about Holly’s fascinating adventures and her meaningful work in her interview on the Tough Girl podcast.


Listen Now!!


Social Media

Instagram @hollybudge

How Many Elephants Campaign

Instagram - @howmanyelephants


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