"I was the only American," the 51-year-old publishing exec recalled. "The rest were Europeans and Australians. It led to some very interesting debates."
More importantly, the trip felt like the experience of a lifetime, he said. "I just knew that this was what my life was going to be."
But after pursuing journalism with the notion of becoming a foreign correspondent, Mr. Clinton arrived on the business side of publishing. He now spends his work time overseeing magazines like Esquire and O, the Oprah Magazine under the eye of Hearst's demanding president, Cathleen Black.
But that's OK. Mr. Clinton, who is single, has made time to visit 105 countries, most recently by dropping into Paraguay over the winter holidays.
He has progressed from snapshot tourist to serious travel photographer, publishing "Wanderlust: 100 Countries" (Glitterati, 2004) and "Global Snaps: 500 Photographs from Seven Continents" (Glitterati, 2005). His work has sold at shows in New York, New Orleans, Miami and Southampton, N.Y., with some proceeds delivered to the Starlight Foundation, which offers programs to sick children and their families.
"I was always a wordsmith as a reporter, writer and editor," Mr. Clinton said. "About 20 years ago I started taking pictures. When I look back now I see how I transitioned into the visual side of things. It wasn't by design; it was almost by a process." He wound up taking classes at New York's School of Visual Arts and the International Center of Photography.
"I've had different experiences," he said. "What I really learned is that the travel and the experience and ultimately the photography were all the things that kept me balanced in my own life."
He uses all Nikon cameras and lenses, mainly a D100 digital camera. "I've learned that digital works best all of the time ... and have converted to digital full time."
It has been hard to leave the office life entirely behind. On one occasion in Fiji, where some villagers wanted to publish a weekly newspaper, Mr. Clinton became immersed in advising them about ways to go about it. Then there is the extensive Hearst presence overseas to remind him of the job.
But all that is forgotten at certain points, as when Mr. Clinton reached the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania at dawn, or when he rafted down white-water rivers in South America-and especially while he picked 20 leeches from his body in a Tasmanian rain forest. "When we asked the guide why he didn't tell us beforehand, he said that his experience is that half of the people drop out when they hear about the possibility of leeches ... you learn they really are harmless."
"My father's generation spent a lot of time not balancing out their lives," he said. "For my generation and the younger ones, balance is as important. It makes us better business people ... and gives us better perspective."
Finding time is the toughest trick. "It's all about good planning," Mr. Clinton said. "I'm the master of the four-day trip." Last Thanksgiving week, he flew from New York to Cape Town, South Africa, via Atlanta on Tuesday night, and then returned to the office Monday morning via a Sunday night red-eye.
"Cathie Black hasn't given me any slack," he said with a soft laugh.
Advertising Age is celebrating the varied activities of marketer, media and agency people outside their office lives with a new feature, Off Hours. Devoted to a worthy cause? Have a secret fishing hideaway? Rabid about participatory sports? If you have a fascinating Off Hours activity, describe your passion in an email to Mike Ryan at email@example.com.
Hearst publishing director and lensman picks his seven top travel moments:
1. Seeing Angkor Wat at dawn
2. Arriving at top of Mt. Kosciusko in Australia
3. Awakening to a rainbow on Christmas morning on the island of Nukubati in the Fijis
4. Biking on the red rocks in Arches National Park in Utah
5. Flying over Namibian sand dunes and Skeleton Coast in a single-engine plane
6. Ice-climbing the Perito Moreno Glacier in Patagonia, Argentina
7. Seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time as a teenager