James Borrell is a biodiversity scientist and science communicator researching how people and nature can adapt to environmental change.
How to.. Get Involved With Your First Expedition
Even the worlds greatest living explorers and adventures had a first expedition experience that set them on upward trajectories. It’s easy to think of these folks as part of an elite and exclusive club, but in fact getting started in expeditions is easy.
“Polar exploration is at once the cleanest and most isolated way of having a bad time which has been devised.”
Why go on an Expedition
Here’s some common reasons that people choose get involved with expeditions.
1. For the sense for adventure, a break from routine, a desire to travel or to broaden one’s horizons.
2. The wish to develop oneself, and one’s skills such as teamwork and organisation.
3. A wish to do something physically or mentally challenging.
4. The wish to contribute to a worthwhile exploration, humanitarian or conservation project, to further existing knowledge.
Why people don’t go on Expeditions
1. They assume that they don’t have the time/money/knowledge needed.
2. They want to go on an expedition, but never quite manage to commit. To take the plunge. To start.
3. They think expeditions are just about being waist deep in mud, sweating, or freezing, and hungry. They think expeditions are being Bear Grylls.
4. Worst of all: They think it’s all been done before. That there’s nothing left to explore.
The Royal Geographical Society – The home of expeditions has an excellent directory of over 200 organisations, definitely something for everyone. They also do a great bulletin of vacancies and opportunities, and can usually offer helpful advice.
Explorers Connect – A great network of like-minded individuals, they have regular meetups too. Very welcoming to newcomers, and the regular newsletter normally reports on a staggering number of upcoming expeditions.
I also have a short list of particularly good organisations, or ones that I have been personally involved with.
..and how to choose between them
There are more and more organisations offering expeditions every year, and so the choice can be confusing. Here’s two questions you should ask yourself to help narrow down the choice.
Where do you want to go?
You might have a life long desire to see the Arctic or Antarctic for example, in which case you can rapidly narrow down the list of appropriate organisations. You might want to go and base yourself in a rainforest or African reserve, or instead undertake an extended journey and there’s people out there can help with all of these things.
What do you want to do?
Is it adventurous travel? Horse riding through the pampas grass, floating down the Amazon or taking a short walk in the mountains? Perhaps you want to feel you’re making a difference or a contribution to conservation or communities? Perhaps you’re not sure, in which case browsing through the many opportunities available might be your best bet.
Some things to keep in mind..
“Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good.”It’s worth keeping in mind that not all organisations were made equal. Quite simply, some are better than others, and choosing between them can be difficult, especially if you’re getting involved for the first time. None of this should put you off though!
Is the organisation a charity, foundation or company? Where does your money go? Do they support local people and projects?
If they work in conservation, where does the data go? Do they have a good track record? And who is leading the expedition?
Unfortunately a lot of newer organisations see expeditions as an opportunity to make money. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the priority should be a worthwhile experience for those taking part and the host country.
Lastly, you might like to just go it alone. Remember; it doesn’t have to be a world first, a year long epic or don’t-tell-your-mum dangerous to be worth doing.
Money, Money, Money…
Money is probably the biggest single factor that puts people off expeditions.
Firstly, the life time of memories (and gnarly stories you can tell your mates down the pub) more than balance the cost. In fact, if you compare it to the cost of a conventional holiday or all the other outgoings in your life, they start to look more and more like a bargain. So my first piece of advice would be to start saving!
Secondly, having said that – and to completely contradict myself – there’s an amazing amount of people out there than want to give you money to do something worth while. If you don’t believe me, then head over here.
It’s worth saying that you can’t expect money for nothing. In many cases, sponsors will ask for a report or a short talk in return for funding. They might pay for equipment or specific expenses. There often has to be a strong sense of purpose, or a nice story behind the project too.
In my experience, it is also looked upon very favorably if you have contributed a fair amount towards the expedition yourself which shows you are committed and not just out for a free ride (see above!).
A Single Piece of Advice…
If I could offer a single piece of advice to anyone thinking of embarking on their own expedition, it would be this: I’ve never met a single person who regretted taking the plunge and going on their first expedition.
They might of had a rough time, but the worst parts are always the fondest memories in retrospect. They might decide that expeditions are not for them, but they are mightily glad they gave it a go. But by far the most likely outcome, is the urge to start planning the next one.
If you enjoyed this article, then please consider subscribing to my very occasional email newsletter with expedition news, conservation resources and speaking dates. Tick the box to have a summary of new articles sent to your inbox, once a week.
James is a highly acclaimed public speaker, delivering keynotes, lectures and debates to a wide range of audiences including students, the public, conservation practioners and scientists. Rather than further polarizing already divisive conservation topics, James aims to explain the complexity and nuance of conservation. What we choose to do over the next five decades, will profoundly influence the diversity of life on eath for the next 5 million years. It’s never been a more important, or more exciting time to be a conservationist.
“You had the audience hanging off your every word.”
“You gave a splendid talk – cogent, passionate, clear and compelling.”
Fellow of the Royal Society,
“It was refreshing to have a speaker who talked with such passion”
City of London Freemen's
“Interesting, informative and pitched at exactly the right level for our students.”