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How to.. Get Involved With Your First Expedition

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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." – Apsley Cherry-Garrard. Opening sentence of the Introduction to The Worst Journey in the World.

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.

How to find Expedition Providers

Not sure where to even start? Here are some useful lists…

Expedition Providers Association – A useful association of organisations providing expeditions to young adults under 25, and in full time education.

Young Explorers Trust – Another highly reputable collective of approved expedition providers.

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.” – Minor MyersIt’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.

There’s a few more pretty pictures here.

Useful Articles..

There’s lots of people with far more experience than myself that have written about getting involved with expeditions. Here are some of the highlights.

How to Get Started in Expeditions – Al Humphreys

The Next Challenge – Tons of resources for undertaking a big challenge by Tim Moss

Plan your own expedition – Useful resources from the Royal Geographical Society

and a few more..

Email Newsletter:

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.


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  1. Inbal
    Inbal04-10-2015

    Hi 🙂
    Thanks for the info, the link for ” short list of particularly good organisations, or ones that I have been personally involved with.” isn’t working….

  2. James_Borrell
    James_Borrell04-12-2015

    Thanks Inbal! The correct link is:

    http://www.jamesborrell.com/resources/conservation-volunteering-database/

    I’ve fixed it in the article.

  3. Shawn
    Shawn06-16-2015

    What if the expedition I want to go on is one of legend and a lot of people believe to be a myth

  4. James_Borrell
    James_Borrell06-16-2015

    Sounds all the more exciting to me, care to share any details of the myth?

    • Shawn
      Shawn06-18-2015

      Well, I want to find el dorado. My friends believe me to be a treasure hunter, but I really just want to know if it truly still exists somewhere. Wether it’s been moved or if it still exists in its entirety somewhere deep in the rainforest. I just can’t fully believe that it’s just “the guilded man” ceremony. I strongly believe that it’s still waiting to be found somewhere. Most people still think I’m crazy for even wanting to try and look for it.

  5. Ivan
    Ivan03-05-2016

    How can a 27 y/o American get started in expeditions?

  6. Bill
    Bill09-28-2017

    I’m not a conservation scientist. I’m a former conservative admin. worker turned blogger/ journalist. Is there a role for someone like me on an expedition?

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