Ever wondered if you could make a career out of expeditions, using adventure to generate money to pay the bills and fund the next trip? It’s an aspiration held by many but I think there’s still a slight air of mystery about how you could actually go about it. Thankfully we have some advice from Felicity Aston who has worked her way into just this sort of position. Felicity last year led a group of eight women from Commonwealth countries to the South Pole (with a little help from me) and you can read about all the other things she’s done on her website. Over to Felicity…
(Update 2015: You can see a detailed breakdown how I make a living from adventures here).
10 Tips for Making a Living Out of Expeditions
by Felicity Aston
I count myself as very fortunate to be able to earn a living from doing what I love – but I’m not alone. There are a whole range of people who have carved a career out of expeditions in one way or another; from instructors and guides, to outfitters and medical support, to TV personalities and authors. There is no standard career ladder in this business and so everybody’s route to success and their experiences along the way are likely to be very different. However, I have put together some top tips which, I hope, will be familiar to all…
1. Examine your reasons
If your desire to make travel and adventure your life’s work stems from any thought of fame and fortune then it’s time for a reality check. There is very little money in the expedition business and there are a lot of deserving adventurers out there clamouring for public attention. You might well be the next Bear Grylls or Bruce Parry but in the meantime you should expect a number of years of hard work with very scant resources.
Adventure doesn’t have to be a full time occupation. Many expeditions are self-funded by people who have made money working in a more lucrative industry. Consider whether this is a better route for you.
2. Be a business
Being a professional adventurer often means working for yourself. This can be great but it can also be stressful at times. It is vital that you treat yourself as a business. Remember that your time is your most precious asset and while it is important to make the most of opportunities that arise, it is also important to learn how (and when) to say ‘no’.
3. The biggest adventures can be very small
While some expeditions require huge budgets and complex teams, other equally fascinating and ultimately profitable projects can be achieved on a shoestring. A big collection of ‘firsts’ doesn’t necessarily equal success as an adventurer – people love a good story so think about what makes your projects different and interesting.
4. Get yourself a website
You can be undertaking the most amazing and spectacular journeys but unless you communicate your experiences, it is very difficult to make a living out of them. A website is the easiest way to broadcast what you are doing. Designing and maintaining a simple website is a time-consuming skill to master but it is worth the effort. You can pay a lot of money for someone else to build a website for you but it really isn’t too difficult to do yourself and it means you have complete control when it comes to updating and refreshing your site.
5. Learn to speak
Giving talks about your adventures is a potentially lucrative source of income but it is a skill that needs to be learnt and practised like any other. Go to see some popular speakers and take note of how they structure their talks. Remember what it was about their talk that you enjoyed and try to replicate those elements in your own speaking. At the outset take any opportunity to speak for free and use it to perfect your talks. Remember to take lots of business cards with you as a lot of bookings come from members of the audience who have enjoyed your presentation.
6. Learn to write
Writing for travel magazines in the UK can be difficult simply because there are so many people that want to do it and will, therefore, write for free. However, if you are submitting articles it is worth being aware of the general conventions regarding structure and content – a quick search on the internet will produce hundreds of resources for this – and paying attention to them will dramatically increase your chances of being published. It is also worth noting that very rarely are articles accepted if you cannot supply good quality, high resolution images to accompany them. Similarly, if you are a keen photographer, be aware that it is difficult to sell your pictures to magazines if you cannot provide copy to go with them.
7. Keep your promises
Sponsorship is the life-blood of the expedition world and so the relationships you build with any sponsors is incredibly precious. When looking for financial backing it is very tempting to promise the earth but many adventurers then find themselves unable to deliver. Be conscientious about fulfilling the promises you have made and take every opportunity to say thank-you. If you are scrupulously honest with sponsors you will find them to be an incredibly loyal support.
8. Be inspired not daunted by others
Don’t be afraid to ask your heroes for advice. You will be surprised how willing those in the expedition community will be to help. All of them will remember what it was like to be in your shoes. Don’t let browsing other people’s websites shake your confidence. It won’t be long before others are reading your website and being inspired by your adventures.
(Adventurers do have a tendency to exaggerate! – Tim)
At some point you are likely to be struck by the realisation that while all your office-working friends are being promoted to ever larger salaries, expense accounts and company cars you are still making use of student rates to travel and returning Christmas presents so that you can afford the kit you need for your next trip. It’s a depressing epiphany but take heart, the alternative office-career will always be there waiting if you decide on a different direction but, in the meantime, there are a lot of adventures to be had that you wouldn’t swap for all the executive lounges in Heathrow, LAX and Changi put together.
10. Remember that enthusiasm is your greatest weapon
Whether it’s a grant interview, a TV audition or pitching to a magazine editor for a commission make sure to leave no-one in any doubt about your passion and commitment to the project. Enthusiasm is definitely infectious.
Since this article was written 4 years ago, I’ve grown my own website. I published the accounts so you can read about how much (or little) I make.
(Photos courtesy of Robert Hollingworth)