The heartbreaking hunt for sponsorship
By far the most common query and perceived stumbling block for those planning an expedition is how to fund it.
This normally manifests in a heartbreaking hunt for sponsors and a search for the golden ticket that will make it happen. Sometimes people get lucky but 99 times out of 100, they don’t.
But that should not put you off planning an adventure. I hope what I am publishing below will demonstrate why.
Why sponsorship is neither necessary or even helpful
Earlier this year I published details of the money I make from this website. Today I thought it might also be useful to publish details of how much each of my expeditions cost and how I’ve funded them so that others can make a more informed decision about how they approach funding their own trips.
In particular, you’ll notice that I’ve never had financial backing for any of my expeditions but I have received a lot of grants.
When people ask me about sponsorship I often try to put them off. It’s up to you whether you go for sponsorship and I wish you the best of luck if you do but I hope the numbers below will illustrate why I take the position that sponsorship is neither necessary or even helpful for most expeditions.
How Much My Expeditions Cost
The table below gives the total cost for each of my expeditions plus a breakdown of where that money came from: corporate sponsorship, expedition grants or personal contributions. I’ve also included what free stuff I got and, where applicable, how much money each trip raised for charity. If you want to find out what I actually did on those expeditions, just click the name.
All costs are per person except the Charity column which is the amount raised by the project as a whole.
|Cycling Around the World||£6,500*||£0||£0||£6,500||Bikes, kit, clothing, insurance||£1,900|
|Around the World in 80 Ways||£2,000||£0||£1,500||£500||Insurance, clothes, some travel||£3,000|
|Walking Across Patagonia||£1,500||£0||£0||£1,500||Stove, discounted rations||£0|
|Mountaineering in the Russian Altai||£1,350||£0||£250||£1,100||Loaned equipment||£0|
|Mountaineering in Bolivia||£1,250||£0||£680||£570||Discounted equipment||£0|
|Mountaineering in Kyrgyzstan||£1,050||£0||£400||£650||Discounted clothing||£0|
|Cycling Home from Norway||£400||£0||£0||£400||Outbound transport||£0|
|Rickshaw World Record||£300||£0||£0||£300||Rickshaw, repairs||£1,000|
|Cycling the Three Peaks||£200||£0||£0||£200||£0|
|£100 Adventure||£65||£0||£0||£65||Hitch hiking||£0|
|Running the Tube||£50||£0||£0||£50||Oyster cards||£1,100|
|Crossing the Wahiba Desert||£20||£0||£0||£20||Already lived in country||£0|
|London-Isle of Wight Triathlon||£5||£0||£0||£5||Sports kit, boat support||£4,000|
*This covers every single penny that we spent while travelling for 1 year and 4 months: £406 a month for all our food, accommodation, visas, transport and more.
- Average cost of an expedition: £1,130
- Average cost per day: £24
This refers to financial sponsorship. I’ve never had corporate backing for any of my expeditions.
- Total received from sponsorship: £0
- Number of trips receiving sponsorship: 0
- Average contribution from sponsorship: £0
- Proportion accounted for by sponsorship: 0%
My first few expeditions all received grants. I now maintain a big list of available grants and also offer my own.
- Total received in grants: £2,830
- Number of trips receiving grants: 4 out of 13
- Average contribution from grants: £218
- Proportion accounted for by grants: 19%
Money I’ve saved up myself.
- Total personal contributions: £11,860
- Number of trips using personal contributions: 13 out of 13
- Average personal contribution: £912
- Proportion accounted for by personal contributions: 81%
Some of my trips have been in support of charities.
- Number of trips raising for charity: 5 out of 13
- Average raised for charity: £846
- Amount raised per pound spent: 75p
(The charity figures are slightly misleading because whilst costs are per person, the amount raised for charity is for the whole expedition, not just my own efforts).
How Do I Actually Pay for the Trips?
Above, you can see what each trip cost but how have I actually got that money?
First off, I have never funded any of my expeditions using proceeds from this website (you can see a full breakdown of my earnings here). I mention that because you might assume that having a flashy, show-off blog means that it pays for my expeditions. It doesn’t (though I’m hopeful it will soon).
Second: grants. Look at the table above. My first three big adventures – Kyrgyzstan, Bolivia, 80 Ways – were all backed by bursaries. You’d be a fool to expend effort trying to get a corporate sponsor before checking your eligibility for these grants.
Third: sponsorship-in-kind. No one’s given me money for my trips but I’ve had plenty of sponsored clothing, equipment, insurance and travel. Sponsorship-in-kind will never pay for your expedition but it can certainly help keep costs down and it’s much easier to get than cash.
There is no big secret.
I’m obviously in a lucky position in that I’ve been able to go on all of these cool trips but I’ve just had normal jobs, earning normal salaries. I don’t think my salary has ever been above the UK average. I just save up. So, if I can do it, you can probably can too.
The Expedition Grants I’ve Won
Here is a list of expedition grants that I’ve received over the years. The totals are for the whole expedition (i.e. several people), not just me.
- 2003 – Mountaineering in Kyrgyzstan: University College London (£1,200)
- 2003 – Alpine Training: Jonathan Conville Mountaineering Trust (~£200)
- 2004 – Mountaineering in Bolivia: UCL, British Mountaineering Council, Mount Everest Foundation (£4,100)
- 2005 – Around the World in 80 Ways: UCL (£3,000)
- 2008 – Mountain Leader Training: Lord Mayor’s 800th Anniversary Award Trust (£150)
- 2009 – Mountaineering in Russian Altai: Gordon Foundation, MEF (£1,450)
I’ve tried to compile a comprehensive list of expedition grants currently available.
My Advice for Anyone Trying to Fund an Expedition
So, what would be my advice for someone trying to pay for a big adventure?
- Do something cheap (like cycling around the world).
- Forget sponsors (unless it’s kit).
- Apply for grants (including mine).
More sponsorship resources here.
An earlier version of this article was first published in March 2012.
Thanks for this, Tim. The concept of grants for expedition travel is intriguing. Obviously the institutions providing the grants have some concept of the value in making grants available, so I wonder what that value is. That is, can you give some examples of the value propositions you made to institutions when applying for the grants? The reason I ask, is that I am curious as to what motivations are behind making such grants available. What shape does the return on investment take? etc.
Thanks for the message. My grants have come from three main sources:
1. My (old) university – They have a fund for supporting student expeditions and travel. They are specifically for non-academic undertakings to broaden students’ experiences beyond their studies.
2. The British Mountaineering Council (BMC) and Mount Everest Foundation (MEF) – These guys fund climbing expeditions and, in particular, those climbing new routes and making first ascents, or at least first-British ascents, which all of my mountaineering trips have aimed to do. I imagine they are keen to support the British mountaineering standards and reputation on the international stage.
3. Youth and expedition grants (e.g. Gordon Foundation, London Lord Mayor’s Award): This is a broader group but there are various organisations and charities that have pots of money to help either young people (a group to which I once belonged) with “extra curricular” activities and/or support expeditions.
There is more information about all of these on my Sponsorship Resources page.
In return for the grants, I would typically write reports, give presentations and send in photographs.
You asked about return on investment. Well, if you’re pitching to a company who doesn’t do this sort of thing normally (i.e. asking for sponsorship) then you very much need to emphasise what return they stand to get. However, grants tend to exist for a specific purpose (e.g. youth development or British/national exploration) so it’s more about fitting their criteria.
I hope that helps for now.
Thanks Tim. That certainly covers what I was getting at. It is amazing how many organisations are offering grants!
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I’m interested in knowing how much the big expeditions cost and how you fund them.
In particular, getting to the North and South Pole.
Someone who had gone to the North Pole on skis told me it cost US$200k.
That is a huge sum and how would one ever fund such an expensive expedition?
I’ve written guides for North and South Pole expeditions which include details on the prices of various different options.
You can buy the full ebooks for ~$7 each (or $10 for both) here:
Or you can just read the free samples here:
You have a book titled “How to get to the North Pole and other iconic adventures.”, which talks about all the different expeditions.
Does it include the full books or is this a summarised version of the different books?
It’s the full versions but the individual ebooks were updated last year so have slightly more recent information in.
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I want to begin my expedition but had so many doubts and was lacking confidence on where to start from. Thank you for blogging and sharing resourceful information. I like you idea of starting from something small and something that doesn’t require huge funds.
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