How to pay for your adventure

Unless you’re thinking about heading to the South Pole or rowing across an ocean there’s a good chance that your expedition isn’t going to cost as much as you think. This understood, whatever you choose to do it’s still going to cost something. So how do you pay for it?

For years I chose to earn a fraction of what I once earned when I had a ‘proper’ job, but I had a couple of trips under my belt I was deemed to be a successful adventurer even though I was near penniless.

You can spot a person who still assumes success occupies the same space as money a mile off, and you wouldn’t believe how many times strangers ask me for financial assistance so they can fund their expedition. I admire the pluck of someone not afraid to ask, but the lack of research and naivete is a sure fire way to separate adults from children (a non-gender specific way of saying ‘men from boys’.)

First of all, work out what you want from this expedition. If you are hoping to build a career in adventure your long game might be different from someone who is organising a one-off expedition, so for the purposes of this guide I’m going to try and provide answers for both scenarios.

Adventure is appealing because of the benefits it offers. That combination of physical endurance and constant endorphins, with challenges you wouldn’t dream of facing at home, with the eventual completion of a project you had to work damn hard at creating, organising and executing.

But however wonderful it feels to reach the finish line, if you’ve put yourself in a position where you then have to spend a considerable time paying off your adventure debts it will leave a slightly sour taste and that grizzly — back to work I go — feeling’.

Remember, it’s not what you earn, it’s what you don’t spend. Compromise, eat out less, buy less coffee (gasp!), stop buying stuff. The discipline you’ll need to force your aching body onwards and upwards is stored in your mind, and actively avoiding expensive situations is all part of the training.

In addition, you will get the greatest benefit and reward from your adventure if you’ve earned your experience ahead of time. Hard as your venture might still be, anyone can take out a loan or borrow money from a friend then cycle, climb or paddle a long way — eating the cream without considering the cake isn’t quite as good for you as it feels at the time.

There are plenty of ways to cover expedition costs but the obvious one is with your own money. Do a bit of wax-on, wax-off; the plod of working hard and saving a pot of cash teaches discipline, value and simplicity, all lessons that will prove vital for your mindset once your adventure begins for real.

Everything I buy has a purpose, it’s an investment. There are no flowery ornaments on my non-existent mantlepiece. There’s no point owning something without a reason.

Several expeditions fail each year because they were too expensive from the offset. Whether this is because the project was chosen ambitiously or the budget was eagerly overcooked, as soon as an adventure becomes too expensive the pressure of covering costs can put off potential sponsors and override the excitement of pursuing a dream — especially if you can’t reach your budget and then have to pull the plug.

This is a massive bug bear of mine, when people decide to support a charity but expect their costs to be paid.

If you believe in their work, it’s counter productive for you to expect them to commit time, resources and money towards your venture, when they clearly have better things to be doing.

It’s so rare that an adventure actually fundraises more than the costs of the trip, so the charity support must be a bonus in addition to your natural will to complete the challenge ahead.

Draw a thick line between the costs of your expedition and the funds you’re raising for charity, and do not cross that line. This will maintain the purity of both your charitable work and your expedition, make answering questions from sponsors and donors much easier, and keep your head clear during the hard stuff.

(In rare cases, a charity might offer support in return for you pledging that you’ll raise a certain amount for them — similar to a marathon agreement. But let the charity make this offer, rather than you pushing for it)

There can be an assumption that expeditions are all paid for by sponsors, but this is rarely the case.

Unless you get lucky or already work for a company who can financially assist you it’s best to train your sights on getting your expedition set up via a mixture of guile, research, determination, passion and your own savings.

That said, it’s so much easier to get product sponsored than cash, and expectations are less, too. Obtaining gear in return for photos, proof of its durability and a good written review will teach you how to look after a sponsor and will keep you costs down, outdoor gear can get expensive.

The best sponsors are the ones who support you because they like what you’re doing, not because they want a return. There’s a very good chance if you’re just starting out that you’re not going to be able to offer valuable pay-back for a sponsor, so rather than promising logos on your website in exchange for a kayak, prioritise your passion and social impact.

Ultimately, if you see sponsorship as something to be earned rather than expected, your life will become a whole lot easier.

Check out this article for more about sponsorship

Ok, so you heard that someone once made a million off kickstarter, so surely you can raise a few grand for your trip, right?

Wrong. It’s just wrong. Why should other people pay for your fun?

Unless….there’s something more to your trip than just cycling off on a ten-month jolly. Maybe you’re making a film and want the production to be covered, or are writing a book that you’re positive will lead to massive social change.

Whatever your angle is, remember that there are millions of companies, charities and other offers all angling to get cash out of people’s pockets. If you’re doesn’t stand out you’re not going to get the cash. People can smell a con a mile away, and public support comes when they believe in what they’re fighting/investing for.

Think long and hard about crowdfunding for your adventure, for me it’s a last resort and might end up causing you more ethical trouble than it’s worth.

So you could work hard, convince sponsors to cough up the dough, get all your kit donated or even just scrimp and save and borrow until you have everything you need.

Or, you could do your adventure with no money at all. It doesn’t have to be huge, you can have an adventure near your home, or if you want to go bigger be inspired by Rob Greenfield, who crossed South America without cash, or Tim Moss, who hitchhiked around the UK on £65. Or Tom Allen, who rode the length of Britain on a bike set up he got for £25 on eBay.


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Dave Cornthwaite

Adventurer | Yes Man | Motivational Speaker | Author | Filmmaker | Leader of a Happy Cult. I live on a boat and spend my time encouraging folks to #sayyesmore