Geographical collected top tips for budding adventurers and expeditions from a wealth of wisdom at the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)’s Explore 2015 weekend
Thirty-nine years since the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) first hosted an Explore weekend, this year’s took place 14 to 15 November, bringing together adventurers, scientists, academics, conservationists and enthusiasts from a host of backgrounds and with varying degrees of experience to mingle and share ideas about what, where, why and how their next expeditions might take place.
As well as the suggestion that such expeditions could Inspire a Generation, as emphasised by Philip Avery, Director of Learning & Strategy for the Bohunt Education Trust, during the opening Peter Smith memorial lecture, there was also a bottomless pit of experience and wisdom for budding adventurers.
Nicholas Crane, President of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)
Minimalism, high ambitions, low budgets – and you’ll probably be able to realise your dreams. Most of my own expeditions have been unsupported, with ultra-low budgets, and they’re often solo trips, occasionally with one other person.
What I believe in – and I’ve done a lot of journeys that have never been done before – is looking for a geographical adventure that’s going to light me up. If it lights me up, then I’m going to be motivated enough to see it through to the end.
Tom Allen, writer, adventurer and co-filmmaker of Karun
You’re never going to be ready to leave on a big journey. So leave before you are ready, otherwise you will never go. If in doubt, keep everything as simple as possible, because the simpler things are the less chance there is that things will go wrong.
The whole point of these trips is that there are a lot of unknowns, so there’s no point trying to remove them all before you start. That’s where the fun and the adventure is going to be – the exploring. That’s the whole point. Don’t overprepare, don’t spend too long worrying about not knowing this or not having that. Just get on with it.
Alasdair Pinkerton, senior lecturer in Geopolitics at Royal Holloway University of London and co-leader of the Into No Mans’ Land expedition
Planning, planning, planning. We were a driving expedition and we were going to some really difficult political environments. So much time and effort and hardship and emotional heartbreak can be saved by that prior preparation. I don’t just mean about packing the right kit, I also mean getting the right kind of permissions, or making contact with authorities before you get somewhere.
Even if you do all of these things, and you think it’s all going to work out well, it can still go wrong at the last minute, because permissions can be withdrawn. But that’s the way that you can give yourself the best chance of achieving what you want to achieve.
Rob Fraser, photographer and mountain guide
Dream big, and plan well to make that dream happen. Just take the steps along the way, don’t think about it as something massive.
See the end result about where you are and where you might want to be in the world, and then take the necessary steps to make that happen. It won’t happen overnight, but you’ve got to take those steps along the way.
James Borrell, conservation biologist
Try and do something where you can leave a bit of a legacy. If it’s conservational or scientific, think as much about the work you’ll have to do afterwards, where you’re trying to report your findings. That will mean that in 100 years, people can still use what you did on your expedition – it doesn’t just stop when you get home.
Communicate what you’re doing. You might have a life-changing experience, you might realise just how fantastic the Andes are or the Amazon is, but if you get home and you don’t tell anyone about it, then no one else will be empowered or inspired to protect them as well. It’s as much about who you tell as what you do for yourself.
Hannah Engelkamp, author of Seaside Donkey
I walked a thousand miles around Wales with a donkey, and in every single way it would have been easier without the donkey – except, that he was a crowd pleaser. The donkey was a complicating factor, it took a few months to organise everything; to find him, buy him and work out how to look after an animal (I’d never owned one before).
What that meant was I didn’t have any time at all to organise the adventure, so I didn’t know where I was going, or where I was going to stay each night. That made me realise that if it hadn’t been for the donkey, I could finish work on a Friday afternoon, and set off on the Saturday morning to go on an adventure, just leave my house and work it out as I went along.
Kieran Creevy, International Mountain leader and expedition chef
Psychologically, good food makes a massive difference so plan it in advance – that’s one of the elements on expeditions which people think about the least. They think about the gear, where they’re going, who they’re going with, and at the last minute they think about the food. So things are just thrown into a dry bag, and then they get out there and realise they don’t have enough protein, they don’t have enough fat.
Have some imagination – take some spices with you, because that can alter the flavour of your food massively. Add in a bit of turmeric one day, put some dry chilli powder in there, or smoked paprika, so instead of having two or three meals again and again, you can create food that’s really inspiring, and makes people want to have dinner.
Use the local knowledge. Think about what the locals eat, go to their markets, and you’ll be inspired to craft many different meals. You’ll be smelling and tasting the land you’re walking over.
(Image: Roberto Caucino)
John Pattison, researcher at the Natural Resources Institute, University of Greenwich
Don’t be afraid to talk to people. That’s the key part of being prepared, if you see someone who inspires you or has a network that could help you achieve your goal or do your research, go up and talk to those people, that’s part of being prepared and doing your homework.
Don’t be in a rush, do your background information; talk to the right people, read the right papers, learn about the cultures and the places where you’re going. It’s through that network-building that doors will open – that’s how you’re going to meet people in the right country, that’s how you’re going to get access to parts of the world that you would never do otherwise, things you wouldn’t have thought of. Being prepared by speaking to people, I think is the key. If you prepare properly, you think about it well, you can go into any situation and do a good job.
Sergiu Jiduc, leader of the Karakoram Anomaly project
With regards to mountaineering, listen to your instincts, you inner voice. That will guide you through your challenging climbs. Do a lot of research beforehand, know everything you can about the route you’re trying to climb, risk assess all the time. But in the end, rely on your instincts, because they will take you out of any dangerous situations.
Oliver Forster, scientific investigator on the Karakoram Anomaly project
It’s important to plan as early as you can. With grant deadlines coming fast, it’s really important to plan ahead and sign up for those grant deadlines.
Laura Moss, global circumnavigator by bicycle and organiser of the Cycle Touring Festival
Taking the first step is the important bit. Ignore all the bravado and macho nature that certain adventurers like Bear Grylls might imply that you need to have. Just go with whatever equipment you have and whatever bike you’ve got. Take that bike and leave the house, even if it’s just two days across Cornwall.