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How to become a professional explorer


Exploration of the world is the fuel that feeds the fires in millions of people across the world. In fact, the innate need to explore and discover stems largely from the development of our species and our quest to acquire and consume new food sources. Going right back to the first Homo Sapiens, who gradually made their way on foot, and without modern clothing at all, all the way up through Europe to the edge of Russia, across the frozen sea and back down again into North America. 


It’s safe to say then that humans are born explorers, built to roam indefinitely. Sadly though, many people don’t get to live full lives of exploration and wouldn’t really know where to start.


So what does it take to become a professional explorer? Well, it depends how you look at it… Someone could be a professional explorer through the act of completing feats at a professional standard, or by being paid professionally to explore or lead expeditions. I’ll break this down for you and hopefully give you some understanding of how you could start earning money from your expeditions.


Firstly, it’s important to note that becoming a professional, or expert at anything really requires exposure and commitment to your craft. We’re not in The Matrix (sadly), and you can’t just download mountaineering experience, or buy a “holiday to Mount Everest Summit”…There’s a process. Luckily, it’s not as arduous as you’d think, and actually many people can become professional explorers whilst leading normal work lives.


Expedition leaderTaking on a professional level challenge

Let’s say, you want to take on a ‘professional’ expedition or challenge, like trekking to the North Pole, or Climbing Mount Everest. There’s actually a fairly clear way to do this. All it requires is grit, determination and the will to make it happen (it will also require money, but we can get around this!). You should start from your end goal and work backwards, listing or thinking about all of the things you’ll need to learn and acquire before it will be possible. Here’s an example:




To climb Mount Everest you will need the following:

  • A high level of physical fitness
  • A high level of resilience and determination
  • The right equipment
  • The right experience on mountains
  • Technical skills
  • The funds to secure a spot on an expedition (~£50-70,000)


So now we have a plan! You can break each of these requirements down into miniature projects, which can all be managed in our expedition planner. So, Fitness can be broken down into yearly targets, such as races/competitions. Equipment can be bought gradually, leased and even hired. Technical skills and mountaineering experience can be acquired by taking smaller expeditions to smaller mountains or going on a preparation course, and lastly, funds can be secured through sponsorship and fundraising (you really don’t need to be a millionaire!)


Becoming a paid explorer

Mules trekking wakhan corridor (1)

Mules carrying gear, Wakhan Corridor

If you’re the kind of person who can’t be satisfied with a few trips a year, even if they are incredible, then you could consider becoming a full time explorer. There are a few routes into earning money from your exploration:


  • Getting a job as a researcher, photographer, film maker (Like Jimmy Chin, or Paul Nicklen)
  • Taking on personal expeditions, and then writing books, shooting documentaries or growing a huge social media following (just like Ed Stafford)
  • Training to become a guide and expedition leader


Getting a job in research, photography or film


These are probably the least accessible route into a full time position exploring the world. Why? Because they all require some pretty niche skills. Not just any person with a camera can land a job filming wildlife for Natgeo, and not just any nerd can land a job researching for the Royal Geographical Society. It will require patience, and deliberate focussed practice to hone your skills. It may also involve a degree, masters degree or doctorate to even be considered. This is why for many people, this route is something they’ve decided very early on in their lives, and have taken steps early to get there. This isn’t to say it’s impossible for someone a little older, but it’s certainly a lot harder, and more expensive (in both time and money).


Earning from your own expeditions


This is quite probably the quickest way to carve a life for yourself as a full time explorer. However, you should note that you rarely actually get paid for the expeditions them selves, rather the stories that you have when you get back. This means that in order to make a liveable wage doing this, you really need to accomplish something extraordinary before any publishing houses or tv channels pay you any attention. 


If you’re planning to take on a genuine world first expedition, or something of equal ‘value’, then you need to make sure people know about it. This involves drumming up corporate and individual sponsors with big names, actively promoting your endeavour, backing a charity and fundraising, holding webinars and live Q&As and doing everything you can to get people to notice you. Only then will anyone pay attention to the trip, and only then will you have a chance to write and speak about your adventures for money. Ed Stafford did just this, when he Walked the Amazon, a feat which took just over two years, but which earned him a book deal and a spring board into his career today.

Bamiyan caves Afghanistan

Bamiyan caves, Afghanistan

Alternatively, you could try to enter the crowded Influencer space. Posting your stories, photos and videos to social media can help you grow a huge following, which brands will pay to have a share of. You should note though, that the chances of becoming an “influencer” are about the same as becoming a famous musician, and when you get there the work is tough and unrelenting…you might find that you actually start to hate travelling because your responsibilities to brands spoils the experience.


Training to become an expedition leader


You can take courses to become a qualified expedition leader in your chosen field. This will mean that you can take paying customers on expeditions, and earn a good living. Many expedition leaders start off as solo explorers before qualifying and taking the step away from their previous jobs to lead expeditions full time, and it can be extremely fulfilling. But, you must remember, leading expeditions carries a lot of risk both financially and to your safety. Leading expeditions up Everest, or to the North Pole every year for the rest of your career I’m sure you can understand takes its toll on your body. There are also the risks imposed by the weather, accidents and global pandemics (as we’ve all learned recently). So, you should definitely bear all this in mind before embarking on this career. The first step is to go on an expedition yourself, and see how much you love it.

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