I’d like to start by thanking the Outer Edge team for giving me the opportunity to write to you all. My name is Adrian Manikas, I’m the owner and managing director of Impulse Adventures, an expedition operator specialising in unique, remote adventures around the world. I’ve personally led 25+ expeditions, and planned and organised many more, over the years finding out what works, what doesn’t and why what didn’t work then, might work now or somewhere else!
Whether you’re dreaming of trekking, climbing, paddling, riding, flying or driving, planning an expedition can be complicated, time consuming and stressful. But, with a few handy resources, and a little elbow grease (and possibly a few sleepless nights) the sense of achievement after a successful adventure can make it all worthwhile. Before you can take off, there are a number of areas that need to be addressed, you can use this article as a rough guide help reduce the amount of things you will forget (trust me, there’s always something!).
Define your objective
If you’re thinking about planning an expedition, you likely have an idea of where you’re going and what you want to do. The next step is to develop the objective. This is used as the expeditions measure of success, and sets a framework to base other decisions. If you’re climbing, the classic objective is the summit, for paddlers, its descending a river.
An objective doesn’t always need to be that simple though. Especially if you’re chasing sponsors being unique, specific, measurable and meaningful can make your proposal more professional and therefore more attractive.
An example objective for an expedition I took part in last year to the highlands of Papua New Guinea:
“To become the first party to summit and traverse the massif of PNG’s second highest peak, Mount Giluwe (4365m), in an expedition style supported by a local porters.”
While we may have trekked the same path, and cut through the same jungle, it would have been a VERY different trip if the mission stated: “solo and unsupported”.
Choosing your team
Unless you’re planning a solo expedition, choosing your team members is the next stage and unlike a normal holiday, it is imperative to the success of an expedition to have the right team members on board. Each expedition team will need certain roles to be filled, and differing personalities may suit different roles. If you’re splitting up the work evenly, each of the different areas of responsibility can be divided amongst the team. Additionally, differing skills may see roles being assigned to different members while on the expedition itself. You may like to assign a trip leader, navigator, chef, communicator, treasurer, photographer, translator. Knowing your team is important as if you assign a creative personality as the treasurer, someone who burns water as the chef, and a navigator that’s never picked up a map or compass, your expedition may be in for a rough time!
Discuss with your team when your expedition will take place. Weigh up potential seasons, leave availability, lead time to train, plan and prepare. Once you’ve set a date it’s important to set milestones to monitor your progress and make sure you’re prepared in time. Set dates for when you want particular topics researched and presented, when will money be paid, fitness goals reached, visa’s applied for and air tickets booked, shakedown trips scheduled, when will food and equipment be ordered or purchased. A good schedule (and sticking to it) will prevent you from pulling your hair out in the weeks before a trip because you have run out of time!
Expeditions cost money, it’s an unfortunate fact of life, but one that cant be avoided. Somewhere along the line, dollars need to change hands. You need to be clear on how you and the team will handle that and ideally, when it will happen. Will each member pay their own way and take care of personal expenses? What about group equipment? You might want to split some costs so you’ll need a plan to reimburse and then what happens to the group kit after the trip? If your expedition is on the larger end of the scale, or you’re looking to seek sponsorship, it might be worth looking into setting up an expedition trust, all sponsorship dollars and personal contributions can be entered into your trust account, and expenses paid out of it. If you go down this path though plan very carefully and document any possibility in a contract for team members to sign.
Oh look! More research! You’ll need to find out if you require a visa for your destination country, can you get it on arrival or will you need to send off your passport to an embassy? Does the specific area you’re traveling to need any particular permissions? Are you traveling through private or tribal owned property? Who is the best person to seek permission from and are there any conditions or ‘gifts’ required? Are you traveling in a restricted area that needs an official permit? Maybe you’re climbing a peak that needs a permit from a tourism board or mountaineering association? You’ll need to gather all this information, and determine the associated costs, and time lines for each. Some permits only have certain validity, so you cant apply too early, or too late! Research!
Equipment – Personal/team
Generally, equipment can be split into 2 categories, personal and team or shared gear. You’ll want to make up a list of required and suggested items that each member will need, and that the team will need as a whole. Be as detailed and specific as you can, and work out where each item will come from. Who is responsible for team kit? What needs to be purchased or borrowed? If members contribute group kit will they be reimbursed? What happens if borrowed equipment is lost or damaged on the trip? The more detail you can put into your plan, the less likely you are to have conflict afterwards!
My favourite topic! Are you going light weight? Or gourmet? Or a combination of both? What dietary requirements, allergies or preferences do the team members have? Are there any local food resources? Will you have time buy food in country and is what you require available? Will you need to buy food from home? Can you travel with the food you purchase? How much will it all weight and therefore cost in excess luggage?
Emergency Management planning
If you do everything else right, hopefully, this part of the planning phase is a giant waste of time. But if something goes wrong, you will be grateful for every second of effort you put into it. This section is potentially the most important, as no matter how well we plan, accidents can happen, mistakes can be make, mother nature call deal out one almighty slap and when life or limb are in jeopardy, a well documented and rehearsed emergency plan can save precious time, and possibly a life.
Things that you should cover in your plan are;
- Search and rescue resources that are available
- How do you contact them and initiate action
- What time frame and approvals are required I.e. travel insurance or down payments
- Nearest and best options for medical assistance and their contact details, noting that the nearest isn’t always the best!
- What communications are available
- Other emergency contacts – Fire, police, embassy etc
- Is there a less severe option to request non emergency assistance
- What self rescue capabilities will the team have or require?
As part of this plan you will need to cover what communications are available and most cost effective for you expedition. Will you need communications available 100% of the time? Or are you comfortable off the grid knowing you can get comms out within 1 hour? Will a mobile phone and local sim card cut it? Other options include satellite phones, PLB’s and monitored GPS trackers with messaging and SOS functions.
Lastly, party of your emergency plan is to inform the right people of your intentions. Create a detailed document of your plan, where you will be and when, specific details of any pre booked transport or accommodation, insurance, next of kin and contact details for each team member, as well as anything relevant from your emergency management plan. This document can be distributed to friends, family, and most importantly to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), the destination Australian Embassy and your insurance company.
Logistics planning is essentially the art form of moving people and things from one place to another in the most efficient way possible. The goal is to minimise cost, time wasted and risk. Where will things come from? Where are they going? How will they get there? When does it need to happen? How much do they weight and how much will it cost? What happens if there is a break in the system things or people are delayed or lost? Will your expedition grind to a halt or worse, fail immediately? Have you planned for these contingencies?
Things to research:
- Freight/excess baggage
- In country travel requirements
- Local transport schedules
- Weight limits
- Portage of equipment (porters, animals or vehicles?)
- Contingency plans
- Back up contingencies plans
- Contingency back up contingency plans
- Potential costs of the above contingencies
Congratulations, you’ve planned your expedition! Double check your travel documents and in the words of Bilbo Baggins, “we’re off on an adventure”! One thing to keep in mind during the trip is there are 2 keys to success, planning (tick!) and flexibility. While your plan is surely perfect, there are still likely to be unforeseen circumstances and events that require you to adapt along the way. Flexibility is necessary to maintain the safety and flow of your expedition. Keep your mission statement in mind, but remember, no objective is worth losing a life for.
Too hard basket
As I said, expedition planning can be extremely rewarding, but also stressful and time consuming. The good news is there are alternatives out there to planning your own expeditions. Commercial expedition companies can offer a range of experiences to suit your needs, without the requirement to do all the research and planning. There a few things you should consider before choosing an operator;
- Responsibility policies – environmental, commercial and social
- Safety records and equipment
- Guide qualifications
- Safe acclimatisation schedules
- Pre trip service
- Inclusions and exclusions
- Past guest feedback
Never be afraid to ask difficult questions and always investigate any red flags! There may be ways to engage with a potential operator before committing to an expedition. I.e. Information sessions, weekend hikes or even just call them for a chat!
I hope you’ve now got a good idea of how to plan an expedition, and the work involved. If you are thinking about planning your own expedition, get in touch, it’s always great to chat about exciting adventures!