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How to Make a Living from your Travels

Bright blue river

Part of me felt that this was not a sensible blog post to write. “Professional Adventurers” are popping up across Britain like mushrooms in a moist autumn night. A week barely goes by without me discovering yet another thrusting young pup (mostly-white, mostly-male, mostly-middle class) throwing his hat into the ring to join the competition to try to get paid for their holidays. So surely it does not make sense for me to be giving any of them even the tiniest bits of help?

But one thing I have learned is that it is wiser (and certainly better for your sanity) to not worry about what your “competition” are up to, not to compare yourself with them, not to get jealous of their good fortune. Better to help other people whenever you can and trust that, in the long run, things will come round to work in your favour. Besides, none of the points below are particularly earth-shattering. And most of it really is stuff that I need to remind myself about from time to time and work harder on. I’mve written about this topic before, here and here and here.

How to Make a Living from your Travels.

  1. Travel. If you ain’t done nuffin, you ain’t got no story, bruv. Know what I mean? Don’t call yourself a Traveller / Adventurer / Explorer until you have travelled / adventured / explored. Promise low, deliver high.
  2. If you are writing don’t just write your story. Think about what are the key aspects of your story? What do you need to tell your audience for them to be on the journey with you? Don’t tell them anything else! I don’t care about your check-in experience at Heathrow. Chop out half the words of whatever you have written and it will become twice as good.
    Trawl through this website and you’ll find very few maps or ‘useful’ information: that’s a conscious choice. You need to decide what tone you want to set. There is a niche for sensible trip reports with maps, distances and elevations. I’mve chosen a different angle: I try to convey how a trip felt. My Iceland write-up would be of no practical use to someone planning a trip across Iceland. But I hope it appeals to someone who just wants to enjoy a vicarious adventure.
  3. If you are speaking don’t just tell your story. What’s the essence of your talk? What’s the point of it? Don’t tell everything that happened. Less is more. Cut to the heart of it. Adapt your talk to your audience. Entertain them not yourself.
  4. My advice for talking in schools:
    • Offer to do a talk at a few local schools for free. Use the ‘free’ and ‘local’ connection and they’ll definitely have you!
    • Get references after each talk.
    • Ask teachers if they will ‘pass you on’ to other teachers they know.
    • Once you’ve done this enough to be good at speaking and have some good references then send spam emails / cold call lots of schools. Charge them a fee (start low, say £100, and creep upwards every few months). Repeat stage 2,3 and 4 and eventually you’ll make a living from it!
  5. Be an expert. Don’t try to be all things to all people. Become an expert in whatever tiny niche you choose to occupy. Don’t try to become famous; try to become an expert. On the other hand if you do become a famous celebrity you will be able to get along very well without being very good at anything.
  6. Sell yourself. This is the part that those of us who are not celebrities tend to hate, yet it is fundamental to making any money. Points 1 to 4 are all well and good, but you have to tell the world about it all if you want to get paid. You need to combine swallowing a little pride with working long and hard. SEO, networking, social media, gathering contacts, pitching stories, cold calling, doing stuff for free: it’s not fun, it’s not pretty, it’s not outdoors up a mountain. But, with time and effort, it starts to reap dividends. A cautionary word on this section: do all of this with decency, politeness and a sense of humour. Don’t be pushy or greedy or deceitful or ungrateful: it may work briefly and occasionally, but if you’re in it for the long haul this is not the way to go about building your brand.
  7. Try not to vomit at the phrase “building your brand”. And try not to forget why you began doing all this in the first place: in order to earn money to go do the things you love. Work hard but not too hard. It’s supposed to be fun.
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  1. This is an interesting topic. It’s quite clear when it comes to attracting attention, talks, media etc you need to be a record breaking explorer, solo, unsupported or whatever 99% of adventurers calls themselves nowadays. Things like this ring well in the ears of media… but it gets very tiring to hear the same thing over and over from different people.

    To earn respect in the adventure community you should more or less keep quiet and let your actions and results do the talking for you. I think you can go extremely far in this approach also as long as you are passionate and committed about what you are doing instead of just doing your expedition because it lets you “break a record” which makes you a record breaking adventurer or whatever it’s called.

  2. I liked the six pieces of advice Al but the line which told me the most was:

    “Better to help other people whenever you can and trust that, in the long run, things will come round to work in your favour”

  3. Good post Al. Helpful for me – I’m always very careful to call myself an aspiring adventurer, rather than adventurer, as I really haven’t done all that much yet! I’d much rather have respect than fame. I’ve come across certain people seeking sponsorship to climb Everest (for example) whose previous experience is walking up Snowdon (for example) – they can’t hope to achieve much surely?

    I’ve also noticed the stereotype adventurer as well spoken, white and middle class; why do you think that is?

  4. Excellent points. This article reinforced some ideas that I already knew and taught me some new things. Well done.

    • I agree with you, Ted. Great advice and tips in this article. I bet he could do a follow up article that would really dish the dirt, although that might be giving too much away 😀


  5. Again, Al, you’ve got this spot on.

    Coming from the ‘entertainment’ world, I’ve found this community a refreshing and warm one; but still capable of the same self-absorbed egos and mis-guided agendas as show-business; and with all the same insecurities of checking out what the other guy is doing on twitter. And it is predominantly a white, more ‘fortunate’, male in this profession – which is why I think what Ed Stafford is doing to help raise Cho’s profile is great – giving credit where’s it’s due to someone who under normal circumstances would simply disappear from the history books. They both went into the world-record canons, as will Sarah Outen (yeh, a girl) who is trumping any male achievement right now, and at great personal sacrifice, so worthy of the financial rewards. Who else buggers off for 2 and a half years, or 4 years, having to wear the same clothes everyday if they weren’t a bit special.

    Guess it’s important to understand your travels are also to raise awareness, to yourself and those you tell after, to discover who you are and to inspire the next generation, ignoring the limelight that is looming. And occasionally to wrestle with internal demons. Then, if you can do it for a good cause and try to save the planet you’re exploring at the same time: then the balance is set right.

    So, go out and milk the corporate world for all you can, be true to yourself, read Freya Stark and try and not throw your newspaper in a bin. And then get a desperate actor to play your story in the film version. (CV available on request.)

    Alison (currently preparing a trip to Mongolia because my ego needed a rest.)

  6. Sophie W Posted

    I like the post – I’ve come across so many boastful people and it’s nice to come across someone who’s at least trying to keep their ego grounded. And I also agree with a couple of comments…yes Ed Stafford is a legend 🙂 and secondly the comment about ‘keep quiet and let your actions and results do the talking for you,’ I just plod along doing my stuff and I’ve had so many people say I should write a book, do a talk, etc, etc – and I can completely see the benefits of talking….but I’m just too shy! Although I don’t have a website about myself and I don’t promote myself in any way I’ve been approached and paid to organise a world record attempt for someone – which makes me feel like I’m starting to head towards some kind of professional adventurers type category without actually trying to… I was also thinking the other day that a lot of international charity workers probably have experienced and gone through a lot more than the average ‘professional adventurer,’ but they generally don’t try to make money out of talking about their experiences.

  7. Great post as always, personally my experience in attempting to make something I love my job (sports coaching) ended in my love turning to loathing. I found mixing the two almost unbearable so turned in another direction working in a job that I don’t necessarily love but allows maximum time and finances to do the things I do – travelling, kayaking, mountain biking, climbing etc – much happier now.

    Out of interest – where is the photo from? Iceland?

  8. Daniel Posted

    That’s one of the best, most truthful and honest explanations I’ve ever heard. It’s 100% true. I use to believe that the adventurers that are famous were at the top of the game, but the more challenges I do the more people i meet, the more i begin realize that most of these have actually achieved very little in comparison to ones that let the quiet water run deep. You can take bear grylls as an example, amazing guy and no one can mock him for the climbs he has done, or the millions of pounds he has raised for charity but when he goes into survival it makes you wonder if he is an expert or been branded one with some serious backing. This is I like about Alastair, a real adventurer, explorer and very down to earth. @ tom evans, I currently say adventurer on my twitter since I didn’t know what to put without making it sound pretentious, so aspiring adventure is a great idea.

  9. I liked this article a great deal. Whilst I’ve been travelling and been paid for it (by taking students on expeditions) for some time now, I’ve only recently come to the concept of “building a brand.” You’re right, it feels like Kryptonite to outdoor folk but embracing the world of technology and getting your name out there is vital nowadays. Thank you for making it feel OK 🙂

  10. Nice post Al,

    Luckily I don’t have ambitions to make a living from my travels though many do, its amusing how many people call their trip an “expedition” nowadays to make it sound sexy, my next trip is getting close to an expedition but not quite.

    Ironically the more “Street cred” I get through the natural evolution of my trips the less inclined I am to look for public attention, sponsors and all the other non-sense. I’m in the fortunate position to be totally selfish about what I want and do.

    I have a lot of respect for people like yourself that have made a living from the adventure game and the circus involved to make it worth while.

    Have fun and keep smiling 🙂

    Tail winds and blue skies……

  11. To me, this article is an essential part of the equation. Your importance and presence in the adventure community is a direct result of the knowledge and resources only you can provide to help inspire future generations of explorers. In my experience, most adventurers lean their efforts for a greater good, and whatever that cause doesn’t matter. There may be new adventurers popping up all the time, but there aren’t enough to support all the causes that need fundraising, awareness, and support. What Im trying to say is that exploration is possibly the best education one can get. And to do it in a way that educates others and helps make the world a better place is why we (explorers) exist and are just as important as we’ve ever been. Thank You for teaching, and keep it up!



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