Expeditions travel guide

Unless you have incredibly deep pockets, the idea of mounting an expedition to some far-flung land may seem far out of reach. Join an expedition trip organised by a capable tour operator, however, and those distant frontiers suddenly get that much closer. These expeditions are led by expert – seriously expert – tour leaders and local guides, and can be just as much about cultural exploration as they are getting off the tourist map.
Abandon thoughts of frostbitten fingers and surviving for weeks on berries. Expeditions aren’t so much about testing your endurance. They’re about discovery.
Expeditions are ideal for anyone with a sense of adventure – and especially those who are content to rough it a bit and pull together as part of a team where necessary, and who are not afraid to take a sizeable leap out of their comfort zone. Above all, expeditions are for those with a healthy sense of curiosity about the world and the people who live in it.

Find out more in our expeditions travel guide.

Do go on an expedition if...

you want to push your limits (within reason) on a bite-sized adventure.

Don’t go on an expedition if...

you’re more comfortable with holidays that are predictable and ‘easy’.

What is expedition travel?

Expeditions are a form of travel that can test you physically, or mentally, or both – but not always. Some can be perfectly relaxed and comfortable. Their aim is to take you well off the beaten track, though not necessarily into some far-off land. After all, discovery of the unknown doesn’t have to mean rappelling down a waterfall in the middle of the jungle or trekking deep into a baking-hot desert. An expedition into an unfamiliar culture can be just as exciting and challenging as venturing into an inhospitable landscape.

Many of these places and peoples will have long been off-limits for all but the most determined (or lucky) of travellers. But intrepid tour operators such as our partners are laying a path, giving you a sense of true adventure while at the same time developing community-led experiences that allow local people to tap into the financial and cultural benefits of responsible tourism.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Expeditions or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.

What do expeditions involve?

What is an expedition trip?

Expeditions, like all adventures, come in many shapes and sizes. Essentially though, these are carefully organised trips that take you far beyond the beaten tourist track – either in terms of geography or cultural immersion, or both.

In almost every instance you’ll join a professionally guided small group, which is the ideal way to experience this pioneering form of travel, strong bonds forming as you pull together as a team in sometimes inhospitable landscapes. You’ll see places and communities that receive very few visitors, so the privilege is just as great as the challenge.

Due to the nature of this kind of trip, some places may not always be accessible. They could be unstable politically, or perhaps vulnerable to natural disasters. Official government advice is relevant for expeditions to many countries and can potentially affect the cost of travel insurance which for this kind of trip is even more essential than normal.

What kind of people go on expeditions?

While there is no set ‘type’, what marks out the expedition traveller is a sense of adventure, a thirst for discovery, and a readiness to embrace the unknown.

“I think it’s mainly people who are curious about the world,” says Jim Louth, founder of our partner Undiscovered Destinations and the brains behind a range of expeditions around the world. “As far as our clients go, they tend to be extremely well travelled – it’s not uncommon to find out they’ve got 100-plus countries under their belt already. And in terms of age, it tends to be 55 and up – we get people taking this kind of trip into their 80s. Age is no barrier.”

Can a single person go on an expedition?

Yes. Not only are single people more than welcome on an expedition trip, the majority of people in a group are likely to be travelling alone. Flying solo on an expedition is made all the easier when you have a shared interest to bond over with your fellow travellers such as trekking, wildlife or food and drink.

Where can you go on an expedition?

Expedition adventures can take you all over the world, from Cuba to Cameroon, Mongolia to Mozambique, Patagonia to Papua New Guinea. Or they can be in your own backyard, putting a new spin on a place you know well.

How do you plan an expedition?

Successful expeditions are like major theatrical productions. Much of the hard work is done long before the curtain goes up. A month-long voyage down the Congo River can take months, even years, to plan and perfect the logistics.

It’s far easier, then, to join an organised tour where our expert partners have already arranged all the directions, guides, transport, accommodation and food, so you can simply roll up and enjoy the adventure. That’s not to say you won’t have opportunities to get involved – some expeditions like to keep their itineraries flexible, influenced by weather, animal sightings or the preferences of travellers.

“It can take anywhere up to a year to set up a trip like this,” says Jim. “You have to explore a bit yourself and meet people on the ground that you can rely on, develop relationships with them so you have that confidence to send travellers. It all comes down to trust.”

What do you do on an expedition?

An expedition rarely stays in one place for long. You’ll want to pack light because you’ll be active and on the move most days, with the occasional long journey involved. This type of holiday is the opposite of a passive follow-the-leader kind of trip. Expeditions and adventure are bound up together, and some itineraries can be very hands-on.

That could involve taking part in a wildlife research project in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert. It could see you helping to set up camp out in the bush on an African safari, or visiting markets to buy food for the group, then cooking it around the fire and washing up the pans afterwards. And equally it could mean taking part in a series of cooking master classes with local chefs, or learning about war dances over a traditional pig feast in West Papua.

How fit do you need to be for an expedition?

The fitness levels needed for an expedition depend on where you’re going, and what you’ll be doing. Some trips have more of a cultural bent, so that while you’ll be heading to remote areas, you’ll travel in private vehicles and stay in comfortable accommodation throughout.

Other trips place much more of a focus on outdoor activity, with trekking and kayaking popular ways to get around, and quite basic conditions to be expected, perhaps wild camping throughout. Some training may be advisable – if you’re going to be spending weeks trekking in Nepal or Bhutan, for instance, it can be essential.

What are some examples of expeditions?

Our expeditions run the gamut of experiences. Embark on cultural discovery – Silk Road history in Turkmenistan or seeking the ‘cradle of humanity’ in Ethiopia and Kenya. There are wildlife wonders in Namibia, Indonesia and Gabon. Overland odysseys travel the length of Africa or into the heart of the Sahara Desert. Physically demanding treks take on Nepal, Bhutan and Patagonia. These are trips that you may always have dreamed about embarking upon, or never thought possible.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Ben Duchac] [Intro: Jackman Chiu] [Is/Isn't: Ashim D’Silva] [What is an expedition trip?: Sterling College] [What do you do on an expedition?: Jonathan Forage]