12 Questions Answered - A Step-by-Step Expedition Travel Planning Guide
Updated: Dec 31, 2022
For as long as there has been humankind, there has been curiosity and the need to understand our world and how things work. It is this desire to know what lies beyond that took explorers and adventurers to unknown lands and far-off destinations. These original expeditions came with life-changing discoveries (duh, the world is not flat!) and an inherent amount of danger.
That curiosity continues in our modern world, but thankfully the danger has been pretty much eradicated from modern expeditions, leaving us with numerous options to satisfy the need to participate, adventure, learn and discover while on vacation. YAY!
#1 What is expedition travelling or expedition trips?
Now here is a loaded question with no one easy answer. Let’s start with the (dry) dictionary definition and go from there.
ex·pe·di·tion | \ ˌek-spə-ˈdi-shən \
Definition of expedition
1a: a journey or excursion undertaken for a specific purpose
b: the group of persons making such a journey
Now that didn’t clear things up, did it? Especially when I found this use of expedition…
Confused!? Me too! So when does a “trip” or “vacation” become worthy of the word expedition? What makes an expedition and who gets to decide.
Allied Market Research’s recent analysis defines expeditions as “exploration or travel to remote exotic areas…in which travellers interact with local populations and connect with their core values,”
Now I think we are getting somewhere!
Travel to remote exotic areas
Interact with local populations (I would add wildlife and landscape)
To me, when I think of expedition I think of explorers discovering new places, scientists conducting research in remote hard-to-access locations or adventurers pushing themselves to their limits.
I found an interesting debate on this very topic of defining an expedition on a kayaking forum called WestCoast Paddler. Check it out for yourself. There are some interesting points on what qualifies as an expedition, but my main takeaway came from redguy and his comments reflect my personal beliefs: “…Depends on your perspective: what may be a routine trip for some, could be an expedition for others, depending on your level of experience.”
Ding ding. What may be an expedition for one, might be a normal day for another person. I have seen this time and time again in my backcountry exploits. Different experience levels and previous experiences play directly into how difficult someone will perceive a trip. I have taken friends on trips they would describe as a once-in-a-lifetime expedition in Algonquin Park, where for me it was a pleasant weekend getaway.
At the end of the day the word expedition is kind of sexy, isn’t it? And I am not opposed to labelling some trips and vacations as expeditions because for some people they are!
One amazing company offering expedition is Hurtigruten. I LOVE this description of their trips and think this is a great way to describe what they do:
“With Hurtigruten Expeditions guests experience something real and special. They get close and interact with local people and communities, learn about their heritage and culture and can share their experiences. They get close to nature and wildlife and will never know what there's to discover around the next corner. Experiences are real and wild, not staged by humans.”
“…and will never know what there's to discover around the next corner.” THIS! Letting the trip take you, rather than you taking the trip.
So, that was a long way to describe something that doesn’t have a definitive answer, but I think you get the point!
I’d love to hear your thoughts on what makes a trip an expedition. Leave a comment on this blog post!
Gallery 1: A selection of images from Adventure Canada, a Canadian-owned expedition company that explores the polar regions of Canada and beyond.
#2 What types or styles of expedition trips are there?
Cruises – from ships that carry only 12 guests to slightly larger vessels that carry a few hundred. What you won't find is a mega-ship with 4000+ guests. Many ships which sail under the expedition label are ice-class ships meant to sail in the world’s polar regions. Other expedition ships are specially built for regions like The Galapagos Islands and focus on reaching the highest levels of sustainability. There are even luxury expedition ships that offer 6-star services and even expedition river ships. The point is if you want to embark on an expedition cruise to Antarctica, or the Amazon or maybe the Galapagos there is no shortage of options.
Hikes – a hiking expedition can take you pretty much anywhere in the world. From pole to pole, deep into jungles, up the world’s tallest mountains or perhaps into the desert. You dream it, we can make an expedition out of it.
Kayak – Alaska, Costa Rica, Croatia…maybe Greenland. All of these destinations are expedition worthy locations to kayak. Like hiking, you can pretty much plan an expedition-style kayak experience anywhere in the world!
Research – Pairing researchers with volunteers, this style of expedition travelling will have you supporting important research on climate changes, species at risk, endangered cultures and much more. This is a style of expedition travelling for the most curious individuals who want to be involved in every way possible.
These are just a few examples of expedition vacations you can plan.
#3 What companies offer expedition trips?
Many, many, many, many.
If you read my “What is Expedition Travelling or Expedition Trips” above, then you will know that this is a term that gets used to describe a wide array of trips.
Many travel companies have responded to the increased demand for experiential travelling and have added expedition trips into their offerings. YAY for us all!
That means the options for who to travel with is enormous! Here are a few of my favourites, but there are many more!
G is for good. And this company embodies that in every way. Check out the ripple scores they have listed on each trip. "The Ripple Score is an honest evaluation of how often we use local businesses and services to create each tour. With this score, you can see the percentage of our local expenses that stay in the communities you visit." How cool is that!? They have also partnered with none other than National Geographic and Jane Goodall (**swoon**) to offer trips with even more impact!
Image: G Adventures river ship Amatista that sails on the Amazon River.
With a focus on active travel, Backroads will take you there and keep you moving. They offer incredible biking, hiking and multi-adventure trips. Check out their active safaris that involve biking and hiking through scenic locations in Africa, The Galapagos Islands and the Himalayas!
This might be one of the oldest expedition companies around! Sailing since 1893, Hurtigruten has been taking passengers on polar expeditions for nearly 130 years! CRAZY! They are also leaders in sustainable travel, recently unveiling electric ships to their expedition fleet.
Canadian-owned and run by the nicest family, Adventure Canada will have you doing just that...adventuring in CANADA! Can I get an EH!? Check out this blog post to learn more about why they are awesome!
If you are looking for a luxurious expedition option then Crystal Cruises is for you. Six-star service, 24-hour butler service, Michelin-Inspired cuisine and lavish suites and penthouses. All that plus expedition cruises to excite, engage and delight you.
Adventures by Disney
YES, you read that right! It's every family's fav, Disney, and they will take your family to Antarctica! What!? They also offer family expeditions to the Galapagos Islands, the Amazon and the Arctic!
Get ready for April 2022 when Seaborn will launch its first of two ultra-luxury ships! Sailing to the Antarctic, the Arctic and the Amazon, you will have a chance to see what is above and below the ocean! That's right. Dive down deep in a Seabourn submarine!
#4 Who goes on Expedition trips?
ANYONE! I will yell that again in case you missed it. ANYONE (who wants to)! No this style of travel is not for everyone, but if you are interested we can find an expedition that is right for you.
But, because I like data and science (check out my About Me page and you will understand why), I will share with you a few factoids on who the usual suspect is on expedition trips:
Ages: 53-82 with most travellers falling in the age range of 63-72.
Gender: dominantly female! I LOVE this stat! I LOVE it so much. As a woman who worked in a previously male-dominated industry, I experienced the shift from the “old boys club” to a female-dominated industry. It made my heart so happy to see women working in the forest and this stat makes my heart happy to see confident independent women taking their travel experiences to the next level!
About 1/3 are solo travellers so if you don't have an expedition buddy, no worries. You will have an expedition full of like-minded people to befriend! YAY!
What else do we know about expedition travellers? If we look at their psychographics they usually are:
Pursuers of Authenticity: Travellers focused on genuinely unique, meaningful experiences. They want to experience the trip from beginning to end.
Adventure-seekers: Explorers who take an active, rather than passive, interest in their travel experiences. They appreciate both experiencing new things and meeting new people, while also enjoying the opportunity to relax onboard.
Environmentally Conscious: Adventurers interested in sustainability, green technology, and reducing their ecological footprint. Ask me which expedition company has added electric propulsion ships to their fleet!
Active Explorers: Seekers of immersive interactions with nature, wildlife, and local communities. From kayaking to SUPs, to treks, active explorers love being on the move.
Education-focused: Lifelong learners who are interested in cultures and communities that are different from their own.
Nature Lovers: Admirers of the great outdoors with a healthy respect for the environment and beautiful, remote landscapes.
#5 Do I have to be fit to go on an expedition?
Not necessarily. The expedition you have chosen will dictate your fitness level.
The more remote the destination doesn’t equal the need to be more fit. Take Antarctica for example, the major requirement is the ability to get in and out of a zodiac. If you can do that and stand on ice, then you can go to Antarctica! YAY!
#6 Do I have to rough it? I do not want to sleep in a tent!
Can I get a huge NO! Most guests will be pleasantly surprised when embarking on their expedition trip. From glamping experiences on a safari or desert trek to spacious staterooms on expedition ships, everyone will be able to find something within their comfort zone.
Take Adventure Canada for example. You can book a private suite onboard the Ocean Endeavor which includes a comfy bed, picture window and a private bathroom with a tub. The room is modestly decorated and has an “expedition” vibe with not a lot of frills. Services onboard are exceptional, food is amazing, but you wouldn't class the experience as luxury.
Compare that to Crystal Cruises where you can book the Expedition Penthouse or Owner’s suite on the Crystal Endeavor and receive 6-star service while onboard. A true luxury expedition experience.
To each their own, and there is really is something to satisfy everyone.
#7 Where will we go during the expedition?
The top 10 expedition destinations are:
Top of the World (North Pole)
The Galapagos Islands
Iceland and Greenland
Gallery 2: A selection of images from Hurtigruten, one of the world's first expedition companies that have been operating since 1893.
#8 How much do expeditions cost?
Most expedition trips come with a higher price tag simply because they are almost always smaller groups. There are options attainable for all budgets, it just might require you to dig a bit deeper.
Using Antarctica as an example. You can get aboard an expedition to Antarctica starting around $10,000 – $15,000 a person. That would be an amazing expedition usually about 12-15 days in length.
On the other end, you can travel to Antarctica for upwards of $80,000 a person and receive six-star service as you ogle at passing by glaciers, icebergs and of course penguins. You may even get the chance to view what is happening under the water in a private submarine!
#9 How do I prepare for my expedition trip?
Make a plan. A goal without a plan is really just a wish, right!? No expedition starts without a plan and that is where you should start. Where do you want to go? How do you want to travel? What do you want to get out of the experience? These are all important questions to ask yourself before you book.
This is where Yaycations comes into play. We will help you discover what your goals are and how we can reach them. We will narrow your options down so you can make the best choice for yourself.
Once we figure out the who and where part, the rest is easy-peasy as your expedition leaders will make sure you have everything to have a safe and successful adventure.
Did I mention that I really like long-term travel plans and I can help you with yours!? If you have a list of travel that is long and you don't know where to start, we can help! Learn more here.
#10 How early should I book?
Once you have decided on where you want to go, you should book as early as possible. Expeditions tend to travel with very few guests and as such spaces fill up fast. At the time of writing this (Dec 2021), some operators of small ship expeditions have their 2022 sailings sold out and waitlisted! Eek! Thankfully they have opened their 2023 and even 2024 spaces for guests to book early.
#11 What will we do while on an expedition?
Have the time of your life! The best day ever!
But in all seriousness, expect to be wowed in more ways than you can imagine.
Depending on the expedition you choose and who you are travelling with you may:
have the opportunity to do lots of activities such as kayaking, stand-up-paddling, hiking and maybe even biking
if you are travelling by ship then you will most likely get to ride in a zodiac daily
engage with experts! Most expeditions employ a team of experts in the region you are visiting. They could be naturalists, photographers, professional paddlers, scientists, storytellers and of course some of them will be all of the above! You will get to participate in workshops and learn new skills like knot tieing!
enjoy the company of like-minded people
#12 What are a few of the most EPIC or elite expedition trips out there?
Hurtigruten Pole to Pole
From Pole to Pole on an epic expedition of discovery! YES, POLE TO POLE! Join Hurtigruten on a grand expedition cruise from the Arctic to Antarctica. Your basecamp at sea will be the world’s first hybrid expedition cruise ship, the comfortable and stylish MS Roald Amundsen, named after the first explorer to successfully reach both the North and South poles. I am not sure it could get any better!
Image: Hurtigruten's Pole to Pole trip scheduled to depart in 2023
National Geographic Around the World by Private Jet
24 thrilling days of jaw-dropping scenery and endless discoveries. Alongside a team of National Geographic experts, embark on a globe-trotting expedition featuring 10 UNESCO World Heritage sites, from Easter Island to the Great Barrier Reef. Sign me up!
Seabourn - 2023 Grand Americas, Amazon & Antarctica
From Panama to Antarctica – Saebourns epic voyage around South America encompasses Inca ruins, great world cities, colonial splendours and breathtaking natural wonders. Experience it all during one unforgettable season on our elegant, ultra-luxury resort at sea. In total, you will spend 79 days onboard and visit 37 ports in 15 countries! Pack your bags, this trip departs on January 6th, 2023.
Image: Seabourn's 2023 Grand Americas, Amazon & Antarctica
Are you ready to start planning your expedition trip? Do you still have more questions? Contact me by clicking here to set up a free consultation.
Are you interested in an expedition vacation to the Galapagos Islands? Then head over to my blog post Hurtigruten Expeditions - The Galapagos Islands.
How about exploring Canada's polar regions? Check out this article Adventure in Canada with...ADVENTURE CANADA.
And now that you know a lot more about expedition travelling, why not enter to win a 12-Night High Arctic Explorer Cruise with Adventure Canada. Click here to enter today!