What Not To Do / Expeditions  / What Not To Do When Planning an Expedition

What Not To Do When Planning an Expedition

An expedition? What exactly is that? Well, it can be a lot of things but let’s start with what it is not. It is not always easy, fun, or successful and while you might go with a plan, there is one thing you can count on, that time spent planning is rarely wasted. An expedition is in fact a journey, shared or otherwise with a distinct purpose or goal. They are opportunities to provide value, material or otherwise and can be incredible testing grounds for the skills we need today, regardless of field.

With that in mind I am going to share the biggest lessons I have learned through my own failures when planning an expedition. If I do my job right, you can apply these lessons to your own life whether for an expedition, your next big career move, or when simply planning out your day. 

Know Your Aim 

Don’t do what I did. Don’t begin planning an expedition without a clear aim or objective and if you are part of a team, make sure the aim is shared. Not doing so is as good as floating about in the ocean in a rubber dinghy. Simple right? The best lessons usually are.

While simple, having a target, a destination or criteria is the single marker that is going to guide you on this journey you are due to undertake. Without it you have no way to measure success and any further planning will be sporadic and inefficient, just as mine was.

I learned this the hard way the first time two friends and myself had the opportunity to apply for expedition funding. Time was short so we agreed to do our individual research and then come together to agree on an idea and write up a proposal. Long story short we had no shared direction if we even had individual directions. We wasted a lot of precious planning time and quickly concluded that without a shared aim we couldn’t satisfy everyone, so we abandoned that attempt for funding.

So next time you make a plan, don’t do what I did. Don’t forget to know your aim and make sure it’s shared if you are part of a team. Are you going to climb a mountain? Are you going to document the local wildlife? Are you going to go buy some milk? Having a clear and well-defined aim is going to make that planning process much more focused, efficient and successful. 

Plan, Do, Plan Again

‘No plan survives first contact with the enemy’ – Helmut van Moltke (1880)

So, you have an aim. Great. What next? You plan exactly how you’re going to achieve that aim of course. In that case, don’t do what I did. Don’t underestimate the value of thorough planning and preparation. Sure, there is value in simply making it up as you go along, you will do lots of that anyway, but neglecting planning and preparation will only make those bigger and more challenging goals more difficult to achieve.

The first time I went on an expedition, I spent the night freezing cold because I failed to choose an adequately dry campsite. The second time, I didn’t bring enough food. The third time, I didn’t have an efficient way of sterilizing and storing water. The fourth time… well you get the idea. All of these things share one thing in common. They were avoidable, even with my level of experience. All it required was for me to sit down a little bit longer and think, what if?

However, you can’t foresee everything. Failings or ‘speed-bumps’ will happen. When they do you just have to make the most of the situation. Still, we can prepare for these unforeseen challenges to an extent.

How? The simple answer is practice. Have you got a plan? If you do then put it in to action. You will quickly see what works, what doesn’t and be able to improve your plan for next time, for when it really matters. Action is the secret ingredient in making really good plans. This is as true for expeditions as it is for any plan.


Planning an expedition or planning anything for that matter can be a challenge. Although it doesn’t need to be, especially if you don’t do what I did. Don’t forget to have an aim, don’t forget to plan thoroughly how to reach that aim and don’t forget to finally reach for that aim. If you don’t do these things, then I can assure you will have lots of success. 

Top Tip

You will never be able to plan for everything on an expedition. It would be boring if you could. However, know your aim, plan for what you can, and you will be in a much better position when things eventually do go wrong.

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