How To Make A Living As An Adventurer

I received the following email the other day:

I am a little bit confused as to what exactly you do for a living. I know that you are an adventurer, but I don’t get where you get your ‘everyday money’. Sponsorship is one thing for a trip, but if you don’t have a 9–5 job, where do you get the daily money from?

It’s a good question. But what exactly might my correspondee think ‘adventurer’ actually means?

Types of ‘Adventurer’ (or Explorer, or Expeditioner)

(Warning: one or more of the following stereotypes may be considered offensive.)

Plenty of folk in the expedition industry come from moneyed backgrounds and have found adventuring to be a worthwhile thing to do with their time and cash, and a fair few more have high-income partners and no particular need to earn much more than pocket money. These people are absolutely deserving of the title ‘adventurer’ (or explorer/expeditioner, depending on your definition of the words). It accurately reflects the subject that occupies most of their energies.

Many more who don’t have these luxuries have forged a wide variety of income streams — most commonly corporate motivational speaking (the biggest money spinner) and school talks, but also TV presenting, live workshops, books, and paid positions on expedition teams — that allow them to dedicate most or all of their energy to adventuring or related subjects such as planning, educating, evangelising, or storytelling in some form or other. These self-made adventurers are generally very open about their profession and there are countless inspirational stories of dedication and hard graft to be told here.

Members of a third group tend to play to the general understanding of the term ‘adventurer’, casting themselves as such through blogs and talks based on a decent handful of experiences when in fact it is working, studying, or some other unconnected pursuit that actually occupies the majority of their time. There’s something of delusion, conscious or not, being propagated by members of this group. It’s fairly harmless as there is at least some substance there, but I do sometimes wish there was more transparency — life outside of adventure is nothing to be ashamed of.

A final all-too-common category of self-styled adventurers are really not adventurers at all, but people who have paid (tons) to be taken on commercial expeditions in which they have no critical decision-making responsibilities whatsoever, and have subsequently invented an entirely illusory ‘adventurer’ alter-ego. Some of them go as far as to publish books and give (paid) talks about their experiences at highly respected institutions which cleverly omit any mention of the support teams and paid guides who hold their hands, prepare their meals and tell them what to do. They are clever, wilfully dishonest and — worst of all — to the public they are often indistiguishable from the previous categories, which really angers those who have worked their socks off for their recognition.

(No judgement is implied by these stereotypes. Except for the final bunch of phoneys.)

How To Get By On Almost Nothing

I just about fit into the second category, although I’ve felt in danger of dipping my toes into the third at times. But one of my resolutions for this year was to make my passion for adventure entirely self-sustaining. So I occupy my time with a large range of things, most of which have something to do with adventure, a few which don’t, and some of which I sometimes get paid for. I spend very little on anything, and get by happily on the resulting balance.

We three riders

The long answer is a bit more complicated. Let’s go for concrete examples to keep things meaningful, and talk about the last few months, and what’s immediately ahead. (Although it goes against our weird Western sensitivities, I’ll include actual figures here.)

Method One: Need Less

I was based in Central London for half a year, and there’s a myth that London is very expensive to live in.

I think this is because it’s assumed, in London at least, that the point of cutting costs and earning more is to have loads of disposable income with which to — well, dispose, or at least put into a savings account.

Although it is blindingly obvious, the connection between cutting costs and needing to work much less is almost never made. The 40-hour work week, for some reason, must never be questioned.

During December and January I spent most of my time writing, mainly in the Royal Geographical Society members’ room, to which I have full-time access in return for the very reasonable overhead of a £93 annual fee. If I get bored of the RGS, I go to one of the local libraries instead (which are all free).

I get around London on a simple single-speed bike built out of second-hand parts from’s classified ads forum and some parts I had lying around, totalling less than a hundred quid. It never breaks or needs any maintenance, and nobody wants to steal it.

Before beginning to write I go swimming in the Serpentine (at £20 a year probably the cheapest swimming pool membership in the country). For other forms of exercise, I run in the streets and parks (free), do push-ups (free), pull ups (with a free pull-up bar from Freegle), sit-ups and squats (yep, free). What tiny amount of kit I need for swimming, biking and running I get from Decathlon’s blue range (think Tesco’s own brand).

A bit of simple maths brings my transport, professional and fitness overheads to a grand total of about £20 a month. You earned that today, and probably before coffee-time too.

It is a source of constant mystery why so many people are sucked into the insane work/spend cycle, which is the real reason London is cited as an expensive city: the lifestyle of choice, not the place itself. It is a monster that requires constant feeding. Nicely-spec’d apartments in nice locations, mobile phone contracts, TV licenses for massive high-definition flatscreen televisions, insurance for everything (including insurance for claiming on your insurance), public transport, beers after work, eating out, subscriptions, special offers, nights out, posh markets, deals on things to see and do. ‘Career advancement’. Something better just round the corner.

Bikerafting experiment: Luggage setup

People feel that this is all obligatory, the only way to run one’s life in London, and the only way to enjoy it and make it satisfying. It isn’t. (Here’s proof.)

Method Two: Generate Multiple Streams of Income

Travelling by bicycle gave me the time to develop a handful of creative pursuits — filmmaking, photography and writing amongst them.

I never imagined these would ever supplement my income. But I’ve written several outdoor magazine articles (between £100–500-ish a pop, depending on word count and photography), sold a handful of prints of my photographs (a few quid per sale), put together some short videos for non-profit organisations in London (in the region of £150 a day), and been hired as an event photographer for a charity fundraiser (£150 for the gig).

These have been fun, varied and challenging, which are all things I look for from life. They’ve come about through working passionately at these creative pursuits, and putting them up on this blog for the public to tear apart. I haven’t had to pitch for any of them.

Last month I was asked to tell my stories of ‘extreme travel’ to a handful of corporate executives, earning £150 cash for a single hour of disjointed waffling about my life.

My book is approaching completion, and the DVD of Janapar will be available before the end of the year. Although I’ve ploughed months of my life into creating these two things, at the time of writing I am yet to earn a single penny from either of them.

So I’m investing plenty of time and energy in learning about marketing and selling, because it’s important to me that these projects become at least partly self-sustaining. I cannot write and make films for free, because the compromise in finding funds through other (time-consuming and uninteresting) means is too great. Money is not the point — the point is to cover the costs of the time spent on these creative projects, and thus do more of them.

Inside The Edit Cupboard

And if I had the balls, I would design an entertaining talk or two and embark on the speaking circuit. I know I have a good story, but I’m too afraid of getting up in front of an audience to actually tell it. A school talk can earn a couple of hundred quid. Add another zero for a corporate gig. Plus expenses.

But I don’t have the balls.

Method Three: Head Down Work Hard

My next bike trip is rapidly approaching — the return flight to Vancouver (£576) is booked for the third of April. So February and March will be a little different. I need to bring in some slightly more serious cash, as I’ve got to keep up the rent & rates in London (£500-ish a month) whilst at the same time pedalling and camping for two months in North America (with flights, about £1000–1200 tops).

To do this, I’ve taken what I was already skilled at — putting websites together — and applied it to what I’m interested in, which is the field of adventure and exploration. For these two months I’ll be working overtime on a handful of sites for people in this industry. Last year I put together websites for Andy Campbell and Alastair Humphreys, amongst others (a lot more interesting than building websites for cheesemongers, as I’ve done in the past). It’s fascinating and inspiring to work with people like this, and I learn a lot from doing so.

If I didn’t write about it, this would be definite third-category material. But sometimes it’s necessary to accept a level of compromise, develop a specific skill and go where it’s needed. Work hard, finish up and dive into the important stuff.


People with ‘regular’ jobs and dependable incomes sometimes ask me what I’ll do if money runs out. How could I possibly live today without being sure how I’m going to pay the rent in 6 months’ time?

I sometimes think that people imagine me sleeping in a cardboard box in the rain surrounded by angry bankers and debt collection agencies and friends and family chiding me for being so bloody stupid as to not plan properly ‘for the future’, my accounts emptied and all I knew and loved having cruelly turned on me as I descend into penniless poverty hell.

Light snowfall

That’s not going to happen.

But Nothing.

We need to see past this fear and dogma. It’s not easy and it takes more time and effort than many are prepared to take out of their stable and comfortable life of work. But plenty of people do so and succeed in carving out a new way of living. I for one have no regrets, although it needs to be pointed out that the particular combination of pastimes found by one individual is unlikely to be relevant to anyone else.

The Answer?

My particular answer to the original question — how to make a living as an adventurer — is unique to me alone. ‘Adventure’ covers a broad spectrum, and those within it have a wide variety of personal motivations for doing what they do — and that is from where their multitudinous ways of generating income must ultimately stem.

So my general answer comes in the form of another question. What’s your passion? What are you good at? How can you find the intersection between your interests, skills and talents, and what others might find valuable?

Credit to Andrew Skurka for the idea that this question might be one worth sharing. As for making a living through your passions, try Chris Guillebeau’s selection of ‘Unconventional Guides’* if you’re stuck on where to start.

Comments (skip to respond)

39 responses to “How To Make A Living As An Adventurer”

  1. Here’s a thought that very few people embrace. Why not embark on a “career” as a FREEGAN adventurer? That’s how Rob Greenfield started out. He rode his bike from the West Coast of America to the East Coast, and back again, and didn’t spend a dime in the process! He camped out in public parks or wooded areas (for free); he ate out of dumpsters (for free); and he bathed in rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds (for free). Guess what? He ended up with his own TV show, a Discovery Channel program, and some TED talks! So it can pay off… but even if that doesn’t happen, who cares? Being an adventurer IS what it’s all about; NOT the income!

  2. Hey, yes finally people who have lived in London who hasn’t got sucked into the expensive lifestyle. But its true what you mean, rent can be high in certain parts of London but I was born and raised in London and just chose to live more economically to fund my adventures — which I’m still doing now.…get bus passes and travel on that or by bike and not the tube around town; stick to free sports lessons or like you say running or cycling, seeking out what you can do for free or just living more economically friendly in the city. It is possible but Londoners just need the proper attitude and willingness to sacrifice the ‘expensive’ stuff to fund their travels — with this attitude anyone can save for travel in one of the supposed ‘expensive cities to live in Europe’.…

  3. […] is an excellent article about this on Tom Allen’s website. Read the comments as well as the post; they’ll give you a good idea of the ambivalence […]

  4. I think that this debate has veered as far off-topic as it needs to now. Thanks to everyone who has participated — it’s been an interesting discussion!

  5. Old Tom On Tour avatar
    Old Tom On Tour

    Re Ben August 9th. … ‘I R JOB’ ?? Sorry but it must me my age.
    Re Andy August 13th. … Yea well said — however my screen is on the beach not far from the bar.
    So … how can we make a living out of our adventurous wanderings with the emphases on living not existence?
    Get together and organise a high priced seminar. Naa.
    Re Andy 14th August. ‘Transient meetings’ Great phrase, you should be a columnist on the Daily Mail.
    Who was it that said “One life — live it”? Life is full unforeseen experiences; the trick is to profit both emotionally and economically.
    To you all — see you around some place and as instructed when issued with my first rifle — ‘keep clean dry and slightly oiled’.
    Regards OTOT

    1. Andy Welch avatar
      Andy Welch

      OTOT, I met a lot of people who you remind me of, and, I think we would probably get on quite well.
      I think the point here is ‘how much are we willing to put up with things as they are’. Quite willing, I would say, as long as it is possible to escape somewhere exciting and spend time outdoors?
      Maybe you are right about the seminars. I am doing a project at the moment, that aims to get people to meet up and organise stuff together, and its partly influenced by alternative schools that are around like ‘the idler academy’ and ‘school of life’ but they are expensive to attend classes for.
      One way could be learning how to balance lonely travelling and working with working together with others, even if its not ‘working’ per se for money, it might be organising a dinner.
      Set up your own institution or drop out completely.
      Go and read some foucault.

  6. Andy Welch avatar
    Andy Welch

    I recognise I am being a little deterministic here, but the last two years have been immensely rewarding because of the people interactions based on more than transient meetings on bike trips.
    your comments about capitalism. Capitalism is not separate from you, it creates a reality. It has a logic of stacking, stockpiling, hoarding, protecting, opportunism, neuroticism, work/leisure, dividing, apportioning, private property, advertising (e.g. coersion and persuasion), work/play, etc etc… Reality is continuously being reinvented and reinforcedusing rhythmic messasing through the media.
    The task of existing is a task of non-engagement, non-mind, whilst being able to use the mind and engage where necessary. The task of making a living involves creating new realities and value. That value may not be only pounds and dollar but a different currency entirely, of sharing, giving, bitcoin who knows? etc… Going on a big trip is only the beginning of understanding and of course if no one else believes in your reality, you’re just a mad man. First Follower: Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy :
    This isn’t a jibe, I just think that the magic happens when people do stuff together, not just talk, write, and think about stuff.

  7. @Andy, good points, very well made. 

    +1 “I think the missing elephant in the room here, is why can’t the people here organise and work together and make a living out of it?”

    @Old Man Tom on Tour, yep, you’re right we do need a system to drop out of and ideally back into when it’s appropriate. 

    @Tom, thanks again for sparking this debate.

  8. Andy Welch avatar
    Andy Welch

    I wanted to add something to this conversation. I think that there are some missing things from the argument.
    Our discussion seems to be about how to sustain self-interested existence. E.g. how do I maintain my own (perhaps ill-conceived) ideas of freedom, which, the model inferred here is of: work via the internet, live off little to nothing, keep moving, and know there is a safety net called friends and family.
    This conversation to me, if it is based on this premise, is not going to give me any information that I need.
    This is a flawed model of how to make a living because:
    If you live off next to nothing you have little means to do anything.
    If you have to keep moving, you don’t make any enduring social connections.
    If you have to work only on the internet on private projects, then you increase the time you need to spend alone in front of a screen.
    If you always have the safety net of friends and family, then your behaviour is influenced by their behaviour and your perceived freedom and sovereignty is an misconstrued thing.
    I think the missing elephant in the room here, is why can’t the people here organise and work together and make a living out of it?

    1. Straw elephant, more like. These points bear little resemblance to what this article actually says, or the discussion so far.

      I started out by mentioning some (not all) of the ways in which today’s ‘adventurers’ make a living, and followed this with some examples of other approaches which have worked for me in the past. No ‘model’ was ever inferred.

      Even if such a model had been inferred, living on next to nothing is perfectly relevant if it matches your objectives (to reduce dependency on material/financial resources and meaningless work).

      ‘Keeping moving’ was never suggested either, so I don’t know why you’ve included it in your inferred model, other than to justify your staying in one place. (It’s also fairly obvious that movement and enduring social connections are not mutually exclusive — not if my wedding ring has any meaning, at least.)

      Likewise, ‘working on the internet’ is — as far as I can make out — something you’ve included to argue your case, even though it never appeared in any discussion so far. How do public speaking, collaborative events, book publishing, filmmaking and other forms of real life storytelling reduce to ‘working on the internet’?

      And who here sees their friends/family as a ‘safety net’? Where in the article or discussion did that idea come from?

      The only elephant in the room is your own one. You’ve assumed that we (I) can’t organise and work together to create something. But 8 people (other than me) have so far worked on the production of Janapar, sitting next to each other and creating something they believe in in the real world. More will in the future, if they choose to take the opportunity, when it comes to screening events — real-life meetings between people that aim not only to inspire action but to be financially self-sustaining.

      Yet more people are making a living by editing my book and designing covers and other materials for the project, because I’m paying them to do so. That’s one of the ways in which capitalism, at this tiny scale, allows us to do things that are worth doing. The alternative is to keep our wallets zipped up and ask favours from each other while supplementing our income with meaningless income-generating activities. But I’d prefer to be part of an organisation of people working together to create things which also have the effect of making the effort a self-sustaining one. I’m far from alone; this community is packed with people working together to create and ultimately live according to their own priorities, which usually combine personal motives and altruism at a healthy balance. Hence, ‘how to make a living from adventure’ might turn out to be a long way from the lonely self-interested internet-based picture you’ve painted here.

      If you haven’t reached a point of being able to give other people a chance to make a living by getting involved in your projects, adventure-related or not, might I suggest that you give the elephant a second thought?

      1. @Tom, it doesn’t sound like you fit that description of the Elephant 😉

        It appears that it is a straw elephant to be sure, though I’d suggest that all stereotypes are, at heart, made of straw. 

        Also, who honestly ticks all of the elephant shaped boxes?
        Just like no one really fits squarely into the four categories in the original post.

        At the risk of stirring a “pretentious hornets nest” again *bracing myself* I’m going to repeat the point that a definition of what an adventurer actually is would be useful here? This is kind of key to making meaningful progress on the big question of how to make a living as one.

        Can I suggest a alternative way of framing the original question? 

        “How to do you use adventures to make a living?” 

        Because adventure is really such a cloudy term, and so open to interpretation and misrepresentation; I know, I know, that’s what this post was about in the first place right? Really, filmmakers, authors, photographers, academics and speakers who derive their income from content generated from adventurous experiences are exactly that. Filmakers, authors academics and photographers who make a living from writing about, filming, researching, photographing and speaking about adventures. The difference is in name only, but as this thread has turned to resolving the nitty gritty that is important. 

        This begs the question; Is anyone a professional adventurer? Maybe they are, but to qualify for this title they’d probably have to make their living primarily from adventuring. A professional footballer doesn’t make films and write books to make ends meet, for example. He turns up and plays football and people pay him for playing football; hence he’s a professional footballer. An amateur footballer plays football but makes a living doing other potentially football related things. Perhaps there’s also a category for gentlemen footballers who can play to their heart’s content on their inheritance.

        Ben Fogle’s is an interesting case, is Ben a professional presenter who adventures or a professional adventurer who presents? I can’t say. Ranalph Fiennes strikes me as fitting the professional definition; doesn’t he get paid to go on expeditions now? Mike Horn, Borge Ousland and Rheinhold Messner also probably fit that bill too. Following this line of thought it seems that mostly it is professional guides actually fit the definition, as they get paid for going on adventures, they don’t necessarily make films, or write books, or newspaper articles to earn a crust, they simply turn up for an adventure and take people with them and get paid for it. 

        Maybe life’s too short to spend it taping away at a computer asking and answering these questions? Personally, though, I think that if Adventure is to escape being just another zany segment of the travel and lifestyle industry and adventurers are too have more to contribute that simply escapist philosophy and how to , leverage their personal brand to make a living (please note this does not refer to anyone in particular) we need to get a clear idea of what adventure is and who does it and why.

        1. “Can I suggest a alternative way of framing the original question?”

          I’m afraid not — the wording isn’t Search Engine Optimized enough…

  9. Old Tom on Tour avatar
    Old Tom on Tour

    Peace people peace. With warm sun on your back life is too short for agro.
    Ok – I apologises if I have offended anyone and thank you all for reminding me of my Daily Mail (or even Guardian) get-a-job syndrome.. To all who seek ‘FREEDOM’ by dropping out of the system, don’t forget you need a SYSTEM if you wish to drop out of it. 

    May I be allowed just one last comment before I fall back into a pre ‘tweeter’ wandering age by quoting Donavan? – “Freedom is a word I seldom use without thinking?”

    Freedom is a word I rarely use
    Without thinkin’, mm hmm,
    Without thinkin’, mm hmm,
    Of the time, of the time
    When I’ve been loved


    Keep pushing the pedals young Tom.
    Regards OTOT

  10. Interesting post. A web designer who adventures, or an adventurer who web designs? I just want to put a small word out for all the countless, selfless souls who work full-time for their communities, their offspring, their country, ultimately the world. Nurses, teachers, social workers, scientists, farmers etc. Whilst Tom’s (and others) efforts at breaking free from locked-down consumerism/capitalism is commendable, and I love an adventure as much as the next blogger, there are other heroes out there, diligently paying their taxes. Let’s not deny them a 50″ TV if they want one. 🙂

    1. Nice to see you back!

      While it’s abused in all manner of ugly ways, I have no issue with consumerism or capitalism per se. I couldn’t make the living of my choice without it, and nor could anyone else who owns the device they used to read or comment on this article. 

      Not sure why you think paying tax is an act of heriosm, though. There are countless ways to contribute to society. Some do, some don’t.


      1. Hey bud! The three of us should team up for another adventure, rather than on a blog… I reckon: cycle across Australia.
        I just want to add a point: I wasn’t saying paying taxes was the heroic aspect (although I can see how I worded it might have that affect) just that those relatively selfless/altruistic careers might be considered heroic in themselves, and a nice offshoot for a social democracy is they contribute with taxes also. Personally (and perhaps a bit politically, for this forum) I think nurses, doctors, scientists, teachers etc should be given hefty tax breaks.
        On the issue of personal contributions to society, I wonder if anyone has looked into whether individuals/groups/countries paying higher taxes contribute less to charity?
        Can of worms, you say?

  11. In the time honoured response to the shrill sound of “Daily-Mail-ite” cries of the right-wing maxim… “GET A JOB!”, I present this intellectually devastating and unrelenting ‘quip of ages’…

    “I R JOB.”

  12. Andy Welch avatar
    Andy Welch

    btw, loving the conversation here!

  13. Old Tom on Tour avatar
    Old Tom on Tour

    My – my – my, what a pretentious hornets’ nest stirred up here. Let’s not get too full of ourselves trying to intellectualize our chosen path in an effort to justify our inability to stick at what the majority of the world’s population refer to as ‘normal’ life style. (With or without the obligatory 2.3 children in one or more countries).

    Having spent almost 55 of my 73 years ‘travelling’ experiencing ‘adventures’ of a greater / lesser life threatening magnitude all enhancing my life; I would not count myself or people of a similar elk as ‘Adventures’. More like ‘Wanderers’ discovering the world and it’s peoples as we experience the greatest of all adventures known simply as ‘life’.

    That said perhaps now we can return to the original question in this section that of “How do we fund our wanderings?”

    Ever sold your blood to the point you faint going back to give just one more pint? Offered yourself up to pharmaceutical experimentation, sleep deprivation studies, severed in a shop, a bar, made beds in a hotel, beach chair attendant, sold robots – time share – diesel generators, rode shot gun on a mule train at high altitude, fished for tuna (when there was some), cut sugar cane, (don’t like snakes) taught English in a strange remote school and promoted to head of the English department at a bush university (lasted a good well paid 6 months till they found me out), built a church, build emergency houses, a few years in some slightly doggy armed security force with blue berets, dug mass and individual graves, played piano in far – far too many bars and houses of ill repute, street consumer research, government lobbyist, local government councillor (well that’s what they are called in the uk but in Borneo?) Deck hand, crew some posh boat being moved to another port when the owner cant be bothered to play with his new multi cash toy.

    Just get a job! The world does not owe you a living!!

    Come on people the list is endless. Now here is your starter for 10 – Who said “Knock on the door and it will be opened”.

    Or you can do what I did last winter – sell your diaries to a ghost writer. Now wandering is a lot less uncomfortable.

    Now where next?? Oh I know; lets wander over to .….….

    1. Thank you, Tom, for pointing out the yawnsome tedium of intellectualization. I think ‘wanderer’ is a good description, if a label is really needed. Sadly it seems that it often is, because other people want to make sense of what you do.

      I hope that one day I can reel off a job list like yours! What actual ‘jobs’ has everyone else had to fund their adventures / wanderings / life? Activities that have actually resulted in cash? Here’s my feeble list:

      Newspaper delivery boy (might as well start at the beginning)
      Horse shit collector
      Pot-washer (aka Kitchen Porter)
      Barman / waiter
      Hotel restaurant manager
      Warehouse picker
      Pallet stacker (yardie)
      Nightclub DJ
      Theatre technician
      Flyer distributor
      Skiing instructor
      Chalet girl
      Minibus driver
      Computer technician
      Web developer
      Article writer
      Event photographer

      (working on a few more right now…)

      1. “the yawnsome tedium of intellectualisation”, I’ll take that over the red top refrain of “get a job the world does not owe you a living!” shouted at no-one in particular. It’s kind of funny that that phrase follows a post about how to get by by essentially not getting a “proper job”.
        Does that do the original post, provocative and well laid out consideration of the the different types of adventurer and their income streams, justice? I don’t think so.

        Wasn’t this post supposed to be about the different ways of make a living adventuring? Is sell blood, or wash dishes, the best we can do? If so that’s a pity. I can list all of the part-time jobs I’ve had too if that’s where the thread is heading — they’ve been varied and some are appropriately low paid and dirty — but I thought we had a meaty discussion going for a second. If we’re ever going to get a decent answer to the question “why” adventure and “what” adventure is then we’re going to have to risk a yawnsome and tedious intellectual conversation, maybe this blog just isn’t the forum. Anyway, good to see a passionate discussion and props to Tom for his provocation.

        1. As the previous commenter said, he’s sold his diaries to a ghost writer, which effectively puts him in the second category along with you and I, regardless of any other argument he’s made.

          Needless to say, I have no intention of going back to washing dishes, and every intention of making a living via means that I actually give a toss about. I don’t really care for the puritanical ideal of a life of suffering in exchange for eternal bliss in the afterlife (nowadays called ‘retirement’)!

          Let’s play nice, now, shall we? 🙂

          1. I always play nice Tom ; ) 

            +1 to not slaving away for a valhalla of golden oldie golf in the Costa Del Sol. I’m sure that’s something we can all agree on?

  14. Nice post Tom, provocative as ever : ) 

    I broadly agree with your categories. At various times my venn diagram has intersected with two and three, to varying degrees, though hopefully, never four, and I agree that charlatans should be named and shamed. It’s a pity that there’s no body for this- an Adventure Foundation or something like that. 

    I have to agree with Andy’s point on study and adventure; studying and adventure do not have to be unconnected (maybe it should be called studventuring 😉 . Adventurous journeys generate fresh perspectives and experiences yield insight and understanding. What’s the difference between going on an adventure and writing a book and going on an adventure and writing a PhD. For example Dr Bradley Garrett is one of the most exciting adventurers at the moment in my opinion, and — shock- he doesn’t call even himself an adventurer. see

    Perhaps more of a distinction needs to made between exploration and adventure? Maybe people who use adventurous journeys for research are exploring rather than adventuring? And while I’m on the subject, a proper conversation needs to be had on what exactly adventure means today. The dictionary defines it as something, challenging, exciting, and hazardous. What’s hazardous about cycling in the developing world? From experience noting much. Motor racing ticks more of those boxes, are motorcyclists adventurers?

    Andy makes a good point about the RGS. It’s worth remembering that adventurous journeys have been generating useful knowledge for quite a while — Herodotus, Darwin, Humbolt, Scott. It seems a shame to discount that approach. It’s also worth noting that the term adventurer originally means “gambler”, “mercenary”, “financial speculator”. 

    If anything, the academy can provide adventure with the raison d’etre that it is lacking, it can give it a more meaningful purpose other simply to escape, it can open avenues for stories richer than the sometimes tiresome; “(usually) middle class male jacks in job and runs off on a yacht/bicycle/skateboard/kayak/pedilow/row boat/sale boat. Finds self and spends the rest of the life preaching to 9–5ers how they can escape too from a digital their pulpit while making a living from monetised sermons”. While secretly hoping that nobody does. 

    Incidentally, that storyteller usually fails to tell about the nights spent sitting in front of a screen, looking at bounce rates, traffic, and click throughs. And the time spent studying strategies for leveraging their personal brand. It ignores the inherent truth that professional adventure involves the commercialisation and commodification of life experience. It turns adventure into a production. I know, this is a barbed stereotype, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this, its just that professional adventurers are rarely, the romantic, countercultural, libertines that they sell themselves as.

    Maybe you’re writing about the online representation of adventurers? Is it possible to be an adventurer today and not have a blog? 

    Either way, great post. These are important (in this small pond) questions and as always you’ve asked them with an admirably deft objectivity.

    1. Lots of good points, my friend. Let’s look at my original post, as I want to clarify my position:

      Members of a third group tend to play to the general understanding of the term ‘adventurer’, casting themselves as such […] when in fact it is working, studying, or some other unconnected pursuit that actually occupies the majority of their time.

      I really don’t mean to include people who deliberately and genuinely combine the two, such as Andy and yourself. Likewise, I’m going to assume that you don’t mean to defend the full-time student of [insert unrelated subject here] who made a charity trek to Everest Base Camp during the summer holidays and has since thereafter publicised themselves to all and sundry as the next Reinhold Messner, with convenient omission of actually being a full-time student of [insert unrelated subject here]. (Exaggerated example, but hopefully makes the point!)

      There shouldn’t be anything embarassing about having a full-time occupation and pursuing adventure on the side. I’d just appreciate it if there was less selective (or fanciful) posturing — I mean online, mainly, because that’s where everyone gets to shout in the same room. In the same way, for example, I wouldn’t want to hire someone who advertised themselves as a film editor and discover that they were actually a professional beekeeper with an interest in Final Cut Pro. What I take issue with is the opaque and misleading nature of some of these ‘personas’.

      I have great respect for those who put the tools of adventure/exploration (whatever) to work on some greater body of knowledge. No need to defend it!

      Your stereotype of the ‘professional adventurer’ is highly cynical, though. I wrote above of those who have “forged a wide variety of income streams — most commonly corporate motivational speaking (the biggest money spinner) and school talks, but also TV presenting, live workshops, books”. What’s the great revelation here? People are happy to support those whose stories resonate with them, or those who’ve created something useful? Shock! Horror! Unless ‘professional adventures’ are somehow obliged to live on the breadline and distribute their energies like bleeding martyrs, why shouldn’t they accept that kind of support in order to continue following their passion AND pay the bills?


      1. Fair points and thanks for following up on my comment.

        Your exaggerated example makes your position clear and it’s one that I wholeheartedly agree with. It hardly matters in that case whether the claimant is a student/doctor/fireman etc. Personally, I see no distinction between that and I’d add them to the fourth category of charlatans/self styled adventurers. 

        I should add that my main motivation for posting the comment above was not a personal defence ‑though there is always an element of wanting to defend our own little piece of turf and the academic potential of adventurous journeys is close to my heart- I just feel it’s important that there’s some space for adventure aside from the commercial and commodified experiences and representations. And, unfortunately when leveraging a personal brand becomes a primary consideration this often edges out other non-commercial
        concerns and values. Again, I’m speaking in broad brushstrokes here, and I’m not thinking about anyone in particular and as you highlighted in the post, this topic inevitably steps on everyone’s toes.

        You’re right that my depiction of the “professional adventurer” was cynical; a deliberate conceit to counter balance the thrust of the post and to provide an exaggerated example for the sake of clarity. As you know I see massive value from the creative outputs from adventures. And I’m genuinely impressed and respectful of the handful of adventurers who manage to make a decent living from telling sensitive, engaging, and enlightened stories about the world. I just have little time for lazy cliches and stereotypes and for making a living from telling self congratulatory tales with the implicit message; “aren’t I great!”. I don’t think adventurers should live on the breadline, just as I think artists or any other creative practitioners who serve a social function should be accorded their appropriate value. 

        I just think that we should bear in mind the old saying; “he who pays the piper, calls the tune” and where income comes from effects ‚whether consciously or otherwise, the stories we tell. And, that messages should be consistent if (a hypothetical) brand is built on countercultural and bohemian values then that’s not really consistent with making a living from giving “you can do it” talks to bored accountants at AGMs, likewise if your brand is built on a message of eco-enviro custodianship then perhaps your actions should be consistent with that too. Jesus, I’m sounding more and more like Julian Sayarer each day ; )

  15. Tom, you are good news! And that’s why I follow you. Don’t stop…

  16. Andy Welch avatar
    Andy Welch

    I think Old Tom On Tour has some practical advice coming from experience. Cant help but feel the ‘studying’ bit is a little bit harsh. Fearghal walked across Rwanda for his Thesis. There are loads of other people doing adventurous things as part of studying- what about the RGS- basing a lot of its activity in the academic world. I don’t advocate academic as being an answer to anything. I think it creates as many problems at it solves. But isn’t education by way of experience the essence of life in general and experience the essence of being an adventurer. Isn’t an adventurer someone who strives to learn through doing?

    1. Told you some of my stereotypes might be offensive 🙂

      Of course it’s possible to integrate study and adventure. That doesn’t mean all students of all subjects can legitimately call themselves adventurers…

      1. Andy Welch avatar
        Andy Welch

        Like you posted on facebook (about the term adventurer):
        ” What the feck indeed? What’s in a name (other than the obvious quality of being able to tailor what people derive about who you are and what you do)?”
        What’s in a name?

        1. Andy Welch avatar
          Andy Welch

          I would also like to direct people to this post I wrote which is relevant to the subject matter: 

  17. This is the occupation I have always been looking for.

  18. Nice post — it’s always interesting to read how others go about funding their lifestyles. I can definitely relate to methods 1 & 3 and have found over the last 5 years that London is a great place to live relatively cheaply and save up for trips abroad. Getting around by bike and supermarket food being so cheap in the UK certainly help the bank balance. Maybe I’ll bump into you at the RGS if you’re back from your latest trip before I’ve saved up enough to go away again!

  19. Old Tom On Tour avatar
    Old Tom On Tour

    Now in my 73rd year at the other end of your ‘Adventurous life’ having travelled most parts of the world unconventionally since the late 1950s, I now look at life with a little more circumspection. For life in the ‘subsistence’ lane when 60+ is not so much fun as it was in ones more formative years. My advice to anyone considering such a life style would be …..
    Every 3 or so years take a year out in a position; be it paid or near voluntary in any place in the world; honing basic ‘western employable skills’.
    Then when a bout of love, illness or other distraction comes your way you have an earning skill to quickly fall back onto. I apologies if this sounds like my mother back in 1959 saying to me when announcing plans to take in the WWII ‘Stillwell Road’ as part of my 5 year overland hitch between Wolverhampton (UK) and Singapore; “Get a trade son then do it”.
    The danger is that in ones teens the ‘year out’ is only 2 or 3 fun filled weeks — months; in ones 20’s and 30’s this break moves up to 5 / 6 months ‘searching’ for one’s self. Then in ones 40s ‑50’s and 60’s this extends to 18 months – 2 – 5 years depending on one’s love and accumulated family life. But don’t be discouraged for ““WE””!! are off latter this year to South America but this time in a expedition vehicle. Keep in touch; Regards ‘Old Tom On Tour’.

    Try and

    1. Hey Tom — thanks for your excellent words of wisdom here! I do count myself lucky to have a trade to fall back on — that of website design & development — but I am trying not to let that ‘easy option’ take over the adventurous (and, yes, more risky) life I’ve grown to love. 

      Thank you again!

  20. A very well wrote article. Having made some drastic life changes recently myself, I can relate to your article.
    Im self employed and taking 6 months off to ride around Europe starting end of May this year. Ive had a huge declutter in my life , and feel a lot better for it and I’m still not finished.
    I’m working hard and saving even harder to fund my trip so I can experience life again, not exist in life.
    Enjoy your forthcomming trip , I certianly will mine.

  21. […] stop, on Tom’s Adventure, How I’m Making A Living As An Adventurer. I’ve been following his website after my friend Katie mentioned about him. His videos are […]

  22. I like your spirit. Your approach to making your way in life while generating dosh reminds of George Campbell (author of Get Out While You Can) who realised there is a way to earn a good living by working less. He calls it ‘Plan B’.

Something to add?