Expedition Research

Table of Contents

    Welcome to Expedition Research

    Our passion is expeditions and we are committed to developing our understanding of them. We aim to share research with people planning and leading expeditions and to promote communication about the kind of research people would like to see undertaken. While we are interested in ‘evidence based practice’ we are also committed to ‘practice based evidence’ – in other words we want to bring people together to advise and contribute, to ensure that research on expeditions is relevant, useful and valuable!

    ExpeditionResearch.co.uk is the result of the 2008 conference, ‘360 Degrees on Overseas Expeditions’, at The University of Edinburgh. This brought together expedition leaders, organisers, researchers and policy makers for two days to discuss expedition issues. The conference showed the need for an overview of current research on overseas expeditions for young people. We have undertaken this initial work. In the pages of this website you can access summaries of it, a paper we have written giving an overview of current research, and abstracts of most of the papers we located for the study. We hope this helps you to get information which is often difficult to find or hidden to most people outside academia.

    Visit us regularly as we will update this website as we, and other people, write about expeditions. Give us your feedback on the website and what research would be useful to you.

    About Us

    YET logo

    The Young Explorers’ Trust is a national charity dedicated to promoting safe and responsible expeditions for young people. It does this by providing advice and support to schools, youth organisations, commercial expedition providers and groups of friends who intend to run their own youth expedition.

    If you wish to contact us send an email to any of us below:

    Dr Pete Allison E: peteallison7@me.com

    Prof Tim Stott E: tim@snowdonia-outdoors.co.uk

    Johannes Felter

    All photographs on this site belong to Dr Pete Allison, Professor Tim Stott, Chris Eddington and BSES. We are grateful to BSES for allowing us to use their images.

    Processes: How Can Providers and Leaders Make it Happen?

    We do not wish to specify a causal link between any one process and outcome. There is not the evidence to support that kind of concrete claim, and in any case, learning outcomes across expeditions are highly specific and individualised. Certain causal relationships might seem to make intuitive sense (i.e. the process of physically demanding activity is linked to the outcome of increased resilience).

    It is not our intention to speculate on a set formula for a ‘successful’ expedition. Rather we hope to establish general patterns of design and execution which can help providers to implement successful expeditions.

    Ethical Considerations

    In this section we examine five ethical issues which are of concern to modern expedition leaders. The discussions are just that – designed to provoke thoughtful conversation and reflection, rather than to impose one particular opinion or to occupy the moral high ground.

    All material in this section is reproduced from Allison, P. & Beames, S. (2010). Feature article: The Changing Geographies of Overseas Expeditions. International Journal of Wilderness, 16(3), 35-42. Thanks to the International Journal of Wilderness for their kind permission to reproduce this content.

    Psychological Considerations

    Expeditions present a number of complex and varied challenges that inevitably evoke a range of psychological responses. This aspect of expeditions has received increasing attention, and the field of wilderness therapy has sought to address the learning from, and management of, these unavoidable psychological responses. Some responses are considered more positive and associated with learning (e.g., awe and inspiration, considering past experiences, learning how to interact with others), whereas others have more negative connotations (e.g., home sickness, psychosocial challenges, eating disorders). Furthermore, the responses to such experiences occur not only during expeditions, but also afterward, when participants return to their home community. It is helpful to consider three psychological areas.

    The first area is learning in a safe (physical and emotional) environment. Taking people on expeditions is often motivated, to some extent, by trying to trigger some kind of psychological or emotional response to various aspects of the experience. For some this may be about developing themselves, understanding themselves and others, and as an opportunity to reflect on their lives, behaviours, and relationships— past, present, and future. For others, the expedition may be a time when reflection brings to the fore difficult issues that may have been previously suppressed, such as confidence, dysfunctional relationships, existential challenges, and sense of life direction. Clearly, leaders need to be appropriately prepared to deal with these and related issues. To this end, planning prior to an expedition, including reviewing applications and holding interviews, gaining medical information, writing clear marketing material, and conducting thorough training weekends are crucial in minimizing psychological difficulties that may arise.

    Second, post-expedition responses are often difficult to gauge, and until relatively recently, had not been studied. The phenomenon can be understood as similar to the blues when returning from vacation or to a process of mourning (e.g., for the wilderness, for friends, for simplicity of expedition life). For many young people, going on an expedition for the first time can be life changing; it is often the first visit to a far-off place, to the wilderness, and of experiencing cultures very different from their own. As such, returning to everyday life (school, home, college, employment) is often rather awkward. Indeed, it is common for people to report difficulties sleeping inside, making decisions about what to eat, amazement at the number of people they meet, and missing the intimacy of the relationships experienced on the expedition. Allison (1999, 2000, 2005) studied expeditions and discovered this phenomenon to be common among the majority of participants. He comments: “It seems reasonable to conclude that some adjustment post-expedition might be expected for the majority of people. If there were no signs of some type of post-expedition adjustment then one could question if there had been any changes or examination of values during the expedition experience.” (Allison 2005, p. 23)

    The third psychological area that expedition leaders need to deal with concerns managing threats to the learning environment. When people experience some of the challenges outlined above, such as adjustment problems (to and from the expedition), illness/accidents, crises (emotional and otherwise), it is vital that leaders have the skills to recognize them, decide on a course of action, manage and remedy them, and keep them from occurring again—unless these problems are deemed to be desirable (rarely the case) (Berman & Davis-Berman 2002; Berman, Davis-Berman, & Gillen 1998; Kaplan & Talbot 1983).

    Regulating Practice

    Most of the expeditions taking place in the UK that involve participants under the age of 18 years old have been regulated by the Adventure Activities Licensing Service (AALS), which was developed following a kayaking tragedy in 1993 and the subsequent Young Persons Safety Act (1995). The word most is used deliberately, as expeditions that are in nontechnical terrain and have rapid access to roads may not be classified as licensable by AALS (AALS, n.d.). For example, an expedition in a flat, forested area that is not far from a road may not require the provider to be licensed by AALS. Naturally, there are elements of duty of care and basic health and safety that need to be adhered to, but there is no need for the leader to have an outdoor qualification, such as the Mountain Leader award.

    If the expedition involves travelling in more remote and demanding country (usually higher hills or on the water), then by law the activity is licensable under AALS. This means that AALS ensures that the activity provider has competent staff and is using properly maintained safety equipment. It is important to note a crucial exception to AALS regulations: expeditions for those under the age of 18 in Britain are not licensable under AALS, if the expedition leader is not being paid (e.g., a teacher leading an expedition with student participants) (AALS, n.d.). Once the expedition leaves the United Kingdom, things become less clear, as there is no statutory obligation for providers to operate at a given standard or for leaders to be qualified. However, since 1972 the Young Explorers Trust (YET), which is a UK independent educational charity, has approved expeditions through its national evaluation system. This process was designed and developed as a means of supporting expedition organizers and leaders, as well as improving the quality of provision while giving expeditions “YET approved” status. YET also offers a small grant system to support expeditions they approve and which are in need of financial support. In 2008, the YET screening process incorporated British Standard 8848 to become the YET evaluation process. British Standards 8848, which was published in 2007 (and reviewed and updated in 2009), is the closest the sector has come to regulating the practice of overseas ventures.

    British Standard 8848 is not limited to expeditions, but rather covers any kind of visit, trip, or fieldwork outside of the UK (British Standards 8848 2007). British Standards 8848’s principal goal is to minimize injuries and illness during these ventures. The onus to follow the practices outlined in the standard is placed squarely on the “venture provider.” The venture provider may use third-party employees (such as bus drivers or mountaineering instructors) as long as 8848’s specifications are being followed. At the time of this writing, expedition companies are not required to adhere to 8848, but presumably gain credibility in the eyes of the public if they do.

    All of the above outlined systems (AALS, YET & BS 8848) are concerned with a systems approach and accrediting organizations rather than certifying individuals. This approach has been developed in response to an increasing number of overseas expeditions taking place in a wide range of environments with a broad spectrum of aims. In these varying circumstances, specifying individual leader certifications may be too complex to manage. As an example, compare the leadership skills that are needed for a small school group going on a two week expedition from the UK to the Swiss Alps, with the skills needed for a three-month expedition for individuals from across the UK who are travelling to Kenya to kayak, undertake some service learning projects, and visit some game reserves. To address such differences the evaluation system for BS 8848, which is administered through the YET, offers a flexible approach that considers the specific expedition aims, location, and context in a descriptive rather than prescriptive manner. The approach encourages organizations and individuals to focus on managing the plethora of situations they may encounter on expeditions and not create cumbersome paperwork.

    Note: At the time of writing AALS is in the process of being replaced by a voluntary self regulating scheme details of which are currently unfolding.

    AALS. (n.d.). The scope of the regulations. Adventurous Activities Licensing Service. Retrieved on January 13, 2009, from http://www.aals.org.uk/faqs.html#scope
    Allison, P. & Beames, S. (2010). Feature article: The changing geographies of overseas expeditions. International Journal of Wilderness, 16(3), 35-42.
    British Standards 8848. (2007). Specification for the provision of visits, fieldwork, expeditions, and adventurous activities, outside the United Kingdom. BSI: London.


    There are inequalities between different people’s access to resources in society. These resources might be things such as food, education, medical help, and property. Historically, the world of educational expeditions has been dominated by affluent white people (e.g., early expeditions run by the Public Schools Exploring Society). The period from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s saw the British overseas youth expedition transform from a product exclusively for the socioeconomically privileged to one catering to a “much larger range of children of varying social backgrounds and academic abilities” (Grey 1984, p. 17). An example of these programs is Kennedy’s (1984, 1992) overland expeditions to the Sahara Desert with inner-city youth from Liverpool. Current initiatives such as the Next Generation scheme offered by the British Schools Exploring Society are examples of promoting equality of opportunity.

    In the UK today, although more opportunities exist for marginalized people to take part in expeditions, a fundamental discrepancy between the demographics of those who go on expeditions and those who do not appears to remain.

    In Scotland, where students from the bottom 20% of the socioeconomic spectrum are seven times more likely to be excluded from school than those in the top 20% (Scottish Government, 2009), one can reasonably speculate that expedition opportunities for the former will come from a youth-at-risk program of some sort. Conversely, those within the top 20% wanting to go on an expedition will usually rely on their parents paying substantial amounts of money, or that money may often be raised with the help of their parents’ social and business networks.

    Beyond financial matters, it is quite likely that in social networks characterized by chronic low income, young people are not interested in going on an expedition, as there is little history of any family member or friend so doing. Equally, teenagers attending an independent school with a strong tradition of going on an expedition may feel stigmatized if they do not take a given expedition opportunity. It is conceivable to suggest that by choosing to participate in an expedition, they are merely “going with the flow” and following dominant social forces.

    The implication for practitioners in all countries and cultures is that if the outcomes of an expedition are desirable for all young people—as a means to increase overall personal growth and well-being—then surely these kinds of experiences ought to be available to all, irrespective of financial power, physical ability, sex, gender, religion, or ethnicity. Conclusions Expeditions in the UK have a long history that can be traced back to exploration for geographical purposes. In the last 20 years, expeditions for young people involving science research, adventurous activities, and community work have gained remarkable popularity, yet elicited only a moderate amount of research. More recently, in 2008, a “knowledge exchange” conference was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and organized at The University of Edinburgh, as a means to discuss and share information about overseas expeditions. The conference was successful in bringing together expedition providers, policy makers, and academics in order to discuss a range of current issues concerning all parties.

    Allison, P. & Beames, S. (2010). Feature article: The changing geographies of overseas expeditions. International Journal of Wilderness, 16(3), 35-42.
    Grey, T. (1984). The expedition experience. Adventure Education, March/April, 17-18.
    Kennedy, A. (1984). Liverpool schoolboys Sahara expedition. Adventure Education, March/April, 19-20.
    Kennedy, A. (1992). The expedition experience as a vehicle for change in the inner city. Penrith: Adventure Education.

    Volunteer Work

    One inflammatory issue in the current expedition climate surrounds expedition organizations sending young people to developing nations as unskilled labourers. For example, this could entail participants doing jobs such as teaching in primary schools, helping to take zoological surveys, or working in national parks on conservation projects, and is often under the remit of undertaking geographical research.

    Many of these projects may not fall under the strict definition of an expedition, as they may not involve a journey; they may be based in the same place for several weeks at a time—despite being remote and self-sufficient. A number of organizations have elements of expeditions as part of their programs. For this reason, the issue of unskilled labour is highlighted.

    Some critics note that Western young people going to developing nations and working may often be considered a form of neo-colonialism (Simpson 2004). This is so, because there remains an imbalance of power in favour of the participants and the expedition provider. For example, the UK would not tolerate an 18-year-old Ghanaian boy coming to the southwest of England for six weeks and teaching in a primary school. This is in contrast to common instances where British youth without appropriate qualifications and with minimal experience find themselves in developing nations, playing prominent roles in the host village’s formal education system. Although this kind of altruism may be laudable, it may be worth considering that this practice is only made possible by the wide gulf between the resources of the visitor and the host community. These practices of going overseas to learn through volunteering are sometimes referred to as service learning.

    A number of papers have described how service learning is a branch of experiential education that is gaining increasing prominence in the Western world (Jacoby 1996; Jakubowski 2003; Warren and Loeffler 2000). Jacoby defines service learning as “activities that address human and community needs with structured opportunities intentionally designed to promote student learning and development” (1996, p. 5). Typically, service-learning programs involve living and working in a host community on projects that have been deemed important by the members of that community (Jacoby 1996; Kendall 1990).

    Meaningful service-learning programs demand thorough examination, so they are not merely exercises in being exposed to life in a developing nation, but rather engage participants in the daily life of those living in the host country (Levison 1990). Similarly, service-learning projects ought to ensure that those being served are in control of the services being provided, those being served become more empowered as a result of the project, and those who serve are also learners (Jacoby 1996; Kendall 1990). Dickson (1988, p. 26) recommends educational programs for young people where the experience is based on “the adventure culminating in service, and the service itself an adventure.”

    In strict terms, service learning cannot occur without formal reflection (Jacoby 1996). Service without reflection would likely be regarded by many as volunteerism, as it is not connected to any structured set of learning objectives. We suggest that learning can happen without formal reflective activities (e.g., reviewing in a circle, journal writing). After all, people have learned through experience since the beginning of time. We also recognize that service learning experiences designed to be part of a larger educational program may need to have specific intended learning outcomes in order to justify their inclusion.

    Another feature of service learning is reciprocity, where all parties “are learners and help determine what is to be learned. Both the server and those served teach, and both learn” (Kendall 1990, p. 22). Furthermore, it is imperative that the members of the host community identify the service tasks and then control the service provided (Jacoby 1996).

    Expedition providers who are using service as part of their program can draw from the literature as a means of guiding their own practice. Crucially, expeditions involving volunteer work as a means of learning need to be thoroughly considered and not “added on” in some tokenistic manner. Well conceptualized and well-implemented projects have considerable potential for learning.

    Allison, P. & Beames, S. (2010). Feature article: The changing geographies of overseas expeditions. International Journal of Wilderness, 16(3), 35-42.
    Dickson, A. (1988). Return from the mountain. Horizons, 5(3), 20-26.
    Jakubowski, L. M. (2003). Beyond book learning: Cultivating the pedagogy of experience through field trips. Journal of Experiential Education, 26(1), 24-33.
    Kendall, J.C. (1990). Combining service and learning: An introduction. In J.C. Kendall and Associates (Eds.), Combining service and learning: A resource book for community and public service (Vol. 1, pp. 1-33). Raleigh: National Society for Internships and Experiential Education.
    Levison, L.M. (1990). Choose engagement over exposure. In J. C. Kendall & Associates (Eds.), Combining service and learning: A resource book for community and public service (Vol. 1, pp. 68-75). Raleigh: National Society for Internships and Experiential Education.
    Jacoby, B. (1996). Service learning in today’s higher education. In B. Jacoby (Ed.), Service learning in higher education: Concepts and practices (pp. 3-25). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
    Simpson, K. (2004). ‘Doing development’: The gap year, volunteer-tourists and a popular practice of development. Journal of International Development, 16(5), 681-692.
    Warren, K. & Loeffler, T.A. (2000). Setting a place at the table: Social justice research in outdoor experiential education. Journal of Experiential Education, 23(2), 85-90.

    Cultural Sensitivity and Environmental Responsibility

    Along with the issues of health and safety highlighted in the 1990s, expeditions in the new millennium have brought new areas of concern. Critics have identified several potentially problematic aspects of some current practices on youth expeditions, including cultural sensitivity, the use of drugs, and the environmental costs associated with young people travelling outside of their home country (Allison & Higgins 2002).

    First, they were particularly critical of expedition groups that did not show appropriate cultural sensitivity when travelling in developing nations (Allison & Higgins 2002). Participants who do not cover themselves suitably and wear short and sleeveless tops in Muslim countries are an obvious example.

    Second, the outcomes of an expedition being so great that they warrant flying a group of 50 young people across the world was highlighted as being questionable (Allison & Higgins 2002).

    In a time when air travel is widely accepted as a contributor to global climate change, it seems surprising that so many operators and participants are convinced that they must visit lands far away, despite sometimes knowing little of their homeland. This point is contentious and has been responded to by the Young Explorers Trust who have convincingly argued that the benefits outweigh the costs. It seems likely that this debate will only gain more energy as issues of climate change continue to receive attention. In response to some critiques of “universal” outdoor education (i.e., ignoring “place”), there is a movement toward expeditions that take place in the neighbourhoods in which young people live and go to school.

    We want to caution against overseas expeditions and local journeys being dichotomized and set against each other. Rather, we see them as being complementary elements of a rich education that all young people are entitled to and as mechanisms that enable people to engage in explorations of places near and far. Indeed, undertaking self-sufficient journeys early in life may encourage and support young people to seek more adventurous travel further afield as they get older and a spirit of inquiry and enthusiasm to learn about the world in which we live.

    Allison, P. & Beames, S. (2010). Feature article: The changing geographies of overseas expeditions. International Journal of Wilderness, 16(3), 35-42.
    Allison, P. & Higgins, P. (2002). Ethical adventures: Can we justify overseas youth expeditions in the name of education? Australian Journal of Outdoor Education, 6(2), 22-26.

    Outcomes: What Can Young People Learn on Expedition?

    Greenaway (1998) adapts a model originally developed by Giges & Rosenfeld (1976) which he terms the ‘four arrows’.

    It is a description of the ways in which a person may develop during a given educational experience:

    “personal growth can be viewed as making new connections in any of several directions:.

    For Greenaway, this model is effective because it lends structure and definition to the typically amorphous term ‘personal development’. He claims that the model gives educators concrete goals to work towards, and as such it is a natural fit with youth expedition planning. We know that the outcomes from expeditions are not generalised but rather highly individual (Kennedy 1992; Rea 2006), and so we believe that this model provides us with a way of organising those outcomes accordingly.


    Our research is based on the publications and articles listed below. We appreciate that most visitors to this site won’t have the time to read full-length articles, which are often available only in costly academic journals. For each article, we have published a short descriptive summary and the author’s original abstract. Please feel to free to print and distribute these – they are not copyright protected. In due course we hope to publish links to legal open-access sources for as many of these articles as possible.

    For advice on how to obtain the complete articles listed below email tim@snowdonia-outdoors.co.uk

    Selection rationale

    We began by collecting all post-1990 literature concerning youth development expeditions. The following terms were used to conduct the searches: expedition, wilderness, youth development, science, adventure, fieldwork, and community development. The process was conducted in four phases.

    • Phase 1 – over 1500 hits were obtained from Google Scholar, journal searches, and from private collections kept by the authors.  Since the initial search brought up a large number of hits, these were then filtered according to further criteria: the duration of the expedition must have exceeded 14 days, it must have been self-propelled, and was based overseas or out-of-state (in the cases of Australia & North America). 
    • Phase 2 – the reduced number of selected journals, articles and books were read and relevant items from bibliographies selected.
    • In Phase 3 – items from Phase 2 were read in more detail and abstracts produced. 
    • In Phase 4 – once we were satisfied that no new items were being found through repeated searches, the database was narrowed-down to 35 items, from which the subsequent thematic analysis was conducted
    Allison, P2000Research from the Ground Up – Post-Expedition Adjustment
    Allison, P2001School Trips and Youth Expeditions: Time for a United Front?
    Allison, P2005Post-Expedition Adjustment – What Empirical Data Suggest?
    Allison, P & Beames, S2010The Changing Geographies of Overseas Expeditions
    Allison, P & Higgins, P2002Ethical Adventures: Can We Justify overseas youth expeditions in the name of education?
    Allison, P & Telford, J2005Turbulent Times: Outdoor Education in Great Britain 1993 – 2003
    Allison, P & Von Wald, K2010Exploring values and personal and social development: learning through expeditions
    Andrews, K1999The Wilderness Expedition as a Rite of Passage: Meaning and Process in Experiential Education
    Ashby, M1999The Educational Role of Expeditions
    Beames, S2003Overseas Youth Expeditions in Humberstone, B et al Ed. ‘Whose Journeys? The Outdoors and Adventure as Social and Cultural Phenomena
    Beames, S2004aOverseas Youth Expeditions with Raleigh International: A rite of passage?
    Beames, S2004bCritical Elements of an Expedition Experience
    Beames, S2005Expeditions and the Social Construction of the Self
    Bobilya A et al2009Outcomes of a Spiritually Focussed Wilderness Orientation Programme
    Bryce, J1999Expedition and Fieldwork Safeguarding Opportunities for Young People
    BSI2007BS 8848  A specification for the provision of visits, fieldwork, expeditions, and adventurous activities outside the UK
    Cashel, C1994Group Dynamics: Implications for Succesful Expeditions
    Ewert, A & Yoshino, A2007A Preliminary Exploration of the Influence of Short-Term Adventure-Based Expeditions on Levels of Resilience
    Eys, M et al2008Leadership Status Congruency and Cohesion in Outdoor Expedition Groups
    Greenaway, R1997High Quality Adventure for All
    Greenaway, R1998In Search of Respectable Adventure
    Jones, A2004Review of Gap Year Provision
    Kennedy, A1992The Expedition Experience as a Vehicle for Change in the Inner City
    Pike, E & Beames, S2007A Critical Interactionist Analysis of ‘Youth Development’ Expeditions
    Potter, T1998Human Dimensions of expeditions: deeply rooted, branching out
    Rea, T2006“It’s Not As If We’ve Been Teaching Them…” Reflective Thinking in the Outdoor Classroom
    Sheldon, R2009Rallying Together: A Research Study of Raleigh’s Work with Disadvantaged Young People
    Smith, M2008Exploring a Changing World
    Stott, T & Hall, N2003Changes in Aspects of Student’s Self-Reported Personal, Social & Technical Skills during a six-week wilderness expedition in Arctic Greenland
    Takano, T2010A 20-year retrospective study of the impact of expeditions on Japanese
    Tozer, M et al2007Recognizing and Developing Adaptive Expertise within outdoor and expedition leaders
    Watts, F et al1992Expedition Stress and Personality Change
    Watts, F et al1993aPersonality Change Produced by Expedition Stress: A Controlled Study
    Watts, F et al1993bCognitive Strategies in Coping with Expedition Stress
    Watts, F et al1994Personality and Coping Strategies on a Stressful Expedition